Worst Gifts to Give a Friend

Bad Gift Ideas for Friends

Wondering what gift to give a friend? Gifts have meaning for friends. Sometimes they mean your friend just wanted you to know they remembered your birthday or ​other special occasion, and other times they might show that your friend really doesn't know you at all.

It's especially disappointing when a friend gives you a bad gift. We expect lame gifts from family members sometimes, but with a friend, it can actually hurt your feelings. Friends know you. They chose to be in your life and as a result, when you get a bad gift it can feel like a real slap in the face.

How can you avoid giving a bad gift? Here are some tips.

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Don't Send a Message With the Gift

Woman opening a gift surrounded by friends
Hoxton/Justin Pumfrey/Getty Images

Sometimes friends that "mean well" try and give gifts that they think will help a friend improve their life in some way. This is especially true if they don't agree with some of your life choices. Bad gifts might give include workout DVDs to a friend they think is overweight, a book on the dangers of smoking to a friend who enjoys cigarettes, or a bottle of non-alcoholic drink mix to someone they think needs to cool it on their alcohol consumption.

The problem with gifts like these is that you're judging a friend, not supporting them. Your intentions might be good. Perhaps you really just want your friend to be healthier. But unless they ask for your help, give them a thoughtful gift that they will enjoy instead. If a friend asks for your help that might be one thing, but if they don't, giving a gift like this is just plain rude.

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Only Re-Gift If You Know Your Friend Would Enjoy the Present

Re-gifting is fine if you give your friend something you know they will really enjoy. Even so, be careful about re-gifting a present for special occasions. A better option is to re-gift as a random act of kindness where you don't expect anything back, rather than giving a used gift for Christmas or a birthday.

You can still make a friend feel special and even admit that the gift is recycled by saying, "I got this as a gift but knew you'd enjoy it so much more than me. I wanted to give it to you just because. No special reason."

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Pay Attention to Your Friend's Interests

One reason bad gifts from friends are so disappointing is that our friends should know us better than perhaps even our family. As a result, they should know things like:

  • Our favorite color.
  • What film we've seen again and again.
  • The thing that most irritates us.
  • The collections we have.
  • The stuff we can't resist buying ourselves.

If you don't know your friend all that well (if they're a new friend or acquaintance, for example), go more generic with your gift until you can find out more about your friend's personality. If necessary, pay closer attention to the things he or she likes. Listen closely when they complain about a gift they got from someone else, and ask them why specifically they didn't like it. All of these things will give you a clue on what to give a friend.

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Skip the Personal Hygiene Gifts

Gifts like toothbrushes, shavers, or curling irons are generally considered bad-form with gift giving. Your friend might think you're trying to give them a message about poor hygiene and as a result,​ it will cause bad feelings to arise in your relationship.

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Don't Give Cash

There was an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry couldn't figure out what to give Elaine, so he gave her a wad of cash. Needless to say, she wasn't very happy with it.

They say cash is the same as giving a gift card, but this is actually not true. Gift cards can be far more thoughtful and personal to the recipient than cash. A card with cash in it seems to say, "I had no idea what to get and didn't feel like trying."

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Give Gifts That Match the Level of the Relationship

You should give a gift that reflects how long you've known each other and how close you are. If you give too expensive of a gift to a new friend, they'll be put off by it. By the same note, a generic gift for an old friend may make your friend feel as if you weren't as close as they thought you were.

There isn't a list of appropriate gifts to match the years involved in a friendship like there is with marriage, for example. Each friendship is wildly different. A friend you just met might be closer to you than one you've known a long time. Let the gift reflect how you feel.