DEAR HARRIETTE: As a child, I was never surprised with gifts. Since age 7 or 8, my parents have checked with me to make sure I wanted the gift they were planning on buying me. Now I have a habit of always checking in with someone before buying him or her a gift. I don't know if they already own it or even want it!
I know this way of shopping for others ruins the surprise, but is practical. I'm torn on what to do. Should I continue my practical gift-giving or live a little and surprise people? -- No Surprises Here, Westchester, New York
DEAR NO SURPRISES HERE: Here's a question: Do your friends ultimately appreciate the gifts that you give them? If so, you may end up being like your parents, the practical giver. Find out how your friends experience your gifts. If they truly do not like receiving practical gifts from you, you may consider stretching a bit. Imagine what you think they might prefer. Think about their lives and interests. If you could choose anything -- within your budget -- to give them, what would it be? Consider buying that thing and getting a gift receipt so they can return it. In this way, you experience the best of both worlds, the practicality of the recipient easily being able to return it, and the surprise of them not knowing what you got them before they open it.