gifts for good

Unique Gifts for Friends: The Complete Guide

December 6, 2021

Every time the holiday season rolls around, a lot of us flock to shopping malls and online retailers to buy gifts for friends. There are millions of gift options out there, and some of them are better than others — which can make shopping around for presents pretty stressful.

But the truth is that most of us don’t want to get just any old present off the shelf and hand it to a friend. 

We want to show those special people how much we care by offering them unique gifts that demonstrate how well we know and love them. 

But how do you go about finding unique gifts for friends?

This guide explains what makes a gift unique, different types of unique gifts, and why you should consider a financial gift to help boost your friends’ financial futures.

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What Makes a Gift Unique?

The practice of gift-giving has been around since the dawn of civilization. Scientists believe that even cavemen gave unique-shaped rocks and animal teeth to each other as gifts to help build relationships and show their appreciation of one another.

Translation: giving gifts is a cornerstone of human civilization — and if you’re trying to find the perfect present for your best friend, it’s a lot of pressure to have the entire history of human civilization weighing down on you.

But it’s important to remember that people are also getting less hung up about “stuff” and would much rather receive a gift that’s unique and meaningful. 

So, what makes a gift unique?

According to researchers at the University of California, Irvine who looked at the motivations and symbolism behind giving gifts, there are four types of unique gifts we tend to give one another. Those gift types are:

  • Gifts that symbolize the gifter or the giftee
  • Gifts that symbolize the gifter’s knowledge of the giftee
  • Gifts that symbolize a particular occasion
  • Gifts that express a range of meanings

While it can be tricky coming up with a unique gift that fits into one of those categories, you’ll be glad to know that the right gift doesn’t have to cost much.

In 2020, shoppers said they were expecting to spend $1,387 per household during the holiday season. 

But don’t break out the plastic and start buying for the sake of buying — according to another 2020 study, 71% of respondents think that people spend too much on Christmas presents.

Chart from study showing people prefer to spend less on gifts
(Image source)

At the end of the day, a unique gift isn’t about how much money a gift costs. Any gift can be unique. You just need to make sure it’s meaningful and relevant to the person receiving the gift.

What Are Different Kinds of Unique Gifts for Friends?

No two people are alike — so what your friend or loved one would value as a unique gift probably won’t be the same as everyone else.

But generally speaking, there are a few foundational types of unique gifts that you should consider when trying to come up with unique gifts for friends.

To help you get started, let’s take a look at four of the most popular unique gift types.

Gift an experience

Most of us have too much “stuff” — which is why you should consider gifting an experience instead.

According to one study, people get more joy out of “experiential” gifts than they get from material ones. So, instead of giving friends cheap “stuff,” aim to give them an experience that they’ll never forget. Best of all, you can book an experience alongside your friend and enjoy it together.

Chart from study showing people prefer experience gifts
(Image source)

What kind of unique experience could you gift to a friend?

You could book a wine tasting, take your friend out for dinner, get them a book club membership, plan a friendship day, take them out for ice cream, or plan a different type of outing they would enjoy.

Make your gifts personalized

If you want to create a gift that’s personal to a friend, you’re in luck.

The global personalized gifts market is on track to hit $41.3 billion by 2026 — growing at an incredible rate of 9.5% per year.

Part of that is down to a huge spike in the number of retailers offering more personalized gift experiences. There are now loads of incredible sites that can create custom artwork, photo art, crafts, and other unique personalized gifts at a relatively large scale.

But a lot of this market growth is being generated by a spike in demand.

In fact, research suggests that people would rather be given something personalized than just another present off the shelf. 

According to one 2019 survey, 62% of people say that they want to receive unique gifts with a personal touch.

Chart from study showing people prefer personalized gifts
(Image source)

More importantly, 30% of people would rather get a personalized gift instead of something that costs over $100. Likewise, only 15% of respondents said they’d prefer a gift card over a personalized gift.

What does that mean in practice? Simply put, it means you could save yourself a lot of money and still make an impact by getting a personalized gift made for your friend.

In terms of what type of personalized gift you should think about, the ski is really the limit. 

You can gift your friend a custom photo print or a unique coffee mug, have an Etsy artisan create a friendship quilt, get a chocolate bar with their name on it, have custom Lego figures created in their likeness, or a million other things.

Just make sure that the unique gift you’re personalizing represents either you, the recipient, your friendship, a particular occasion, or anything else that might be significant.

Make something yourself

There are loads of amazing personalized gift companies out there that can etch your friend’s name on a guitar case or a gin glass — but there’s no substitute for a personalized gift that’s homemade.

According to one recent study from a non-profit organization in New Zealand, 80% of people say they like to receive homemade Christmas presents. Similarly, another study from the Journal of Marketing found that people feel homemade gifts demonstrate more thought and love.

Chart from study showing people appreciate homemade gifts
(Image source)

You may not consider yourself a crafty person, and that’s OK. Your friends will likely still appreciate the time and effort you’ve put into your homemade present — and at the end of the day, sometimes the lumps and bumps of a homemade gift are what makes it so endearing.

Need gift ideas for something homemade? You could create a scrapbook documenting your friendship, paint a picture, write a poem or a song, create a friendship bracelet, bake them a cake, or make them a custom lip balm.

Just choose something unique to that person, give it your all, and you can’t go wrong.

Give a financial gift

Giving a monetary gift to a friend is a great way to contribute toward their future and help them achieve their goals.

But while cash might be the easiest gift for a friend, it’s not the most impactful or unique. That’s why you should consider investing.

Instead of giving your friends gift cards to Best Buy or a local spa, you should really think about contributing to an investment account on their behalf. 

This will make your gift work harder in the long run, as your contributions will grow over time thanks to the power of compound interest.

How to Turn an Investment Into a Unique Gift For Friends

If you want to give your friends a truly unique gift, one of the best options you can pursue is to invest in a nest egg that can contribute to their respective financial futures.

But the truth is, there are quite a few investment options out there — and not all of them are created equal. 

To give you an idea of how you might want to turn investments into unique gifts for friends, we’ll walk you through a few of the most popular methods.

Gifting stock

One way to give a unique gift to a friend is by purchasing stock on their behalf. When you gift stock, the recipient of that gift will be able to realize gains from rises in the stock’s price.

It’s possible to purchase stock and immediately transfer it to a friend’s brokerage account or another investment vehicle. 

But you can also transfer stock you already own to a friend — and if the stock has increased in value since you purchased those shares, you should be able to avoid paying taxes on those earnings or gains because you’ve given the stock away to a friend.

Illustration of hand placing coin in row of gifts

If you want to gift stock to a friend over the age of 18, it’s a pretty simple process as long as they have a brokerage account. But if your friend is under 18 or you want to invest on behalf of their children, you’ll need to go for a custodial account instead.

Setting up a custodial account

One of the most dynamic and flexible ways to make a financial gift to a young person is to set up a UGMA custodial account.

Named after the law that created it (the “Uniform Gift to Minors Act”), a UGMA custodial account is a special investment vehicle that lets an adult tuck money and other investments away to build a nest egg for a child beneficiary.

When the child comes of age, which is usually 18 or 21 depending on the state they live in, they can then use those assets however they wish.

UGMAs are ideal for gifting because they can hold and protect financial contributions from any family member, godparent, neighbor, family friend, or literally anybody else not related to the child.

That means you could gift your friend’s daughter money or assets such as stock shares, bonds, or mutual fund shares — and then the cash or assets can be held on her behalf until she reaches the age of majority in her state.

With most custodial account types, you’d have to give those investments to the parent to deposit in the child’s account. 

But if you use the EarlyBird app, you can gift assets directly to the child (even if they don’t have an account yet). You can also record a unique video message that the child can look back on years later to appreciate just how meaningful your gift was in the long term.

Understanding the gift tax limit

Before you run off and start gifting away assets to friends all over the place, it’s important that you understand the gift tax limit.

The IRS imposes a gift tax on the transfer of any property from one person to another whenever the gifter doesn’t receive anything in return — or what they receive is of lesser value. 

The gift tax applies whether you intend the transfer to be a gift or not, and it applies to all types of assets.

That being said, the IRS does allow you to gift up to a certain amount to friends or family without having to pay taxes on those gifts. This is what’s known as your “gift tax exclusion” or “gift tax limit”.

There’s both an annual gift tax limit and a lifetime gift tax limit.

In 2021, the annual IRS gift tax limit is $15,000 per person per year. That means you could gift up to $15,000 worth of stocks to your BFF, up to $15,000 to an old roommate from college, and up to $15,000 as a birthday gift to your little brother all in the same year without having to pay the gift tax.

But if you gave any of them something worth over $15,000, you may need to pay tax on the excess amount.

That excess amount counts against your lifetime gift tax exclusion. In 2021, the lifetime exclusion is $11.7m. This one isn’t per person. Your lifetime limit encompasses the sum of all your gifts that went above and beyond your annual limits.

So once your lifetime exclusion is used up, you’d have to pay tax on any amounts you gift that exceed your annual limit for the year of the gift. 

Note: Both the annual and lifetime gift tax limits are increasing in order to keep up with inflation. 

Beginning in 2022, the new annual limit is $16,000, and the new lifetime limit is $12.06m.

If you do end up gifting more than the annual limit to somebody, you’ll need to report that gift to the IRS. 

Depending on how much of your lifetime limit you’ve used, you may also need to pay taxes on it. You can report gifts by submitting IRS Form 709 (the “gift tax return”) when you file your normal tax return.

Screenshot of IRS Form 709
(Image source)

Conclusion

Like it or not, gift-giving can be an important part of the holidays and friendship milestones. But you don’t have to waste thousands of dollars on buying stuff just for the sake of it — there are plenty of great unique gifts for friends to choose from, and most of them won’t break the bank.

Making a financial gift to a friend is a great way to contribute toward their future and help them achieve their goals.

But while cash might be the easiest gift for a friend, it’s not the most impactful or unique. That’s why you should consider investing.
Download the EarlyBird app now and give your friend a unique gift they’ll be able to appreciate for years.

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