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John Phipps: Practical Presents are Worth the Risk

11:09AM Dec 06, 2018

What do you get when you cross the intellect of an engineer, the heart of a farmer and the charm of a TV commentator? The ever-witty John Phipps.( Farm Journal Media )

It’s not too early to despair about Christmas shopping for your beloved victims. After all, when I went to buy a replacement patio umbrella in August, shelves were already loaded with Christmas lights. If you’re like me, which mercifully few of you are, good intentions can lead you to foolishly commit to a serious effort to get it right this year.

Experience has shown you have no sense of fashion, often being two or even three fads behind. In addition, there’s no relationship minefield quite like estimating clothing size, so scratch that whole category. Jewelry is frankly a racket, with imaginary value invented by sellers. Meanwhile, TV is an excellent guide for political opinion or umpire accuracy, but choosing your gift from commercials seldom ends well. Forget anything “as seen on TV.”

Walk quickly past the aisles of appliances. Farmer instincts in that category tend to favor the unusual, shiny or high-tech. One hint is to check the basement, garage or rented storage space for previous seldom used gadgets. The best rule of thumb is if some device is genuinely needed, you have been told about it in no uncertain terms already.

Still, your motives are honorable, even noble: you want to express affection and display some meager evidence of forethought with a gift that will be treasured. That’s not going to happen, but you can still do better than the past few years.

Go for the practical present. Nothing says romance like making every day better in some way. Start by asking: what is the recipient’s most irritating hassle? What would solve it? Some examples:

  • A really, really good chef’s knife. Best for a budget: Victorinox Fibrox Pro Chef’s 8" knife. If the food at your house is really better than you deserve: Mac Knife Professional Hollow Edge 8" Chef’s knife.
  • Better showers. If you have a good water source, try a low-pressure shower head such as the Fire Hydrant Spa. A great shower can redeem the worst day.
  • One great tool. Above all, avoid sets, assortments or collections. One superior quality (Mac Tools) 15/16" wrench beats adding to a collection of 13/16" toolbox deadweights. If possible, consider the Milwaukee M18 ½" impact wrench or its smaller/cheaper M12 version. Personally, I prefer the smaller tool, but I have the arm strength of an accountant.
  • Clean out just one space. The gift of usable volume keeps on giving. Until it fills up again, of course. Hire a dumpster and finally put the car in the garage or walk freely through your basement. Make room in the closets for more than one new cotton shirt.
  • The front of the bus. If your budget can be overstretched to permit it, a trip to see a distant child, sibling, parent or friend can be surprisingly well-received. Of course, you must be prepared to stand in the kitchen/laundry/carpool gap while the recipient is away, but how bad can a domicile get in a week or so? On second thought, fold an outside cleaner and carryout into your gift budget. Finally, spend some time fooling around airline websites. There are times and flights where business class is expensive but not heart-stopping. Buy it. Everyone should fly in the front once in their life. It’s like driving a tractor with a cab for the first time (ask Grandpa). Plus you might never have to travel again because the recipient will nevermore enter a coach cabin.

Being sensible about gift-giving should not become a habit, but it can be a refreshing change of pace from “It’s nice, dear, do you have the receipt?” I have always believed farmer spending on gifts tends toward the miserly because of poor mental accounting. For example, tax deductibility is not the best test of value. Carefully chosen gifts can pay back over a long time, such as drainage tile, or saying “please.” Above all, remember your recipient has done as much as you have to earn that tariff payment, amiright?