1. Gift cards to grocery stores.
Depending on the varying states of your 20-something’s ability to fend for his or herself, their use of a grocery gift card will speak volumes. A gift card to Trader Joe’s will always be welcome because the store of wonders stocks such wondrous things as gingerbread coffee and chipotle salsa (for $1.99 countrywide!). But if your 20-something is savvy and prepped to do battle as a Tribute of Panem, give them a gift card to Whole Foods, stand back, and watch them either sacrifice themselves at the cheese counter, or stretch that puppy until their birthday in March, when they will undoubtedly ask you for another.
2. A six-pack of quality beer.
Or even not-quality beer, really, but even if you just reach into the fridge in the garage and slap a bow on a cardboard Sam Adams carrier, they will be as grateful as if you had given them a luxury car with an oversized bow. Your 20-something will almost always appreciate alcohol of the caliber you have come to expect as “standard grade,” because the standards your 20-something has are admittedly few (especially when it comes to free booze).
3. The log-in credentials to your HBOgo account.
Reset the password once a week if you want, so they’ll be forced to call you and check in. Your 20-something will go to great lengths for free access to Game of Thrones, even so far as actually making a phone call instead of texting.
4. The puppy they saw on the street and instagrammed yesterday.
Remember the pony they asked for when they were 7? This is 2013’s pony.
5. Sriracha anything.
Unless you haven’t heard, we’re currently facing an impending shortage of the glorious condiment, and sriracha is slated to be the liquid currency with which your 20-something barters. In case you’re at a loss regarding how you gift a hot sauce—again, slap a bow on it, we’re really not picky—here’s a handy guide for starters.
Other flavors your 20-something will appreciate: bacon, funfetti, pumpkin spice, almond butter.
6. A gift card to IKEA, with the price for delivery added in.
Or at the very least a promise to help them schlep furniture up the rickety staircases in their walk-up apartments. Do not abandon your 20-something when they begin having a meltdown over A, the ridiculously confusing instruction illustrations; B, their realization that their doorway won’t allow for the chair on which their hearts were so set; C, that eventually, they will have to pay somebody to help them get this furniture out of their apartment. (This will be next year’s present.)
Your 20-something will undoubtedly be amazing at waiting in line for designer collaboration lines at fast-fashion stores, and even better at the honing their sixth sense for when stores are having 50%-off-the-sale-price sales, but they will forget when to buy socks. Or underwear that’s not of the 10-for-$25 variety. Or tights that aren’t guaranteed to rip in 2 wears or less. They will have also lost innumerable socks at the laundromat. If you decide to go the clothing route, this is the way to go.
Your 20-something meant to buy a change of sheets the other weekend, they really did. But then they went to the bedding section of your local Target and nearly had a heart attack at exactly how much sheets and duvet covers and quality pillows cost. This may not be the gift of actual sleep—a priceless commodity, so if they’re home for the holidays, please, let them sleep in—but it is the next best thing.
9. A donation to the greatest charity of all, Student Loans R Us
Look, student loans suck. Nobody likes student loans. Everyone hates student loans. We hate talking about them, we hate listening to people talk about them. But if you donate to even a monthly installment of your 20-something’s soul-sucking student loans, they will shut up about them for at least a month. (Or, you know, until the next payment is due.)
10. Vintage clothing
This needn’t even be a tedious activity. Go shopping in your own attic for the all the clothes you once wore. Your 20-something has always secretly lusted over their grandfather’s buckskin jacket and grandmother’s pillbox hat. Both may be rife with sentimental value and yes, chances are good they’ll only ever be worn to brunch, but you’re essentially giving your 20-something a priceless heirloom for free. And beyond sleep, there is nothing your 20-something loves more than vintage things.
11. Phone cases
The simple phone case, once a basic tool to keep one’s phone protected from minor fumbles, has now become a ubiquitous extension of your 20-something’s expression of self. Buy them a quality case that recharges their phone if they are prone to hours-long Candy Crush sessions, or pick up an assortment of bargain-bin cases at your local mall kiosk so your 20-something has as many options as they do moods.
Alternative gift idea: prescription-less glasses; hair extensions and/or washable hair dye. Your 20-something is a chameleon of many shifting forms. Allow them to express their individuality and they will be extremely grateful.
12. A coffee of the month club.
Don’t get me wrong: your standard Starbucks gift card will be entirely, warmly, enthusiastically welcomed, but if there’s something your 20-something loves and doesn’t get enough of, it’s stuff in the mail. (Seriously, send them a postcard and watch them flip out. The United States postal service is a magical tie to their past, like Lisa Frank stickers and Clueless quotes.) A coffee of the month club is like a wine of the month club, but a lot less anxiety inducing. They will try to talk to you about the origin of the beans they received in February, but will be at a loss as to how this means anything in their morning beyond saving them $4 a cup at their independent coffee shop of choice. Or, you could buy them a couple canisters of the gingerbread coffee from Trader Joe’s. Really, no one in their right mind would object.
13. The phone number to that one connection you have at your 20-something’s dream company of choice.
Now, here’s the thing—you can’t just outright give your scrappy 20-something a job with their dream employer. They will want to earn it (as well they should). First, casually mention that you just happen to know somebody in Human Resources at Your Dream Company, Inc. Watch them salivate. They may even put down their phone and give you the full spectrum of their attention. On Christmas morning, hand them a small box containing a single scrap of paper nestled ever-so-lovingly on cotton wool. This scrap of paper will have the transcript of the introductory email you sent last night to your contact, with your 20-something’s email in the CC bar. Stand back, and watch them work harder at landing a job than you have ever seen them work before.
But only trendy sneakers. If you give them functional running shoes, they may suspect that you are ever-so-gently trying to “tell them something.” Browse some fashion blogs for tips, but a good rule of thumb is an all-black Nike Free. Or sneaker wedges. Your 20-something loves those, even though they themselves do not know why.
15. Plates and other assorted kitchenware.
Chances are good your 20-something is still living with one foot in the realm where a large enough coffee mug totally counts as a bowl. Either that, or they’re eating straight out of takeout and tupperware containers, and while there is nothing particularly wrong in this, they wouldn’t be opposed to upgrading to quality plates. Cutlery not hewn from plastic would also be an acceptable gift.
16. Alcohol in general.
Allow me to illustrate in one of the great languages you and your 20-something will both be able to speak fluently—nostalgia:
See that bag of money? Your 20-something will cuddle up to a bottle of quality tequila like it is a freaking teddy bear. (This is a prime opportunity to regift that whiskey your boss gave you for the record. Your 20-something won’t know the difference.)
17. The promise to link up your credit card to their Seamless account for one month.
Set a few ground rules if you must, i.e., that they may only order from Seamless twice a week, and that there is a maximum of $20 per order, including tip. They’ll be economical, they’ll order from the cheaper diner. Your 20-something really isn’t picky. And Mom? If you’re reading this? This one goes out to you.