I took home quite a haul from Detroit this past weekend, including a wedding scrapbook that just seems adorably cute and some books/DVDs that had been haunting my wish list for far too long. My very spontaneously chosen gift of the DVD game version of Price is Right was a huge hit with my sweetie, and adorable nephew also enjoyed it. He liked Plinko the best.

On the trip home, we got into a conversation about gift cards, based on a Dr. Joy Brown podcast episode. During the podcast, they came up with gifting levels, with each higher level requiring greater effort and knowledge about the receiver. We modified the list based on our opinions and then I modified it even further. See below:

Level 0 – Cash: It’s at level zero, because it’s always good and usually requires almost no effort, and it’s almost always right so there’s no risk
Level 1 – Check: At least you had to write something and hopefully you put a personalized message in the memo field, and like cash, you can’t go wrong.
Level 2 – Gift Card: It’s cash, but we’re going to make you spend it where we want you to spend it. The giver is presuming to know where the receiver likes to shop, and the gifter at least took the time to select and go to a store to make the purchase…or at least (as I did) go to the grocery store and choose from the massive rack o’ cards.
Level 2.5 – Luxury Gift Card: Treating someone to a nice dinner out or a spa day should count for more than buying their next tank of gas. With a luxury gift card, you’re saying the person should take a break from normalcy. With a non-luxury gift card, you’re saying, Hey, that next book of stamps is on me! It’s still a nice gesture and certainly useful, but it’s not so much a gift as compensating someone for something they’d do normally.
Level 3 – Item from wish list: while the item could be from any level, you’re buying it because someone specifically told you to do so, be it via or via a regular ol’ list. Note that inclusion of this item means that all other levels are only achieved if the purchase was made *without* prompting from a list.
Level 4 – Book/DVD/Movie/etc.: They’re easy to return, and you usually can’t go wrong with a best seller. You are exhibiting knowledge of the receiver’s preferred genre (hopefully), and risking failure by doing so.
Level 5 – Housewares or Tools: Maybe it’s because you found the Slice-O-Matic to be the coolest thing ever…or maybe you just know he loves getting a new hammer, but there’s a huge risk of being wrong balanced with not really needing to know the person that well to buy it.
Level 6 – Clothing: For this, you usually need to know a size as well as having some really good idea of what the person likes. It takes effort to pick it out, especially if you’re of the opposite gender. And, as this article points out, you’re more likely to be wrong than right.

Now, this is not to say that a Level 6 gift is better than level 0 or vice versa…with any item, there’s the risk of failure versus the perceived effort. The question is always whether you know this person so well that your risk is acceptable…or whether you’d rather have the guaranteed success and lose the perceived effort “gold star.”