Editor's note: My brilliant and talented older sister recently wrote this article for Dicta, the magazine of the Knoxville Bar Association. I enjoyed it so much (and could have used her sage advice on these topics early on in my marriage and career) that I I am reprinting it here with her gracious permission. Enjoy. - BFT
How to get through the holidays without looking like Ebenezer Scrooge
by Amye Tankersley King
Remember bar review? After three years of being led through the wilderness by the modern day equivalents of Moses (that is, law professors), you finally got a glimpse of the Promised Land (that is, actual answers to questions that were not in the form of another question). Sometimes I feel the same way about holiday shopping. List in hand, I wander aimlessly looking for the perfect gift for everyone, with no idea where I’ve been, where I’m going, or where I am at the moment. While I don’t claim to have all the mysteries of the perfect holiday gift for everyone solved, I have some suggestions that, for the most part, don’t involve a lot more than swiping or typing the numbers off your gold card. Thus, I offer my vision of the Promised Land of gift-giving for some of the most important people on your list.
If you’re in a relationship and want to stay that way, perhaps the most important person onyour list is your partner. I can’t speak for the men and their preferences because I don’t know much about fly rods and NASCAR collectibles, and fortunately Mr. K is pretty easy to shop for because he usually tells me what he wants and then buys it for himself before I get the chance,meaning he’s happy with whatever I get him because he already got what he really wanted. For you men, however, a non-exhaustive list of a few other things the woman in your life doesn’t want includes: anything made by Isotoner, things that come pre-wrapped from a department store circular display, anything with “As Seen on TV” emblazoned on the box, and anything that came from Best Buy, Circuit City, or the electronics department of WalMart. In fact, go ahead and cross anything from WalMart off the list altogether.
I know all you guys think you’ve got shopping for your wife down to a science. December 24th you cruise into the mall about 3:30 p.m. and hit the closest jewelry store to the entrance, where you buy the first thing you see that’s under $100 and comes with a free box of chocolates, then go home for a quick nap in front of the TV. You know how this ends, and it’s not well, yet you keep repeating it like you’re Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.” My advice to you is this. Your wife knows what she wants. If you’re not the type to ask her directly, ask her friends. By her friends, I don’t mean your mother, your secretary, or the cute girl at the dry cleaners. Another tidbit for those of you who are still reading–there is a greater than 50 percent chance that what she wants is not available at the mall on Christmas Eve. Ask now. As in right now. Then Google it, compare prices and shipping fees if you must, click “gift wrap,” and order it before you go home today. Sometimes, if you have managed not to glare at your wife’s friends all year long, they might even volunteer to pick The Perfect Gift up for you. If they don’t offer, start working on your charm for next year. Just think, now you won’t have to endure 25 years of dinner party conversation about the Christmas you got her a dustbuster!
I know you guys think I’m picking on you, and therefore I will move on to the astonishing number of people of both genders who turn into Ebenezer Scrooge when it comes to their non-attorney staff. I was a member of the pink collar workforce in my days before and during law school and therefore consider myself to have (somewhat dated) street cred here. (And my employers here in Knoxville were always very generous, for the record.) In this arena, there’s not a lot of gray area, and I’m going to give it to you in black and white, or as I used to say back in my private practice days when I was getting really fired up at opposing counsel, “So there can be no mistake, I am memorializing this in writing.”
Rule #1: If you hired and/or have the authority to fire an employee, a gift is necessary. I know what you are thinking.... “He/she gets a paycheck; why do I have to give a gift, too?” Umm, he/she gets a paycheck for doing his/her job. Putting up with your moody self all year requires a holiday gift.
Rule #2: There are really only two acceptable gifts for office staff. They are: (1) cash/cash equivalents, and (2) nothing.
Let’s start with “nothing,” because I can hear a misplaced sigh of relief going up over downtown Knoxville. Be advised that you are always treading on thin ice with the Gift of Nothing. You might get away with it if you’re a partner/ shareholder/ owner AND the employee is receiving a hefty cash bonus either for the holidays or organization’s year-end. Just remember that nobody in the office has your back if you roll in a Mercedes but give out stingy bonus checks along with the Gift of Nothing, without regard to the economy. This also doesn’t work if you’re the only one who isn’t giving out employee gifts. It also doesn’t work for non-owners. If you are an employee (read: associate) supervising a subordinate employee, fork over the cash or cash equivalents. Finally, don’t forget to include a sincere note about how much you appreciate the employee’s contribution to the business. This goes a long way in filling out a thin envelope.
Now, let’s go back to the definition of cash and cash equivalents. Cash involves actual cash money (legal tender, Benjamins, dough, etc.) or non-post-dated checks for which sufficient funds are on deposit at the bank upon which it is drawn. Cash equivalents include such things as Visa gift cards and gift certificates to specific stores or service providers that you are absolutely positive are among the employee’s favorites. Items including but not limited to tickets to the Dixie Stampede that came free with your kids’ Dollywood season passes don’t count. There are some of you who have a long-standing relationship with a trusted staff member who exchange personal gifts, and that’s fine. That is in addition to, not in lieu of the cash or cash equivalents.
Next, children. Your children who believe in Santa will tell you what they want. That’s easy. Get on Amazon and order away. Have it shipped to the office to ensure the surprise. In polling several underage family members and acquaintances who are older than the Santa crew and therefore are wise to the big guy’s game, I have discovered that you again won’t go wrong with cash or cash quivalents. Cash is better, but if you decide to go with cash equivalents, be advised that even though you think you’re terminally hip because you shop at Gap and J. Crew, they don’t want a gift card from an “old person store.” Stick with the ubiquitous Visa gift cards (get them at the information desk at the mall and at most banks) that spend at the cool stores with loud music, as well as at the clerk’s office when they are paying their speeding tickets. I’m informed that itunes gift cards (available everywhere, including Kroger and Walgreens) are a safe bet, as well.
Once you’ve amassed the goods, you have to wrap them. While I don’t advocate this attitude on a regular basis, I’m a firm believer that gift wrapping is one of those areas where you can throw a little money at a problem and make it go away. There is the obvious department store gift wrap service. Neiman Marcus is particularly good about free wrapping promotions, and if you hit their website on a good day, you might score free shipping, too. Amazon has gift wrapping as an inexpensive add-on, and it’s well worth it given how much of your gift list you can knock out in an hour. In a pinch, pay the babysitter extra or find a staff member who is motivated to earn some extra holiday cash. Just don’t make it part of the babysitter’s or the receptionist’s regular job description or you will be punished. Trust me, they will find a way.
Happy shopping and happy holidays to all of you!
Amye Tankersley King is an attorney and a Judicial Clerk for the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals in Knoxville, Tennessee.
[This article originally appeared in Dicta ( the newsletter for the Knoxville Bar Association), and is republished here with the permission of the author. ©2008 Amye Tankersley King, all rights reserved ]