Friday, January 16, 2009

Vouching for Vouchers

So, hands up if you got an inappropriate Christmas present? And, no, I'm not talking about whips and chains or those naughty teddy bear models, I mean knitting needles for a teenage boy, or a giant box of chocolates for a strict dieter.

Personally, I'm a bit of a fluffy optimist and usually love all my presents, but I know lots of people who end up with piles of unwanted gifts, resigned to car boot sales, ebay or charity shops. Great as those things are, wouldn't it be great to just get good presents? The perennial fall-back option is cash, but this loses its appeal once the recipient has a few pennies saved up. That well-meant tenner ends up as just another slice of savings, going towards paying the window-cleaner or buying loo-roll.

So, what's the solution? I propose the good old underrated gift voucher. Everyone knows about book tokens (valid in Blackwells, Waterstones and more), but what about more store-specific vouchers for a bit of a change? You'd be amazed how many shops offer them, and they're increasingly becoming more convenient, with change (albeit often in voucher form) available and free gift cards to offer the vouchers in. Here are some of my favourites:

- Oxford Playhouse - let someone choose an evening of entertainment. Available at the box office or call: 01865 798600.

- Borders - very versatiles as they can be used on a whole range of media.

- Marks and Spencer - everyone can use an M&S voucher. There's something for everyone, ranging from the practical to the extravagant. If you don't have a clue what to get with yours, have a look at the cosy dressing gowns, or the hats and scarves.

- WH Smith - not as boring as it sounds: they stock stationery, calendars, magazines, chocolates and even CDs in some stores. You'll buy stuff here anyway, so why not have it as a treat paid for by someone else?

That's just the tip of the iceberg, but it's really well worth checking out which other shops offer gift vouchers, so next year even the most awkward person to buy for will be happy.

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