My birthday is in December. When I was a kid, I would have a combined Christmas and birthday wish-list written months in advance. It outlined everything that I wanted, and in those simple times, receiving some of those toys would make me very happy.

Adults still have toys, probably more. There are skis, bikes, tablets, cars, purses, jackets - something for everyone. But receiving a gift as an adult is different. It doesn’t yield the same kind of joy.

A child is ecstatic to receive a gift because they had no means of acquiring it on their own. If an adult wants or needs something that could be gifted, they can buy it themselves. You can still buy them gifts, but it will meet one of these criteria:

  1. Thoughtful and not something they had considered
  2. Desired, but purchasing is not yet justified

Note that bucket #2 is the equivalent of a child’s wish-list, only it is now dictated by economics.

I am fortunate that many of the people in my life are well off. They can justify some extraneous purchases, which makes for few items in their 2nd bucket. This is overall fantastic, but it does make it harder to give gifts!

I’ve been thinking about time a lot. It is my rarest asset. Unlike wealth, I can’t make more time. The value of a piece of my time will vary throughout my life, but I am certain that it is finite.

For the people described above, the most valuable gift I can give them is my own time. Like the child’s wish-list, this is something they cannot directly buy. Not all people value my time in the same way, so there are cases where this can also be a bad gift. For the people I have in mind (e.g. family, close friends), this would be a great gift.

One last thought: gifted time has both a present and a past. The past is any resulting memories. I would argue that optimizing for the past is the best. Try to gift your time so that it is remembered for years. I don’t think it’s right to arbitrage this, but it’s a good guiding principle.