I do whatever I can to make sure my friends know how important they are to me. I travel across the country for their weddings, fly to watch them have their first babies, send them musical voicemails for their birthdays, and of course, I’d be the first one there should they really need me. My friends drive me and influence me in ways that I can’t even describe. That being said, it can be tough to maintain those relationships.
I know that material things aren’t supposed to be that important in the scheme of interpersonal relationships, but when you have a lot of long-distance friends, and IRL connection comes few and far between, I think gifts matter.
One small but simple way to be sure you’re upholding your end of the relationship is to remember friends’ birthdays but, man, that can be hard, too. (And don’t tell me Facebook solved that for us. A reminder ON the date is not going to get a gift on time, much less a card in the mail.) Plus, once friends start getting engaged, married, and having babies — and then their babies start having birthdays — that’s just a whole lot of gift-giving and celebration-remembering. How is it possible to keep up with all of the gifts, cards, and “I love you” texts? And when you miss a birthday? OUCH. I call that the “asshole feeling” and it’s hard to shake.
The one thing I’m going to do to be a better friend this year is bulk buy gifts for my friends (and their babies) in advance. Ready for my plan? I talk about this in my new book, Get It Together: Ditch the Chaos, Do the Work, and Design your Success, but here goes: During the first week of the first month of each quarter, I’m going to bulk buy gifts to cover each and every major event to come — no questions asked – I must complete my mission!
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For example, in January, I looked ahead to the three months in the upcoming quarter (January, February, and March) and made a list of all the big life-cycle events in my friends’ lives.
- One friend’s 40th birthday — we don’t normally do gifts, but this is a big birthday.
- A friend’s child’s 5th birthday: I usually do a gift under $20; something small so they know I’m thinking about them.
- A baby shower I can’t attend — I want to send a gift regardless.
- A housewarming: My close friend is moving into her first grown-up condo. I’ll spend under $50 on a gift for her new home. Excited for her!
- An acquaintance’s birthday: We don’t do presents, but a short hand-written note lets people know they are on my mind on their special day. I’m trying to get better about sending cards.
- A friend’s child’s 2nd birthday: I’ll probably send a card and a small gift if I find something I like. I try not to overspend on gifts (especially for babies!) unless it’s something I completely love.
- A new baby! My close friend is due in early March, and I definitely want to get something great for her baby boy.
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Once I have my list, I give myself a deadline. Since this was for my Q1 gifts, I told myself that I needed to purchase all of these presents by Sunday, January 6. To accomplish that, I put shopping on my calendar for the first weekend of the year. Scheduling in the shopping is crucial, because otherwise I end up saying “I have so much time” and before you know it — that Facebook reminder shows up, I have no gift, it’s too late, and I feel like a jerk.
In addition to my shopping deadline, I also add a “mail out” date on my calendar a week before every milestone or birthday, so I actually remember to send out the gifts I have bought. I can’t tell you how many times I do buy the gifts ahead of time, forget about them, and then find them sitting around my house for months. This is lame. Don’t do this.
And there you have it: The super simple way I’m going to be a better friend this year? It’s remembering birthdays and big events, and sending gifts to the people I love — on time. Sure, the thought always counts, but actually getting things done is better.
Lauren Berger is the founder and CEO of Intern Queen and Career Queen and author of Get It Together: Ditch the Chaos, Do the Work, and Design Your Success, out now! For more stories like this, check out Self-Maintenance — the art of doing whatever you need to get by.
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