This is a tip that worked for friends of ours: I think our kids were too old for this by the time we heard of it. The dad would take his two young daughters shopping for their mom, but sometimes they would choose things that were either inappropriate or way beyond their means (whether they used allowance money or the father gave them gift money, I don’t know — it could be done either way). Then would come explanations about why they could not get that thing, disappointment, etc., turning the whole expedition into an ordeal rather than the joyful time it was meant to be.
The father decided to shop by himself and gather smaller, appropriate items and keep them in an old suitcase in his closet. He called it “Dad’s store” and he would let his girls chose a gift for their mother from the suitcase. I think he may even have collected things through the year to put in his “store” and used it for any occasion for which the girls might need a present for their mother. It made the whole experience much more pleasant for them all.
This could be expanded to other gift recipients. Of course, at some point children need to learn how to go to a store and make appropriate choices within their limits, but when they are too small to understand, this seems like a great alternative.
To read a wealth of great tips or link to your own, go to Rocks In My Dryer.