Practical or frivolous? Consumable or lasting memory? Expensive or within the budget? These are the questions we face this month as we navigate our way through the gift guides, lists and endless ads for making holiday purchases even more difficult.

Gift giving has become an art form and those of us who are less than artistic rely on suggestions and current influences to complete our holiday shopping. The truth is, the guides, ads and in-your-face displays can be intimidating and discouraging to the unseasoned shopper.

Who knew an oversized advent calendar with little bottles of wine behind each door existed? Now I am wondering who needs one. “Me,” is what I’m thinking after perusing a number of guides. They make adult advent calendars with cheese, bourbon, and even skin care products. The cosmetic calendar is a mere $275, so I am sure you will want to get one for all your female friends and family members.

The purpose of an advent calendar was to count down the days until the birth of the Christ child, and featured mangers and stories, poems and images reflecting the religious holiday. We have strayed quite far afield from the original intent.

Then, too, we have come a long way from sharing a good book as a Christmas gift, baking and gifting a batch of cookies or homemade candy, or knitting a scarf. Those are the things I could wrap my head around, and wrap. Those are the things I would appreciate as gifts. But the official guides put Jenga and socks on the practical side, and Nespresso machines on the must have.

For another $275 you can buy your favorite sister-in-law 24-karat-gold-plated salt and pepper shakers. They don’t even come filled with Himalayan sea salt. Of course, they would spice up any table setting, but that isn’t the point. Well, maybe it is. Candles and stationery have been cast aside for designer chargers and drones. Before I started researching gift guides, I didn’t even know $400 drones were on people’s radar.

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Gifts that are personal are still preferred by many. I used to think a scarf or good gloves were appreciated, but who knows these days? From what I have discerned, gift cards seem to take the lead as all-time favorites. People just like to pick out their own things and not have to pretend to like the slippers or seltzer water machine. Those seemed like a good idea at the time.

Years ago, viewers relied on Oprah Winfrey to tell them what the best gifts were. Now the morning shows offer a variety of price bracket items, and as my research tells me, there are guides in print everywhere and of course, online suggestions at the click of a key.

Chocolate fountains are out, cleaning supplies are totally wrong, and souvenirs from your trip to Thailand are just a bad idea. Gift guides might help if you are stuck thinking that a lovely personal gift is underwear.

Gift cards for consumables from local merchants are always appreciated. We don’t need a guide to tell us that. Memberships or subscriptions to clubs or magazines they love are always welcome.

I like to share an experience with a friend or family member. It’s a win-win. I get to enjoy their company, the adventure or experience, and they get something they might not have done alone. That might be cheating, since I am giving myself a gift as well, but it’s better than a pasta pot.

Be creative, use the resources available if you need them and stay within a budget. It makes the months after the holidays more tolerable. If you can enjoy the process, all the better. When asked, most people will say the best gift is a healthy family. That might not be on the holiday guide to giving, but what a gift. If only we could package that for everyone.

Kay Stellpflug is an educator and trainer in interpersonal and professional communications. She works and lives in Beaver Dam and can be reached at kaystellpflug@gmail.com.

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