To simplify that buying, Vega keeps a spreadsheet on her computer with columns for names, addresses, and recipients' areas of interest, plus a column where she places a check mark once a gift has been ordered. Gifts contemplated but not yet purchased are highlighted. Vega also keeps a copy of the spreadsheet on her phone, "so when I'm hanging out with someone and they mention something they want, I can make a note of it." For further inspiration, she subscribes to 30 electronic newsletters that reflect her friends' interests.

A guest room closet fitted with extra shelves is the officially designated gift repository. (Overnight visitors are sternly warned against snooping.) There, Vega stashes sweaters and serving trays, chafing dishes and jewelry, CDs, concert tickets and Waterford vases, the airplane carry-on bag she bought as a Christmas present for her assistant ("She's been borrowing mine and I thought it would be nice if she had her own"), and a Kindle. "It's for a good friend who's an avid reader," says Vega. "The last time we traveled together, he brought along three huge hardcover history books."

She has little tolerance for people who simply buy a battalion of fruit baskets for everyone on their list and call it a day. "I do think it's the thought that counts—the thought behind the gift," Vega says. "It should represent appreciation for the value a person brings to your life."

It's a lesson she's trying to teach her new husband. "He and his friends don't exchange gifts, and I tell him, 'You should express your gratitude for their friendship.' He says, 'Well, they're not going to buy me a gift.' And I tell him that's not the right way to think about it."

Once people get on Vega's list, they tend to reciprocate. "I think it raises their game," she says. "But my husband thinks I'm stressing out my friends. He claims I set the bar so high, they're starting to compete with me."

Lots of luck with that. Vega's holiday shopping for next December 25 will commence on December 26. "Christmas Day is a great time to collect information because people will always talk about what they wanted and didn't get," she says. "And the day after Christmas there's always a big sale. Last year, that's when I bought more than 30 presents."

More Stories of Giving

Joanne Kaufman is a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal.


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