Newswise — If you're about to run out and pick up a gift card for that last hard-to-shop-for person on your list, you may want to consider trying to buy a bad gift instead, said Gettysburg College philosophy professor Steven Gimbel. Whatever you do, don't buy a gift card.

Gimbel discourages last-minute shoppers from purchasing gift cards because they primarily serve as an easy way out when the shopper is stumped for ideas.

"To avoid giving bad gifts, people have turned more and more to gift cards," Gimbel said. "More stylish than the awkwardly sized paper gift certificate, the new plastic versions are gaining currency as an acceptable alternative to shopping. But does this really avoid the problems of the poorly executed present? No."

Especially at this time of year, Gimbel says people need to remember why they are giving a gift. People are often fearful that despite their good intentions, a loved one will be disappointed with their gift, so they opt instead to buy a gift card with a predetermined monetary value that allows the recipient to "get what they want."

"Giving a good gift is a very difficult task because it requires thought on several different levels. To start, there is the care that gives rise to the desire to give the gift," Gimbel said. "A good gift is also something that the recipient will use to make their life better and something someone wants. There is no greater success than seeing wide eyes and hearing, 'How did you know?' A great present is one that displays an unspoken intimacy."

Gimbel's advice? Shoot to give a good gift -- not a gift card -- even if your gift ends up to be a bad one. "A bad gift is still a bad gift, but sometimes the bad gifts are the best ones to get. Sometimes it is the thought of a bad gift that counts," Gimbel said.

"The gift card is about the giver, not about the recipient. It sends the message that happiness is to be found in acquiring the things you want, not in being close to people who care about you - even if the people close to you do not really know you," Gimbel said. "When you give a gift that plays to someone's personality, the gift says, 'I don't quite get it, but I know it's important to you and I want you to know I am happy to try to nurture that aspect of your life.'"