Last night a thoughtful neighbor and longtime client asked whether I'd prefer the annual gift of a plant over a different approach: the gift of a donation to a charity offered in my name. To which I responded with relative equanimity: Anything's appreciated but nothing's necessary.

Yet if you're pressing for my preferred approach, I guess I'd have to be honest: I'm all about the "intangible" gift. Though I adore the beaded Buddha bracelet I already received from a client this year, I cherish most the DIY, experiential, and charitable gifts above all.

Because the thought of hitting the mall this time of year gives me visions of parking-place-road-rage and feigned patience in the cash register line, I'm especially supportive of the anti-consumerist approach.

Though I do make exceptions for the supermarket, book stores, craft stores and online outlets, making my own gifts is my favorite approach. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post on this.)

But sometimes I'll shop for charities, too. This is especially helpful if I've got gobs of people to give gifts to and the social obligation to deliver. If, like me, you also have a desire to avoid giving people more junk from China that they'll just stuff into their garages, charity donations are an excellent way to handle your gift responsibilities … responsibly. (And they're tax deductible, too!)

Here are my favorite recommendations:

1. Heifer International: My love of goats makes this a gift from the heart, and one that never fails to elicit a beaming smile from the recipient. Donate cash and your giftee gets the pleasure of having "bought" a goat for a family in Guatemala. How can you resist that? Plus, the download-able cards are so beautiful they're a gift in and of themselves.

2. The International Fund for Animal Welfare: From saving elephants to paying for shelter animal care, you can dedicate your dollars to a variety of animal welfare imperatives.

3. The University of Pennsylvania’s Shelter Medicine Program: Every year I recommend, and give, this one. I believe the work my alma mater does in this area is groundbreaking and essential. One of my clients gave $500 in my name a couple of years ago and it made me cry. So sweet.

4. Pet Insurance: Got relatives or friends who you know have trouble paying their vet bills? Buy them a pet health insurance policy! It's a modern solution to the old adage that urges you to recognize that charity starts at home. It's a gift your recipients will have a hard time not welcoming.

But you've got more. Lots more. This I know. Offer them up below.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Buddha Bracelet with Vincent

Pic of the day: "nice puppy" by am4ndas