The most wonderful time of the year is approaching. And with it come numerous gift exchanges. Who do you get gifts for? Do you include receipts? Is it ever OK to regift something that you really don’t need? Oh, the pressure!
Well, fear not. If you are going into the holiday season with trepidation, here’s a gift-giving etiquette guide to get you through it unscathed.
1. Regift with extreme caution
Regifting can be a tough minefield to navigate. You don’t want to be sitting around opening presents and hear a ticked-off aunt or uncle shout “Hey, didn’t I give you this last year?!”
However, regifting is a good option if the item itself has never been opened, doesn’t have a sell-by date, and will benefit someone else far more than it benefits you. Ideally, a regift should go to someone who doesn’t know the person who gave it to you, and vice versa.
If you’re attending a white elephant gift exchange, that can be the perfect place to unload an item you don’t want, or to pick up an item you can then give to a friend or loved one. Regifting will always be tricky, but if you exercise caution, you should come out fine. (See also: 10 Things You Can Totally Regift — And 7 Things You Shouldn’t)
2. Don’t get guilted into giving expensive gifts
We all have those friends, coworkers, or family members that just love to go overboard this time of year. When you combine that with someone who has a lot of disposable income, you can find yourself on the receiving end of some lavish gifts.
Then the guilt sets in. The gift you got for that person is pretty small in comparison. Should you go out and get something bigger, and blow your holiday budget? Honestly, no you shouldn’t.
Giving a gift is not about seeing who can spend the most, or get the biggest reaction. The real joy of gift-giving is finding something you think the other person will truly like and appreciate, regardless of the dollar amount behind it.
If you received a top of the line coffee maker from a friend, you should never feel the need to rush out and buy something of similar value. If you give a gift and someone feels like they were shortchanged, then that person doesn’t really understand the spirit of the season at all. And remember, homemade gifts are some of the most well-received, and they can’t really have a value placed upon them. (See also: 16 Easy, Delicious and Homemade Holiday Gifts)
3. Consider a gift pool
Big families come across this problem all the time. Getting gifts for all the aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, sisters, brothers, nephews, and nieces can become a financial strain, and a logistical nightmare. In this situation, a gift pool is an excellent solution.
Simply put all the names into a hat, much like you would with a gift exchange at the office, and divide up the gift duties into a much more manageable amount. For example, this year, John gets gifts for Jack and Susie, and that’s it. You can even turn it into a Secret Santa, so nobody knows which gifts came from which people. And if you want a little more help, a site like Elfster can take all the hard work out of the process.
4. Be careful about giving donation cards
Donating to charity during the season of giving is wonderful. However, if you decide that you’re going to give a donation to a worthy cause in the gift recipient’s name, make sure you know that person very well. It can be considered presumptuous, and even insulting, to give someone’s gift to someone else, even if that someone else is a charity. What’s more, the charity you donate to may not be something the recipient agrees with.
Remember Seinfeld’s classic Festivus episode, and George’s “Human Fund” scam? It may have been comedy, but the reactions tell a story. “I got you a gift…you gave mine away,” is a common complaint. But if you find a charity that someone will be passionate about, and you are confident they will react well, go ahead. (See also: 8 Charities You Can Trust With Your Holiday Donations)
5. Leave some people off your list
You have only so much money to go around, and not everyone is going to get something. How do you decide who to treat, and who to skip this year?
Well, it doesn’t have to be an issue full of headaches and heartache. Talk to some of your family and friends about gifts this year, and casually bring up the fact that you don’t need to exchange gifts. “How about we swap cookies, or cakes?” Something like that can instantly take the pressure off both parties, because that’s also one less person they need to go shopping for as well.
Some of the more extended family members shouldn’t really be getting gifts, either. You don’t need to be buying gifts for the uncle of your partner or spouse, or the best friends of family members. All in all, the adults can step back and let the kids get the most out of this time of year. It’s way more magical for them, just as it was for us when we were their age.
6. Give gift cards sparingly
The gift card section in stores keeps getting bigger and bigger, and they are very handy as last-minute gifts. The problem is, they really don’t show a lot of thought, and they also have a specific value attached. “Here, I spent $25 on you. What did you get me?” And as several comedians have pointed out over the years, for that $25 you can only spend at one store, you could have given them 25 actual dollars they could spend anywhere. (See also: 10 Fun Ways to Give the Gift of Cash)
Gift cards should be given when you want someone to spend money on something very specific. For example, a bookstore card for a college kid, or a grocery store card for an elderly relative who really needs that help. When you just throw gift cards at everyone, it can send the message that you didn’t put much thought or effort into the gift, and that’s not something you want people to associate with you.
7. Don’t reciprocate for every unexpected gift
It’s the last day of work before the holiday, and a coworker pops into your office and says, “Hey, I got you this. Happy Holidays!” and you don’t quite know how to say, “Arghhhhh, I didn’t get you anything!” in response.
It can be tempting to drop everything and do a frantic run to the nearest store, but honestly, you don’t have to. If you say, “I have something great for you, I’ll bring it over tomorrow,” you’re actually kind of stealing their thunder. And if you make an excuse for not having one for them, you are going to make them feel awkward. Instead, be very thankful for the gift, and let them know just how much it is appreciated. You can find ways to make them feel special later, even if it’s buying them lunch one day.
8. Include a receipt
Gift receipts are great because they don’t list the sale price of the gift. But you can’t always get one.
A lot of people don’t know what to do in that case. They may think it’s fine to provide a regular receipt at a kid’s birthday party, but consider it a little tacky or even haughty for close friends and family.. “Hey, here’s how much I spent on you this year.”
Actually, people don’t look at receipts that way. What it really says is that you tried your hardest to find something you think they would like, but you may not have nailed it. And now you have made it very easy for that person to exchange the gift for something they would much rather have.
They will still think of you when they get it, and you come across as helpful, thoughtful, and mindful of how awkward it can be to ask for a receipt, or take something back without one. If you’re worried about the receipt just being out there for all to see, pop it in a little envelope or fold it and tape it shut. That way, they will only see the price if they really want to take the item back.
9. Forgo the thank-you card
After a big, personal event like a wedding, anniversary party, or a birthday, it is customary to send out thank-you notes to the people who gave gifts. However, at this time of year, that act is optional, and usually unnecessary. Everyone is swapping gifts. The sheer volume of cards and letters that would be going back and forth in the mail would cripple the post office if everyone did it.
If someone goes above and beyond with a gift and you feel the need to show your appreciation, then by all means send a thank you. But for the most part, you can simply send an email, give them a call, or say thank you in person when you get the gift or the next time you see them.