It’s the time of year that can be challenging for most of us—who, what and how much to gift for the holidays. I’ve many of my own thoughts, but I came across Sharon Schweitzer’s list of 10 rules of holiday gift giving etiquette and she makes excellent points covering most situations. Sharon, is an international etiquette expert, author, and founder of Access to Culture.

When discussing gift etiquette opinions are all over the place. For me, it is important to stick to a budget and choose gifts for the individual, not by the dollars you spend. Most people discover that they can spend more some years and be on a rock bottom budget others.

Years ago I had an extremely good client and I baked holiday cookies for him. The following year, knowing that he collected liqueur glasses, I gave him a beautiful set of four. Usually, I could count on a heartfelt thank you, yet nothing came. Finally, I asked him if they were different than any he had. His response, “They are nice, Maralyn, but this year’s gift isn’t any different than other salesmen give me to buy my business. I much prefer the cookies, as I know you have made them especially for me.”

Normally, it is not my recommendation to ask someone about their gift. But, like all rules and suggestions, there are exceptions. I hope you find some of Sharon’s tips helpful!

  1. Avoid Asking “What do you want?”
    If you don’t know what to get, try and figure it out. Consider their hobbies or what’s important in their lives. If they exercise every day, workout gear is probably a good choice. If they just moved into a new home, go for a housewarming gift. Remember, it’s about being thoughtful.
  2. Re-gift Immediately and Don’t Get Caught!
    Surveys have found that most U.S. Americans believe re-gifting is socially appropriate. If planning to do so, be sure to re-gift in different social and family circles. Also, remove all traces of the original giving, including handwritten notes and cards.
  3. You Don’t Have to Buy for Everyone!
    Annually review your gift list. How has your relationship grown and evolved? Have you kept in touch via phone, email, or seen each other in person? Did you buy him or her a birthday gift? If the answers to these are no, evaluate the need for a gift. You want to avoid having a friend feel truly forgotten, and sending a timely personalized holiday card will prevent hurt feelings.
  4. Follow Gift-Giving Policies 
    Research the policies of the college, school, office and organization. Be cautious about giving your professor or boss a gift—even if your university or office doesn’t specifically forbid the practice because it could send the wrong message. Consider gift pools for charity.
  5. Always Include Gift Receipts 
    Whether it is the holidays, or all year-long, including the gift receipt with every gift is an etiquette best-practice. If the recipient needs to exchange it because it’s the wrong size, color, or texture, why make it difficult? Avoid the awkwardness of them coming to you and asking for the receipt.
  6. Don’t Break The Bank
    It should be common sense by now, yet many people overspend and wrack up debt. Stay within your household budget. Gift giving is a blessing, not an obligation. Avoid overspending. January bills are unforgiving!
  7. Avoid Matched Spending 
    When buying is driven more by pressure than thoughtfulness, it loses its meaning. When folks buy flamboyantly, hopefully they do so because they wish to, not because they expect anything in return. Most flamboyant gift buyers have everything they could wish for, so there’s nothing luxurious that you can buy them that they can’t buy for themselves. It’s better to plan a thoughtful, sentimental gift without a hefty price tag.
  8. Do Consider Couple Gifts 
    Once a family member or friend is in a serious relationship, gift giving may segue from individual gifts to couple gifts. For example, buy them a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant, and including a thoughtful note that shows your gracious holiday spirit. If they are engaged or newlyweds, check their registry for a treasure trove of ideas.
  9. Be Genuine In Your Response to Surprise Gifts 
    If you receive an unexpected gift, be authentic in your response. Share that you are “surprised, and maybe slightly embarrassed that you don’t have a gift ready for them.” It’s awkward to race to the gift closet and spring a last-minute gift on them. You may wish to send a thank you note with a small gift wishing them all the best in the coming year.
  10. Holiday Tip
    With loyal, long term service providers, consider a holiday gratuity or tip. Visit our Holiday Tipping Guide and printable checklist if you choose to express gratitude with a ‘gratuity.’

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