Ladylike Laws: Holiday Gift Giving Etiquette

Gift giving can be a sticky subject. How much should you spend? Do you give your boss a present? Is re-gifting okay? How do you handle unexpected gifts? These are common questions many of us may find ourselves asking each holiday season. Fortunately, there are some clear-cut rules when it comes to giving gifts…

How much should I spend?
First off, forget stressing over giving people things that have the same monetary value of what they gave you. Instead, figure out the nicest thing you can afford within your means. The best way to figure this out is to make a list of everyone you want to give a gift to. Then determine how much you can (not want) to spend on each person. Having a budget will keep your holiday spending in perspective. Gift giving is about being thoughtful and showing appreciation, it’s not about going into debt.

Who should I give gifts to?
Give presents to the people you want to show your appreciation to such as family and close friends. If you are part of a big group and don’t want to leave anyone out, arrange a gift exchange or plan a Secret Santa with a price point that works for everyone ($10 to $100 is most appropriate). As for people who celebrate different holidays, it’s totally okay to give them a present so long as it isn’t anything religious.

What’s the present protocol for work?
According to the co-author of the
18th Edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette, Anna Post, the one person you really shouldn’t give a gift to is your boss. “When you’re in a work environment and there is a team of people working together if you give your boss a gift it can often come across as trying to buy good favor.” However if you work at a company with 10 people and want to give something to your boss, Post suggests making it a group effort. That way it doesn’t come across as though you’re fishing for brownie points. If you happen to be close friends with your boss, keep it personal and give him or her a gift outside of the office. As for co-workers, Post says to “tread carefully.” While there will inevitably be people you are close to, try not to show favoritism. If you have a personal relationship with someone outside the office, Post advises giving him or her a gift somewhere other than work. Otherwise, if you give one person a card, give everyone a card. Another idea is to bring in a treat for the entire office to share. Communal gifts that can be shared are ideal.

To re-gift or not to re-gift?
Opt for not. Not only is re-gifting dishonest, but you will also most likely get caught (or be paranoid about getting caught). Re-gifting entirely defeats the purpose of gift giving. Gifts are meant to be a reflection of your gratitude for someone–something that has been thoughtfully selected by you for someone you care about. Re-gifting is both thoughtless and wrong. If you’re strapped for cash, make the gift instead. DIY gifts are from the heart and the recipient will surely appreciate it far more than a random store-bought present.

How do I handle unexpected gifts?
If someone gives you a present out of the blue, you are not required to reciprocate. Instead of scrambling for an excuse as to why you do not have a gift for them, graciously accept the gift and say thank you. Stammering for an explanation will only make things worse. And besides, you shouldn’t feel compelled to give just because you received.

Are gift cards and gift receipts okay?
Yes! Gift cards are actually very thoughtful since you need to consider the recipient’s interests. And it’s much better than giving someone cash, which many consider gauche. As for gift receipts, it’s always a good idea to include them. It tells the recipient you understand if they don’t like the gift and it’s okay for them to return it in exchange for something they really love.

I hope you found today’s Ladylike Laws post helpful! I’ll be posting a follow-up blog about the major no-no gifts next week.

What’s the strangest gift you’ve ever received?

XO Lee

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