The 10 Rules of Holiday Gift Giving Etiquette


Jack Allen (Serbin)

Release Date

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Thanksgiving is over and the holiday shopping season is in full swing. Buying all those gifts for everyone on your list can get expensive and overwhelming. How much do you spend? Do you have to buy for absolutely everyone? Is it alright to re-gift? What if you don’t know what to get them?

Sharon Schweitzer, an international etiquette expert, author, and founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, offers the 10 rules of holiday gift giving etiquette:

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!
According to an American Express 2015 survey, 76% of 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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