Modern Etiquette: Thank You Dos and Dont’s + 10 Cute Thank You Cards

Illustration by Anna Emilia

Last weekend I found myself collecting beautiful thank you cards at Greenwich Letterpress in Manhattan. I needed a few specific thank you cards, but I also wanted to collect some blank cards I could use for general thank yous and the sorts of cards I try to send as often as I can to remind friends and family what they mean to me. While I was sorting through them this morning, it got me thinking about the importance and significance of saying THANK YOU. These days thank yous are sent in the form of texts, emails, social media messages and the rare written note or phone call. While traditional etiquette would demand something written or done in person (which is of course, lovely), I think modern times call for a modern set of guidelines. Much like the discussion we had about communicating after the loss of a loved one, I think the way you communicate to someone has a lot to do with the circumstance at hand. So today I thought it would be nice to brush up on Thank You tips before we dive into a season full of events, occasions and surprises that will most likely be the perfect excuse to flex your gratitude muscles. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic and any lessons/tips you’ve learned or appreciated in your experience. xo, grace

THANK YOU CARDS
*I’ve also included 10 cute Thank You cards to get your started if you want to say ‘thank you’ in written form. The sources continue below, along with additional cards. If you prefer to DIY your own, here are three ideas: Flower dyed thank yous, Stitched cardboard thank yous and Embroidered thank yous

Thank you cards above, clockwise from top left: Flower card $19.95 for set of 8, Neon pink card $18.50 for 8, Chalkboard thank you $12.50 for 10, Faux leather striped cards $22.50 for 8, Chevron gold foil cards $24.95 for 6

The Big Picture: I think, at its core, giving thanks for something you’ve received, whether it’s an object, an experience or something intangible like forgiveness or support, is something that just needs to be done, period. The form, timing and details are rarely as important as the simple act of saying thank you. I’ve found I most often get tripped up on trying to make things perfect, when I should just stick to the simple “Thank You” and get the message out. So when in doubt, a simple thank you in any form is the best thing you can do to show your appreciation. My notes below are about finding creative, timely or most effective ways to say thanks, but the bottom line is this: Just say thank you. The person receiving the thanks will just be happy to hear it, the mode and message are rarely as important as the simple act of acknowledging someone’s kindness.

Tips to Remember:

1. Timing: I think the most important thing about saying thank you is doing it in a timely manner. Of course a thank you at any time is better than none at all, but I find I’m more likely to give thanks if I do it quickly and succinctly. No matter the size of the gift/support, a simple thank you sent within a few days of the event or gift you’ve received is always best. The one exception seems to be weddings, in which case it’s generally accepted that if you send the thank yous within a few months of the wedding date, you’re ok. But I think for everyday thank yous, a few days later (not counting mail delivery, of course) is ideal. It lets someone know you took the time to sit down and acknowledge their kindness and that their efforts weren’t forgotten right away.

2. Message: I think a lot of the time, people get hung up on WHAT to say in a thank you and end up not sending one. But honestly, something simple is always best. Yes, it’s lovely to get something long and details and meaningful, but a simple thank you that mentions the thing you’re thankful for is always enough. For example, if someone gave you a bouquet of flowers:

Dear Carol,

Thank you so much for the beautiful bouquet of roses. They were so thoughtful and look gorgeous on our dining room table. We hope to see you again soon!

Love,
Grace

Or if someone gives gave you some support when you most needed it:

Dear Henry,

Thank you so much for your help last week. It meant so much to have your support during this tough time.

Best,
Grace

You don’t need to pour your heart out if the words are thoughtful and to the point. People will appreciate that you took the moment to appreciate their efforts, period.

3. Type of Message: Here’s the rub– people often feel that a BIG gift demands a BIG thank you. I don’t agree. I think it’s more important to simply say thank you in a timely manner than to make a big showy display of thanks. That said, I think there are some things to consider, depending on the gift type and the timing.

Text messages: I think a text message is a nice, informal way to thank someone for something slightly less specific or more about a general thank you for overall support. For example:

Hi Jenny- Thanks so much for having me over for dinner. It was great to catch up over pizza and relax. See you next week, Grace.

or

Hi Jenny- I was just thinking about you and wanted to say thanks for always being such a great friend. I’m so lucky to have you in my life. xo, Grace

Emails: I think emails are similar to text messages, but are a great place to go into a bit more detail. If you want to call out the specifics of a gift or event, this is a nice way to do that. It’s also a nice way to say thank you for a slightly younger generation that is more used to using email for everything than say, your grandparents. Though if your grandparents are using email on a regular basis you might want to send them a virtual high-five for being so connected and awesome. I think it’s good to note that emails are a nice way to say thank you to someone you don’t know well enough to ask for an address or contact info. For example, if you love an article you read in your local paper, writing them an email to say thank you or ‘good job’ might make more sense than emailing them to get an address and THEN sending a note.

Hand-written notes: I think of these as the most formal way to say thank you. Not because writing is necessarily formal, but it feels like the most traditional way to be appreciative and acknowledge something. Notes are my go-to for financial gifts, holiday or birthday gifts and anything related to work and family. Though they clearly work for anyone in your life, I think notes tend to imply you know someone well enough to have their address and say thank you. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • If your hand-writing isn’t legible (so many of us suffer from this thanks to years of typing over hand-writing), perhaps consider a different method of thank you.
  • If the gift was meant for multiple people, it’s lovely to write the note from several people and have them all sign it. Coming from one person can often seem like they are the only ones who remembered to say thank you.
  • Consider the recipient: If you’re thanking your new in-laws and only have a sarcastic or funny card better suited for close friends left over, try using a blank card instead.
  • Make sure you spell everyone’s names correctly
  • Include the entire family in the thank you if it’s a gift from everyone. Even if you know the gift shopping was done by say, your Dad, if the gift was from your entire family on the card, thank everyone.

4. Extras to Include (Ways to Bump Your Thank You Up A Notch): I love getting a thank you that feels personalized, decorated or like it has a little something special. Here are ways to bump up your thank you a bit:

  • Decorate the envelope or package with hand-drawings, stamps or appropriate details for the recipient. We use everything from washi tape and neon packing tape to old magazine clippings and fabrics to decorate thank yous at the office.
  • Include a picture of the gift being used. If someone sent your new puppy a sweater, including a photo of the item in use is always a crowd-pleaser.
  • If a thank you note isn’t enough, consider sending flowers, a baked good or an appropriate extra gift. But be sure to note the pitfalls of gift-giving below if you’re sending someone another gift to follow their gift.

5. Things to Remember and Avoid:

  • Spell-check. Make sure you spell everyone’s name correctly.
  • Rudeness: You’d think it goes without saying, but sometimes people can use thank yous as a way to be passive aggressive about not liking a gift. If you don’t like it, leave that thought to yourself- notes are about thanking the gesture, not the specifics. (Unless it’s an offensive gift, etc.) If someone sent you a green sweater and you’d prefer pink, this is not the time to say “Thanks so much for the sweater. I haven’t worn green since I was little, but thanks anyway”. I’ve seen that done before, so it’s worth nothing that that’s not the best way to truly thank someone.
  • Don’t OVER thank: If someone treats you to coffee, sending them a few dozen roses to say thank you might be overkill. And it can potentially make them feel uncomfortable or feel like they now need to thank you and start the vicious cycle of “Thank you”, “No, thank YOU” that can happen. Keep the level of the thank you near the level of kindness you received. It’s about making the recipient feel appreciated, but not like they now owe you something in return.
  • Thank you gifts should be appropriate and not about promoting. I’ve found that if someone is a maker or has done something (like written a book or a magazine, etc.) they often send out their leftover stock as a thank you. Not that receiving someone’s handmade work isn’t nice, but if what you produce has nothing to do with them or isn’t appropriate for them, perhaps think of just sending a note or something more neutral like flowers, baked goods, or a product that means something to them (or that you’ve heard them mention that they like). Someone once sent a friend of mine a baby onesie they make and sell as a thank you, even though she didn’t have children. When it came up later on, she told the friend, “Well, I figured you’d know someone you could give it to.” Thank you gifts should be something the intended recipient can enjoy.

The bottom line is this: Saying thank you in any form is better than saying nothing at all. While the world won’t end if you DON’T say thank you, the best way to keep and maintain friendships and good work relationships is to acknowledge the kindness someone has shown you. xo, grace

**Have you ever gotten a thank you that truly meant SO much to you? Have you ever received a major fail of a thank you? Please share your stories below, they’ll help the rest of us avoid mistakes and find the best ways to thank the people we love in our lives**

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Gold dots card, $16.50 for 10

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Geometric thank you card $4

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Merci Beaucoup card $4

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Many thanks card, 6 for $14

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Honey card $5.95

  1. Audrey says:

    I often receive gift cards left on my desk at work for different occasions. I always send a written thank you within a day or so. My question is this: should I also call the person right away and acknowledge that I’ve received it and thank them?

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      Audrey

      I think the written thank you is all you need :)

      Grace

  2. Mark says:

    We had an anniversary celebration. Some people gave gifts. Not all the gift came with a card and some cards got mixed up. I want to send thank you cards to everyone. I would like to acknowledge the gift if there was one in the card, but I do not know, what to say in the card if I do not know if they gave a gift. I was think, “Thank you for your gift of love and support.”

  3. Jane says:

    Is posting a thank you card under a door of a person’s office considered to be rude?

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      Jane

      I don’t think so- if you don’t have access to their mail or address. But handing it to them directly or putting it in their mailbox might be nicer :)

      Grace

  4. Patti says:

    My daughter received a graduation card that had $20 written in the corner but there was no money inside. How do you send a thank you card for that. Thank them for money you never received? Maybe the card was meant for another graduate that they gave money to and they were mixed up? I don’t want to ask them where the money is, and if we don’t send a thank you and were expecting one I would feel bad? Awkward situation.

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      Patti

      I would give them a call and explain the situation- they probably just forgot to add it. I wouldn’t assume the worst, just give them a ring and explain the situation. If they can’t add the money, that’s their choice, but it sounds like an accident.

      Grace

  5. Judi says:

    My husband is absolutely not going to write notes for several bottles of wine and various gifts from fruit, to gift baskets and a very fine written pen.

    Can I make a collage of the photos from his party– and write type them with a script font and then just let him sign them?

    He’s a doctor– not dumb, but wasn’t raised with birthday parties, much less thank-you notes. Help!

  6. Bea says:

    If you are thanking someone for an internship, is it tacky to include your email/ contact info at the end of the note?

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      Bea

      I don’t think so- most people have that at the end of their emails as a signature.

      Grace

  7. Tcoop says:

    I have a ton of beautiful wedding thank you cards leftover from the wedding. Can I use them for an anniversary gift thank you? The person did not attend the wedding.

    1. emily post says:

      No. Super tacky.

      1. emily post says:

        Let me correct myself – only super tacky if it is obvious they are from your wedding. If generic – go for it!

  8. Jeanette says:

    I received a thank you for a wedding gift (selected from her registry) weeks before the wedding, sent by the bride who I didn’t know, and written in a very perfunctory manner. The message was clear: “one less thing off my to-do list”. This to me is WORSE than not sending a thank you.

  9. Tarra says:

    I received a very nice Thank You card by mail from my boss. I was surprised that she took the time to look up my address and mail the card. I’m wondering why should did not sign her name on the card? Why would she not sign her name?

  10. Nichole says:

    At my baby shower, a friend mentioned in the card that my gift will be arriving at my house. That was 2 weeks ago. Do I let her know I still haven’t received it? I wouldn’t want to seem ungrateful by not sending out a thank you card but I also don’t want to seem greedy by expecting a gift because she said it was on its way.

  11. Kelly says:

    My baby shower is approaching and some guests have had their gifts delivered directly to our home. I intend to send everyone a written thank you, post shower, but would also like to acknowledge those delivered gifts when I am opening gifts at the shower. What is the best, tasteful way to do this?

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      Kelly

      I think you can have them out for display if you feel strongly about it, but thanking them with a note or call is a great way to make sure they feel thanked and recognized. You could also reference their gifts in conversation if having them out feels odd. For example, if “Mary” gets you an infant tub and sends it in the mail, but then “Liz” brings you one of those adorable baby bath towel/robes in person, you could say, “This is so cute! Thank you, Liz. This will be perfect for using after [baby’s name] gets out of the infant tub that Mary got us!”

      Grace :)

  12. Nancy says:

    I have paid school and university fees for a foreign boy who is like a son to me. Five weeks ago he went home to marry, and I sent many gifts I thought would make his bride happy (including my mother’s diamond and wedding rings). The wedding took place four days ago, and I have still to have a single word of thanks from the bride (whom I do know), although she has had time to post endless pictures of herself (and not him) and silly hehehe comments to other friends on Facebook. I am really very very hurt. He has thanked me, but that is not relevant; the things were given to her, not him.

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      Nancy

      Etiquette wise, couples theoretically three months to write thank yous. So I would wait a while. If you’re still upset and hear nothing, I would reach out to her directly to ask about the gifts. Normally I would say to let this go, but you did give away your mother’s rings, so I think that’s definitely worth connecting about.

      Grace

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