Modern Etiquette: Gift The Right Gift (And Dealing With the Wrong Ones)

by Grace Bonney

Illustration by Anna Emilia

For the next few weeks, we’re going to be talking about gifts- a lot. This time of year can gross me out a little with all the product talk, but I find it’s helpful to bring things back to the basic sentiment of the season: celebrating the ones you love. To that end, we’re going to spend a lot of time focusing on ways celebrate people without buying things, making things with your own hands and sharing tips from pros that will help you gift more thoughtfully (and cost effectively). But before we start making or thinking about gifts, I think it’s important to think about the actual people we’re celebrating. What makes the best gift for them? I find more often than not, people get stuck on what they would want or what they would want that person to have, rather than considering what means most to that person. I think, at the end of the day, a smaller, more meaningful gift, is way more important to someone than a big showy gift that doesn’t have much meaning for the person receiving it. So the goal of this post is to share tips for gifting thoughtfully and to get us in the right frame of mind to celebrate the people we love in the best way possible (by remembering to celebrate who THEY are what THEY love).

I. A gift is not always required….

A find a lot of people feel pressured into getting everyone gifts (i.e.: all members of a sports team, co-workers in a large office, etc.). That can lead to gift buying (and money spending) that doesn’t necessarily need to happen. A genuine, heartfelt holiday card can go a long way toward serving the same purpose of a gift (celebrating or thanking someone) and can be a much better answer when you don’t know enough about the person you “have” to give a gift to.

II. …But a thank you note is.

If you’ve received a gift from someone, a thank you note is a given. Whether or not you liked the gift- or the recipient- a thank you should be sent. Someone asked me online the other day if they ‘had’ to thank someone for a gift that was given by someone they didn’t like (who possibly didn’t buy the gift with their own money) and it surprised me. Whether or not you love the gift or the giver, a thank you should always be sent for a thoughtful gift. [If you are the unfortunate recipient of some sort of rogue rude gift or gag gift, I don’t think a thank you applies. If someone goes out of their way to be a jerk and send you something that’s crude or inappropriate a thank you isn’t what you need to send- perhaps a letter explaining why it was upsetting would be best.]

III. The most important thing is to REMEMBER THE RECIPIENT

The biggest mistake people make when approaching holiday gifts is to buy what THEY would like, rather than what the recipient would like. Does that mean you have to support causes you’re morally opposed to or companies you don’t like? Of course not. But it does mean that just because you think someone should be dressing a certain way, you buy them clothes that suit your taste. If your brother really loves sports t-shirts, for example, buying him a fancy suit jacket because you think it would look good on him, isn’t the most thoughtful thing to do. If you care about someone enough to get them a gift, consider what they would like. You can put a spin on it that suits your beliefs, etc., but don’t forget the person entirely. For example: If your sister is a huge fan of steak dinners and you’re a vegetarian, you don’t have to put yourself in a position where you are ordering meat from a fancy delivery catalog. Instead you could buy her a nice set of knives (perfect for cutting steak or vegetables!), a gift certificate to her favorite restaurant, a cookbook that includes recipes for her favorite food or even some gourmet spices that would pair well with her meal of choice. And in a reverse example, if your dear friends are vegan but you know nothing about which vegan gift baskets are the best, consider something that would align with their passions, like sponsoring an animal on a no-kill rescue farm, etc. Something like that shows you considered the person and their interests while finding a way to buy something you feel good about.

IV. Gifts should not be tit for tat, period.

I believe VERY strongly that gifts should not be a contest or an obligation. I don’t give gifts in order to receive one in return and would hope people don’t do the same. That said, if there’s a tradition of gift-giving and someone seems to skip you each time, then perhaps it’s time for a conversation about the state of the friendship, etc. But at basic level, gifts should never have to be matched in quantity or cost-point. They should be matched only with genuine celebration of the other person. So if someone surprises you at your door or your desk with a gift, and you don’t have one in return, the most thoughtful thing you can do is to warmly thank them and follow up with a heart-felt thank you note. Nothing makes that situation worse than someone saying, “Oh nooo! I feel so bad, I didn’t get you anything.” That only highlights the gap in gifts, so instead smile and say thank you and how much you appreciate the gift.

I find people often get hung up on price tags. You make someone a homemade batch of cookies (hopefully their favorite kind) and they end up giving you a gift certificate to your favorite restaurant for $200. Guilt sets in and you wonder if you should have spent more, gifted more extravagantly, etc. There are two problems to consider here:

-An expensive gift should not mean the recipient is expected to reciprocate. Sometimes people with larger gift budgets truly enjoy buying luxury items or expensive items for people. If you’re comfortable receiving it and don’t feel pressured to return it, thank them and enjoy the kind item someone purchased for you.

-When giving an expensive gift, consider the recipient. Some people don’t mind- and would love- to get a luxury gift from someone who has the gift budget to provide one. But some people feel as if it’s a flaunting of income or pointing out an economic situation the recipient is unhappy with or wouldn’t like discussed. If you can tell your gift is making someone uncomfortable, consider dialing things back the next year. You don’t need to apologize if your gift was well-intentioned and thoughtful, but if you can tell someone feels uncomfortable or feels the need to save up to reciprocate, consider having a heart-to-heart about the gift and discuss perhaps a type of gift or even a budget cap on gifts (If you’re the recipient, it’s ok to bring this up thoughtfully and express appreciation for the gift but also express discomfort with being given something so extravagant each year. Simply stress the gift that is their friendship and the desire to focus on gifts that are less about the object and perhaps more about spending time together.). When I was in college we agreed, among friends, not to spend more than $25 on gifts for each other. For some people that was a lot and for some, not enough. But it was a number we all worked with and it made everyone feel comfortable and definitely made us all focus on the message of the gift rather than the price point.

V. Belated gifts: sometimes better late than never

I have a family member that always sends gifts wayy after the holidays. I’ve gotten used to it and it doesn’t bother me anymore. I used to take it personally and then realized that it was just the way they functioned and the gifts were always thoughtful, so I was happy to see that the message was still clear, even if a bit delayed.

If you’re late sending gifts, just send a simple “So sorry for the delay!” along with a thoughtful gift or card. It’s better to apologize for something that’s slightly delayed than to not send it and have a conversation about why a gift was never sent in the first place. Better late than never (without reason)….

VI. Double Gifts (The forgotten Christmas babies)

I have two cousins whose birthdays are on Christmas and New Years. Every year they get one present that doubles as both their Christmas and birthday gift. I always feel bad for them and, while it’s of course nice to get a gift at all, I’ve always felt like it should be acknowledged in some way that they have a birthday as well as a holiday to celebrate. If finances are an issue than of course cost-conscious or homemade gifts are always a great idea, but if your objection to buying 2 gifts is more of a principled stance, it’s time to put your grudge aside and allow your loved ones to have both a birthday and holiday gift- just like the rest of us every year.

VII. No shame in your wishlist game

If you have no idea what to buy for someone but it’s a given you’re getting them a gift each year (ie: nieces, nephews, in-laws, etc.), there’s no harm in asking for a wishlist. Especially when it comes to people you don’t have direct contact with often (or children who can be hard to buy for at certain ages), feel free to ask people what they’d like. I did this for years with my cousins when they were young and they didn’t feel like talking to an older cousin like me (oh, teenagers) and if it ensures they’re happy with what they get, there’s no harm. But if it’s for someone you should know well (ie: your spouse, best friend, etc.) consider paying closer attention to the things they talk about rather than requesting a list each year.

VIII. Duplicate gifts + Re-gifting + Exchanges

Sometimes you get the same thing twice- double yay! If you need two blenders, keep them and rejoice. But if you don’t, there’s nothing wrong with returning it. However, you don’t need to tell the gifter than you’re doing that. If you’re keeping one of them, they don’t need to know if that’s the white blender they gave them or Aunt Sheila gave you.

If you want to re-gift something there are two things to consider:

-Is this someone who could possibly know about the original gift? For example, if Grandma Pat gave you a reindeer sweater and you re-gift it to her other granddaughter, she might recognize it. So re-gift outside of the family if you must (or outside of your friend group).

-Is the gift worth re-gifting and is it in great/new condition? If you wouldn’t want the gift you received (I once received a torn-up book that had nothing to do with any of my personal interests and wasn’t a collector’s edition, etc. It was just a busted book about space travel. Random) don’t pawn it off on someone else. Donate it if possible. However, if it’s a perfectly good item you just can’t or don’t want to use, and you know someone else it would be perfect for, feel free to re-gift. The biggest question is always how to handle a missing gift the giver notices being absent from your home. If you’re not ready to answer that question, re-consider the re-gifting.

-Exchanging: Straight-forward exchanges (wrong size, wrong color, etc.) are fairly easy to explain and handle. But exchanging something for a totally different object may bring up a different discussion. I think that if someone includes a gift receipt, that’s a message that says, “Please exchange this if it’s not right, I’d like you to have something you enjoy.” I don’t think you need to say anything about it to the giver unless they comment on it. If someone says, “Oh, is that the sweater I bought you…in blue?” You can say, “Yes! I loved it so much but I prefer blue so I exchanged it for this color instead. Thank you again, I love wearing it!”.

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  • How would you handle a situation with siblings where everyone is at different income levels, and there is “competition” over gifting for parents? This is a weird situation in my life. Thanks in advance for any advice!

    • margaret

      i’m sorry to hear about that- competition to “win” a parental gift is no fun :(

      i think this is a 2-tactic situation:

      1. talk to your siblings- if you can have an effective heart-to-heart about how this competition isn’t helpful for anyone, that would be best. if not, skip to the next idea…

      2. talk to you parents- first, ask yourself if your parents seem to mind or even notice that the gift cost is different. if they don’t mind, just drop it. it may not be worth opening the can of worms that is a sibling battle. but if they DO seem to mind, you should have a heart-to-heart with them about how you’re concern about their reception of your gifts. i’m pretty sure that most parents would appreciate any gift that comes from the heart, regardless of price.

      this is primarily a siblings issue and hopefully a tactful conversation can stop some of the competition. i’m pretty sure parents can tell the different between a gift that is all about the price tag and showing off and one that is all about picking something thoughtful and appropriate.


  • What a great timely reminder of what gift-giving is really about – celebrating the ones you love. Thank you!

  • What do you think about returning gifts when you haven’t received a gift receipt? I always get items from a certain family member that are quite nice, but are never something I want, can use, or can even re-gift. I would really like to just return them and get store credit or whatnot to get something I’ll actually use, but I’m thinking I might just have to throw away/donate these expensive gifts :(

    I’ve already hinted to this person multiple times that I really prefer no gift at all, or a small, practical gift if they MUST give me something… but they just keep giving me random, useless, needlessly expensive stuff. Oh well.

  • Don’t get caught up in this “competition”. There is no competition. Your parents have known you, all of you, all your lives and they know what you do for a living. They don’t care about the gifts, they care about the person you have become. Give from your heart. Give them the gift of time spent with you, they will love it. My two cents as the Mother of three daughters.

  • Especially like the return/exchange tips. Reminds me of the time I put a gift from my mother-in-law into a yard sale and she stopped by the sale…bad me!

  • I only buy gifts for my children, their spouses, my grandchild and granddoggie. I also give gifts to people who help me a lot during the year as I am disabled. I don’t expect anything in return from my helpers. I buy gifts throughout the year as I see them and think “That would be perfect for ____!” I couldn’t care less if anyone gives me anything for Christmas. They give me their time and energy during the year and that is more than enough for me.

  • Great article! I would also love to have some information on giving gifts to teachers… it always stresses me out.

  • Thank you for this post. I’m guilty of many of the above points. It was such a great reminder of this season!

  • Gifts are very personal, and I approach each one for each person differently. When giving a present, price isn’t important to me, I will spend as little or as much if the gift is right. My main goal is that 20 years from now, the person will still have what you gave them and they remember the moment they opened it – like it’s an inside joke between you two. My brother just turned 24-years-old and he’s still in the college mentality. His gift from me to him was a white hankerchief with the words “Dapper Dud” written on it. It was the perfect thing for a young man transitioning for college to the real world.

    Great post, Grace!

  • Thank you so much for mentioning December birthdays! It’s always a drag to get a double gift when all I wanted was a great birthday card and a slice of cake.

  • I really enjoyed this post and have just devoured several links to your other gifting and etiquette posts. I’d love to see more of those! Very thought provoking and a great read for me on a Wednesday morning. Thanks, from someone who likes to do it “the right way”.

  • Point V. – do you mean ‘within reason’?

    Point VI my mother and husband are both mid December, and both hate it. Everybody else gets two presents a year so why not them?! They understand if it’s a really big expensive item, but otherwise it’s a definite no-no!

    As for thank you notes – I much prefer to thank somebody in person, and we usually have a rule of opening gifts with the giver (if possible) so we can thank them properly.

    • Whether or not you thank them in person, a thank you note is still a must. Everyone loves getting a sincere thank you note and it reiterates the fact that you truly are grateful. Saying thank you in person is obviously a necessity but it does not lessen the need to send a note as well.

  • I really like these etiquette posts. Several years ago our parents asked my husband and me to send only “consumable” gifts. They are in the downsizing years. It has been challenging to meet that request (though I completely understand it), but I’m really happy they were able to tell us. It’s much more rewarding to send something that’s wanted. It helped me to see that it’s okay to have a conversation about gifts without looking demanding and critical.

  • Excellent post! To respond to DNA’s comment regarding teacher gifts: In my six years of teaching art to elementary school students, my favorite gift is a handmade card or artwork. I don’t expect gifts, so I’m always amazed and grateful, but certainly not anticipating anything. I know my classroom teacher colleagues feel the same. Public school teachers also have to adhere to state etiquette standards, and can’t receive gifts over a certain amount. So gifts that a teacher can use for her/his classroom (like a book for the classroom library) are always a great idea. That way the gift becomes special for both the teacher and the students.

    Hope this helps!

  • This is great. More people need to realize: “If you’ve received a gift from someone, a thank you note is a given.”
    I rarely, if ever, get thank you notes. Was always taught to give them growing up. I’m lucky if I get an email or a text. I’m not even in a very young age group: I’m 32. Makes me rethink giving gifts :(

    Also, what do you do if someone gives you an obviously regifted gift? One year, a friend that I never had a habit of exchanging gifts with went out of her way to give me a really horrible gift: an ugly, nonfunctioning, broken electronic tree ornament. I don’t even buy Christmas trees! The second she left, it went straight in the trash. Should I have called it out?

    • Veronica

      If you truly feel the friend knew it wasn’t working (and that it wasn’t an appropriate gift) I would consider saying, “(Friend name), Thanks so much for the sweet gift. Unfortunately it looks like the ornament isn’t working. Do you by any chance have the receipt so I could return it for a functioning version?” I have a feeling that would lead to a conversation that will let you talk about how it wasn’t perhaps the best gift for you…


  • That seems like a good idea! It would really be an interesting discussion. Yeah, she didn’t seem to have an idea of how the object worked to begin with. She seemed pretty confounded by it. It wasn’t complex technologically speaking. It just seemed like a complete handoff, especially because we never exchanged gifts. I found it kind of insulting.

    • Veronica

      It may have been, but in the interest of keeping the friendship, I’d perhaps open the conversation door so she can possibly apologize or explain…

      Grace :)

  • As an English professor, I love the idea of teacher “gifts” being books for the classroom library. My students occasionally give me gifts, usually coffee based off my well documented caffeine addiction. The best gift, however, one I still have in my office, is the parody Christmas jingle some students wrote in a theory class our majors take. It’s a hard class by design, and these students were celebrating both being done for the term and thanking me for having fun while also making them work for it. This whole list is just smart etiquette.

  • Hey Margaret! I’m not sure you’ll ever see this, but just in case: my brother and I always think through gifts for my mother together. Sometimes we give the gift together (so one year we bought her a beautiful amber ring with an inscription on the inside) and sometime we just gift in a coordinated way (so I gave her a laptop that I’d used for a couple of years and was not longer fast enough for me to do my job, but was much better than her computer, while my brother gave her a brand new wireless keyboard and trackpad to make it feel a bit more exciting than just hand me down computer). We have vastly different incomes but we always figure out a way to make it work. There’s no competition, my brother and I enjoy figuring out what to do, and I think my mum really loves that her kids work together on getting her a thoughtful gift. We don’t coordinate on everything, of course, but the general spirit of being in the same team is there. Maybe you could actually turn this into a thing that helps to build your sibling relationship rather than damaging it? :)

  • Last year, I saw a post online of a “wish-list” an elementary school teacher sent home with her students on what to get her for Christmas. It included gift card requests for high-end shopping and dinners, which kinds of candy she refused to eat, and what kinds of scarves she let grace her presence. The tactless-ness made me sick to my stomach. But for the rest of us teachers who aren’t such greedy bastards…

    To respond to DNA’s question:

    If your child is in elementary school, or even middle school, consider having your child make something for the teacher (a card, picture, ornament, etc.). It will be inexpensive, thoughtful, and teachers often appreciate homemade gifts from students more than a mug (of which I guarantee you they have dozens). If you want to take things further than that, consider a small-token gift card to Starbucks, or better yet, a craft store or office store so they can buy supplies for the classroom. Many teachers pay out of their own pocket for extra school supplies, so any help with that is usually greatly appreciated on their tiny class budgets, and even tinier incomes!

    If your child is in high school, consider the gift card to an office supply store, or some other useful small gift, but make sure your child signs the card. Most high school teachers don’t expect gifts (mostly because, unlike elementary school, your child has several teachers now), but if a teacher has made an impact on your child, a small gift is usually fine. Also consider people like coaches, tutors, or other staff that help your child out throughout the year – anyone you and your child feel deserve a heart-felt thank you. If your child hates their History teacher, don’t feel obligated to get them anything. They’ll never know.

    If you’re in college, make VERY sure to check with your professor about giving gifts. Many colleges do not allow faculty to accept gifts of ANY kind from students, and they can even get fired for it. I didn’t know that until I started teaching at a university myself! If you want to give a gift, and it’s okay with your school, then keep it small and something they can use (I’m a big fan of gift cards to bookstores, office supply stores, or local coffee shops…but alas, I’m not allowed to ever get them…them’s the rules!).

    Hope that helps!

  • I have a question about thank you notes. I’ve typically written a thank you note if I wasn’t able to properly thank them, in person, at the time I opened the gift (i.e. it was mailed, it was opened after a party, etc.) and/or if they are unreachable by phone. My great-Aunt Bernice always gets a thank you card, but I typically call my grandmother on the phone (she appreciates hearing our voices – and seeing our faces if we use facetime; she also has a tendency to misplace mail).

    • julia

      is your question whether or not the thank you call is ok in place of a written thank you? i think it’s totally fine. the point is to follow up with a thank you after the moment you receive something, so whether it’s a call, an in-person visit or a note that’s a-ok :)


  • So, this just happened! Merry Christmas! I have been asking for a kindle paper white 3g for a couple years. Last year I got the kindle fire. I don’t know why, I think my husband thought that getting me the most expensive one out at the time would be better. So I felt guilty about not being pleased with the gift and tried to like it. It eventually wound up in a drawer. You see, I really wanted to be able to read outside, download books without being “connected”, and to read at night without a light on. I have explained this. Ok, so I just opened my gifts and I got the paper white but the Wi-Fi one. So I said I would be exchanging it for the 3g. And on top of that, I got a much needed coat that was in purple. I looked up what colors it came in and black was an option, so I told my husband I would like to exchange the coat for the black one. The whole time, I am feeling guilty, because it seems we go through this every year. He got very angry, and told me that he would never get me anything again. So my question is how should I have handled this? And how do I fix this where we are both happy? I thought that exchanging colors was OK.

    • Hi Dawn – I’m so sorry to hear that this happened to you. It sounds like it was stressful. I think sometimes the timeline of events can play a lot in how people feel – so be sure to immediately thank and then later or the next day tell the gift giver that you thought about it and maybe another another color or another model and would they mind if you exchanged it.

      In this case, I think you should just reassure your husband that you appreciated the gesture – maybe telling him that you appreciate that he noticed (or remembered that you needed a new coat) and that you loved the style he picked out so much that you wanted to get the chance to wear it a lot. I think mentioning the things you like about the gift – the style, the fact that he got you a Kindle and you enjoy reading on it – could go a long way into making it feel better. But once you’ve tried to assure him that you appreciate the gesture, just let it go. Then perhaps, when you’re both in front of other people, you could comment on his thoughtfulness – I think praising our partners in front of others is extremely important. So say something like – “Jim, was amazing this year. He got me a coat I needed and I love my new Kindle…”

      AND THEN… let yourself off the hook. :) It sounds like you did appreciate his gifts and all you can do is do your best to communicate that feeling and then the ball is in his court. Good luck! xoAmy

  • I was offered a gift of an evening at the theatre by a girl I used to go to School with and with whom I had rekindled after 20 years apart. And then, she texted me tonight saying: Oh! Mind if I take that back, it’s my friend’s 30th and I’d like to gift it to her!! – I was pretty gobsmacked, but I gave it back to her, and told her to have fun! She said she’ll treat me to a drink, but needless to say I’LL BE BUSY that night! Right?

  • to Dawn…. you have my empathy. I have a TomTom downstairs in the office my husband gave me 2 years ago. Since all our gifts to each other at one time clashed like the TomTom GPS disaster, we agreed several years ago to give each other a list with photos from catalogs if possible, stores where they could be purchased or phone numbers to order the item (even from Wal Mart). The photo is the key even if it is a photograph! We put more on the list than we expect to receive. Altho, most years there is a TomTom here or there, the energy has been defused. We both are happier.

  • My husband bought me a very expensive diamond ring which I made clear I didn’t want or need. Now he’s made it even worse by letting me know he doesn’t think he’s getting his money’s worth! He gives the impression I need to “earn” this gift. I hAve no interest in ever wearing it again. Should I just tell him to return it ?

    • If he’s acting like you need to “earn” a gift he already gave you that you didn’t want or need, tell it to him straight. You don’t want it, and he shouldn’t expect you to earn anything he gives you as a gift.

  • My ex wqas buying me gifts then taking them back, just recently i was brought an expensive birthday present, we have a row a few weeks later and she requests it bk obviousley i gave it bk, but also i was paying for an item i purchased from her catalouge the item is nearly paid off but she says it still belongs to her??? can someone claryfy for me do we give to take back or is it her being spiteful?

    • Hi Mark

      Unless they’re family heirlooms, I don’t think gifts should be returned just because a relationship ends. Gifts are given as an expression of appreciation or love and shouldn’t be held as ransom.


  • The gifts are very personal, and I approached each one is different for each person. When giving a gift, the price is not important to me, I would spend a little ‘or a lot if the right gift. My main goal is that 20 years from now, people will still have what you give them and their memories when they opened – as if it was a joke between the two of you. My sister just turned 24 years of age and is still in college mentality. His gift from me to him was a white handkerchief with the words “Dapper Dud” written on it. It ‘was the perfect thing for a young man to study the transition to the real world.

  • What is proper etiquette for employees sharing a gift basket received from another company. Say a small company of 16 employees receives a basket full of packed food and snacks and 4-5 of those employees take unopened packages and keep them to take home leaving the other employees with nothing?

    • Pam

      I think that should be the job of the HR manager or boss to decide distribution. If it’s too late, perhaps it’s a good time to discuss it with the boss or HR manager. It’s an issue than can cause tension among staff so it’s definitely worth bringing up.


  • My son and nephew got 4 identical gifts from one person and it wouldn’t have bothered me if my son only got one or no presents at all. But for him to open something, and then see his cousin open the exact same thing. It kind of went from happy to they weren’t thinking of him at all they just grabbed the same thing. I also received a shirt and a gift box with lotion and bubble bath. I loved the shirt then I looked over and my 15 year old daughter had the exact same gifts! Not even a different colour. Ok so you could get away with two boys you wanted to make sure they got the same amount or whatever but me and my daughter? Ugh. The. After all the gifts were opened the gift giver left the room in a huff because my son and daughter got 180 dollars each in a card and her son only got 100 because the grandfather took 80 dollars of it towards a video game. Totally made my stomach turn how she’s teaching her son to be so shallow and materialistic.

    • Nolana

      We can’t choose what people give us and what thought they may or may not have put into it. I would suggest a polite thank you and letting this one go. It might help to remember that so many people don’t have the funds to get gifts, whether or not they’re the right ones (or the same ones). I know we’d all love to receive gifts that are what we’d hope for or that express the same beliefs or thoughts we hold so dear, but a gift given means someone took the time to think of you and spend time or money on you, so appreciation for that thought (even if the gift itself isn’t what you wanted) should be the go-to move for this situation.


  • My parents didn’t get me anything I wanted for Christmas. I mean I know it’s not supposed to be about the gifts but all my siblings got what they wanted. They also waited until the very very last minute to shop for me (I was last to be shipped for) and I had given my Christmas list earlier due to the past few years mix ups. They also lied to me saying that all my stuff on my Christmas list was out of stock when it wasn’t. This year was really disappointing, like the most I’ve ever been disappointed in my life because I love Christmas. How do I deal with this? Do I tell my parents how i feel? My mom works so hard for a good Christmas I don’t want to ruin it. How do I ask for the receipts because it’s seriously a bunch of stuff I really don’t like and won’t use?

    • Sam

      This time of year the most important thing to keep in mind is that someone took the time (and funds) to get you something for the holidays. It’s completely fair to request a receipt if you plan on returning something, but not to make a point or make anyone feel bad. The fact that you received a gift and have a family that cares enough to get you something should be the point to remember and focus on here. So many people don’t have either.

      If you truly received things you can’t use, I would suggest sitting down privately with your family to say, “Mom, Dad, thank you so much for all of the kind gifts you gave me this year. I really appreciate your generosity. This is a little difficult to discuss, but I wanted to see if it would be possible to receive the gift receipts for some of these presents? Sadly right now I don’t really have any use for (X, Y, Z) and I could really use the (X,Y,Z) I mentioned in my gift list. Would that be ok?”

      If they disagree or protest, perhaps you could have a conversation about your wish list in general or when it’s sent/received. If they continue to ignore your list, etc. consider asking them if there’s an underlying reason why your gift list is difficult to shop from, or is more difficult than your sibling’s gift lists. Maybe there’s an issue you don’t know about that would be helpful to know. If everything still truly boils down to them not caring enough to get your list (as opposed to your siblings), which would be truly shocking, perhaps refraining from gifts and just enjoying their company is the way to go.


  • I received some gifts with cards from students that I thought I would reply with a thank you note to the families. From one student I received a card. Do I need to respond to a card with a formal thank you card? All of my students are from different classes and no other student in this particular class gave gifts or cards aside from this one student. Can I verbally thank the student for the card?

  • Hi Grace, I am feeling a bit upset, and do not know if it is justified or if I am being overly sensitive. It is around gifting etiquette, and the result of a number of instances over the years, with one person.

    I have a friend who likes to make a show of what she gets others, and the cost. I feel this creates an obligation for the recipient and also boosts the giver’s ego. There are a number of things I do not know how to address with this person:

    1. Giving of gifts with price tags still on – consistently
    2. Giving of an expensive gift with price tag still on, allowing the recipient think it was purchased at full price, then slipping up in a group conversation weeks later, talking about the great ‘sale’ where item was purchased at 70% off.
    3. I gave this persons child a gift for Christmas, not expecting a gift back – I just wanted to give them something small. Two days later, I got a call saying she was purchasing an expensive gift for my child, because she felt bad she had not given anything. Despite me protesting, and saying ‘please, just accept my gift, I did not give it with the expectation of receiving anything’, she came over with a gift that was obviously much more expensive than what I could ever afford to buy for her child.

    I thanked her, repeating it was not necessary, but deep down, I feel a bit walked over, and insulted that she cannot graciously accept a kind gesture, and feels the need to outdo it.

    Am I being silly?

    Thanks, Danielle.

    • Danielle,

      I have thought and re-thought about this issue and written at least three different responses and then erased them all, coming to this conclusion: while her actions may have responses and reactions that are difficult to process, this friend clearly cares about you and is going out of her way to show you that she appreciates you and your family.

      I agree that the actions, on paper, could definitely be interpreted as being about showing off or trying to one-up with an ‘expensive’ reciprocal gift. I completely understand why you would feel that way and why it would make you frustrated enough to want to walk over there and say something.

      But here’s why I think you shouldn’t do that, and should stay quiet on this issue for right now: there are many, many ways in which her actions could be entirely innocent, unintentional or about insecurities on her end that have nothing to do with you.

      -It’s entirely possible that she was raised in a home where the price of gifts and the degree of gift giving expressed how much you care about someone. I know people like this, especially in the south, and it may be something she was just raised to do. Not giving someone a gift when they give you one could be seen as a faux pas and her reaction may be not out of a desire to make you feel less than, but out of a desire to show you she cares about your child, too.
      -It’s possible she left those price tags on because she wanted you to be able to return them. I grew up with a well-meaning grandmother who did that, too. Not all stores offer gift receipts and, at the end of the day, if you DID return it, you would find out how much she spent.
      -Different people have different budgets and what may seem over the top for you may be how she spends on everyone. If she’s buying gifts that are thoughtful and appropriate for you (i.e: not just buying you a Chanel bag to impress you with a label) and they just happen to have a higher price tag, I would just accept that you have a friend whose able to buy expensive things for you and let that go. (My parents have friends that used to have a private plane and they would fly them to vacation every now and then. My parents eventually realized it was impossible to reciprocate financially and just accepted that they were friends like anyone else and they would reciprocate by being good friends)

      The only place I really see wiggle room here is the discussion of sales, etc. later. If she says this ALL THE TIME, then yes, maybe bring up that you feel uncomfortable when she discusses the cost of the gifts she bought you. But if she mentioned it casually once, it could have been a little slip that meant nothing. And to me, her discussing that sale makes me feel like the pricetags aren’t an effort to impress you with cost- if so, why would she admit she didn’t actually spend that?

      Your feelings are important and valid here, but hers are too. I think if this happens again, where she INSISTS aggressively on buying a reciprocal gift that’s way after the fact or if she discusses the price of your gift over and over in public, take those moments to firmly and calmly discuss how you feel when she says that. Stick to discussing your feelings and not implying what you think is behind those actions.

      If she can’t discuss that topic or if she fails to understand and seek a middle ground with you, then that will be cause for a much bigger and more serious talk. I just think the cost of bringing this up could be greater than what the result is worth.


  • Hi Grace, I’m hoping you can provide some insight.

    I had a birthday celebration last night at one of my favorite restaurants, and received a gift I’m not sure how to handle. The friend I received it from is a fairly new friend (I’ve only known her a month or two), but she gifted me a [pair of fairly expensive skin care products which are results-oriented (i.e. anti-aging cream). I graciously smiled and said thank you, of course, and was definitely curious, but when I got home and looked up the product, I found not only that efficacy was in question for both products, but that one of them contains a flower extract which can cause skin irritation at the least, and at worst toxicity reactions in some cases. I already have sensitive skin, and now reading about the potential toxicity of the extract I have serious hesitations about using either product at all.

    I considered seeing if I could return the product to a local department store in favor of something I already do use and love and works with my skin, but found that it is only available to purchase online or from what the company calls a “Brand Partner” (think Avon, which I love but this is not). She did say that she would “guide me” on how to use the product (and wanted to see before-and-afters), so I have the sneaking suspicion she got it for free from her job. This actually doesn’t bother me at all, but I feel like I’m stuck with a product I’m not comfortable using and because of the potential toxicity wouldn’t even think about re-gifting.

    What’s your advice on the best way to approach this, with minimal risk of offending my friend? I am thankful she gave me any gift at all, and happy for the thought she put into it, but I just can’t bring myself to use it.

    Thanks in advance,

    • Hi Serena,

      I think the best thing to do here is to let this become one of those gifts that you just don’t end up using. If the giver bugs you about it, I would say, “I really appreciate the thought, but I have very sensitive skin and can’t use the ingredients in these products, so I’m afraid I haven’t been able to use them”. You can mention you looked into returning them, but I would assume this was a one-off and let it go for now, as it was a thoughtful gift- perhaps she was unaware that your skin is sensitive (as a new friend, that’s not something that would be surprising).

      Skincare is one of those things that’s super personal and while some people want 100% organic, some want the opposite and whatever will get them the results they desire. I wouldn’t assume anything beyond this person wanting to give you something they perhaps would have enjoyed themselves. If you can’t return it and feel absolutely awful about just letting it go, I’d tell her the above statement (focusing on your sensitive skin as the reason you can’t use it) and see if she’d rather have it herself.


  • I received a top for Xmas that was to small that was unreturnable and am sure it would fit the gift giver would it be bad manners to offer it back to her?

  • I received a top that was to small and unreturnable for Xmas; would it be bad manners to offer it back to the giver because I think it would fit her?

    • Pam

      I think it’s completely fine to offer it to her and explain that it was unreturnable. Perhaps the giver can arrange for a replacement or at least learn the proper size for next time. :)


  • Hi there,

    My fiancé and I recently purchased our first home. We held a casual housewarming for our close friends and family, and gifts were not requested or expected, but most folks gave us cards, bottles of wine, or flowers etc. – all very thoughtful and much appreciated. However, my fiance’s aunt and uncle gave us a very large framed print of a wildlife scene. While we appreciate the skill of the artist (he’s well known where we live) the piece is huge (3 feet wide by 4 feet high) and is totally not our style. We are so excited to put our own touches on our new home and take our time to carefully curate everything we purchase – especially artwork – that it feels so defeating to think we have to put this up somewhere. It’s either that or we put it in a closet until the aunt and uncle come to visit. We are 35 years old. That just seems ridiculous!

    Anyway, I have a feeling we will have to just tell them we don’t like it, but any tips you might have would be greatly appreciated!

  • What are your thoughts then on my Daughter inlaw and Son being given a lot of baby items (clothing, baby bullets, prams, etc) by us to help them with the new babies, DIL knows that our daughter is saving a baby box for items she will need when her baby is born and anything I have given her she would like once its not in use. Today I discover she’s selling most of it on facebook as she no longer requires it. I’ve told her that our daughter would like it but she expects her to pay for it all?? I think it’s wrong and disrespectful.

    • Darleen

      I think gifts should be given as gifts, period. If you intended for her to give them away (how do you know they don’t plan on having more children?) to your daughter then you gifted them with strings attached. I personally don’t think that’s fair unless someone has the option to choose that up front. Maybe if she had known she would have registered or bought her own so she could keep them. But your plan didn’t give her any choice- you set her up to be forced to give them away, which creates an awkward situation.


  • Hi. Great post. Gifts are intended to bring joy but with the everyday soial hierarchies sometimes that gets lost in translation.
    Danni’s price tagged gifts reminds me of a friend who came from a different culture. There is an elaborate set of meanings behind gifts. If she had received a gift worth more than she had been given, then intense shame would have followed. The price tags are there so the recipient knows how much to spend when they reciprocate – for example birthdays. It does sound like she ‘cheats’ a bit by not telling the sale price though.

    Also I wanted to reccommend a book titled “The Gift of Thanks.” By Margaret Visser. Wonderful insights on ‘the gift’.

  • In terms of getting gifts right, how do you feel about online gift wish list applications? Like gift registries you can start for yourself, family members, close friends.

  • Someone has just given me a gift ( I think it’s an “I’m sorry gift”) that looks like it was left over from her yard and garden planning. Inside the attractive gift bag was a faded, warped box. It’s umbrella lighting. she has 10 umbrellas at her “estate.” I don’t have an umbrella, nor do I sit outside. (too buggy here in the sticks.) I feel awful. It’s like the gag gift of sex pills (jelly beans) at my bridal shower and no blender (real gift) from my husbands aunt.

    • Carol

      While it’s definitely not the most useful gift, maybe use this as a chance to talk about whatever the event was that they felt required a “sorry”. Hopefully going forward their gifts (if that’s something you both do regularly) will be given with more thought and understanding.


  • I have a comment and a question.

    My comment – this is great, from the original article and the various comments & questions.

    My question:

    My only brother gets a gift for our Mom and insists it’s from all of is (him, me & my husband and kids). It is not. I have already bought her a gift from us. When he does this it makes me uncomfortable. I have told him gently – thanks but no thanks, we have our own gift. He still does it from time to time.

    • eB

      Unless the gift is something offensive you don’t want to be associated with, I think the bottom line is that the only person that may hurt is your mother. If it’s a nice gift that makes her happy, adding on a few people to the “from” tag probably isn’t worth the battle. But if it truly upsets you, I would ask him firmly to not to do that again. But I don’t see how it would hurt your mom to leave that as is…?


  • Dear Grace,

    Thank you. I am considering all you said. I feel like it’s this weird dynamic with him of trying to make himself the boss of everything. (Can you tell we’re siblings?) Why can’t he simply give her his gift from him? I have no say in selecting the gift or contributing to its purchase. Also remember I have already bought her my own gift. Something I planed in advance and I know she wanted because she mentioned it throughout the year – so its not like my gift is lame and my brother is covering for me. He is very intense and insistent, and will not accept my thanks but no thanks and I have tried to be diplomatic. He became offended and now is saying he won’t even show up. I think this is now less a gift etiquette question and more an issue for a family therapist. In the past I suppose I just went along with whatever he said, now I speak up when I am uncomfortable with his plans.

    • eB

      I’m sorry you’re dealing with this- it does indeed sound like a bigger issue to discuss with a therapist or counselor that can help mediate and get to the bottom of the issue :(


  • Excellent article. I have a gift-related dilemma. My friend and I exchange gifts on our birthdays — we usually give each other gift certificates to stores related to a shared hobby. I may sometimes also give a handmade card, and she may sometimes include some other small item. This strict reciprocation seems a bit mechanical but works okay for us.

    I know you say that gifts shouldn’t be “tit-for-tat,” but that seems to be our modus operandi, which has led to a dilemma. I have a December birthday, so she gave me a gift certificate. But now she has also given me a Hanukkah gift — another gift certificate. Both of us are Jewish but didn’t realize we were exchanging Hanukkah gifts, and she’s more into gift-giving than I am.

    Now I feel bad that I didn’t give her a Hanukkah gift. If I give her a gift certificate, I’m afraid it will seem like a belated, mechanical, and almost forced reciprocation. On the other hand, if I don’t give her anything, it feels like I’m taking advantage of her.

    (She has more income than I do, but also more expenses. She’s had some extra expenses lately so I’m surprised that she gave me the Hanukkah gift certificate… She may have thought we were doing Hanukkah gifts but I think in the past when we did so we gave each other small items, not gift certificates.)

    I *am* involved in an effort to get something for her in relation to a recently deceased friend — an item of great sentimental value that she would’ve gotten if she hadn’t at a particular moment been being considerate toward me. But the timing of getting the item is partly dependent on other people. Also I that item should have no relation to things upon which one can place a price. Nevertheless, if I can get her the item soon, I might feel better about this…

    • Emmy

      I don’t think you need to give a reciprocal gift, period. I think all you owe her is a kind thank you and to continue the tradition you already had of gifts on your birthdays. If she chose to add in an extra gift, I would hope that it’s only for the reason of wanting to do something nice- not expecting something back.

      If it happens again next year you could mention something, or, if you have the funds and the interest, you could obviously give her a gift, too. But you could do something smaller like taking her out for a meal or bringing a plant, etc.


      • Thanks for your thoughts on this. While I don’t think she gave it to me just because she expected something back, I hope she didn’t forget that we don’t have a tradition of giving such gifts on Hanukkah. I also hope that I haven’t forgotten that we *do* have such a tradition. :-) I’m pretty sure we don’t, at least not to this amount.

        I do remember that she sometimes has given me a gift certificate as a sort of thank you for doing her a favor, but don’t recall doing her any such favors recently. I wish I could use the gift certificate to get something we both could use. But that would be difficult — the reason we give each other gift certificates is that when we are buying ourselves sporting goods, we have very individual tastes and requirements. So I guess I won’t worry about it. Thanks again.

  • I have a different question for you…I have purchased a gift for a relative. It was from an online store where you can personalize the gift. It was a sign for inside their newer home that has their names and where and when their home was established. After double checking it I placed the order only to realize later that the date is wrong. I attempted to contact the company to get it fixed but it was too late. I can’t afford to purchase it again as it was fairly expensive. Do I give it anyway and explain what happened? It could be sort of considered a joke as there was a mistake on their wedding invitations with the date and we’ve always joked about not knowing when their anniversary is, but I feel awful about the whole thing. How do I handle this?

  • Hi,
    So I need some advice about what to do about an ongoing gift receiving situation with my mom. Keep in mind That I am 15 so my mom will definitely notice and have to be involved if I return a gift. Also my birthday is in the summer so it’s not like she is stressed out about getting me a ton of gifts at once.
    Over the years, my mom hasn’t been too good about remembering to get me presents. Any present I get is typically very late; however this year for my birthday I got no presents or cards or anything from my parents at all. Of course I said it was fine and not to worry about it, but it did actually bother me. What was worse was that my mom spent all the money I got in cards from my grandparents without even telling me. Nothing like this ever happens to my siblings, at worst they may have a gift that is a day or two late by the shippers fault. Now fast forward to Christmas. This year I made sure to avoid confusion. However it did not work out well. Instead Of getting at least a few things I asked for, I got a really expensive gift card to a restaurant/mystery type place that I would really enjoy. It seemed great at first but There were two big problems with this:
    The first is the motivation behind this gift; it was bought last minute to make the amount of money spent on my siblings and me equal, not out of thinking of me and wanting to do something kind. (Even though in the end my sister still had a lot more money spent on her, just like every year). To try to make things equal my mom even gave a gift (a room decoration that I dislike) to me that she had planned on giving to my sister. this really bothered me because gifts are supposed to be personal things that you buy with a certain person in mind. So that is why I have a big problem with the whole buying to make things equal thing. At first I was appreciative that my mom was at least trying to get me gifts but then I found out that she wasn’t doing it to make me feel included, she was actually trying to give an equal amount of presents because the night before my sister started crying because she was upset that she always got more presents than me.
    Now moving on. The second problem is that I need practical items like clothes, not gift certificates to places or room decorations. This is because my mom makes me pay for a lot of things on my own, like clothing, and for the past year and a half I have had a chronic illness so I have been unable to work and therefore make money. (Also, my parents do not believe in allowances). So for Christmas I was asking for things like clothes or money or everyday items to help with that. I didn’t get anything like that and so I need to figure out a way to buy these items; so far, returning the gifts I don’t need is the only way I can think to do that. But I don’t know how to ask to return these items to get this money. (Only owning two pairs of pants is getting to me) I’ve never asked to return anything in my life in fear of being rude, so I don’t know how to ask. I would really just like to find a way to return the gift certificate, a water bottle, and the bulky room decoration. I already lied about liking everything to be polite though. I really need advice about whether it would be appropriate to ask if I could return at least one of these items and if I should bring up that it bothers me when my mom is bad about remembering to buy me gifts. (Talks about unequal treatment in the past have been very unsuccessful.)

    • Hi Anne

      I’m sorry to hear about what you’re dealing with- and about your chronic illness. It sounds like a difficult and very frustrating situation to say that least.

      Do you have another parent (or close relative) you could speak with about this, or at least about getting your day to day needs met? It sounds like there may be some bigger issues afoot and finding someone you can trust to talk to about these issues sounds like a good first step. This sounds less like a gift issue and more like a larger family issue that may need some deeper conversations.


  • Hi,
    I was hoping you could give me some advice. Every year I spend a lot of money on presents for my little cousins. I m 22 and they re 3,8,10, and 12. My aunt in law refuses to get me anything or even appreciate it. I am not looking for anything expensive. Even a $5 gift would do or a thank you. But alas no. She acts like I am supposed to do it, like it s my job or something. I have to get my cousins something because I get my other little cousins gifts. My other aunts and uncles appreciate that I do this to encourage christmas spirit for my little cousins. They acknowledge with a thank you or a $5 coffee gift card or other small presents. It s not about how much money I spent. I willingly save for Christmas all year, but a little appreciation or thank you would be nice.

    it would be unfair to my cousins if I didn t get them anything because their mother doesn t know what appreciation is. I would like some advice on m y situation.

    Also, my aunt once asked her why she didn’t get me anything and told her that she should because I always give her kids presents. Her response was that they were poor. I know that they get checks from the government. Enough for her to spend it buying gold jewelry for herself and hundreds on Coach purses, not to mention her shopping sprees $80 dresses etc… All of which she shows off to us after. She never gets anything for her kids. She takes them to the women centre to ask for donated clothes for them. I know that money isn’t an issue for her. It’s her unwillingness to spend it on anyone not her.

    • Hi Teresa

      I’m sorry that’s happening. That’s definitely a frustrating situation if she doesn’t show any appreciation. But I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, “It would be unfair to my cousins if I didn’t get them anything because their mother doesn’t know what appreciation is.”

      If you want to, and can afford to, give your cousins gifts, then I think you should continue out of love for them. But if they’re unappreciative as well, I don’t think there’s an obligation to continue. Gift giving doesn’t have to be tit-for-tat, but people do need to acknowledge and appreciate your gifts. Some of your cousins are too young for that yet perhaps, but as they grow up, if they display the same lack of care and appreciation as their mother, I think you shouldn’t feel pressure to continue.


  • My daughter has been dating a man for 9 months now. She is a single mom with children 3 and 6. The mother of her boyfriend gave my daughter a Michael Kors purse and gave her daughters ugg boots. This does not sit well with me. I believe this in my opinion is “over the top” my daughter did take the boots back!! Can I please have some opinions?? Thanks!

    • Sue

      I’m sorry if those gifts feel over the top for you. My two cents would be- how do the gifts feel for your daughter? It’s possible she found someone who just simply likes to gift generously. If she’s comfortable with it, it may be worth letting her enjoy the gifts and her happiness.


  • I gave Christmas presents to my 13 and 9 year old nephews. Their mother returned the gifts to me saying that they don’t fit and for me to return them and get the correct size. I’m offended. This seems to be more than bad etiquette. What do you think?

    • Giovanna

      If she’s got a lot on her plate and doesn’t have the time to return them with her busy schedule, and she asked politely, it’s not totally out of left field. But if she didn’t make any mention of that and wasn’t polite, than I think it’s ok to just give her the gift receipt and ask her to return them at her convenience.


  • A few of us gave our knitting instructor an expensive yarn winder for Christmas. She told us she didn’t want to use it until she got into her new location…….which was earlier this week. Should we now get her yet another gift for her re-opening?

    • Linda

      I think some flowers or a nice card would be nice, but it’s definitely not required :) Showing up to support the opening sounds like the best idea.


  • I gave my sister a framed print that, although I really liked it, she told me several times that she did not like it, including when she opened it in front of a group of people. I recently asked if she still had it because I wanted to give her a new print of her choosing for the existing frame. She told me she no longer had it. I am certain she threw it away. I am offended and sent her an email that if she was going to throw away a present I gave her, that I would prefer to have her return it to me.

    I would like to know your thoughts on this.

    • Brett

      I think you’re in the right. That sounds incredibly rude of her to say she doesn’t like it in front of other people. I’m sorry that happened. I think you spoke your mind, and there’s not much more to do after that. If she doesn’t respect your gift and your generosity, perhaps it’s time to ask her what she wants for a gift if she’s not open to your interpretation of what she’d like? If she’s still rude then, perhaps she doesn’t need a gift if she can’t be appreciative.


  • Dear Grace,
    You helped me with an earlier question. I have another question. I work in a very small office. There are just three of us. It was my second Christmas at this company, last year I was so new that I was not included in the bonuses that were given to us by the people we work for. Every year two of the people/families we work for send delicious and very expensive food gifts. Think gourmet meats, cheeses, etc. (The other people give monetary bonuses to us.) My boss is a vegetarian and my other coworker has several health issues like IBS that prevent him from enjoying the food. In my thank you note would it be alright for me to mention that I was able to enjoy the food exclusively since my coworkers are on health and diet restrictions? My family and I loved the bonus gourmet food – but I was thinking of a gracious and gentle way to let them know that my boss & coworker, who have worked the longest and the hardest for them, cannot enjoy their gift. It would be more equitable in the future for another type of bonus to be given that ALL three of us could enjoy, and perhaps this could explain the situation while thanking them at the same time. What do you think?

    • eB

      How close of a relationship does this client have with you and your boss/co-worker? If it’s close and friendly it may be worth mentioning (along with a very kind thank you note). But if it’s not close, it may damage the client relationship so I would just let it be…


      • My boss & co-worker have run this office & program for 8 years and are very well acquainted and on friendly terms with the gourmet food givers, and they work very hard for them. I do want my thank you be kind and very grateful & appreciative. Yet… if there was a delicate way to mention the fact that the main intended recipients can’t enjoy their generous gifts for practical reasons. This is seriously hundreds of dollars worth of gourmet meats & cheeses to a lactose intolerant vegetarian and an IBS & Diviticulitis sufferer. Every year they have been passing the food on to other people. This is the first year it has been given to me rather than a combination of random people. It’s a shame, really.

  • Sample::: Dear Mr. & Mrs. Jones,
    Thank you very much for the gourmet steaks, ham and bacon and the Chicago style deep dish pizzas. They are incredibly delicious and our family is positively spoiled by your generosity – having received the lion’s share since Kenny’s intestinal condition has worsened this year and Betty is more fully committed than ever to her healthy vegetarian lifestyle. I am savoring the goodies and appreciate your thoughtfulness! ::::

    I appreciate your honest opinion. And also your time. -eB

  • Joe

    I’m sorry that happened, especially when she asked specifically. I think an honest course of action would have been to ask for gift receipts for the other gifts and then use that money to get the scooter. I would sit down with your mother, politely thank her for the gifts, but ask about why she asked about the scooter if she didn’t get it? It may have been an issue of money or perhaps something happened at that store when she went to get it? I would give her a chance to explain, listen with an open heart and go from there. If it truly is that she didn’t care, then I would just refrain from telling her specific gifts so you’re not counting on her to bring that one item to your child.


  • Hi Grace,

    I have a question regarding gift etiquette and you love your advice.
    In my groups of friends we usually pool money to get a cake and gift when people have a birthday and have a meal together to celebrate.

    It was recently my birthday and my friends didn’t get me a gift, just some mini cupcakes. It made me feel really unliked since in comparison, only a month before, we had 2 birthdays and those friends received really thoughtful gifts. I don’t understand why I was the exception to the trend, should I bring it up with them or just let it go?

    • Chloe

      I’m sorry that happened, that is indeed odd if you have a precedent of including gifts. I would bring it up with them thoughtfully and ask if everything is ok or if perhaps financially it was better for everyone if gifts were left out going forward?


  • Hi Grace,

    This is not holiday-related, but my boyfriend of a few months has invited me to his close friend’s surprise birthday party – a friend whom I have never met before.
    While helping him shop for his own gift to him, I was debating on whether it would be strange to get him a gift as well or if it would be frowned upon to come empty handed.
    Should I get a small, generic gift for his friend? Or would some nice balloons and snacks be more appropriate?

    Many thanks,

    • Nina

      I think some balloons and snacks would be appropriate- helping out is a nice gesture for someone you haven’t met who is connected by a relatively new significant other.

      Grace :)

  • Is a gift really a gift if there are expectations attached to it?

    My father has a habit of throwing money around in gift form to create almost a barter system with your love. It is a form of manipulation that he thinks goes unnoticed.

    My father and I went to rival schools. I recently received tickets from him to attend a sporting event involving my school and a local school. I also received tickets to attend a sporting event two days later with his school and the same local school mentioned earlier. This sporting event is not something that I have an avid interest in, nor would I spend my money to attend. To prove my point, this will be the first time I have attended one. It seems thoughtful, and it’s something we can enjoy together. He has attended my schools sporting events with me before. He is kind enough to wear my school colors when he attends. I have never asked him to wear my schools colors for any event. I’m not comfortable wearing his schools colors ever. I have attended sporting events for his school, I usually wear neutral colors and clap when appropriate to support his school. He gave me the tickets as a gift and said he expects me to wear his schools colors for their game. He justifies his request by saying he does it for me. He knows it bothers me a lot. I would rather not go to either event than wear something I’m uncomfortable with, especially seeing the manipulation that goes along with this “gift”. I don’t want to be ungrateful, but Is this really a gift, if there are expectations that are attached to it?


  • I gave my client a cleaning visit as a thank you gift. She sent a message saying she wanted me to supervise the cleaning to make sure it was to her standard. She also later said “Since its my gift should it not be to my standard?”

    I was very disappointed and it hurt my feelings that she reacted this way to a gift. A gift given out of care and gratitude should just receive a thank you.

    I had also offered to provide a gift certificate for her to have the work done when it suited her. She demanded I schedule the visit. So I don’t think she has the right to complain and I hope manners prevail.

    • Pamela

      That’s totally not ok. I would tell her the gift is hers to use or not use as she sees fit. I’m sorry she handled that poorly.


  • What do you think about getting a gift for someone you dislike and who also can’t stand your sight?

    I’m currently living in a dorm with a few other people, and I get along with most of them just fine. However, I’ve been having issues with this one girl in particular and when I went to discuss them with her, she completely flipped out and then acted like nothing happened. Unfortunately, after our conversation, she has been really passive aggressive and rude to me whenever our other roommates aren’t around. Sometimes, she makes passive aggressive remarks in front of our roommates, who don’t seem to acknowledge what is happening.

    Anyway, I’m done living with them and am moving to a different part of town, so this is my last year with them. I was thinking of getting all of them a gift except for the roommate I dislike. My experience with them has been much better, barring this one roommate, and so I thought I would do something to show my appreciation. Should I avoid getting my rude roommate a gift, or should I still feel an obligation to give her something too?

  • Hello,
    I’m not American, but I’m married to an American man. In my culture it is very rude to mention to the receiver how much you spent on the gifts you gave them however, my husband always makes remarks either with the actual numbers, or just by saying he spent a lot of money on the gifts he gives me. I feel offended and had told him about it before (to me it feels like he’s presenting me with the bill, so I can pay him back), but he says I’m overreacting. Is it really okay in the American culture to disclose that information?

    • Andrea

      I’ve never done that, but I think each family has their own styles of discussing gifts. But the bottom line is that you share your life with someone and you both need to respect each other’s comfort levels. He should respect that this makes you feel uncomfortable and respectfully stop bringing up the cost of gifts. If he can’t, try explaining it from the angle of how you feel (rather than what he’s saying) and hopefully he can connect with those feelings and not want to have you feel that way. If not, it may be worth discussing with a couple’s counselor to find some common ground.


  • Hi Grace,
    My close friend gave me an expensive black onyx bracelet for my birthday. I liked the bracelet but would prefer it in white mother of pearl. She didn’t give me a gift receipt but I know where it came from. Do you think it would be OK to let her know that I would like to exchange it? I really don’t want to hurt her feelings.


    • Krystal

      I think it’s definitely ok to express that, because if she invested in it, she really wants you to have something you love. :)


      • Hi there,
        I received a watch from a very close friend who was visiting from overseas.
        It is a nice watch and fairly expensive but just really not me. I do not ever wear the colour of the waych and it doesn’t match any of my other jewellery pieces. I told her I really liked it at the time but now dont know what to do. I know i will hardly wear it. I don’t know if i should tell her it is just not right for me and try to sell it and get something i really like? I can not return it as it was purchased overseas.
        I am in a tough situation!
        Please help!!

  • Hello,
    I am in a tricky gift receiving situation with my husband. My birthday is approaching and I have been telling everyone very clearly and politely that I really, really don’t want any gifts. We consolidated two households over the past four years and I have very much been trying to unload “stuff”. If there is something specific that I want, I get it when I find the right thing.
    My husband ordered something online a few weeks ago (the charge came through our bank account) and wants to give it to me in a big gathering of all of the children. I have insisted that it is not a good idea. I have tried very hard to say, “No thank you,” but he keeps pushing and is now upset that I have ruined his experience. At what point is my behavior rude? I think I have been very clear about this all along and I am beginning to feel shamed into accepting something I don’t want.

  • Hi Grace !

    I have a difficult situation and would love your insight . I have a neighbour friend who was truly a close friend of mine. She decided , for reasons unknown , to be a mean girl on a girls trip , singling me out and ignoring me and treating me poorly. After this trip I had no choice but to reevaluate if I needed a friend like her . I have been respectful, cordial and helpful with her daughters and pets. She has deliberately excluded me from any get togethers with mutual friends, and i always find out about it leaving me feeling less than and hurt . Yet she will stop in her car and ask me how things are etc.
    I had purchased a few specific items that were specific to her as her Bday gift. She was appreciative. Since then , she has organized a few more get togethers where I am clearly and deliberately not invited. So I’ve had to put in a lot of mindful thought into pulling away from such a hurtful relationship – knowing that no one needs a demeaning person in their life , and that for whatever reason she is on this particular path and perhaps this my lesson to learn.

    My Bday came and went and she sent me a generic happy bday text which was more than I expected . I came home this week to a gift bag on my front porch … Oblivious to who it was from I slid my hand in the bag to find a card . It’s from her. I cannot bring myself to even open the gift as it all feels very awkward, disingenuous , manipulative and empty . What should I do ??

    • Nicolina

      I would open the gift and the card. If they’re not something that feels like an extended olive brand and genuine offering, it may be time to let this chapter of your friendship with her close and move on to friends that you feel more supported by.


  • Hi Grace,
    Would love some advice. My daughter recently had a Bat Mitzvah. We have two gifts with no cards and several people who appeared to not have given a gift. How do you suggest dealing with this?

    • Wendy

      Based on who else attended, can you narrow it down at all to a few people? If so, you could call them to ask if that’s their gift. I’m sure people will understand :)


      • I was thinking about texting them….wasn’t sure it that was about the etiquette on that…..

        • Wendy

          I would pick up the phone. I think with gifts and someone being generous toward your family, it’s nice to speak directly.


  • Grace: Here’s my situation. I have always thought that you could tell something about how the other person feels about you by the gifts they give you. Not that they have to give gifts even if they care, but if they do give you a gift, it can be an expression of how they perceive the relationship. As my step-daughter grew up and began exchanging Xmas gifts, she has tended to give me gifts that seem a little strange. She will give my husband “real” gifts such as a set of wrenches for his tool kit whereas she might give me a package of muffin mix, which she then wants us to make right away for breakfast. This has gone on for several years. The gifts to me seem like after thoughts, – a bar of soap or a grocery item (which I’m expected to share immediately). It’s embarrassing but also makes me feel she’s trying to tell me something or that she is being passive aggressive. I’ve never mentioned it to her but have asked my husband to try to let her know how it looks so maybe she can change it. He won’t run interference, so it continues year after year and makes me feel a bit tense at Xmas gift opening time. To be fair, I know that her mother does also tend to give gifts that seem very minimalist, inexpensive, and like after-thoughts (soap, candles, jar of jam). So I think it could just be what she’s learned until I notice she does not do that with her father. It seems she should have caught on by now (15 years) that I give her something thoughtful for herself and not cost-based. But I see little sign that anything has changed. What do you think? I wish it would change so maybe i could feel she cares. But perhaps she just doesn’t. Thanks so much!

    • Patty

      I think this is a very complicated situation, but I think the answer is simple (albeit, not fun or easy): I think you have to lead by example and let her figure out on her own that the way she MAY be behaving (passive aggressive gifting to express any issues she may have related to having a new step-mom) is unkind to you.

      I think this is one of those situations where her being a young child (I’m assuming?) may mean you need to take the high road and just lead by example. Divorce isn’t easy on anyone and she may need to work through some feelings she has about her parents’ split and they may need to do some work with her on that, too.

      If she’s old enough to have a mature conversation, you could express that when you receive these gifts, you feel like they’re communicating a lack of care or respect for you. But that sort of conversation could backfire if she’s not old or mature enough to understand your feelings. I would hope your husband would care enough about both of your happiness that he would be involved in working with her on this. I think this is definitely something to be figured out among adults…


  • Hi Grace,
    I love your gift giving advice and found myself feeling frustrated recently. My little neice who I rarely get to see had a birthday this last week. When I asked her parents what was best to get her (they live in a small house and are picky about her toys), her mom recommended something and I got it. Meanwhile, my aunt asked the same thing. They told her that she wanted a kids camera – I am feeling very upset that they didn’t tell me that because I am a photographer as a profession and that would have been the cutest and more appropriate gift for me to give her. My aunt that gave her the camera is like a second mom to me and she also didn’t say anything. She is a horse person and always gives “horse” gifts. I’m quite sure she would be offended if anyone else got her a cute horsey gift as its her “thing”‘- I just think the connection between my goddaughter neice and I (since I live on the other side of the country) would have been built even more through our connection of a gift like that. Am I wrong to feel this way? What do you do in a situation like this?

  • Hi Grace,

    My question to some may seem a little selfish; but, for me it is somewhat painful. Even though I am not a plant person, my daughter constantly sends me plants as gifts. Yet, she sends my husband more personal gifts that he can use i.e., a computer bag, etc. Also, for Christmas, her fiance gave me candy (he literally bought bags of candy from 7/11), and he knows I’m diabetic. I have to add that I do not really know her fiance, as we live in different states, and I have only met him 4 times – they have been together for 5 years. What’s painful for me, is that it feels like my daughter is giving me gifts that she doesn’t have to think about – giving me a gift just to give me a gift.

    The thing is, I saved every gift each of my children either gave or made for me when they were younger. I would rather she give me a handmade gift, than just sending me the generic plant gift. Am I wrong? Should I say something to her?

    • Betty

      That’s a tough situation, but one that deserves to be discussed face to face with her. However, I would discuss this with your husband first. To me, a plant and a computer bag seem like equal degrees of “personal” gifts (ie: not super personal). Perhaps he doesn’t feel his gift is particularly thoughtful either, and it’s less of a “you” vs. “him” thing.

      That said, bags of candy for a diabetic is just plain thoughtless. That sort of gift definitely can be discussed directly. I find these are things better discussed in the moment sometimes (i.e.: handing them back and saying, “Thank you so much, but I’m a diabetic and I cannot eat this candy.”) but since that’s not an option for another year, I would try to bring this up in person (or face to face over Skype) with your daughter and see if there’s a root cause under this.

      It could be as simple as she’s very busy right now and hasn’t had the time to put into gifts, or perhaps their budgets are tighter than normal. It’s human nature to assume it’s something personal and related to you, but it’s highly likely it isn’t. If you can express it from the position of how YOU feel and not from the angle of “here’s what YOU did wrong”, hopefully she’ll be able to hear you and understand where you’re coming from. If not, it may be something you just have to accept. Not everyone is a great gift giver and, not counting the candy (not thoughtful atall!), a plant isn’t exactly the worst gift in the world, it just isn’t your cup of tea.

      We all have people in our lives that gift based on what they would want rather than what you would actually want, and at the end of the day, it’s better to have those relationships than to worry too much about the quality of the gift. True, it would be wonderful if everyone nailed the most thoughtful, personal gift each time, but I think at the end of the day, assuming there’s no larger problem beneath the gifting issue, it’s worth moving past.


  • Hi Grace,
    I am wondering if you have any advice on thanking people for gifts of money. With other gifts, I mention the item in my thank-you note and describe something specific that I appreciate about it. With thank-you notes for monetary gifts, I feel awkward writing “the money” or “the check” and end up saying something vague like “thank you for the gift” – what wording do you think is proper? Also, is it necessary to write something specific about the gift, like how I will use it (especially for smaller gifts that I’m unsure how I will spend) or ok to stick to more general words of appreciation?
    *thank you!*

    • Gillian

      I would say “your generous gift” and not necessarily say the amount or the word “money” :)

      I think it’s nice to say what you’re putting the money toward if you know, but no pressure ;)

  • I’m the oldest 1st cousin on both sides of my family, 3 of my first cousins are graduating college, including my own brother. I am attending with my parents, brother and my husband a party that one of my Aunt’s is having for both her boys. My parents are giving a check for each of their nephews, my brother won’t be giving a check to his own first cousin, why should I? My mom thinks that I should but I’m the same relationship to them. I don’t think that I should be giving a gift to them, driving 5 hours to gather with the family seems like enough to me and I’m not an Aunt to them, (nor close to them). What do you suggest? It seems weird for me to give them a congratulations card with nothing in it though, is it best to just do nothing? I can’t find anywhere online about gift giving to basically your peer!

  • Hi Grace,
    I see that this post is from awhile ago, but I’m hoping your still handing out advice. I write as tears are swelling up in my eyes after my husband just gave me earrings. We’ve only been married 5 years And this is the 4th piece of jewelry he has bought me from his mother’s favorite store, not mine. I’ve hinted over the years that it’s not my style, and he knows I hate the bracelet he got me one year. Our anniversary isn’t till August but he gave me the earrings today because he “couldn’t wait, and thought I could wear them today” Not wrapped, no note, lying in my pjs, and now I won’t get anything when I give him his in August. I feel extremely guilty for being so upset, he looked so happy to give them to me, and I should be grateful that my husband wants to buy me things. But it’s put me in a horrible mood that I can’t shake, and makes me question if he knows me at all. He really is a sweet guy, and is thoughtful in other ways, I should just let it go, right? Thanks:)

    • Meg

      This is a tricky one because it sounds like your husband is definitely thinking of you and wanting to express his love through these generous gifts. But you have every right to gently bring up that these pieces aren’t your style.

      I don’t think there’s an easy way around this. I think you need to sit down and gently tell him, directly, that you greatly appreciate these gifts, but that they are not your style. Express your appreciation but ask if he would be ok with you exchanging this most recent gift. Not everyone would agree with this, but I think if someone is spending a lot of money on jewelry, they should be making that a good investment- not one that will sit, unworn, in a box for years. So kindly explain that that’s not your style (hopefully he’ll be open to learning what IS) and that you love the generous gesture, but would love to open the door to a conversation about gifting in your relationship and what you each truly like (it’s possible he may not love the gift he’s received, so opening the door lets you hear his side of the story and learn more about him, too). I think that conversation would be a good time to express that you’d really love to keep gifts to your actual special day so you each get to open something together.

      It’s hard to express these things and hurt feelings may happen, because all of these gifts are most likely coming from such a great place and great intentions. But stay calm and clear and hopefully both of your feelings can be heard and understood going forward.


  • Hey Grace,
    I am in a bit of a pickle. My boyfriend is currently living with his ex girlfriend and another roommate, and she wont be moving out until next year. The roommate and I get along very well, but there is a lot of animosity between us girls. I feel that in order to keep the peace within his home, I have to give her something for Christmas, as I plan on getting the guys each a gift. That being said, I know nothing about her and have no idea what I should do. Please help?

    • Kathryn

      Do you live there as well? Is he planning on remaining friends with her? If she’s going to remain in your lives, yes, it may be worth trying to learn more about her and become friendly. But that is a MAJORLY awkward situation and I understand why either of you would feel tense. But honestly I think this is your boyfriend’s issue to handle and smooth over, period. I don’t know how he can expect either of you to get along when you’re still living together and seeing each other every day…


  • my husband just gave me a birthday present (bought the same morning from the gift store down the road -as usual). While I was opening it he said I could return it if I didn´t like it. It was a silver bracelet, I didn´t dislike it per say, but I have so many silver bracelets. I deceided to return it the next day and get a ring from the same jewelery line as I thougt I would use it more. Now my husband is furious with me, saying I´m ungraitful. I don´t understand his reaction, I have never returned any gift from him before in our 20 years relationship, and he did say I could. I´m I being ungraitful?

    • Marcy

      I’m sorry that happened. I think you should explain to him that you have a lot of bracelets and that you took him up on his offer to return it if you didn’t like it. He shouldn’t offer that if he’s unhappy with the results and perhaps it can open up a discussion about putting more thought and time in gifts if they’re always rushed and last minute.


      • Thank you Grace.
        I did tell him all those things when I was trying to explain myself, I was just so surpriced about his reaction. Why would he care so much if it is a ring or a bracelet if he just ran into the store for 5 minutes to get me something/anyhing? I would really like a thougtful gift sometime or if he´s having trouble finding a nice gift he should just ask me what I´d like, but he never asks.

  • Hi, Grace… you’ve been offering wonderful advice to everyone here and I thought I’d share something that’s been gnawing me for quite some time. I went to visit a friend and took some gifts for her twins and for her. While I was talking to her FIL, she inevitably came to know that a book I got for her was expensive and probably felt obliged to get something of equal value for me.Anyway, she got a gift for my son but almost immediately I noticed that the original price tag had been cut out and a different price tag had been stuck in its place.

    I wouldn’t have minded one bit if she hadn’t given us any gifts at all or if it had been a small, inexpensive one but I feel saddened that she felt it necessary to be dishonest. Somehow, I don’t feel the same joy about our friendship now…Do you think I’m overreacting?

    • RR

      I would let this one go. If that change was coming from a place of wanting to (even if totally unnecessary) impress or show you that she cares, it would be hurtful to accuse her of something worse. Her actions were probably coming from a place of insecurity and I wouldn’t read anything worse into that about the nature of your friendship.


      • Thank you, Grace! You are right of course and I’m glad I shared it here instead of worrying about my own assumptions.

  • Dear Grace,
    My husband has three nieces and a nephew. We have not been married log and when we were getting married one of his nieces, a 20 year old could not attend because she was studying abroad. Now she has started demanding gifts from him saying that she owes him and some of them are ridiculously expensive gifts. First she wanted a DSLR camera that would have cost us no less than 500 $. My husband told her that it was too expensive for us to buy at the moment and offered to buy her a Fitbit HR instead. Now she wants nothing less than a diamond necklace. I am from a middle class family where money was strictly budgeted and our parents taught us the value of money in our childhood.
    My husband says that his niece was spoilt as a child and she is being so demanding with him because is very close to his nieces and nephew. What I want to ask you here is, is this a normal request? I do not want to interfere but we live frugally and the thought of spending somewhere between 500-1000 $ on a gift sounds ridiculous to me.

    • Shal

      Gifting is different from family to family, but since you are now a part of that family and (I’m assuming) your finances are now joint, you have a right to discuss those purchases with your husband. I would focus less on the dollar amount and more on the supposed “demands”, as that’s the most upsetting part here. No one should be told they “owe” someone anything like that.


  • Some advice would be great…My Brother in law and sister in law don’t have a lot of money. They aren’t rich or poor, but like to give gifts that are way too expensive or that they know I won’t like. For example I mentioned a brand of dolls that I thought dressed inappropriately that my daughter liked, but I didn’t..and that’s what she got for her bday and not just 1, but 3. On more than one occasion I have asked for budget limits or have told them I would rather my children share experiences with their cousin (all 3 children are close in age.) I have threatened to start withholding gifts from them if they continue to blatantly disrespect my wishes. What else can I do? I have taken my nephew to a movie and dinner and let him choose 2 books from a book store and they are gifting my children expensive electronics and gift cards to stores…it’s just not equal.

    • Silkers

      This is a tough one. But I think the best course of action is to sit down with your BIL and SIL in person and ask them why they continue to go against what you have asked them to do regarding gifts for your children. I think opening a dialogue here is the best way to start. If they continue to ignore your requests, you may need to either let this issue go or decide to not accept gifts from them, which would potentially be upsetting for your children. I think discussing this as adults and making yourself VERY clear is the important first step.


  • I received a thank you note from someone who thanked me for a gift I did not give instead of the one I gave. How should I handle this?

  • I’m curious how to handle a situation.

    My brother and I are not on speaking terms as of three months ago. Since we quit speaking, my sister in law addresses everything from my 2 year old niece. I recently had a birthday as did she. I didn’t send her anything as pretty much everything I send, gets taken back. Recently the last several years, while my brother showers everyone else in gifts, I get a hand me down. The latest hand me down was a re-gift of a present (novelty piggy bank) given to my 2 year old niece for her birthday six months ago. I just turned 32 – so far from age appropriate. I want to politely tell her that id rather not get a gift at all than one that just declutters their house. Is it out of line to mail the gift back with a note saying I don’t want to take away from my nieces birthday gifts?

    • Laura

      Yes, you cannot tell them you’d rather not get gifts. I think the best thing here to do is to take the high road, thank them for the gift and move on. It seems like gifts are being used to express underlying issues between both families, so I would suggest sitting down face-to-face for a conversation. Until those issues are resolved, gifts will continue to be the conduit through which hurt feelings are expressed.


  • Today was my out-of-state nephew’s third birthday and I spent a lot of time picking out a large wooden train set and extra train cars as a gift. I have a very small family and am very close to my brother, but not my SIL.

    My brother called me this evening and said he and my SIL had looked at the gift before giving it to my nephew and wanted to have me give my nephew a fire truck that they had purchased for my nephew’s birthday instead of the train. He said they plan to give my nephew a wooden train after he is potty trained for Christmas and wanted to give the extra train cars I had purchased as rewards during his potty training.

    I told my brother that I wanted to give my nephew the gift I had purchased for him for his birthday and not the fire truck and that I thought it was rude for him to call and make such a request. He never even thanked me for the train. He made it sound like they either wanted to not give my nephew the train at all or give it as their Christmas gift to my nephew. I told him I had already found accessories to give my nephew for Christmas as well.

    Do you have suggestions for how to handle a situation like this?

    • Laura

      I agree, that request was rude. I’m sorry that happened. The good news is that if your nephew is that young, he will not remember this “missing” gift, so I would express your feelings and how this made you feel and hope they can understand.


  • Hi Grace,
    My issue is that a few years ago my new neighbour gave me a present of her hand made pottery which delighted me. I gave her a small picture I had painted in return. She also gave me a birthday present of her pottery. I did not have anything hand made to give her on her birthday so gave her flowers. I’m not usually given to tit for tat gifts but felt the contact when giving is a good thing. We don’t see each other too often otherwise because she works full time. I’m feeling that the present giving has become a bit forced because it is no longer hand made, and not even personal. I don’t mind the giving but feel it was only ever meant as a way for her to present the joy of hand made gifts. There are only so many pots you can give, I suppose ! Should I go on trying to find something suitable twice a year or try to call it a day?

    • Mags

      First, I think it’s lovely that you’ve got a long-term friendship that you still make the effort to connect over two times a year. Second, I think bringing someone a small gift when you see them is totally ok. It doesn’t sound like we’re talking about super expensive jewelry or anything, so I think a handmade gift (like a pot) or something gathered (like flowers), is totally ok. It doesn’t seem as though gifts like that are given in an attempt to make you feel guilty or somehow indebted to that friend. I have friends like this that always arrive with a gift from their studio or collection (without any need to gift, ie: no birthday, etc.) and at first I felt like I needed to reciprocate and then I realized that was just their way of expressing care and love. If you feel comfortable just accepting that that’s how she expressed her care for you, I would just let it go, thank her for her gifts and just enjoy the friendship. IF she speaks up and says “what about my gift?” then I think you’ve got a case for concern…


  • I received a gift from my older sister for my birthday who we have no communication with each other and she’s been abusive to me over the years. We have a 8 year age difference and after years of verbal and emotional abuse, I wrote a quick email stating I needed to take a little break from the relationship to process feelings that haven’t been dealt with over the years. That was almost 2 years ago and she has blocked me from all social media and the only contact is a Christmas and Birthday gift. I finally feel free from this toxic and abusive relationship, even though we are sisters. I don’t know what to do about her birthday. I feel if I send her a card – it will not be enough – if I give her something similar to what she gave me – it would be given from the goodness of my heart. I finally have peace and no longer want to be a participant of this game but not sure what the appropriate and least damaging response would be. I’m just so tired of 40 years of verbal abuse. I didn’t even open the Amazon box for over a month and then gave the tumbler to my son because of the feelings it brought back to me. Any advice would be appreciated.

    • Angela

      There are a lot of things going on here, and I think some of them may have been lost in translation, so to speak. But what I’m hearing is that you want to find a way to acknowledge her birthday in whatever way feels right to you, is that right? I think you’re the only person who can answer that. If you feel a gift would be “from the goodness of your heart”, then yes, do that. That’s the only place a gift should come from. Or was that a typo and you meant it wouldn’t be from the goodness of your heart?

      If you’re totally out of touch with each other, I would suggest putting this whole gifting idea aside. You need to work on the relationship before worrying about gifts. Are you open to seeing if she’d attend some family counseling sessions with you? That could be a better use of gifting money and time.


  • Dear Grace,

    I recently purchased a baby gift for a friend and his wife. We were invited over to see the baby and celebrate his mother’s birthday. When I arrived they were busy in the kitchen so I left the gift on the table. After dinner, I noticed they (her and her mother) were not outside with the other guests and she came out and asked if I had made the booties that were a part of the gift. They went inside to open the gift I brought and left me outside! I found this highly offensive. Any advice?

    • Joanne

      I don’t think they meant anything by that. A lot of people (like me) feel very uncomfortable opening things in front of people and making it feel like a performance or show. Did they say thank you? Or just ask about the boots?


      • Grace,

        1. Assuming that they didn’t mean anything by that, you’re forming an opinion about people you don’t know. Not everyone makes a mistake like that unintentionally.
        2. Again, assuming that she (like you) felt uncomfortable opening gifts in front of people, the answer was quite simple, all she had to do was wait until everyone left. I didn’t expect her to open the gift in front of everyone, just me and I certainly wasn’t expecting a performance or a show! Someone gave me some good advice once: Don’t assume anything!

        • Joanne

          I think assumptions are being made on both sides of the equation. What I’m suggesting is that, in the interest of saving a friendship, you don’t assume she meant anything harmful by the method of opening the gift.

          Regarding my earlier question- did she lead with saying “thank you”? Or did she just walk out and ask if the shoes were part of the gift? If it’s the latter, that would irk me, too.


  • I really could use some advice on this issue. It’s just about ruined my relationship with my Son and should have brought only happiness. Here is the problem.. I was without a vehicle for awhile, I missed having a car but with insurance, registration all the expenses that go with having a car, I couldnt afford one.
    My Son bought me a BMW older, used 2003. It was supposed to have been dependable. And had just had the transmission fixed.
    Well it hadnt. Besides the 500. to register it, he has told me I have to get the work done myself. He wants nothing to do with it. If I mention that I am unable to drive it he says its not his problem and I am ungrateful. Am I wrong to expect he should make it right or take it back? I never asked for it, besides… I feel he gave me a broken gift.
    I am trying to be appreciative, help..

    Brenda May

    • Brenda

      This is a difficult situation and I understand why both parties would be frustrated here.

      The gift you were given was generous and kind, but if it came with problems, that makes things difficult. Do you have a total cost for the repairs that need to be paid? And who is currently paying for the car’s registration and insurance so you can drive it?


      • He paid the registration . And I the insurance. I couldnt afford all the expenses thats one reason I didnt have a car. My son has no lack of funds. I have never felt entitled to anything ftom him. And am sorry he would think Im ungrateful. I just want to enjoy the gift not have it be something I have to fix before I can use it.

        • Brenda

          I hear you. Did he know about the problems with the car before gifting it to you?

          Is it something he could take back to the dealer to return? If it’s a bigger hassle than it’s worth, and you didn’t ask for it in the first place, could he/you simply sell the car back and be done with it?


  • The car was bought from an auto repair, friend of his. It had a transmission problem that was going to be repaired before he gave it to me. Within dsys the problem reoccured and he told me tske it in and they would fix it. 3 weeks later they still have the car, but he wont call them he feels they wouldnt respond any different than they would if I called. I think they define5ly would. He never even drove the car before he bought it. I now feel like he only wanted to look good by saying he bought me a car. But if it isnt drivable how much of a gift was it? He reminds me how much he spent every chance. I feel he should have at least made sure it worked before giving it. I love the car and am grateful he would be so kind. But part of giving a gift so expensive is msking sure its a good purchase, isnt it?
    Thank you

  • Dear Grace!
    İ need your advice about the situation that happened with me today. One of my friend (we have made friendship ona week ago, our kids go to the same class) went abroad and told me that she will bring me some present from there. Today she gave me the presents and told that even though she was very busy she could take some time for me to go shopping. She hoped that İ would like her gift. İ told her that İ am sure that i will like it. When İ have opened this İ have realized that there were the old used dresse, they even were dirty. İ was so shocked! Even though it is very rude i gave it back! İ feel myself so bad! There are two reason of my sadness: first of her relation and second my behaviour…. Please advice me something

  • Dear Grace,

    I live in a different country from my family and usually get them small presents when I visit home. My sister had enquired about a home appliance that she was interested in and I offered to get it for her as a present. Initially she agreed but has now changed her mind and asked for a lot of other things instead — the overall cost is lower but these items take a lot more space and a more inconvenient for me to carry. I will live with her for the 5 days of my visit and I and happy to get her the presents but I am also perplexed by her behavior.

    Is there anything wrong with her behavior? She is 35 years old and not a young child. Also, how would you recommend thanking her for letting me stay with her?

    Confused sister.

  • Dear Grace, what would be appropriate gift for my son’s doctor who was very engaged in his treatment for a long time?
    Thank you in advance.

  • Hi Grace I organised a joint birthday party for my friend and her husband. It was a weekend away with another 16 guests. I organised the accommodation, meals for both evenings, party decorations for the first evening as well as a cake, the menu, the drinks menu and on the second evening the menu. My friend said to me on the Friday ‘we have gifts for you to say thank you’ then on the Saturday night changed this to ‘we have flowers for you’ which were presented to me on the Sunday, some dying, no thank you card etc. I can’t help feeling my friend received these flowers for her birthday and thought ‘oh great a thank you present for Suse.’ Perhaps I am ungrateful but I feel no thought went into this at all…..My hubby said ‘never again’ and my parents said ‘when will you learn?’ Just thought I’d share for opinions thanks so much Suse :-)

    • Suse

      I’m so sorry this happened. Feeling un-appreciated is never a good feeling.

      Your husband and parents’ comments make me wonder- is this a pattern with this particular couple, or is a pattern in general?

      My general thoughts on giving is that if you’re giving with the expectation of reciprocation, the giving should stop. I know it can be hard not to expect people to behave in the same way you would, but that leads to disappointment a lot of the time.

      My gut feeling would be to not put this much effort into events for people who don’t appreciate you or the effort you went to- in some way. I think a thank you card or thank you call is in order for sure. And it’s hard to know whether or not those were re-gifted flowers (You may be right, but without knowing, it’s unfair to hold that against them).

      I’ve actually been in a very similar situation with friends a few times over and it eventually taught me to stop going so over the top- because I was, unfairly, expecting a equal level of “thanks” in response. I think a sincere “thank you” is all you can really hope for. If that doesn’t happen, then it’s definitely a sign not to repeat that sort of event if it won’t be appreciated.


  • Hi Grace,

    Two years ago, I got one of my best friends a package with a lip balm and a gloss. I saw her using the gloss, and she told me she loved the lip balm because it had a sheer tint so I’m assuming she used it. This year, all of my friends did a gift exchange and we all got her nice things (body lotion, books, sweaters) and she gave each of us a ziploc bag with random trinkets in it. She gave one of my friends the used lip balm I got her last year (you could tell it was used because the top was all smudged) and one of my other friends the lip gloss (it was half empty). In my bag there was what looked like vaseline mixed with a lipstick and it had some hair on it, as well as some random bobby pins. She gave my other friend a broken hair clip and my other friend a broken pair of earrings. She wasn’t mad at us or anything, and if she’s struggling financially, it would’ve been nicer to bake some cookies or even make holiday cards. Would it be rude to ask her why she got us such strange gifts? She acted like it was totally normal, and she’d gotten us normal things the past years.
    Please help

    • Sophie

      Short answer? Yes, it wouldn’t be kind to ask her about the gifts with any terms like “strange” attached. Instead, I would consider trying to create a safe space for her to discuss what may be underlying issues she’s dealing with. It’s not for us to decide what someone should do, or gift, when they are struggling financially, so while your assumption may be correct, the most compassionate thing to do would be to sit down and talk with her about how everything is going for her right now. Financial struggles are tough and often embarrassing to discuss. I suggest you let the gifts go for now, unless that becomes part of a bigger problem of her not being a supportive friend. But my hunch is that perhaps she wasn’t able to gift in the same way this year and did her best to pull something together. She may be dealing with depression or another issue (a lot of us deal with those issues in bigger ways around holiday seasons) and giving her a space, non-judgemental place to discuss what she may be going through is the best gift you could give her as a friend.


  • My ex sil lost her husband this year and I want to be nice. She has done some mean things to me in the past. The awful things are not limited to me. She once got angel tree presents for her kids when her husband was making over 60,000 a year. Before they got married, but were still living together, she would get welfare. They shared finances. One year she got charity gifts and those, plus the one she bought, reached the top of the tree. I tried to be nice and take her out after her husband’s death, but she seems to not be able to stand my presence and has avoided me. Now she has invited us over for thanksgiving and xmas. I will let her blood relatives out of my family go but I will not. I think the whole thing is a ploy to get Christmas gifts. But I’m not a complete Grinch so I asked her for the names and ages of the kids. She sent me the names and ages of her children and grandchildren, with most of the children being over 18. Since I did ask for the names and ages of the kids am I obligated to get all these people presents?

    • Grace

      I think the simplest answer may be a hand written card and if, and only if, you want to- some sort of gift or gift certificate that can be used by the entire family.

      But if this situation is filled with a lot of negative emotion and a lot of feelings of being duped into things, perhaps it’s best to end that relationship and move on.


  • Hi there!
    *This isn’t holiday related but I hope you respond*
    My crush’s birthday is coming up and I wanted to get him a sweatshirt but I didn’t know his size…so instead I got him some cologne. I presented it to him by meeting up with him in private since we have the same lunch and giving him the gift. He has a girlfriend and I didn’t want to seem like I’m trying to replace his girlfriend’s place but I really like him and wanted to give him something. His reaction was unclear but he said thanks and smiled. Our relationship level is not very close but we do often exchange some personal jokes…
    How should I feel about this?
    (PS: I’m a highschool student)

    • Hi CatsMeow

      First, thanks for sharing your story here. I know it’s hard to speak up about things like this, especially in high school. I admire your bravery; I was far too afraid to speak to anyone I had a crush on in high school. ;)

      Re: how you should feel, I’d love to hear more about what this situation means to you and what you were hoping the outcome would be? Were you hoping for a specific reaction or response? Were this not related to someone you have romantic feelings for, I would think the situation is relatively done and finished since you gave him the gift, he said thank you and….that’s kind of the end of that, as gift-giving goes.

      But my hunch is that perhaps you were hoping for more out of that interaction? Can you tell me more about that and what you hoped he would say/do or how you hoped you would feel afterward? I’m reading between the lines here, but were you hoping the gift would bring you closer together? I know you mentioned that he has a girlfriend and you don’t want to take her place, but did you intend the gift as a way of communicating to him that you have feelings for him that go beyond friendship?


      • Hi grace,
        First of all I want to thank you for responding, I really appreciate it!
        Ok so I just wanted a bit more of a reaction. I mean I was really nervous and all but he was just so cool about it, and I was kind of..disappointed? But I can’t expect things to happen that fast, plus he already is in a relationship. I really don’t know what to do about my feelings because I really wanted him to sense my feelings and take the lead to make us closer…but I heard guys aren’t very good at things like this so I’m really confused, should I continue to reach out to him and keep my feelings a secret until we have developed a solid ground or, should I just slowely cut off the relationship because I doubt it will work out but you never know. He’s a really social guy so I don’t know if he sees me as a friend or more…

  • Hi, Me and my classmates were told to give presents/gifts among us since we make a celebration on this Thursday for Apppreciation Day 2016. My teacher then, told us to give a present/gifts that would make the other person to not forget this whole year of 2016. So, I would like to seek your opinions or suggestions of what does it mean by ‘not forget the whole year’ and also do please give your suggestions on what gifts should I buy or make.

  • Hello!
    I have a twin sister who is nothing like me. We don’t get along much, and she’s the one to keep to herself. She likes reading books that she chooses and listening to Kpop, but she has anything a music and book lover would want. I hardly spend time with her, and I’ve made it evident in the past that I wish we were closer. This year, for Christmas, she’s taken it upon herself to spend more time with me. However, I’m more outspoken and ambitious. I speak my mind and she knows whatever is in my head. Therefore, she already has plenty of gifts for me, including spa stuff, books and a piece of jewelry among other things. I have no idea what to get her, but I want it to be special. I are about her but I don’t have any ideas because she really keeps her ideas and thoughts to herself. What should I do?

    • Lauren

      Are there any activities you enjoy together? An experience gift that goes toward your joint wish to spend more time together would be really nice.


  • Hello!
    I get along well with my mother-in-law and she is a very caring person. However when it comes to gifts she insists on buying me things that she would like and not necessarily what I like. Again we get along well but she tends to try to force connections with me. Our tastes are completely different in pretty much all aspects. My husband saw what she’s giving me for Christmas this year, a piece of art which again, is completely not my taste. I don’t want to hurt her feelings but I also don’t want to pretend we like the same things. My husband and I always tell her that we would prefer giftcards but she thinks they’re not ‘real gifts’ because there’s no thought involved. Any advice? Thanks!

    • Jaclyn

      This is a situation that is very familiar to me, so I understand your frustration. In my experience, the best way to deal with this is to either ask for no gifts (or donations to a charity you support) or find a way to re-gift the pieces you’re given. I’ve tried to have that talk with people but, in my experience, it’s not worth the hurt feelings of trying to tell someone they don’t give gifts that connect with you in any way. :(


  • I appreciated the article, thank you for the info. However it would also be interesting to read a piece about what are the no-no’s AFTER a gift is given. I will give an example: my MIL got me a low quality, very cheap winter jacket that she was aware was shitty. I sincerely thanked her for that, I wore the jacket (and she saw me with the jacket many times), but the zipper broke and, in the country I live, fixing it would cost almost as much as the jacket and, besides, I really needed another, better jacket. So I decided to send the broken jacket to my sister who lives in another country where fixing it would be much cheaper, because I am environmentally conscious and would not just throw it – and my MIL should know this by now. Then I bought a really good quality jacket and she saw me wearing that and did a whole interrogation section about the jacket, what happened to the other one, why I did not fix it, blablabla. She always notices when I am wearing something new and it makes me uncomfortable that she pays so much attention to that. Now, question: if you give a gift, do you have any right whatsoever to ask anything about its fate? How are we suppose to react to this kind of situation?

    • Fucsia

      Have you spoken with your partner about their mother? This may be something that your partner needs to address, as making the owner of a gift feel guilty is definitely unkind.


  • Wondering how to handle situation: I started a collection of Willow Tree figurines for my daughter many years ago. I add to the collection and mark certain times such as graduation, special accomplishments, etc. I also give her a Willow Tree angel every Christmas. My daughter is currently in a relationship with a very nice young man who’s Mom married a very wealthy man. Long story short, I just found out that the other Mom purchased the entire Willow Tree Nativity Set for my daughter at a cost of $400. I realize that the price is out of my range but now something special between Mother & daughter has changed. Not sure how to accept this situation. My first thought is to end the tradition now that the dynamics have changed. This collection was something special between us and the move that the other Mom has made has taken the joy out of our tradition. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Deb

      I understand this must be frustrating. I think you should have a deep think about this one. If these are figurines that mean something to your daughter, it would be a shame to end something she values because another person gave her some, too. The other mother may have no idea how much this hurt you- your daughter probably doesn’t either. To stop the tradition would be hurting you both without the chance to understand each other.

      I would honestly sit down and have a talk with this other mother and explain that you greatly appreciate the gift, but that this was a special gift between the two of you and that it hurt your feelings to have someone else join that club, so to speak. Perhaps if you give her a chance to understand what this means to you, she can find a new gift area.

      Alternately, I would consider a conversation with your daughter about the collections and what they mean to you- and her. It’s possible these figurines don’t represent the same thing to her as they do to you- and perhaps this is a moment to find a new tradition to start together at this more adult stage of her life. I know moments like this are difficult, but the connection between the two of you is what’s most important, so I would push through the awkwardness and have the talk with your daughter to see how she feels. The goal shouldn’t be to guilt her into continuing or telling the other mom to back off, but instead to communicate how special this tradition was to you and to see what it meant to her. It’s possible this could open a new door entirely for your relationship to start something new.


  • Thanks for your answer, Grace. It has always been like this in nearly ten years of relationship. She always tries to make me feel guilty for not being as perfect as she is and making me feel indebted to her by doing things for me that I by no means asked for nor needed in first place. This time my partner told her off by sms and she apologized, but she never learns…so the solution I found is to keep our interaction to the bare minimum.

  • I had a couple of things I wanted for Christmas, and my dad and my mum’s boyfriend asked, so I told them both the same thing along with a couple of other things. My mum knew what they both got me, and just said that they got me the same gift! I don’t know what to do, as Dad hates Mum’s boyfriend! Ellie

    • Ellie

      I think it’s best to just say thank you and make due with the double gift. In the future, tell them each different things to avoid any overlap ;)


  • Is there anything that can be done or said about an adult sister-in-law that gives intentional stupid gifts to my husband that she knows my he will not appreciate. It is now hurting his feelings.
    We always give a gift we think she will enjoy or that is on her list.
    I really don’t know why she wants to hurt him but it is. Ann

    • Ann

      I think it’s best to avoid terms like “stupid”, here. If it’s your husband receiving the gifts, I think you need to let him speak up if it upsets him. If he’s not upset, I think it’s best to let this go. Getting in between family like that just isn’t going to be easy to navigate.


  • My MIL bought my 2 toddler sons, bean bag chairs. They are huge (because they are actually for college kids, dorm rooms). We are currently living in an apartment while we save for a house & there is no where to put them without them blocking my open floor plan… With what my MIL has had to say about the gifts others have for our boys not fitting in our home & the fact that she usually runs ideas for the boys past me 1st, I am not sure what she was thinking. We have a somewhat rocky relationship & I don’t want any drama. Would it be rude to not say anything to her & simply take them back to Walmart & get more appropriate toddler chairs? She doesn’t come over often, but I think she will notice when she does.

    • Chantal

      If they gifts don’t work and truly don’t fit in your home, then returning them seems like the best option. I would thank her for them regardless. If she asks about why you returned them simply say they did not fit in the boys’ rooms and you needed something smaller. I’d make sure your husband is on board with this, too, so he will have your back if things do get rocky. Good luck!


  • My sister-in-law is a “more is better” type of gift-giver. She’d prefer to buy a bunch of cheap crap than 1 nice thing. She likes the gift to “look” bigger.
    Me? I’m very utilitarian & earth conscious. I wish she’d give me (1) nothing or (2) a gift card to Starbuck’s gift card. This Christmas, she gave me a cheap, ugly coffee mug. Extremely cheap tea in flavors I don’t care for…..nor do I drink tea very often. She also gave me Avon lotion & a candle—-I don’t care for the scents of either (& I HATE Avon & don’t burn candles).
    I will donate these items to Goodwill, etc.

    I’ve been married to my husband for 20 years and have just as many years of these unwanted gifts. We live several states away so she really has no feel for what I/we like.

    She has asked my husband in the past what to get me. He’s said “Starbucks” gift card—and she’s gone out & purchased Dunkin Donuts (HATE!) and/or Walmart (which I used to buy dogfood).

    On one hand, I appreciate that she goes out and in her way, tries to be thoughtful. But is it? It just feels like “filler” gifts.

    She’s taken to do the same thing for my kids. They are 11 & 13. She doesn’t know them. She’ll ask my husband what they want. He’ll tell her….and she’ll buy what she thinks they might like. She’s WAY off. I’m not exaggerating when I say they never like what she sends. These gifts tend to be for kids younger than my kids ages…..or just things outside of their interests. (Once again—-we are several states away. She doesn’t know my kids really.)

    So, she continues to spend quite a bit of money on what I see as crap, again. We say “thank you” and donate. (We return when feasible but often times, the gifts are mail-order & we don’t have receipt or they are from stores we don’t have in my area. PLUS—I hate to spend the time.)

    I feel ungrateful (I guess because I am). And she wastes a lot of money. She has no idea how far off the mark she is.

    My husband is not really one to deal with things head-on…..and I don’t really blame him. He offers to make the goodwill trip.

    Is there anything I could do/say (or my husband could)?
    Or do we just keep letting her waste her time & money?

    • Amy

      In an ideal world, we’d all give and receive gifts that are exactly what the recipient wants and/or needs. But that’s not the world we live in. And having a little compassion for “less than ideal” gifts (and givers) this time of year is always a good idea. The word “crap” applied to this gifts over and over is hard to hear- a lot of these things would be really useful to people in need, so if you can’t find a use for these, I’d suggest giving them to those in need who could make great use of a gift card.


      • I expressed my gratitude & gave my neighbor the tea & lotion to take to the hospice house where she volunteers. Unpleasant-scented candle is going to Goodwill. While I don’t relish the time I spend disseminating, I’d prefer to do that than add to a landfill.

        Where I’m from, we speak a bit freely (& use the word “crap” easier than those in the South, where I currently reside. It’s not meant to offend, it’s just straightforward and shows disdain for an item). And while it may be hard to hear, it’s hard to receive these items. I dislike seeing Earth’s resources to make needless things (think 15-$1 store items) that have a limited useful life & end up in landfills, as many of the items I/we receive from this gift-giver. I don’t care for the consumerism behind it, either.

        • To clarify, some items end up in landfills (mostly the kid-oriented items), because they break easily because they are so cheaply made.

          • Here’s a suggestion–tell the gift giver that while you love the effort she puts in, you’d prefer she donate what she feels comfortable with to a charity of her choice, with no need to tell you the amount or even charity. You can further explain you are trying to lead a simpler life with less belongings, teaching your children the value of giving to charity, etc.
            It’s possible she is struggling with a budget, and can’t afford something that meets your standards. She may be seeing a gift card to Dunkin’ Donuts or Walmart as getting “more” for the money, and that may be the places she sees as a treat. Yes, you won’t get a gift, but you also won’t be upset because the gift you got you don’t like. It’s all about the spirit of the holiday, right!

        • Amy

          I hear you and understand your underlying point- but I think it’s good to keep in mind that what may seem like “crap” to you may be a welcome gift to someone with less. Gifts often end up in landfills because they’re not going to people who need/want them most, so perhaps these “bad” gifts could be an invitation to reach out to local shelters or women’s homes to see if someone there would want them?


          • I have the same experience with my parents. They are on a very limited income and live two time zones away on the other side of the country. Every year they ask me what me and my husband would like and every year I give them some suggestions of things that we honestly would like but would be within their price range (like a homemade Christmas card – my mom makes those for some people; or some of my dad’s homemade jerky). Every year we get something completely different. One year I got a half-used bottle of lotion that my mother (should have known because I’m her daughter) knew I was allergic to, another year my husband got a pair of my dad’s old prescription glasses (my husband doesn’t wear glasses). Several times, we get presents that I had given to them a previous year; gifts I specifically picked out for them based off of their interests and preferences. I’ve tried talking to them about it and how it makes us feel unappreciated to receive items that we perceive as trash, but they’ve told me that I’m “required” to express gratitude because giving gifts is about the person giving them, not the person receiving them. I thought if I just didn’t send thank you’s for the obviously thoughtless ones that it would send a message but they get really upset if we don’t acknowledge every single thing, including items that just go directly in the trash.

            It takes a lot of planning for me to donate the “gifts” because my local donation center only accepts donations on certain days/times and I hate the idea of throwing out items that someone else might find useful. It’s frustrating because so little consideration went into the “gift” (by their own admission) and rather than building the relationship between my parents and my family, it’s really hurting it. They are not at all receptive to hearing feedback that they are being hurtful and they are instantly resentful and wounded when I tell them anything other than “thank you we appreciate it” or “we love it; thank you”. But why should I lie to them? I don’t appreciate it at all and it’s really inconsiderate to constantly throw unwanted items at someone who has communicated they aren’t happy with the process. They also get upset when I express disappointment that they re-gifted my gift to them back to me and accuse me of not being grateful for the “present”. Of course I’m not; I purchased it for them having actually considered their wants, needs, and preferences.

            My son is due in a few weeks and my husband and I want to teach him that holidays are about celebrating togetherness and the religious elements of the season; they are not an opportunity to hurl yourself into debt or to try to “one-up” someone else. We want to teach him that gifts should be meaningful or not at all and that there are other meaningful ways to remember a loved one besides tangible asset exchanges (such as hand-writing an actual letter, for example). I’ve communicated to my parents that this is how we are raising our son and while they acknowledge that, my father routinely complains that he doesn’t think my brother gives their presents to his children and how much that hurts him and mom. Frankly, I don’t plan on subjecting my son to my parents’ behavior, but I also don’t want to hurt their feelings if I can avoid it.

            Is there any way to effectively communicate to them that they have to stop this destructive behavior?

            • Ellie

              I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. It’s a problem of riches, but it’s problematic nonetheless.

              If your parents aren’t responding to direct requests to stop the gifting, I would consider honestly just letting it go.

              I know these sorts of things are super annoying, but if the biggest problem facing the family is the issue of gifts that are re-gifted and (which I agree with) given without much thought, I would chalk it up to a weird thing you just have to ignore. If it happens once a year, I would just start a box somewhere in your basement, throw these things in and then when you have time to donate them, do that in one big chunk when you have time.

              If this is an issue that extends BEYOND gifting (ie: they’re carelessly ignoring allergies and other concerns in your family) I would bring those up. But your family clearly doesn’t see their behavior as destructive or hurtful, so unless they’re willing to dos some family therapy together, I would put this in the column of “weird things my family does that annoy me”. I’ve got a few lists of those myself and while they drive me nuts, I’m thankful they don’t extend to more abusive behavior so I’ve learned to just let it go.

              Re: your son, he can still learn those lessons from you. He’s got a LONG time before he’ll understand the nature of gifts, etc. so I wouldn’t put that on your list of worries for a while.


  • Hi Grace,

    My best friend and I both have birthdays very close to Christmas. We’ve been friends for years (15+), but unfortunately she tends to give me my birthday gift much later or I get the dreaded 2for1 gift come Christmas or sometimes even after. I’ve spoken to her in the past about this, but this year it’s seems she’s going to do it again. I love her like family, but this hurts and I don’t really know how to approach this gift issue with her. Throughout our friendship, I’ve always given her both a birthday gift on her birthday and a separate Christmas one. If I couldn’t afford to do so, I would tell her in advance. My sister thinks I’m overreacting and being ungrateful, but 2for1 gifts, late gifts and party cancellations are one of the bitter pills I’ve had to swallow for my lifetime, and I just thought my best friend would understand. Am I being hypersensitive? How should I approach this with my BF?

    Also, could you give some general advice for December birthdays (or other holiday birthdays) who constantly receive late/careless gifts? I once had another friend who gave me a belated birthday gift in February! (it was not delivered/ordered by mail, but in person, and no, there was no financial crisis) I was thinking of not accepting late birthday gifts, and would rather accept Christmas gifts in lieu of belated birthday gifts from long term acquaintances and close family, but once again my sister thought I was being ungrateful.

    • Melanie

      This is tricky. My two cents is that this issue, in the realm of greater world issues happening, is not worth fighting over- or losing a friend over. But if you feel it’s conveying a deeper message that she doesn’t care about you or your friendship- THAT is the issue to discuss. Perhaps you could discuss just agreeing to BOTH do 2-in-1 gifts so you don’t feel it’s uneven? Or you could agree to do something post-holidays together (an activity) that could be treated as a gift for both of you- an outing to a spa, etc?


    • Maybe you could invite your friend to an early birthday party at your house or an outing sometime in early December and exchange your birthday gifts then?
      For people on the other end of this situation, who have someone they are shopping for that has a birthday in December or early January, I think it is very important to buy separate gifts for each occasion. If it is possible to mail or give the give the gift to them on their birthday, try to do so, but if it’s a cousin you only see at Christmas because they live half the country away and their birthday is on Dec 22, it’s fine to give them both at the same time. Presentation is important though, wrap the birthday gift in birthday paper and make sure to say Happy Birthday as well as Merry Christmas. If money is an issue all you need is better planning, perhaps you could buy the birthday gift in September and keep it in your closet until it’s needed. Just make sure it’s not perishable of course. Then buy their Christmas gift when you buy your other ones.

  • Hi Grace. Wondering what to say when my mother says “Oh I didn’t get you anything” after I give her our Christmas gifts. She hasn’t bought for us in years. She has the money but always acts like shes broke at Christmas time. She doesn’t buy for anyone its not just us. She usually buys for herself some big lavish gift at Christmas. I always get her a gift or two. I have scaled back because of this. Just wondering what to say when she says she didn’t get us anything and that shes broke etc. etc.

    • Shiela

      Gifting should be done regardless of reciprocation. So if you truly want to get her something, continue as is. But my sense is that your feelings are hurt- so I would address that. Something along the lines of, “When we exchange gifts and you point out in front of everyone (rather than just saying thank you) that you didn’t get us a gift, I feel like you don’t care about my feelings…”

      Or something like that.

      It could open up a deeper conversation- perhaps there’s an issue you’r unaware of? If not and she continues to speak or behave in a way that hurts your feelings, you’ll need to set boundaries and connect only in ways that feel authentic and comfortable for you.


  • We are poor. We barely make enough to survive, but I always make a point to get Christmas gifts for my family. Even if that means skimping on the meals for a couple of weeks. Well my husband and his brothers (he has 2, one married and one unmarried) usually ask each other what the other wants for Christmas every year. The married brother gave a list of simple things (socks, cuff links, etc.), while the unmarried brother (who knows we are next door to broke) asks for a bluetooth. That’s it. No simple items, but an expensive electronic device. I’m trying to be understanding in that he doesn’t know what it’s like to be poor financially and still have a family to provide for, but it just seems so inconsiderate. It’s really made us not want to give him anything at all. Not to mention that we’d have to ship his gift to him, since all of my husband’s family lives in another state, which would add to the cost of the gift. We did find some nice cufflinks on ebay for $4 and free shipping for his other brother. We should probably get the other brother something anyway, but we’re really fed up with his ingratitude and inconsideration. (I say ingratitude because he never uses or appreciated what we’ve given him in the past, and usually jokes about it distastefully.)

    • Renee

      I’m sorry that your BIL’s responses feel like ingratitude.

      I think you should discuss this directly with him. If he cannot adjust his wish list accordingly to suit your budgetary needs, perhaps it’s best to stick to something handmade for him? You definitely don’t need to get him anything if it’s not in your budget (your food needs are more important than a gift, without a doubt) and if he makes jokes about what you got him, it may be best to leave him off the list.


  • My MIL, who has an established pattern of showing disrespect towards me, gave me used workout DVDs this year for Christmas. My husband has confronted her previously about the ongoing disrespect. Even though I felt hurt by the gift, I took time to evaluate and consider if she maybe had some reason to think that it would be a nice gift. However, in my gut, I know that’s not true. After examining my feelings, I am genuinely hurt by this and believe she intended it as another slight. I think it’s reasonable for this circumstance to thank her for thinking of me (benefit of the doubt) but explain why that was hurtful and say I won’t be able to accept gifts like that in the future. My husband agreed this may be a good option.
    What do you think? Is this an appropriate balance? I’m interested in an unbiased perspective.

    • Jimena

      I’m so sorry that happened, but I’m happy to hear your partner spoke up for you.

      I think the next step is to speak up and express your feelings directly. For example, “[MIL], When I received your gift of used workout DVDs, I felt [insert emotions, without judgement]. This has been a pattern [let her know of earlier gifts you feel also send a negative message] and I need for that to end. If you have something you would like to tell me, please do so now and directly. If not, I would appreciate you respecting my feelings and sticking to the list we have sent.”

      Then I would send a family wish list- that way if she ignores everyone’s wishes by yours again you can use this as a way to directly point out the problem and take it to the next level. (At that point you may need to set bigger boundaries with the help of your partner).


  • How does one deal with a long-term (and demanding, but now former) houseguest who discovered she’d purchased a similar Christmas present for my husband as the one he and I had chosen together, and demanded that I return my gift in favor of hers? My husband and I had been searching for a multi-media, wireless player and converter in order to convert tens of thousands of LP’s, 45’s, and cassettes acquired during his college years as a DJ to MP3 and cloud storage. We’d found a perfect one with more features than we’d hoped to find with a retro 40’s style we both loved. And coincidentally when it was available at nearly 65% off. About 2 weeks before Xmas, our freeloading Diva-guest informed me that she’d be going shopping again, and would I please stay home to sign for a package due to arrive. I agreed, having planned to be home anyways. The package arrived…with a well-known audio/stereo company’s logo on it. When I joked that I hoped she hadn’t gone and purchased the same article my husband and I’d spent 10-12 months searching for, and had just picked up the day before from my mother’s where I’d had ours shipped–to keep it somewhat a surprise–she paled and started stammering.
    She’d KNOWN what we’d been planning to buy. Yet still went out and bought a slightly similar unit, although one with only a single function versus the 5 ours had, was a NON-wireless, very contemporary (unsuitable for our decor) version of it.
    When I said, “Oh dear…”, I was immediately interrupted and informed that HERS was better. “I spent 3 months researching these things and I spent 3 times what YOU did. I’m not some cheapskate.” And then flat out told me to return my gift. I was, to say the least, stunned.
    After talking it over privately with my husband, we decided that in the interests of avoiding yet another histrionic tantrum from her, I would reluctantly acquiesce.
    We firmly informed her 3 months later that her 6- month free room and board with no help around the house ever being offered was over. I pulled dozens of yards of thumbtacked wires out of the wood paneling of his study and crated the thing up and then brought out the one I had never actually returned. 4 years have passed and after inveigling a job at his company a year after moving out–which I also found distasteful as she finally left our home only to return and crash a birthday party for my husband a month after moving out; one to which she was explicitly asked to stay away from. In the course of which she caused an unnecessary and enormous scene by accusing a friend of ours of calling her some outrageous insulting things. This friend had merely very discreetly informed her that she was making both the guest of honor and the hostess–me–very distressed and all the other guests quite uncomfortable and 3 hours of flirting with the G.of H. and snubbing or sneering at my back, in front of our family was quite enough. And that it time for her to say a polite good night and GO. Unbeknownst to either of them I had gone out a door beneath the deck their conversation took place on, to calm myself and overheard its entirety.
    Her other friends and now coworkers complain that no one is ever allowed to reciprocate a gift, or even pay for coffee when they meet. They’re told, “I know you don’t have much money, so I don’t want to make you waste it.” Some of them earn 1.5 or twice her salary. My husband earns 3.5 times her income. She tried the same ploy recently when out of a last attempt at peacemaking, I reminded my husband her birthday was near and we selected a whimsical, moderately inexpensive ($45-$55) bit of wall art online and had it shipped. 4 weeks later I receive notification that a refund was being credited to our account for that item. Again we were told ‘you can’t really afford things like that.’
    The last straw was finding an envelope in our mailbox from HER MOTHER. Inside was a letter offering ‘concern that my daughter tells me you’re having with financial difficulties, so with Christmas just around the corner, I felt it was my Christian duty to help.’ She’d enclosed a check for $300 or $400. We have NO financial problems whatsoever! And had NEVER discussed our personal finances with our houseguest. My husband was mortified. Given that this mother and HER mother had recently been taken in by a reverse mortgage scam at the urging of a local evangelical pastor with equity in the company that had bilked them of over $100,000 and evicted an ill old woman to boot, We of course returned it, saying ‘thank you for your concern, but please be assured we are in a fine financial state.’
    I think that someone was erroneously gossiping about a supposed financial problem upset him the most.
    There have been other odd gift-related issues involving this young woman. An extravagant purchase of sports events posters of his favorite Premier League football team ephemera, all memorializing dates and games of sentimental significance to him. That ‘gift’ was given to him in her home while he was on a business trip near enough to pay a short visit. But while she called it his ‘Birthday present’, she wouldn’t actually let him have it. Her reason? She wanted a reminder of him in her home. Something she could say ‘was his’. So she kept his ‘gift’.
    Am I nuts, or is that all beyond the bounds of all propriety? I told my husband that I’d boxed up her stereo converter to ship back to her. I explained that I was tired of both the reminder of her and having to dust something that hadn’t ONCE been used.
    He couldn’t argue with my points and said as much. But added, “You know she’s going to go ballistic, right?”
    I find I could not possibly care what her response is. Not when she’s 3,000 miles away now and it won’t be MY walls getting dents kicked in them when she lays on the floor kicking them, pounding her fists on the floor and screaming her head off. LITERALLY.
    I would almost like to include a short booklet I found from an HR perspective on gift practices within a reporting chain concerning the Do’s and Don’ts of such. She is about 4 levels below him and hasn’t yet tried to take advantage of their peculiar friendship. But she HAS fibbed about the circumstances under which they met to everyone. He was perforce required to go along with it after the fact. But I have known some of the people working for him for many, many years and some of them instinctively sensed something was off. I won’t interfere unless forced to it.
    Should I just ship it with no explanation and pray she gets the point and her lips zipped?
    No one I know has ever had so much rudeness from a single person before. I’m at a loss on getting my point of “STOP THE GIFTS” across before she crosses that HR line and my husband suffers from her obsessive, lavish, if bizarre habit.

    • Lee

      It sounds as if this friendship isn’t a strong or healthy one. Your phrasing “free loading Diva” makes me think perhaps this is a friendship to walk away from if it’s full of demands and hurt feelings.


  • My best friend gave me a wonderful gift this year, including a cute red velvet purse. Unfortunately, the snap button on the purse is broken and doesn’t allow the purse to close completely. It does have the tag on it, so I am planning on returning it. But, in all honesty, if I had the opportunity to buy a different purse, I probably would. I just don’t have any outfits that go well with the bright red color. Should I tell her I am exchanging the gift? She often hangs out in my apartment where I have a display for my purses, and I would feel bad if it wasn’t there but another purse was. This is an awesome article, thanks for the other tips!

    • Heather

      This one is tricky to be honest- I think it’s best to return it, get what you want and, if it comes up, explain that it was broken and when you saw this new purse, you decided to put the certificate toward that. I think a good friend would just want you to be happy :)


  • Should I return a re-gift to the giver because there is a card (addressed to the giver) inside the gift basket? Thanks.

    • Wonder

      Yikes- that’s a pretty big snafu. Unless it’s someone that does this as a pattern, I’d let it slide. It’s the season for forgiving small social faux pas ;)


  • I have a relative who feels that presents should always be surprises (so lists or suggestions never work) and more is better. This ends up in gifts that they just get to check off the box “gift given.” At one birthday, this person gave a gift and openly said they had no idea what it was or what function it had. They love to give “dollar store finds” that usually end up being things like facial masks that smell like plastic and thus end up going in the garbage. This person does not have a ton of expendable funds, and I am genuinely happy to have my “present” be spending time with them. I’m not a “stuff” person and have even gone as far as implementing a moratorium on presents, which they ignored.

    I feel guilty that this person is wasting their money and feel like they are required to give me a gift. On a selfish note, I really don’t want any of this…

    • Steph

      I think in a world where basic needs being met are an issue for most people, it’s 100% ok to ask this relative to abstain from gift giving. Just make it clear that you’ve decided to forgo gifts next year and if they’d like to do something, they could donate or help out at a charity that you love in your name, for example. If they do not get the message, then the following year I would donate the goods to a charity/women’s shelter, etc and along with the thank you note to the relative, remind them that you requested no gifts and so have donated these to your local shelter instead.

  • Last year (2015) I sent my (step) daughter in law a nightgown for her birthday and the matching robe for Christmas (3 weeks apart). This year for Christmas she regifted me back the nightgown as my present . Should I just ignore this and say nothing or is there a tactful way to mention it, or just mail presents to the grandkids and not the parents?

    • Kat

      Oooch, that is always awkward. I’m sorry that happened. If this isn’t a pattern of hers, I’d let it go. We all slip up sometimes and this may have been an honest mistake. If it happens again, I’d discuss it with her directly. “I noticed you gave me the nightgown I gave you last year for Christmas. I’d love for you to have something you like, so perhaps you could tell me the types of things you like so I can make a better choice next year.” She should get the message then.


  • Each year my husband gives his brothers a gift card to a popular donut shop. This year I received a letter from one of his brothers, who let’s say, has issues telling me how disgusted he was with the gift card and proceeds to explain how much money he gives my kids, that I probably don’t know about and then says that I probably got my nieces nice gifts. He sent the g/c back to me and now I really feel like telling him off. Should I do that?

    • Kim,

      Woah. That’s intense. Let me get the facts straight:

      -Your husband gave his brother a gift card to a donut shop, which he has done for years.
      -One of the BIL’s called YOU to complain about it
      -He then continued to complain about the quality of gifts YOU BOTH give HIS kids?

      I would take a deep breath, talk to your husband and then discuss this with the BIL together. No one should speak to you like that about a gift (a thing ANYONE is lucky to have. I’m sure a lot of people would like a gift certificate for free food), especially not family. I would address your hurt feelings, his tone and why he felt the need to unload on you.

      Then I would give him space to explain his feelings about the gifts you give his kids. If there’s any truth to his issues, hear him out. If not and it’s simply griping about not getting something “nicer” or with a higher price tag, I would chalk that up to rudeness and let him know that sort of complaint hurts your feelings and that if he doesn’t like the gifts he can kindly donate it to a charity or shelter in his area. I work at a few in our area and I can tell you first hand a lot of people would love to have access to free donuts and coffee- any time of the year.

      I’m honestly so shocked at how many people feel the need to get SO angry about gifts that aren’t exacty what they want. I think it’s a matter of needing a little extra perspective on what’s really important and “needed” in life. I hope you’re able to work through it with him- I certainly hope he’s able to explain himself better without complaining to you. Perhaps there’s something bigger under this and this was just the small event that took the brunt of his anger about something else? That’s my guess. It seems really odd to get so upset about the tradition of a donut gift card…


  • My husband has always been a terrible gift giver. Its not that I don’t appreaciate them, it’s that they are never personal. He is a terrible procrastinator. It does not matter if it is our anniversary, birthday or christmas. He procrastinates and then scrambles to find something, anything, to give as a gift. He gets all flustered, knows he is repeating his procrasitnation pattern, feels guilty and then he gives me a gift just to be able to say he gave me one. There,done, phew got through this year. I noticed the pattern many years ago between him and his mom. He would procrastinate, find her anything and then his mom would be overjoyed with any gift, breaks down into tears and hugs him like he just paid off her mortgage. I am the opposite, not that I don’t appreciate gifts, but I am not going to break down in tears because someone just gave me a plastic kitchen device that makes dessert out of frozen bananas. Last year he way overspent to make up for his guilt and procrastination. Last years gift still sits in the corner of my home office, still in its original wrapping. It sits because I have to invest another $150 to purchase a second required piece of equipment. Which brings me to this christmas, knowing I cannot use the gift he gave me last year, the obvious gift would be to purchase the second piece I need so I can finally use last years gift. Nope, once again he waited to the last minute, got all flustered and felt guilty for procrasting again and purchased me an expensive used watch that has a scratched face, no warranty and cannot be returned. It also cost more than $150. His gifts are not personal, they are whatever he can find at the last minute. I have recieved old lady dresses that were not my size. Large bling jewelry(costume) that you would only wear to a wedding or special event. Nothing you could wear to work or even a night out on a date. This years watch was the worst. I am frugal and if it had been a refurbished item in the original box and perfect condition I would not mind. My older kids were speechless when I opened it. The other thing that he does which irritates me is he will find any box in the house and use it to wrap a present in. This year I opened a box and it was a christmas light for outside. I did want one and I thanked him and set it on the floor. About a half hour later he looked at me and asked me why I did not open the present. I was confused as I thought it was the light I wanted. No, he put a different present in the box. He did not do this as a joke, he does this every year. It does not matter what kind of box it is, he has to explain to the recipient that they have to open the box to find the real present. Or it’s real obvious because my daughter would typically not want a box of tissue. Maybe its just me but I feel part of giving a person a present is the presentation itself. My kids joke around with each other and will wrap boxes inside of boxes to make it fun, or they will find ugly wrapping as a joke. When I give a gift to someone it is to make them feel special and that part of the gift is the presentation. Giving your wife a gift in a cut down to size tissue box in my opinion is tacky and does not give your wife the impression that you are taking the time to make her feel special. Its just a task, got the present, done! After this year I give up. I think next year I am just going to tell him no more gifts and I will go buy myself something I will enjoy and appreciate. Talking with him has made no difference, in fact it just gets worse every year.

    • Donna

      I think this is a bigger issue to communicate with your husband directly about. I would sit him down, tell him that these gifts and their presentation make you feel [insert your feelings, ie: like you don’t care, like you don’t value me or my feelings/interests] and then let him understand that this isn’t JUST about a gift, it’s about how his decisions are received by you.

      If he cannot understand the effect this is having on your feelings about being valued and appreciated, I would consider a joint counseling session to work on discussing the ways you value, and express that value, each other.


      • I agree…

        Remember the recipient it the most important. The automobile with the ribbon commercial bugs me every year. Are you giving a fully paid off car or are you giving someone a car payment? Are you giving a gift which requires additional expenses or are you giving a heartfelt gift. If I was a watch collector and recieved a watch I had wanted to add to my collection I probably would have appreciated the gift. A used book is another example, if you collect vintage books or jewelry obviously you would appreciate the sentiment and would expect it to be used. The used exercise DVD, the used scratched watch, or torn book, some people are just clueless which is why articles like this are written. Thanks for letting me tell my story.

        • Just a thought–could it be your husband is paralyzed with fear of getting you yet another gift that brings your wrath, rather than procrastinating just to ruin the holiday?
          It’s actually not the recipient that counts, it’s the thought. Some husbands provide nothing–which could be what you ask him to buy. Suggest instead that you both buy a gift for the two of you together–could be something for the house, but better if its something you both enjoy–a mutual hobby, or a romantic dinner. Give him a break from never getting it right, and get something you enjoy.

          • This is great advice! They could put that money towards an experience or a mutual splurge that they would both enjoy. A day trip, an amazing dinner out, tickets to music or theater, booking massages—it needn’t be a couples massage or a spa day, just a scheduled bit of pampering. They would bond over the out of the ordinary experience and have a shared memory. No guilt, no stress! If there is special jewelry that this person wants, she should feel entitled to buy it for herself outside of a holiday. Treat yourself! It’s actually really hard for most people to understand others’ taste in jewelry. It’s the rare person who gets it and can buy something truly in the other person’s style.

  • I recently was gifted a reindeer hide from my two sisters. I was horrified when I open the parcel. At the time I did not know what sort of hide, when I phone to thank one sister, I had to ask what the hide was. I was given the answer “Reindeer…in a tone that made me feel like I was ignorant, and told it was very trendy right now, I should use it to sit on as it is so tactile. If I didn’t like it to send it back” The other sister informed me that she wasn’t sure it was something I would like but went along with the choice but advised me that it was expensive. I don’t know what to do with it…I really don’t like looking at it. I question if my sisters know who I am and what I like. They are 55 and 58 both younger than I am. Receiving this gift has left a very strange feeling in my soul. Just wondering what I should do moving forward.

    • Dorothy

      Just to clarify, your discomfort is at receiving an animal hide, right? Not specifically that it’s reindeer?

      If so, I would suggest telling them you’re uncomfortable with it and what it represents and ask them politely to return it, plain and simple.


  • My family thinks I have some kind of obsession with cats and I always receive cat-related gifts. I don’t even own a cat! But I have let it go on for too long without saying anything and now they present me with cat gifts all the time. My heart sinks when I open up yet another cat mug or cat socks or cat earrings. I’d really rather receive nothing at all. How can I put a stop to the cats without hurting anyone’s feelings?

    • Hi Kaye,

      Your feelings matter here, too. So I would politely bring it up with them in a group setting, if possible, and say something directly like, “Hey guys, how did this cat gift thing start?” and see if maybe they remember something you don’t? Then once you’ve heard their side of the story you could say, “Ah, Ok. I was confused because I actually don’t consider myself a cat person and would love if we could let that theme go in the future.”

      Or you could talk to one of their family members personally and say the same thing and ask them to pass it on down the line…

      Grace :)

    • I have never really got into too much gift giving and now my niece and nephews are of an age (teen) where they buy me presents at christmas – I generally tell my sis of small things I actually need rather than receiving something I dont want – would it work with your relations if you mention that you are spring cleaning and feel overwhelmed by all the cat stuff so could they please not add to the collection , and or tell them that your new hobby is collecting…..diamonds

  • A friend had a birthday recently. My SIL, her BF, a close female friend of ours, and my wife and I went in on a gift for him. We told them that our gift expendature is $X. They wanting to buy this item and split it amongst all of us. That total cost would have been more than our gift purchase. We then got into many discussions about how to split a gift. 4 ways vs 5 ways. My wife and I said we never buy gifts as separate people (as in 1 gift from her, and 1 gift from me). So we said we will split the gift into 4 ways. SIL, SIL-BF, friend, us. They did not agree to this. However, after explaining our side, they did agree with splitting the price 4 ways anyway.

    Now there has been further discussions on how many ways to split a gift. When a couple is part of a gift price sharing, should that couple pay double, or more in general? Even when the couple does not give gifts as an individual gifter, but as a married couple gifter.

    When splitting the price of a gift, is it OK to split the gift among each party as a married couple, or should the married couple have to pay more since there are more people in the price splitting of the gift?

    What happens if the married couple has 2 younger children, should that couple pay for 4 parts of a split gift while singles only pay for 1 part? The family (of 4) pays for, and gives the gift, not each individual (1 gift from each Mom, Dad, and each of 2 children).


    • Hi John

      Oh how I wish I had a clear-cut answer for this. I think the answer is: the fair thing to do is whatever the group decides. I understand why a non-couple member of that equation would want things to go per-person so they weren’t expected to carry the same load as two people (for example, if you were dining out, this would be unfair as a single person doesn’t consume as much as two). But it comes down to what the group is willing to accept. If everyone ultimately agrees, it’s fine to go on that way.


    • Just curious why you count you and your wife as one, but your SIL and her BF as two…
      You stated how much you were willing to spend, and if the group is willing to take up the slack and make up the difference then that’s good. The two of you contributing something is better than they buy it without you, and the two of you spending your money on something else.

  • I have a situation that I would really appreciate your input on. We have a family member who really likes to buy anything and everything on sale and then gift them to us during the holidays. Our family has been working really hard to pair down the number of possessions we own, so after thanking this person for the gifts, we quietly donated them to a local charity. Just for clarity on this, I would estimate that these items were between $10-15 and we did not tell this person that we donated the items. Unfortunately, they found out and purchased the items back from the charity shop and gave them back to our family. We are mortified, but also feel upset that this person would handle the situation this way. Please help!

    • Kate

      Woah, that is definitely odd that they would go back and re-purchase them? I would have a frank discussion with them about not wanting any more possessions in your home. Tell them kindly and compassionately that your family is cutting back on “things” and focusing more on giving back, and if that family member NEEDS to buy you a gift, they can make a donation to XYZ (a charity of your choice).

      Hopefully they can respect your direct wishes.


      • Grace,

        Thank you so much for your input on how to handle this. It’s such an unusual situation that we honestly had no idea how to approach this person!

  • My MIL asked for a specific gift for Christmas. It wasn’t cheap for a single income family. I asked to clarify that she was sure she wanted that gift. (Keep in mind that she is known for wanting something, usually expensive, and then not use it. It will sit in her house unused. She tends to like the idea of something more than the thing itself) I purchased said gift around black Friday and 1 week later she called to say she changed her mind. She knew i was getting it for her becuase I told her not to ask anyone else to do so and to consider it hers. I told her that it was really heavy and hard to get home, and I would leave the reciept with it so if she decided later she really wanted it or if she wanted to return it she could do so. I know that she did return it and that’s fine, but is it wrong that I’m curious what she got in its place. I love giving gifts (it’s the best part of Christmas)and she was so excited when I told her I was buying it for her which made me so happy to make her happy. But then to cancel that before Christmas even happened. I kind of felt robbed of the gift giving. Again is it wrong that I’m curious what brought her joy in the end

    • Hi Ray

      I think it’s totally ok to ask what she got instead- as long as you’re asking without judgement and just to see what she likes :)


  • Hi Grace, I have two things I hope you could help me with.
    1. My husband and I are having some financial difficulties after we got married a couple months ago he was laid off. One of my brothers is also getting married, we received two of the same very expensive pots, I suggested to my husband we give one to my brother as a wedding gift and my husband agreed. My mother is telling me that it is rude and that I need to return or exchange the pot for a new gift. That I can’t regift a pot my brother doesn’t know about. The pot is still in its box untouched and unused.
    2. Every gift my mother gives she needs to express how expensive it is or tell me or the recipient the actual cost. She even does it in front of people when you open the gift or she will leave on the price tag. My father, brothers, and now my husband thinks it’s so rude and even my friends when they attend parties where we open gifts. She says her friend does it all the time. Is it rude?

    • Kaui

      I’d ignore your mom on this and give one of the nice gifts. If you’re financially strapped right now, there is NO reason to go to a lot of trouble to spend more/differently when you have a perfect nice (and new) gift you can give- assuming it’s something they would use, right?

      Does your mom know about your financial troubles? If she doesn’t, maybe filling her in would give her some more compassion. If not, I’d just tune her out on this one.


    • Did your brother or his bride express a need for a really expensive pot? Will you just be passing on the need to exchange the gift from you (getting two of the same), to them if they don’t want/need it? If you truly think they would like it as a gift, give it. If not, exchange it and get them something they’d like. If you give it, make sure it can be exchanged/returned (some stores have a time limit).

  • Should my feelings be hurt?
    My daughter is very particular about what items she wants my grand children to have. I did not ask first before a ordered my grandchildren some educational gifts. She did not want them to have the gifts. I told her I would have shipper pick the packages up. She said “I will return to store”. To me this meant “I don’t want the kids to have these gifts but I will just return them and keep the money” should my feelings be hurt? I know once you give a gift it’s the property of the person receiving the gift. I feel like I can’t get anything for my grandchildren unless I ask their mother first if it’s ok. I am at the point where I just want to stop giving gifts if I can only give those things I am permitted to give. Opinions please. Thank you.

    • Cynthia

      I’m sorry you’re dealing with this, I totally get how frustrating that would be. Have you had a discussion about this with your daughter and how you feel? Not making it about judgement, but about how you FEEL like you can’t get them anything because she doesn’t approve of most things? If she can’t acknowledge your feelings and explain why she has so many rules for the gifts (ie: no tech for kids under a certain age, no dolls that aren’t body positive, etc.), then the best option is to probably just stick to her guidelines until the kids are old enough to tell you what they want directly ;)


    • Another option is to gift experience gifts that YOU do with the kids. So instead of her returning a toy, you get to take the kids to say, an aquarium or a sports game, etc. together for quality time?


      • Also, when I was a kid my grandparents sent me a card with a check and my parents opened a savings account for me. They were not rich and I can understand the children’s mother not wanting to feel upstaged by the grandparents or having their children become accustomed to a materialistic lifestyle.
        I agree with Grace. Spend your time with them. And I really do not think the mother would object to cash in a savings account. I also remember asking my mother at times if I could use the money in my bank account for a particular special purpose. This gives all the parties involved a sense of participation. The parent teaches the kid fiscal responsibility and the kid can tell grandma, auntie or whomever that they did XYZ with the money from their account.
        I have no children but all my nieces and nephew were given overwhelming amounts of material gifts from their grandparents. The parents finally put a stop to it because it seemed the grandparents were taking over the reigns of the household. Try to look at it that way.
        Good luck Grandma!

  • Here’s one I didn’t see addressed… My brother brings back gifts I’ve given to him to be fixed! Or, he’ll ask me if I want to buy it back. Have you ever? Ages ago, we gave him a VCR camera. Some ten years later, he says he doesn’t use it any longer, would I like to buy it back, or what can he do with it. I told him to try selling on eBay. Days ago, he returned a wooden cutting board we made for friends & family some 10 years ago. Seems a piece of wood has lifted, and he’d like that fixed and by the way, could we re-engrave the writing on it so it’s more clear? This brother is deaf, so I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, but seriously? Any suggestions?

    • Laura

      Woah, no, that seems pretty unfair to ask of you. I think it’s fine to decline. I’m confused about how his hearing loss would play into this- am I missing anything?


  • We recently attended my cousin’s daughters baptism in which I am the Godmother. I gifted my Goddaughter a bracelet, outfit, and engraved snow globe from pottery barn. I spent a lot of time thinking of a personalized gift that she could hopefully enjoy as she gets older and that would match her room etc. and that’s what I decided on, the snow globe with gold glitter. It was $50 plus the other small gifts. After the ceremony, my cousin’s 3 year old somehow got his hands on it and broke the snow globe all over the table. My cousin did not apologize. It definitely hurt my feelings way more than hers that this gift had been broken. I know that it was an accident, but now I’m struggling with if I should send another one to my goddaughter. It didn’t seem like the gift was appreciated at all in the first place. They have much more money than we do and tend to “just buy another one” if such a thing happens. Do you think I should send my goddaughter another snow globe?

    • Could it be they didn’t want to make the three year old feel bad–he may already be dealing with a new baby, who definitely was the star that day. I wouldn’t replace it…if it was accidentally broken five years from now would you buy another? If the parents want another one they can buy a replacement. Your goddaughter is a baby. The dress and bracelet will be nice mementos for her, that she might one day even reuse for her own children. As a godparent you will be guiding her in charitable behavior, so I’d let the snow globe accident go, along with any perceived lack of appreciation.

  • I like how you said that a gift should not be a contest or an obligation. One of the most important reasons to give a gift is to express love or gratitude, not to elevate yourself or try to get one in return. Giving something to someone out of the goodness of your heart is key to giving an all-star gift that they are sure to love.

  • My daughter is in college. We cannot afford to send her on a vacation to Italy. A friend of hers, whose dad does not want his daughter traveling alone abroad, offered to pay for my daughter to go with his daughter. I am uncomfortable about her accepting such a large gift we can never return in kind. Your thoughts?

    • Sue

      Wow, what an amazing offer and experience for your daughter and her friend. I understand feeling uncomfortable with gifts that represent a large financial amount, but if someone offers that in earnest it’s unlikely they expect you to be able to offer the same in return.

      I grew up in a school with much much wealthier families and friends, many of whom kindly offered to bring me on trips with their children in a similar way. I have no idea how my parents felt about the financial end of that arrangement, but they always let me go and trained me in appropriate thank you letter writing, etc. so I could thank everyone involved.

      Unless there’s another issue with this particular family, this sounds like a wonderful experience to travel for your daughter. As long as you feel it’s safe and being handled responsibly, it could be a wonderful thing to embrace and support. You can always write the family a heart felt thank you note for sharing that experience with your daughter.


  • thoughtful article. gift giving has become such a thing, it was significant in wedding gifts when people married younger and white goods were more expensive but people generally have everything. I used have to hold my nerve each christmas with my husbands relations and not give gifts I used get handed stuff (it was just stuff) and now they know, and dont get me anything and I am more than happy about this. On the other hand, they also know if they make brown bread or cakes I will appreciate that more. When we got married we had a quiet ceremony and implied strongly no gifts (we didnt want to assume either) – we did get a tree, theatre tickets and restaurant vouchers and I was taken by the thoughtfulness – and they meant as much as the homemade muffins my (12 yrs) nephew made and the rhyme my other (11 yrs) nephew wrote

  • I hope someone can help me. My husband has been invited, by an important client, to attend the 1st birthday of his (and wife’s) first child. The party is on Saturday in Phoenix. He flies out Friday and will be back on Sunday. What is an appropriate gift for this event?? Needless to say, we’ve already spent a lot of money for flight, hotel & car rental. I am just having a hard time with this and need some advise.
    Thank you in advance.

  • Each year I by my wife a new iPhone or iPad or some similar gift and give her old one to our grown son. Is this tacky? He would never say anything, and always seems so appreciative of the gift even though it’s a hand me down. Am I being insensitive to his feelings?

  • My mother who is on a fixed income gave me and my brother the Echo and echo dot (Amazon) for Christmas. We both feel that it is a very nice gift but neither of us want it because of privacy issues and we really do not have a need for it. We are also concerned that she is spending a lot of money on us. I am not sure how to handle this. Should I tell her that I don’t think I can use it and try to have her get her money back? She ordered them online so we do not have gift receipts. The only other option would be to give it away but she would ask me about it. Your advice would be greatly appreciated!

  • My mother who is on a fixed income gave me and my brother the Echo and echo dot (Amazon) for Christmas. We both feel that it is a very nice gift but neither of us want it because of privacy issues and we really do not have a need for it. We are also concerned that she is spending a lot of money on us. I am not sure how to handle this. Should I tell her that I don’t think I can use it and try to have her get her money back? She ordered them online so we do not have gift receipts. The only other option would be to give it away but she would ask me about it. Your advice would be greatly appreciated!

  • This one is tough for me.

    I have an aunt and uncle who I am not super close to because we live 200 miles apart, but I do see multiple times a year regardless. We generally don’t exchange birthday gifts but we have been exchanging Christmas gifts for as long as I remember. I don’t have a ton of money and we are generations apart and they understand that, we don’t exchange lavish gifts. Usually I try to get them something relatively inexpensive I know they like such as wine or restaurant gift cards or semifancy candy. Nothing extreme but hopefully not wasted either.

    In exchange my wife and I…typically get something that appears regifted from “under the bed” such as odd gift cards with uneven remaining balances or perhaps unwanted gifts they have received. This is not a new occurance, and i generally don’t know how to react other than be polite and thank them.

    This past Christmas was held at her daughter’s house, and we brought gifts as usual. We were told they “forgot” our gifts at home. I said that’s understandable but we are going back home so she could send it with my aunt (that lives a half hour from me) to save on mailing costs.

    When we received the gift bag though, our expectations were low (for reasons mentioned above), but I am genuinely unsure how best to react to…a small 9 piece tool set…similar to what you would find on the counter at the hardware store for $5…which was open, missing two of its 6 screwdrivers…and every tool is clearly dirty and moderately used…amongst an assortment of a couple other small items that she probably had sitting around the house. Any homeowner has a use for tools, but it is a bit peculiar to receive a used set and one that is missing its most useful pieces. Even a “vintage” complete decent set of tools I probably wouldn’t mind.

    Do i return this set to her husband who is probably wondering what happened to his small tool set?

    Is there a light way to say we won’t be exchanging gifts again?

    • Hi Kyle

      This is always a tough situation. We never know how the other party is feeling re: gifting, so rather than giving back the set, I would consider two things:

      1. Seeing if the whole family is open to a non-gifting policy, perhaps instead replacing the tradition (at least for the adults) with giving back in some way, donating to a cause or volunteering time together in a way that gives back.

      2. Seeing if the family would consider a “Secret Santa” style policy so everyone only gets ONE adult a gift and people don’t have to buy everyone a gift- perhaps that would help them with any expense/budget issues?


  • My sister in law gave my mother an expensive necklace. When my mother didn’t want it (not unusual), she and my brother gave her the money they spent on the gift. Should I do the same? She did not need the necklace I bought her either.

    • Christine

      I think you could ask her- if it seems like it’s not unusual for to dislike or not need gifts, perhaps there’s another form of appreciation she’d like better? I’d say ask her what she wants/needs and go from there. Maybe she’d rather just have a day out or a trip with everyone? Or there are if finances are tight maybe there are ways you can help with things like that instead :)


  • I agree when you’re buying someone a gift you have to keep their interests in mind when buying it. After all, at the end of the day, the gift is going to be fore them, so it has to be something that they are going to like. Fortunately, is you’re buying a gift for a family member, friend, or loved one, finding out what they like is pretty easy.

  • Hello,
    My husband and I recently received an invitation via email from my stepsons wife regarding a surprise birthday celebration she is hosting for stepsons 50th birthday. It gave the location (public venue, cash bar) and it stated “in lieu of gifts” a collections will be taken to purchase a gift card for him to use at his favorite store.

    We have our own thoughts on this but I am wondering what you have to say from an etiquette point of view.

    • Sierra

      Cash gifts are very common in many cultures, so I think this is one that you can choose to participate in or not. I don’t think there’s an existing etiquette response that takes into account all cultures and their gifting traditions, so I wouldn’t worry too much about what is or isn’t official etiquette.

      If you don’t want to bring a cash gift, you can always gift him something different.


      • This is definitely not a cultural practice. We’ve never seen an invitation to a party that stipulates a monetary gift and indicates a collection will be taken for a birthday. The collection is taking place while the birthday guy is present! What is the expectation of how much someone should offer and why put anything on the invitation at all? Why not simply be gracious if someone brings something at all?. Our thoughts are this; it seems tacky to spell out “in lieu of gifts” we are taking a collection….money is a gift isn’t it? We did purchase a gift card and we will give to stepson separately with a card but we were not going to drop a significant amount of money into a collection and be lumped in with someone who will drop in $5 dollars and sign one big card. It just appears like a cash grab with no accountability of where that money will actually end up and whose pocket it will end up in.

        • Sierra

          It actually is a cultural practice in many cultures. It may not be your family’s cultural practice, but I wanted to clarify for anyone reading that a lot of traditional etiquette answers are based around white/Christian traditions and they fail to account for traditions outside of that community- which is problematic to say the least.

          I’m hearing a lot of strong feelings happening around this issue so perhaps it’s best to focus on giving a gift you feel comfortable with. If you truly feel they WOULD pocket the money without actually giving it to your son in law, it sounds like there are some bigger issues to focus on here outside of this event and gift.


        • I agree with Grace on this one; if you think it’s tacky you’re doing the right thing by giving a gift card in a card separately because it makes you more comfortable. But in my country of origin, it is common to have a (sometimes lavish display of it, depending on the party hosts) collection of money from the guests and then presenting it to the person of honor afterwards. Since moving to North America, I’ve definitely seen cash gifts at different kinds of parties. It’s not common among white middle class families, but definitely in the circles I am in :-) Still, it’s not meant as an obligation! Give the gift that you feel better about, and it will be appreciated I’m sure. Have fun at the event!

          • Thank-you Yuliana (beautiful name) for your input.
            I understand in your country of origin this is a normal practice. I understand if it is truly a cultural norm. We are North American white middle class, and found it presumptious to put on an email invite the expectation of a monetary collection, seriously it sounds like the honoree is a charity case involved in a fundraising effort. This is not typical of the honoree to expect this, he hosted a surprise party for his wife last year….not a word about gifts on the invitation.

            I may appear to be bull headed here but in my research and a casual poll among friends the opinion from my friends was to leave out any mention of a gift and leave out the word collection entirely. I also found in my research asking for money is not an acceptable expectation on an invite. If people want to know what to get the honoree then they will ask the hostess and only then should she direct guests in what he might prefer. For many many years we have seen the word “Presentation” on a wedding invitation, this means money but never collection on a birthday invitation. It implies that the guests have to pay to attend. I gotta let this one go I know, I know!

            • Sierra

              I’m a little uncomfortable with the tone that’s happening here in terms of assigning “charity case” narratives to people who request monetary over product gifts. There are many white families of all different classes that customarily gift money at important events and celebrations. Families (in North America and abroad) with Italian and Polish backgrounds commonly gift money (in cash or check form), so I don’t think it’s accurate to assume that most people who are white and “middle class” share the same gifting traditions. It’s clear that this isn’t a tradition that happens in your immediate family or friend group, and so skipping this request sounds like the best idea.

              But there’s a lot of assumption about motives and intention happening here that feel like a much bigger issue than the request for money. Perhaps a larger family discussion is a good place to start.


  • Grace,
    I sincerely apologize for making you feel uncomfortable it was not my intention. The “charity case” sentiment has been shared by others. The “larger family discussion” revealed that the hostess (honoree’s spouse) does not want to run the risk of taking 40 bottles of booze home at the end of the night, hence the “collection.”
    Regards, Sierra

  • The third point makes the most sense. Many a times I received a gift that was of no use to me. Earlier I did not have a car, still I receive a car perfume as a gift from a friend. Maybe he knew I would buy a car in the next few years or may be he just doesn’t care.

  • I’m on a very tight budget below poverty level. I want to give a gift to my siblings and their spouses. I don’t have time to make anything. Would it be tacky to give each one $5? Or, would it be best to give them nothing?

    • Jill

      Not knowing your family, I can’t speak to their specific styles, etc. But I would think maybe something handmade would be a nice idea? Or could you skip gifts all together and send a heartfelt card instead? Maybe cookies in the mail? I personally think gifts are overrated and sending someone a note (or just a call!) that tells them how much you love them is what’s most important these days.

      Sending you love this season,