Etiquetteholidays

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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Comments

  • 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.

      Grace

  • 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.

      Grace

  • 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 ;)

      Grace

  • 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.

      Grace

  • 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!

      Grace

  • 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.

      Grace

      • 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.

        • 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?

          Grace

  • 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?

      Grace

  • 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.

      Grace

  • 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.

      Grace

  • 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).

      Grace

  • 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.
    HELP!
    Lee

    • 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.

      Grace

  • 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 :)

      Grace

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

    • 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 ;)

      Grace

  • 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.

      Grace

  • 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…

      Grace

  • 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.

      Grace

      • 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.

  • 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.

      Grace

  • 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 :)

  • 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).

    John

    • 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.

      Grace

  • 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

      • 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 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.

      Grace

  • 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 ;)

      Grace

    • 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?

      Grace

  • 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?

      Grace

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