Gift Giving Etiquette to Follow: A Modern Day Guide

Giving gifts is a long-standing tradition that dates back to the cavemen who gave one another saber teeth and perhaps unique rocks.

Through the ages, gift giving has become an important part of our lives, marking milestones like birthdays and anniversaries and signifying love and friendship too. Somewhere along the way, etiquette became a part of the mix.

Except for outdated copies of Emily Post books and Dear Abby advice columns, etiquette rules are usually unspoken and interpreted differently by everyone. We think it’s time for an update.

🤝 Minding Your Manners: Top 10 Things to Consider When Gifting

These gift-giving etiquette rules take some of the best suggestions from the past and present and combine them into practical guidelines to go by if you are ever in doubt.

1. Stay within your budget.

Setting a limit for what you spend on a gift is wise for your bank account but there’s another reason you should stick to your budget too. You don’t want to come across wrong and no matter how pure your intentions are, if you obviously overspend, especially if you can’t afford to do so, you can come across like you are being grandiose. According to U.S. News, overspending can be a sign of a psychological issue – like depression. Other reasons may include social pressure, insecurity, and lack of self-control. Be kind to yourself. Set a limit and stay within it. Furthermore, it’s considerate to the person you are gifting because in doing so, you may cause them to feel obligated, embarrassed, or guilty.

2. Respect the individual and the occasion

Although almost every culture in the world gives gifts and has a history of gift giving as well, the traditions and beliefs vary. Mormons don’t believe in celebrating with gifts on birthdays or holidays such as Christmas or Valentine’s Day. To give a gift to someone who is of the Mormon faith is considered rude. If you want to give a Christmas gift to someone who is Jewish, why not give a Hanukkah gift instead? In China and Hong Kong, giving a clock is taboo. If you give a gift in India or the Middle East, be sure to present it with your right hand as the left hand is considered unclean…even if it’s clean. Respecting the person that you are gifting is a gift in itself so do take culture and personal preferences and beliefs into account.

3. It’s not all about you

While yes, you are the one choosing and buying the gift, the gift should not be all about you and what you want to give. It should be about the receiver and what they would like. It’s not unusual for partners to get caught up in the trap – the wife that gives her husband a cruise when she is fully aware he hates to travel and the husband who gives his wife a nice collection of power tools for her birthday. Gifting with yourself in mind never works out well. You’d be better off not to give a gift at all in most instances.

4. Cash and gift cards are not bad gifts and neither are re-gifting gifts

Sure, if you can come up with a gift you know the recipient will like that you can afford, do it. But if you are giving to someone who is hard to buy for or who has requested money or a gift card, by all means, give it. Especially for occasions such as graduation or weddings, cash gifts and gift cards are perfectly appropriate. And contrary to popular belief, regifting is ok too. Do be sure you don’t give the gift out of laziness. But, if you are sure the recipient will love what you don’t AND you are sure you aren’t regifting to the original giver of the gift, go for it!

5. Be tactful

If you are giving a gift, like a Christmas present, to one person and not to another but both are together, don’t give one a gift and not the other. That is rude and can be hurtful besides. Gracefully wait until you have a chance to give the gift to the person it’s intended for in private.

6. It’s the thought that counts

They say it’s the thought that counts. Well…yes. And no. The thought behind any gift is the most important part about it. But don’t use that as a cop-out to give a thoughtless gift. That’s not to say you have to give an expensive gift – far from it. Some of the best presents cost very little such as these inexpensive gifts on Etsy. In fact, you can get creative and give a fabulous gift for nothing at all. The rule of etiquette here is to invest something into it – time, thought, emotions. Otherwise, it’s a poor reflection on you.

7. Keep your own expectations out of it

Giving isn’t true giving if you expect to get something out of it. Anticipating affection, a certain reaction, or even a reciprocating gift are all examples of selfish giving. In a study published by the Journal of Neuroscience, people were reportedly more likely to give when they thought it would make them feel better. The truth is that giving does set off endorphins, the feel-good hormones. Within reason, it’s just human to feel good about gifting or even donating to a cause and there’s nothing wrong with happy hormones as long as you can give without strings or expectations.

8. No compete

If you are “in it to win it”, don’t even give it. Competing to give the best, most expensive, or most unique gift is simply not ethical. If you are tempted to do so, take a good look inside and examine your motives and the emotions behind them. Did you grow up vying with your siblings for attention? Perhaps now you are carrying on the dysfunctional action. Giving should be joyous and free – free of competition and other unwanted behaviors.

9. Not giving is alright

Society often pressures us into feeling obligated to give a gift. If you can’t afford one or don’t want to give one, don’t. There are plenty of other ways to show support and affection and to acknowledge accomplishments or milestones. Do be sure the would-be receiver knows it is a personal choice that is not about them. Another act of kindness can be substituted if you are so inclined.

10. What’s proper and what’s not

There are many times we question what is good etiquette such as, “Should I take a gift to a bachelorette party?” Or maybe you are wondering how much you should spend on your boss’ retirement gift. While the answers aren’t set in stone, if you search online for your dilemma, you can usually find a general-consensus, so you know you’re not completely straying from the norm. In other words, follow your heart and your gut feeling but don’t hesitate to check yourself as well.

😁 Pomp and Circumstance: Taking it All in Stride

In modern days, gift-giving etiquette isn’t something to get caught up in. That would take the fun out of giving. But sometimes, we all need a little advice to ensure our gifting behavior isn’t rude or to find out what is considered polite.

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” – Emily Post.

Cheryl Jerabek
Cheryl Jerabek
Cheryl is a professional writer that has been writing ever since she could hold a crayon. She has authored over 200 fiction and non-fiction books for teens and adults (both credited and ghost-written) on a wide range of subjects. Cheryl also writes blogs and articles on various topics and themes. Residing in a small mountain community in Southwest Colorado, Cheryl draws her inspiration from the gorgeous scenery, her 2 adult children, and 3 grandchildren. She enjoys traveling, party and event planning, and hanging out with family and friends. “I write so you don’t have to,” is Cheryl’s motto.

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