Etiquette Experts Tell All: Tips for Friend & Family Gift-Giving This Holiday Season

Unrecognizable woman holds a Christmas present wrapped in red paper and tied with a white transparent bow.
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The season of giving is nearly upon us, and consumers are expected to spend enormously on the holidays. But with inflation steadily on the rise and a looming recession in everyone’s mind, the big question is: Who should we get gifts for and how much should we spend?

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According to a recent GOBankingRates survey, 80% of Americans anticipate spending more this year than they did last Christmas, with 26% expecting to spend $100-$300 more. And when it comes to gifts, 33% of people are buying fewer gifts to combat the higher prices. With such a close eye on the price tag, it’s easy to feel pressured to spend more than you’re comfortable, and it’s hard to decide where you draw the line.

“It really depends on how you gift and who you’re closest to in your life,” said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst at DealNews. “For instance, most often people should probably plan to buy gifts for their partners and kids, as well as their parents at minimum. But some will want to purchase for close friends as well, and really it just comes down to how you handle the gifting situation.” Here are some useful tips for being the best gift-giver you can be this holiday season.

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Set a Budget For Family, Friends and Co-workers

Though it’s basically mandatory to get our loved ones something for the holidays (provided they observe them), buyers should set a budget for themselves. This is essential if money is an issue, or if you’re trying to get a head start on healthy money habits for the new year.  

“Only spend what your budget comfortably allows when it comes to purchasing gifts,” said Sha’Kreshia Terrell, personal finance educator and CEO of Humble Hustle Finance. “Personally, I shop for gifts year-round. I take advantage of sales and coupons when I get them in the mail. For instance, when I receive an email from Bath & Body Works for their $6.50 aromatherapy body wash, I will go purchase a couple at a time. One for me and a couple to use as a future gift.”

When asked to break it down, Terrell provided the following spending brackets one might adhere to for holiday gifting:

  • Gifts for coworkers: $10-$15
  • Gifts for friends: $20-$50
  • Gifts for family and in-laws: $50-$100

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How Much To Tip the Mailman and More

But beyond our nearest and dearest, how should we handle the other core people in our orbit? Folks like our mailman, our doorman, our housekeeper, our nanny and more? We may not know them nearly as well as we know our friends and family, but they’re still deeply woven into the fabric of our lives. 

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The short answer is that we absolutely should be tipping these people and/or showing our appreciation around the holidays. Business and social etiquette consultant Maryanne Parker of Manor Of Manners broke down exactly how much we should tip them:

  • The Doorman: $25 – $150 is ideal per household. “Some homeowners might tip $500 for the entire staff, and the manager can divide the money accordingly or the homeowner might indicate exactly how much she or he wants to tip for every individual working in the building,” Parker said.
  • The Mail Carrier: “They are not allowed to receive tips in the form of cash, because this is an independent agency part of the federal government,” Parker said. “Of course, you can always show your appreciation and use some creativity. You can bake cookies, purchase a cake or pie for the holidays or even some popular beverages for the holidays.”  
  • Housekeeper: “If we appreciate our housekeeper we should definitely tip during the holidays,” said Parker. If your housekeeper comes in every week, Parker recommended giving a gift in the form of a week’s pay. If the housekeeper comes in less often and you pay $100 per visit, Parker suggested a $50 gift. 
  • Nanny: “If she comes every week, $100 might be appropriate,” Parker said. “It also depends how long she stays and how many children she needs to supervise. Sometimes we can give a gift card along with the monetary tip. Or even a little gift, a thank you note and cash.” 
  • Hairdresser: “For the holidays I will make sure to get him a gift plus a traditional tip of $50 to $60,” Parker said. “If he or she has been there for you for all these years, you can’t forget to tip them.”

Being On a Budget Is No Excuse To Not Show Appreciation

The next burning question: How can we navigate this core etiquette if we’re not flushed with cash or disposable income? In that situation, we may have to get creative and focus on small but meaningful gestures of appreciation. 

“A thank-you note can go a long way, especially for those in the service industry who may otherwise feel invisible,” Ramhold said. “If you can, it’s always nice to include something like homemade treats, whether that’s cookies, homemade vanilla extract, fresh bread, even a jar of homemade hot cocoa mix, as these show thought and effort went into the gift, even if you can’t afford to give money.”

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Jake Arky contributed to the reporting for this article.

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About the Author

Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles by way of Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, the Atlantic, Vice, and The New Yorker. She's a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, "Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray" received laudatory blurbs from the likes of Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and was published in the US, UK, France, and Russia — though nobody knows whatever happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.
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