I Spent a Lot of Money on Holiday Gifts and Received Cheap Gifts in Return: How Should I Respond?

Close-up photography of two hands while giving gift.
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It’s the common holiday issue many gift recipients try not to talk about. You spend a considerable amount of money on presents and in return receive inexpensive or cheap gifts. This can make you feel bad, especially if the gifts are coming from family members or friends. 

Before acting out on your feelings of disappointment or frustration — which, ideally, you should try to avoid doing whenever possible — here’s what to keep in mind.

The Purpose of Gift Giving

Why do we give one another gifts? Jodi R.R. Smith, president and owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, said giving and receiving gifts is a reciprocal relationship builder. 

What it is not is a dollars to dollars match situation. If this were the case, Smith said, we would just give one another cash. We might even eschew gift giving altogether and buy ourselves what we want, fully defeating the purpose of gift giving.

“The giving of gifts is a way we create and cement our connections to others,” Smith said. 

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Points To Acknowledge for Gift Giving

The recipient of an inexpensive gift may feel hurt, but a bad gift does not necessarily indicate a bad relationship. Consider these points giftees must acknowledge for gift giving.

Not Everyone Is Good at Giving Gifts

Some people are quite skilled at giving gifts, while others may not possess this skill. To be a good gifter, Smith said, you must have a solid understanding of the giftee. A good gifter knows the giftee’s likes, interests and hobbies. 

Many Are on Tight Budgets

Another important point to consider: While you personally may have the budget to give expensive gifts, this is not always the case for everyone else. 

Etiquette and civility expert Rosalinda Oropeza Randall said to consider the financial situation of the giver. The person might have been recently laid off from work or might be financially helping out a family member going through a tough time. Every gifter’s financial situation will be different, and it’s important not to make any assumptions.

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How Should I Respond If I Receive a Cheap Present?

You give generous gifts and in return receive a present that appears to be pulled directly from the clearance rack or dollar store. You may be speechless or inclined to let your emotions get the best of you, but here’s what you need to avoid doing or saying.

Don’t Name Call

“While this might momentarily make you feel better,” Oropeza Randall said, “it won’t credit your bank account, but it will end your relationship.” 

Don’t Compare Costs

Smith said, “The most obnoxious thing you could possibly do is to point out the price differential.”

Don’t Share the Incident on Social Media

Oropeza Randall also recommends not discussing the incident with mutual friends or co-workers. Even a social media post that doesn’t directly call out the incident but passive aggressively alludes to what happened may be noticed by the gifter and brought up in a later discussion.

Say Thank You

The kindest form of expression when receiving a gift, no matter how much it may cost, is to say thank you. 

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Smith recommends writing a thank-you note. “As an adult, we know not every gift is going to be in response to our heart’s desire,” she said. “But, we are still appreciative of the person who took the time to give us something.”

Remember It’s the Thought That Counts

Many giftees are often quick to make snap judgments about gifts that do not meet their expectations.

Look at the present one more time. Smith uses the example of a handknit sweater. It was made with itchy yarn in a color you would never wear. This does not, in any way, make it a lesser present. Rather, Smith said, it’s the tangible expression of a hug and culmination of hours of work — a labor of love.

What If I Keep Getting Cheap Gifts?

Let’s skip ahead a few years. You continue to receive largely inexpensive gifts for the holidays. Many may not even be like the handknit sweater, where you can see the thought behind the present. They might be hasty presents, like a bulk package of tea candles that don’t really fit you or your personality. 

In the back of your mind, you may suspect you’re being regifted items from someone’s closet. Should you say something?

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Smith recommends taking a moment early in the year to sit back and look at these gift giving situations. She uses the example of an aunt who may be giving you less personalized presents each year. 

“Take a few times to call your aunt during the year and let your aunt know what’s new in your life,” Smith said.

This can be a good time to drop hints about things within your aunt’s budget you would appreciate as gifts.

You also can take charge and switch up the gift giving situation to reflect a more meaningful experience together. 

Smith uses the example of saying something like, “Aunt Tilly, this year for the holidays I am going to be home in December. What would you think, as my gift this year, I will pick you up and we can go out to lunch together?” 

As you look back on your gift-giving situations, it’s important to reconsider everyone on your list. You may find this list changes over the years, and it’s OK to make adjustments. Just make sure to have a conversation with the other person first, per Smith’s recommendation, so there are no uncomfortable surprises. 

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