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19 Unspoken Gift-Giving Etiquette Rules

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Anna Ostanina / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Buying gifts can be tricky. Not only do you want to choose something the person will like, but you need to make sure it’s appropriate for the recipient and the occasion. Different people and celebrations will require different gifts, and it’s hard to know sometimes what is and isn’t OK.

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Should you include a gift receipt? How much should you spend on a wedding gift? Is it ever OK to not give a gift at all? Find out the answers to these questions and more gift-giving etiquette rules before wrapping your next present.

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Don’t Ask People What They Want

Unless you’re shopping for family members or very close friends, you shouldn’t ask people what they want as a gift for a birthday or other occasion. This can make the recipient feel uncomfortable and also shows your lack of creativity.

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Do Buy Off the Registry

In general, you shouldn’t ask someone for a gift wish list, but in the case of weddings and baby showers, people will typically provide a list for you. If a gift registry is available, you should buy something off of it. This way, you know you’re giving the recipient something they want and will like.

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A Gift Receipt Is Always a Good Idea

If you’re buying someone an expensive gift or an item of clothing, including the gift receipt is a smart move. This gives the recipient the flexibility to make an exchange for something that’s a better fit or more to their taste so that your money doesn’t go to waste if they don’t like the gift.

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If You’re Giving a Gift Card, Always Present It With a Note

Gift cards can seem impersonal, but when given with a thoughtful card or note explaining why you thought it was a perfect gift, it shows that you were thinking of the recipient when you bought it and not just taking the easy way out.

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Don’t Show Up to a Party at Someone’s Home Empty-Handed

Even if you’re going to a party that isn’t for a birthday or an occasion that typically requires a gift, you should still bring something small for the host. This can be a candle, dessert, bottle of wine or something else you know your party host would enjoy.

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Before You Give Your Boss a Gift, Check Your Company’s Policy

Companies have different policies about who can and cannot give and receive gifts, and some companies won’t allow managers to receive gifts from their employees. Before you buy a gift for your boss, make sure he or she can accept it to avoid a potentially awkward situation.

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If You’re Giving Gifts to Some Co-Workers and Not Others, Be Discrete About It

Some offices will do a Secret Santa gift exchange around the holidays, which takes all the awkwardness out of co-worker gifting situations — everyone gets a gift and limits are set on spending. However, if your office doesn’t do this and you want to give gifts to the co-workers you are closest to, make sure you do it in private so that no one feels offended or left out. Alternatively, you can bring in baked goods or another food item for your whole team to enjoy.

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You Should Bring a Gift to a Housewarming Party — but It Doesn’t Need To Be Pricey

Like a host or hostess gift, a housewarming gift can be something small and thoughtful. A cheese board, a potted plant or a gift card to a home store all make good gifts for this occasion. Spend around $20 for housewarming gifts.

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Spend Between $20 and $100 on Shower Gifts

When buying a gift for a bridal shower or baby shower, the amount you spend should be relative to how close you are to the recipient. For a co-worker or acquaintance, $20 to $25 is acceptable. For friends, $50 will suffice. If it’s a family member or close friend, you should spend around $100.

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You Don’t Need To Spend More Than $25 on a Gift for a Child That Isn’t Your Own

When you become a parent, it seems like you’re constantly attending kids’ parties or shuttling your kids to and from parties as they get older. You don’t need to spend a lot on kids’ birthday gifts. For classmates, spending $10 to $20 is fine. If the child is a close friend of your kid’s, you can up that to $20 to $25.

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You Don’t Have To Spend as Much on Someone as They Spend On You

Some friends or family members give lavish gifts that you might not be financially able or willing to reciprocate — and that’s totally fine. With gifts, it really is the thought that counts, not the dollars that went into it.

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You Don’t Have To Bring a Gift to an Engagement Party

Not every couple will have an engagement party, but if you do get invited to one, you shouldn’t feel obligated to give a gift. If you don’t want to attend empty-handed, champagne flutes or a nice bottle of wine make good gifts.

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Spend at Least $50 on a Wedding Gift

There’s no specific dollar amount you should spend on a wedding gift — the rule that you should try to match the price of a plate is antiquated. Instead, base how much you spend on how close you are to the couple, and how much you’ve spent on events leading up to the wedding. If you’re in the wedding and you had to travel for it, you’re not expected to spend as much as someone who is just a guest. However, even if you’ve shelled out thousands to be there and you’re not super close to the couple, you should give a gift worth at least $50. Close relatives and friends should give between $100 and $150, according to The Knot.

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If You Don’t Have a Lot To Spend On a Wedding Gift, Do a Group Gift

Pooling money with friends is a great way to buy a couple a big-ticket item off their registry. Couples expect groups to go in on more expensive items, so this is a totally acceptable practice.

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Cash Is an Acceptable Wedding Gift

If you prefer giving the couple cash — or the wedding registry got bought out before you had a chance to buy anything off of it — don’t fret. Cash and checks are perfectly acceptable wedding gifts, according to etiquette expert Emily Post.

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Don’t Wait Too Long To Send a Wedding Gift

There’s an old rule that you have up to a year to give a couple a wedding gift but waiting this long can be seen as rude — especially now that most things can be easily bought online. Aim to give your gift within two months of the wedding day.

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Avoid Regifting

It’s tempting to regift when you receive something you don’t want or already have, but it can be very hurtful if the person who gave you that gift finds out. A better alternative is to donate the gift or give it away. If you do regift, make sure the gift is still in good condition and isn’t personalized — and that there’s no way the original giver would ever find out about it.

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Presentation Matters

No matter how expensive a gift is, it can look bad if you don’t present it nicely — aka unwrapped or with price tags still on it. Conversely, taking the time to wrap a gift or put it into a gift box or bag can make a less expensive gift look better.

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Always Send a Thank You Note

If you’re the recipient of a gift, you should always send a thank you note. This might seem old-fashioned, but it shows the giver that you truly appreciate the effort they put into your gift. You should send a note within a week of receiving the gift.

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