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Gift Exchange Guildelines

Opening up a gift can open up a lot of etiquette questions and concerns.

Studio 5 "Manners Matters" Contributor Janine Ottley provides some gift exchange guidelines.


When You Can't Afford It

Question: What do you do for co-workers if you can't afford/don't want to spend money on gifts?

There is nothing wrong with refraining from gift giving at work, or in social circles. I think it should be stated ahead. Perhaps if there is no formal policy in place, then ask HR if you might head up a pot luck or make room in the budget for a luncheon for the holidays to avoid that awkward moment when you don't have a return gift and perhaps on the invite that goes on the bulletin it might say, "In lieu of holiday gifts" or "in lieu of personal gift exchange". If you have become close friends with a particular co-worker, keep it outside the office. Go to their home and give them a gift.

When Kids Are Involved

Question: If your friends with a couple who has a baby- do you get the baby a present too?

Absolutely not necessary. Keep choking hazards in mind, but get a family gift. A set of hand towels, a gift certificate for a dinner out, a set of movie tickets with the bucket of popcorn- movie is their choice and so is bringing the babes. If you are extremely close and your budget permits, a onesie that's cute and seasonal is always welcome, but don't go overboard and don't overspend.

The Give Back

Question: What do you do if someone gives you a present but you don't have one for them?

We've all been in that position. Don't be insincere or give a gift back to check it off your list...that's the worst thing you could do. If it's about checking off the list, who wants that? Graciously and sincerely say "thank you". Write a lovely hand-written card and mean it! No need to give something back. If that person truly gave from their heart, they weren't trying to buy you off or give to receive back, they love you and don't want anything back and certainly aren't keeping score!

Tit for Tat?

Question: What if you're exchanging presents with someone and they spend significantly more than you did?

I get this question so many times during the holidays. I can say it's the thought that matters, but you won't believe me. But if you love the person and they have actually put thought into their gift, it truly is the thought that matters, not the price tag...stop being so materialistic! When did we become this society who Googles what we got from our friends to see how much it's worth?

The Gift of Green

Question: Is money an impersonal gift? Or is it okay to give the gift of cash?

I will never forget coming down the stairs one Christmas morning after Santa had arrived and, beautifully taped to our piano, was a string of bills for my older brother. That was the perfect gift. Why is it impersonal if it's exactly what he wanted? If you hand someone you hardly know a card with $5 in it and say "Happy Holidays" because you had no time to get a real gift, then yes, it's impersonal. In that case, forget the money, and take the time to write in that card what that person means to you. That's not impersonal and means a lot more to anyone that $5 (except maybe Ebenezer Scrooge).

BOTTOM LINE: Be charitable, be thoughtful, and remember what this season is truly all about.


Janine Ottley

Janine Ottley is a regular contributor on Studio 5, and presenter of the "Manners Matters" series. She is a wife, mom, business owner, and blogger, who tries to wear many hats! She loves weekly dates with her husband, sushi, and jumps at any chance to travel. For more of Janine's etiquette advice, visit her blog: www.thepinkteapot.blogspot.com.

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