Gift Guide: Getting and Giving Etiquette

When the napkin hits the last empty plate at Thanksgiving dinner, it’s almost the checkered flag for holiday shopping. Gift giving is an exciting time—finding the perfect thing, wrapping it up beautifully and waiting in anticipation to see the look on someone’s face when they open it. However, the idea of gift exchange isn’t entirely without some social navigation. Here are some answers to your biggest gift questions.

Who do I have to give a gift to?

Outside of family and close friends, the social pressure to give gifts can get especially heavy around the holidays. Remember, a gift is just that—a gift. Anything you do out of your way to show love or appreciation for another person is already a kindness. So the short answer is you aren’t required to give a gift to anyone.

The longer answer is that you can use this time of year to show appreciation for the people in your life who you may not think to otherwise. For those who bring you joy or make your life a little easier, a plate of cookies or a gift card to a restaurant or store can mean a lot. Your mail carrier, landlord, children’s teachers, cleaning services—anyone you interact with on a regular basis or who you feel could use a little extra holiday cheer!

How much should I tip around the holidays?

You can tip a little extra around the holidays, up to 20% if you feel the service warrants it. Remember, a cash tip isn’t always appropriate but when it’s not an option, a baked good can be a great substitute.

How can I suggest drawing names?

If you have a big family or large gift-giving office, it may be beneficial to everyone to draw one name for the holidays instead of buying gifts for everyone. Ask the person who generally heads up the festivities or start an email chain asking if everyone would be okay with that. It’s not likely you’ll get a lot of pushback but do prepare yourself for the one person that will inevitably still get something for everyone. Don’t let that make you uncomfortable—for some people, giving is their gift. 

Is it okay to not give gifts?

Of course. It’s entirely okay to say to yourself, “I’m not in a financial position to give that many gifts this year.” A kind gesture can also go a long way around this time of year especially. Look for opportunities to lend your time or a talent you have in place of a material gift. Or, suggest that instead of exchanging gifts, you could meet for coffee and your time together could be how you celebrate the holidays. Most people will appreciate that more than a sweater, anyway. 

Do I have to give someone a gift if they give me one?

You don’t need to feel pressure to give a gift just because someone else gave you one. If it’s someone you expect a gift from, you can suggest a price limit, or a certain date to exchange gifts, so you can be prepared. If you feel socially obligated to gift gifts, keep a few gift cards or generic holiday gifts on hand, wrapped up but unlabeled, so that if you get an unexpected gift you can quickly return the gesture!

Whether it’s a booked schedule, a long list of holiday cards to send or a trunk packed with presents, however you’re celebrating this year, enjoy the season!


Kat’s Money Corner is posted in the Kansas City Star every week. Kat Hnatyshyn, when not blogging or caring for her little ones, is a manager with CommunityAmerica Credit Union. For more financial chatter, follow us on Twitter @CommunityAmerCU.

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