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Gift Etiquette for Families

Learn How to Spend Less Without Offending Anyone and More


With proper gift etiquette, you don't have to be embarrassed about returning gifts.

With proper gift etiquette, you don't have to be embarrassed about returning gifts.

Jack Hollingsworth / Getty Images

Exchanging gifts is supposed to be enjoyable, but between the crowds, the pressure to overspend, and the limited amount of time you have to prepare, it ends up being uber stressful. This year, make your pre- and post-holiday season easier by following these gift etiquette guidelines:

Gift Etiquette for Receiving Gifts

How can I refuse a gift I don't want my kids to have? If the gift came with a receipt, you don't need to say anything but thank you. With the receipt, you can easily return the gift without the giver even knowing that you had a problem with it. If you don't have a receipt and need to ask for one, explain that you've chosen not to allow your children to have this type of gift (such as a video game that's inappropriate), but that you appreciate the sentiment and would like to allow him to pick something else out in its place.

How do I ask for money instead of gifts? Let your family know that you and/or your child are saving up for something special, and ask them directly if they would consider contributing to your efforts in lieu of gifts this year.

How quickly should I send thank you notes? Generally speaking, you'll want to send out thank you notes within one month. If your children are old enough to write, have them help you with this task or, even better, write the notes themselves. To save time, buy fill-in-the-blank kids' thank you cards, or mail a picture of your child enjoying the gift with a brief note saying how much she's enjoying it.

I don’t have room for more toys! How can I set limits? You have two options: you can limit what comes in, or you can purge your kids' toy collections before or after each holiday and birthday. To do this, teach your kids to give away one older toy they no longer play with for every new one that comes in. Or, if you'd prefer to limit the gifts your kids receive, ask your family and friends to consider making a donation in your child's name instead of buying gifts this year. Another option is asking for gift cards to your kids' favorite stores. This way, they can consolidate the money they receive and purchase one thing they'll really enjoy, rather than receiving ten things they may or may not play with.

Santa seems to spend a lot more money on gifts for my kids' friends than he does on us. How can I explain this? Explain that Santa never goes against what we, as parents, want for our kids. So while other parents may not be bothered by "stuff-itis," Santa knows that you want your kids to value what they have. You can also explain that there are always going to be kids who get more, but there are plenty of kids who receive less, too.

Gift Etiquette for Buying Gifts

How can I cut my holiday spending this year? Let your family know that you need to cut back, and suggest that you all pull names from a hat, make homemade gifts, or aim for "small and thoughtful" gifts this year. Having this conversation early – by Thanksgiving at the latest – will help ensure that everyone has a chance to opt in or out in time for the the holiday.

When exchanging gifts, do I have to spend as much on others as they spend on my kids and me? Absolutely not! Gift giving should be a thoughtful gesture, not a competition; so don't spend more than you can afford. Remember, too, that when someone chooses to spend an extraordinary amount of money on you or your children, that's their decision. Don't let it persuade you to spend more than you should!

I'm planning to give homemade gifts this year. How can I make them more personal? Attach a hand-written note explaining why you chose to make this gift in particular, or how you envision them enjoying it. For example, if you're making jars of hot cocoa mix, explain how you appreciate all their hard work and want them to enjoy a few moments of peace and relaxation. Let your kids help you with this effort, too.

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