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Anna Post's Gift-Giving Advice

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Q What is the most tactful way to say, “I don’t want to exchange presents this year”?

The subtle hint may not work here. If it’s your close friends and family you may need to actually have a chat. It’s sort of a big expectation at the holidays, so it may take saying something along the lines of, “You know, this year is going to be really tight, and I’m not sure we’re going to be able to exchange gifts the way that we usually do.” It’s a little gentler than saying, “I can’t get you a present,” and it also says a bit about why.

Q Is it gauche to give money to family members who have lost their jobs?

Not necessarily, but this is a delicate question and something you might want to have a conversation about and say, “I know things are tight for you and I’d love to help you out with a little extra.” If you want to do it in place of a present, I would put nice crisp bills inside a card with a really lovely handwritten message. That will make it different from just giving cash under the table.

Q How do you react if someone gives you a gift—but you don’t have one for that person?

You don’t need to rush out and get them something. Instead just simply say, “Thank you. That was so incredibly thoughtful,” and send the person a thank-you note. If you were genuinely planning to get something for that person, just say, “I don’t have your present yet, but it will be coming.”

Q If I’ve given extravagant gifts in the past, do I have to continue the tradition?

You should only think about two things when you think about price—your budget and your relationship to the person. What I give to my sister might be different than what I give to my coworker. The other thing is, you don’t need to explain that things will be smaller unless you think someone is counting on your gift.

Q Can I give a family heirloom as a holiday gift?

Absolutely! In fact, for my 30th birthday my grandmother gave me a necklace that had belonged to her mother, and it is such a meaningful gift. One thing though: This doesn’t mean you get to clean out the house and give junk to people. You have to have a feeling that the person really would enjoy the heirloom.

Q Is re-gifting acceptable?

It’s something you have to do carefully. It should never be something that was handmade for you. That being said, in a tight economy, it can be a very practical solution. The key is, the present has to be in the packaging it came in from the store, and it should be something you think the person will really want to have.