Gift-Giving Etiquette For Tricky Situations

How to give an appropriate gift in an awkward situation.

gift giving etiquette

With the holidays just around the corner, you're probably starting to think about gifts. Situations don't always lend themselves to easy gift giving, however. To help, we consulted relationship advice coaches Leah Ingram, author of Gifts Anytime! How to Find the Perfect Present for Any Occasion, and Scot McKay, founder of X & Y Communications, a dating coach service, on gifting in awkward situations.


What do you do when one person has more money than the other?

"In those situations there has to be some conversation," McKay says. If you're the one with less money, you want to make sure the recipient is aware of your financial constraints; if you're the one with more money, you want to make sure the recipient doesn't think you're expecting the equivalent in return. And McKay warns, "If you're giving with the expectation of getting in return, something's already wrong with the relationship."

Should you get a gift for the kids of the guy you're dating?

"I would keep it simple." Ingram says. You want to acknowledge the kids but you don't want to look like you're trying to buy their love. That won't impress them and it won't impress their parent. For a kid who loves video games, "getting him an Xbox 360 would be totally over the top, but getting him a game that's $20 wouldn't be." She advises figuring out what the kids enjoy and finding an easy, affordable way to get them something related to their interests. Dating A Single Dad: What It's Really Like


What if you started dating close to a holiday?

McKay met his wife on February 11th, three days before Valentine's Day. "Go ahead and call out the elephant in the room!" he says. Start with, "We've only been dating for a short time, so I'm gonna buy you something really small but it's only going to be for fun," to put the person at ease. Or decide that you don't have to buy each other gifts (thoughMcKay notes that people often break this rule). If you think the other person might get you something but you're not sure, buy a gift that costs less than $10 so you won't be embarrassed if you're wrong.

Should you get a gift for your friend's live-in significant other?

"I would get a gift for the couple." Ingram says. Giving them a gift as a couple acknowledges their relationship, even if it's not as personal as the gift you would get for your friend alone. "I might give my friend a small, separate gift," Ingram says, "but just to give her a gift because she's the original friend could be a slap in the face to her significant other." It's more important to show that you respect the relationship. The Truth About Moving in Together


If someone's birthday is right around the holidays, do you buy one or two gifts?

Mckay says that he would absolutely buy two gifts. "You can't shortchange people, especially if they bought you a Christmas present and a birthday present." It's not the person's fault for being born around the holidays.

Should you get a gift for an ex you want to get back together with?

"I wouldn't recommend buying a gift for an ex that you want to get back together with." Ingram says. It's too risky. You don't know how he feels about you and "if the feeling isn't mutual it doesn't matter what you buy, you're going to look desperate." The Dos And Don'ts Of Winning Back An Ex


Is it okay to ask to exchange the gift your boyfriend/husband got you?

"I don't believe that you should ever thrust a gift back at somebody and say, 'Take it back. I don't like this,'" Ingram says, but notes that it's fine to exchange something discretely. "A person who gives you a gift has to understand that once that gift leaves his hands it's your prerogative what you do with it." She adds, "Hopefully whether or not you wear or display his gift won't determine whether or not your relationship will be successful."

If your significant other doesn't like the gift, should you offer to exchange it?

According to Ingram, if you read something on your significant other's face that shows that he doesn't like the gift you got him, it's perfectly OK to offer to get him something else. Be aware though, that you'll probably get into a dance where he insists that he's fine with the gift and you insist that you're fine with exchanging it. "Offer to take it back one or two times and then let it go," Ingram advises. Your partner has his own rules of etiquette, so even if he doesn't like the gift he may not feel comfortable exchanging it.


What if you really, truly can't think of a gift to get someone?

"Ask," McKay says. "Talk." Simply asking what someone's interests are and typing it into Google will point you in the right direction. And be creative. "If someone's into basketball, I don't think you buy them a basketball. Find something that's unique and basketball-related that shows you put a little bit of thought into it." It doesn't need to be expensive, he adds, just thoughtful.

"The overarching theme is you gotta be on the same page, and it doesn't hurt to communicate, even if you barely know each other," McKay says. This will prevent both of you from feeling judged or embarrassed. And no matter what, adds Ingram, "a gift should not be what makes a relationship."


YourTango may earn an affiliate commission if you buy something through links featured in this article.