The best gifts make an impression, but it's the worst ones that really stick with us.
They're the presents you talk about at dinner parties, laughing at their awfulness or tackiness. And while they might make good conversation, you never want to be the person who gave one.
The pressure of the holidays can make people lose perspective when it comes to giving gifts. Avoiding a faux pas, though, isn't too difficult if you steer clear of some common minefields.
Gifts are not a tit-for-tat exchange. Just because someone spent a certain amount on a present for you doesn't mean you have to spend the same on theirs. Too often, shoppers overspend in hopes of not being seen as a cheapskate. This can actually be the worst move to make.
"If you spend a lot of money on a gift, doing so [can] make a recipient feel uncomfortable," said Sherri Athay, author of "Present Perfect: Unforgettable Gifts for Every Occasion."
"You don't want to appear stingy, but generally, whether intended or not, giving gifts creates a feeling of obligation," she said.
Overspending doesn't always relate to the dollar amount, either. A personalized gift that obviously took a lot of time and effort can be touching, but it can also create problems if the recipient simply grabbed an off-the-shelf item for you.
At the same time, while a budget is a good thing, being too cheap can come back to haunt you.
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"If the bag says Bloomingdales and the gift came from Duane Reed, that's kind of a bait and switch," said Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas. "Make sure it represents where it comes from, so if they do need to exchange it, it doesn't embarrass them."
There's nothing wrong with regifting, but it does require some common sense.
The biggest mistake to avoid, of course, is accidentally regifting the item to the person who gave it to you—or to a mutual friend of yours. And a very close second is making sure it's not obvious you're just passing along something you don't want.
"If you are going to repurpose a gift, you need to make very sure it doesn't have your name on it," said Gottsman. "Make sure there's no gift card left on it that you didn't see and that it's in its original box or bag. And definitely regift outside of the circle of friends that gave it to you."
Remember, not every item is a candidate for regifting, because, let's face it, some are just terrible. However, if you've received a nice sweater that doesn't fit you or a bottle of wine but you don't drink, those are viable candidates.
A practical gift may show that you gave some thought to the recipient, but that doesn't always make it a good idea. While you might not want to get too personal, you also don't want to retreat too far in the opposite direction.
"My brother, many years ago, said, 'I never give my wife a gift with an electrical cord attached to it,'" said Athay. "Gifts should be something somebody wouldn't get for themselves."
Also verboten are gifts that nudge someone toward some form of self-improvement. It's too easy to accidentally hurt the recipient's feelings.
"Gifts that hint at self-improvement or change for the recipients—like a low-fat cookbook or a book on how to get organized—are a bad idea," said Athay. "Even if it's something they have identified they want, you [still] might want to move forward carefully."
Corporate gifts all too often become marketing opportunities. And most of those end up in the trash.
"We tend to want to put our logo all over something, but we have to remember that most people don't want to receive a gift with somebody else's logo," said Gottsman. "Even a business gift is a gift of goodwill. It's to remind a person that they're valuable. It's to build a relationship for the next year. You want them to use it."
Shopping early takes some of the pressure off of buyers. As the date of a gift swap nears, some people tend to fall for marketing in ways they would never do so during the rest of the year.
"Men, in particular, have a tendency to give in to the advertising hype," said Athay. "They see signs or TV segments saying, 'This is what all women want this holiday season' and buy it."
That's not only oftentimes inaccurate (think back to items like breadmakers and hair-removal devices of years past), it also sends the message that the recipient doesn't stand out from the crowd and that you, the gift giver, just jumped on the nearest bandwagon.
"A gift is a way to convey a message to somebody," said Athay. "If you think about that message, you're going to have an easier time conveying that message."