Making a List? Checking It Twice? Tips for Out-of-Practice Gift Givers.

It has been two years since the holidays felt “normal,” and you’re determined to make it special. You spend hours combing through your go-to department store, dodging Santa Clauses and unruly crowds to find the right gift. You open and close a dozen browser windows before adding that perfect item to your basket, sending a prayer to the internet gods that it arrives on time. Then, the moment comes to hand over the carefully selected present, tastefully wrapped. But instead of squeals of joy, you’re met with an anticlimactic “Thank you.”

How should you respond?

The average American consumer will spend $694 on gifts for others this year, according to Neil Saunders, managing director of retail at GlobalData. That’s up about 7 percent compared with last year, when gift spending dipped 5.1 percent because of the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted usual family gatherings during the holidays and caused severe Postal Service delays. Both the number of gifts that consumers plan to give and the number of people they’re shopping for this year are also higher compared with last year, he said.

With so many gifts changing hands this season, what could go wrong? Plenty, according to Maralee McKee, the founder of the Etiquette School of America in Orlando, Fla., and Colin Cowie, a lifestyle expert who has worked with Oprah Winfrey and others during his 35-year career.

“I think that when gift giving goes wrong, the person hasn’t put enough thought into the gift,” Ms. McKee said.

No matter your role in exchanging gifts, there are many dos and don’ts. Here’s what you should know this season.

Who gets a gift?

There’s a hierarchy when it comes to giving, and it starts with those you’ve exchanged gifts with in the past for long enough that it’s a tradition.

“In most families, if your parents are still living, the parents will receive a gift,” Ms. McKee said. “The grandparents will receive a gift. After that, it’s going to vary in every family.”

Are spending limits worth it?

Setting a price limit is most useful in office and corporate settings when large groups of people exchange gifts, like Secret Santa, Mr. Cowie said.

Awkward feelings could develop if someone intentionally exceeds the limit, said Ms. McKee, who added that in such cases an explanation should be given.

“Think of the person you’re giving the gift to,” she said. “Because too often gifts are bought at the delight of the person giving the gift.”

Am I obligated to give a gift in return?

Absolutely not. Giving a gift or sending a holiday card in return is not required, Ms. McKee said, but she noted that this time of year people sometimes keep small items they can easily give away when unexpected situations arise.

“Keep in mind, if you do give them a gift, you’ve opened the door for the same thing to happen next year,” she said.

Is it rude to give cash?

Cash can either alienate or delight the receiver, but it’s really a matter of personal taste or age (perfect for picky teenagers). It is, however, impolite to ask for cash. “Otherwise, that’s a slippery slope because you’re now soliciting a gift,” Mr. Cowie said.

Giving cash can work in certain circumstances, but keep in mind the person and your relationship to them.

“It’s fine as long as it’s not given as an excuse for not having to shop for a gift,” Ms. McKee said. “It’s probably not the best gift, in fact it’s incredibly lazy, if someone in a romantic relationship were to give it” as it could signal putting a price on a relationship.

6 Tips for Giving a Great Gift

6 Tips for Giving a Great Gift

As Wirecutter’s gifts writer, I constantly hear — and sympathize with — how daunting it is to buy a gift.

Here are some tips to help you find that perfect thing for anyone that might be on your list →

6 Tips for Giving a Great Gift

If you plan ahead, you’ll never scramble to find the right thing. I keep future gift ideas organized in my phone’s notes section within the recipient’s contact information. As significant dates draw near, I have a list at the ready.

6 Tips for Giving a Great Gift

Your recipient’s interests are a useful starting point. If the person you’re buying a gift for loves Beyoncé, maybe gift an Ivy Park sweatshirt. If Tartine is your recipient’s favorite bakery, consider the cookbook.

6 Tips for Giving a Great Gift

Gift giving need not be a solo venture — ask for help. A girlfriend’s sister will likely know if she prefers gold or silver. for instance, or even a shoe size. Even if you just need a gut check, it’s helpful to ask mutual friends what they think.

6 Tips for Giving a Great Gift

Experiences are best. Whether that’s a cooking class, a spa appointment or tickets to the ballet, an experiential present will be well-received, especially by the person who has everything.

6 Tips for Giving a Great Gift

Giving something perishable, like a gourmet gift basket or fancy wine, is also a good idea. Just make sure you really know the person well, lest you give a box of milk chocolates to a vegan or a bottle of booze to a teetotaler.

6 Tips for Giving a Great Gift

Sometimes a practical gift is better than a shiny gadget. Consider a Seamless gift card for someone with no time to cook or an airline voucher for someone who lives across the country. You can elevate the gift by including a bouquet of flowers.

Read more of our gift recommendations at Wirecutter. Or see more timely advice:

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