Your ultimate guide to holiday gifting etiquette

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Giving gifts is one of the most wonderful parts of the holidays. Who can forget the joy on a loved one's face as they open the present they've always wanted? But gifting can be easy to mess up. The last thing you want to do at holiday time is to make a little-known etiquette mistake. Get properly prepped with these tips for holiday gifting etiquette.

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Even things out

Not everybody needs to have the exact same amount spent on them down to the penny, but especially when kids are involved, try to keep things equal. Don't bury one grandchild in gifts and give one pair of socks to the other. 

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Stick to spending limits

If you're in a large family or friend group with agreed-upon price limits, don't decide that the limits don't apply to you. If your book club agreed on a $10 gift exchange, don't flagrantly flaunt the rules and deliver a $100 handbag. And don't go the other way, either - if you know everyone's spending around $20, don't hand your recipient a pack of gum.

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Don't break business rules

If you're in charge of buying or distributing gifts at a business, say, to clients, know that some companies forbid employees from accepting presents or gifts worth over a certain amount. Call their HQ and find out what the policy is rather than embarrass someone or put them in an awkward position.

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Watch it with the self-improvement presents

Unless someone specifically asks for a particular item, do not give diet books, weight loss equipment, budgeting guides, cleaning supplies or educational workbooks. Even if the person wants to work on these areas of life, they don't want you to nag them into it.

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Don't double up on occasions

Birthdays happen all year, and if a good friend's birthday happens to be right around another gifting holiday, that doesn't mean you get to skip them. Close-to-Christmas babies get forgotten all the time. Don't just hand them one present and say it's for both Christmas and their birthday. 

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Be considerate of parents

Don't give a kid something his or her own parents would never buy. The toddler might love that drum set, but his mom and dad will be mentally cursing you when he gives them a solo performance at midnight. Same goes for mature movies or games, makeup, perfume, super-messy craft projects or any item that might be irritating or not age-appropriate. 

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Include gift receipts

It happens all the time: You give a carefully chosen gift, and it turns out the recipient already has it. Don't sweat it - you can't be expected to have memorized everything someone owns, even your best friend. That's where gift receipts come in handy. These receipts don't include the price, but allow the recipient to return or exchange the gift with no questions asked.

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Personal is better than pricey

No one expects you to go into debt buying presents. Instead of spending to your bank account's limit, think about making a present more personal. A framed photo of the two of you, something tied to a personal memory or something you spent time crafting are all personal, budget-friendly options.

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Know when a gift card is OK

For the right person, a gift card to an appropriate retailer can be a gem of a gift. And don't think gift cards are just for stores. You can buy a teenager a gift card for an online game or your most active pal a card for fitness classes. Not everyone on your list might appreciate it, but if you know your recipient well, you'll likely know which card is right for them.

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Be careful if you regift

It's not advisable, but it can be OK to pass on an unused present that was given to you, etiquette experts at the Emily Post Institute say. Just be considerate and smart about it. Make sure the gift you're giving away is something the new recipient will really want and appreciate, and don't regift something the original giver spent a lot of time and thought getting for you. It should go without saying, but don't regift something that's damaged, missing parts or in any other way in less than mint condition.

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Don't overdo it

Giving your child a giant pile of presents can make others uncomfortable, especially if you do so in the presence of others. Be aware of the manner in which you are exchanging gifts, and buy your presents accordingly. Relatedly, you should always feel free to be generous, but if you know that your sister has a small holiday budget, gifting her a brand new television or something else disproportionate can make her feel uncomfortable.

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You don't have to get your boss a gift

You don't have to give your boss a present, says the Emily Post Institute. In fact, in most cases, it's weird if you do. Gifting flows down in an office situation - it's considered acceptable for managers to give gifts to those who make less money than they do, but you don't have to give anything other than good wishes to your boss. Exceptions allowed if your boss has a quirky hobby or collection (tacky magnets, cat coffee mugs) and you've found just the right inexpensive gift.

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Reconsider food and liquor gifts

You can't assume that everyone on your gift list drinks liquor, eats meat or is free from allergies. Edible and drinkable gifts are very welcome in some families, but not in others. If you know your sister loves a particular vintage, or your neighbor adores Christmas cookies, go on with your tasty gifting. When in doubt, choose a non-edible gift or ask someone in the know about your recipient's preferences. 

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Know kids' sizes and styles

You may remember your niece or nephew as that tot who is in love with "Frozen," but kids grow and their interests change. That toddler who loved Olaf may now be a tween who lives in classic rock T-shirts. If you're not sure what the kids are into these days, ask someone close to them before shopping about their interests and sizes.

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Don't get too personal or risque

Always assume your gift recipient is going to open your present in front of their parents. Things like suggestive clothing and books with shocking titles are no-nos.

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Don't give gag gifts without warning

Many families love gag gifts, but some people don't get the joke. As with risque presents, don't assume your recipient is going to love that toilet-shaped coffee mug. Wait for April Fool's Day for the gags.

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If someone says "no gifts," listen

If you're asked by anyone - a party host, grandma, your kid's teacher - not to give, take that to heart. Usually the "no gifts" request has a reason behind it: Someone's house is just overfilled and they're trying to minimize, they're planning a move or they really just don't need a single additional thing to dust, pack or deal with. Respect the request - it's one of the things the best holiday guests do.

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Have extra gifts on hand

Inevitably, someone will show up at your holiday party and hand you a present while you stand there blankly. Here's a tip: When you're next shopping in a grocery or drug store that sells gift cards, pick up an extra. (Target or Amazon are good bets). A $10-$20 card won't throw you into debt, but it'll save you from embarrassment if you do forget someone. If you don't need it, hey, spend it on yourself.

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Never forget the thank you

Thank-you notes are starting to fade away. Those days of personalized stationery and sealing wax feel as far away as those of lamplighters and buggy whips. That doesn't mean you're off the hook. A handwritten note is always appreciated, but at a minimum, email, text or call a giver to say thank you. They thought of you, now make it clear you didn't forget about their kindness and adopt this old-fashioned etiquette rule.

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