Holiday gift giving: how much is too much?

Posted by on November 23, 2009 in Misc.

Yes, it is not even December but I thought I would get in a holiday gift giving post before everyone started planning their holiday spending (if you have not already). My family has an easy rule when it comes to gift-giving: cash only please. I believe this policy was born out of the fact we are terrible gift-givers to one another and this policy was requested, politely but firmly, by my Mom some years ago (clearly, she did not like what we got her that year). Requesting cash certainly makes holiday gift-giving easy but what do you get your boss? Your girlfriend of 6 months?  Your assistant?

I would not take anything below as remotely definitive since context trumps all but here are some thoughts:

  1. Gift giving to co-workers. Most offices with human resource departments tend to have written rules on what constitutes an appropriate holiday gift in terms of price and/or item.  This alleviates the need for setting a budget.  If your office has no rules, or it has a budget but no rules on what constitutes acceptable holiday gifts, the rule of thumb is be bland rather than unorthodox. A picture frame or plant for the office goes over much nicer than a joke gift or something really personalized (unless your co-worker is also your good friend).
  2. Gift giving to the boss. Unless everyone is doing it (whether voluntarily or involuntarily) or your co-workers are pooling money, my inclination is to give nothing rather than something to your boss. There are so many opportunities for your boss to misinterpret the gift. If you buy him a bottle of wine, are you saying he’s an alcoholic? If you buy your boss a gift certificate for a spa, are you saying their combination skin is looking really bad and they need a facial? Don’t give your boss ammunition.  The other issue is if you buy a gift for the boss but everyone else does not, are you showing up your co-workers? If in doubt, ask a very senior member of the office what the etiquette is for gift-giving for the boss since this is such a political landmine.
  3. Gift-giving for your new significant other. I am going to defer to the December issue of Men’s Health (I don’t want anyone to blame me for sleeping alone). It suggests setting a common spending limit and “most women say that puts the focus on the thought and not the cash.” The article suggests a $50 holiday gift if the relationship is 6 months and $100 if the relationship is a year as a general guide.
  4. Assistant/superintendent/concierge. Most condos I have lived in ask us to pool money to divide among the super and cleaning staff. Considering we often do not see these people much, it is better to go unpersonalized. When we use to have paperboys, we use to give an extra big tip during December for the same reason. Gift-giving for assistants typically works the other way; generally, you should ask what they would like.

As a money saving tip,you can always buy your holiday gifts by redeeming your credit card points. The issue is that the items, if you bought them retail, are not exactly cheap and the categories are relatively narrow.

I also noticed that my Avion points can be redeemed for a gift cards to a wide variety of retailers. While the conversion rate is not great (for example, 3,000 points for a $25 Starbucks gift card), it can also be another way to buy presents for people, either giving the gift-card directly or using it to buy a variety of presents from the store that issues the gift card, without cash out of pocket.  Just remember your legal rights concerning gift cards.

Anyone care to share any holiday gift giving tips?

4 Comments on Holiday gift giving: how much is too much?

By Cam Birch on November 23, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Great article. I’m already done my shopping for the season, with the exception of the few categories you mentioned here. Thanks.

By Friday Links - Canadian Finance Blog on November 27, 2009 at 6:15 am

[...] My Wallet questions how much is too much when holiday gift [...]

By Weekly Round Up – Gold Bubble, Patience, Resume and More on November 27, 2009 at 7:18 am

[...] Earlier this week Liza wrote about the importance of of giving, I personally am very big on helping the less fortunate and hope you too decide to give back. If you are not sure on how much to donate during this holiday season Thicken My Wallet provides some tips on how much is too much. [...]

By Andrew @ Financial Services on November 27, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Good thing our family and relatives understand. We’re basically your run of the mill type of people and we’re cool with giving and receiving cash. For anyone outside the immediate family though, we know we have to give gifts. I think people nowadays are just happy and thankful to get something at all.

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