'Tis the season to think about gifts and giving. One common question: Is it OK to re-gift – that is, to wrap and pass along an unwanted present? To find out, Family Goes Strong talked with etiquette expert Vicky Oliver, author of The Millionaire's Handbook: How to Look and Act Like a Millionaire Even If You're Not. Excerpts:
When is re-gifting OK?
It's always OK. The thing that separates good re-gifting from terrible re-gifting is how well you know the person and whether or not the gift fits the person. I hate champagne, and I've received maybe 80 bottles of it in my lifetime. If someone really knew me, they would never do that. Or let's say you know that somebody's favorite color is pink, and you don't really like it, and somebody gives you pink sunglasses. In that particular case, it's fine to take the gift, rewrap it, and be honest about it. "Somebody gave me this pair of sunglasses, and I thought of you when they gave it to me."
So you need to re-wrap it?
I feel like you should. When it's a re-gift, you should put as much effort into it as you can.
But can't re-gifting go wrong?
One time somebody gave me the gift, and they forgot to take out the card that they received. Talk about thoughtless.
Do you need to tell that you're re-gifting?
Sometimes re-gifting is obvious. You can take the curse off of it when you admit it. "I received this beautiful cameo brooch from my great aunt. I don't really wear cameo brooches, but I notice you wear them, so I'm passing it to you." It just seems so much better. The person accepts that it's a gift that's passed on. Not all gifts have to entail lots of money you spent. Also, some people love to collect things like candlesticks and china, and they give nice dinner parties. For other people, those things are just clutter. You might have collected some of those things over the years, and you're not using them. Why not give them to someone who will be appreciative?
Don't people accidentally re-gift a present back to someone? How can you prevent this kind of disaster?
You should always write a thank you note for any gift you receive, even if you don't like it. The effort of writing a thank you note will remind you, "This person gave me this pink champagne." You've got to be a little bit aware and keep lists. This is what you got. This is what you're putting in the closet. As a general policy, I would re-wrap anything so the receipt doesn't fall out, and they discover it was purchased three years before. Put some effort into the wrapping and the note itself.
What should parents say to their kids and grandkids about re-gifting?
It's OK to be frugal. You are practicing frugality. You're getting stuff you don't need or want, and you're trying to find the best person for that gift that you can. If you're up front with your children about being frugal, you're just teaching a value. Why just spend, spend, spend? It's cutting down on consumption, in a sense. You're being given a gift, and you're giving it to somebody who will really enjoy it.
So what do you do if you get a fruitcake?
You can bring it to the office. There must be someone who likes fruitcake.
What about buying (or recycling) presents as Secret Santa gifts? Then family members don't need to spend so much money on something for everyone.
If you're on a budget, you can institute the Secret Santa policy in your own home. Everyone buys one gift for one family member. They allow themselves to trade the gift for something someone else received. If you look at the whole present exchange as something that's a bonding moment for the whole family, you bought something and they can trade it for something somebody else received, it can be fun. It adds an element of playfulness, and you'll end up saving hundreds of dollars.
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