Gift Giving Etiquette for the Cheapskate

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The traditional exchange of gifts shown to us through media advertisements is what everyone dreams of, blissfully giving and receiving the ideal gift. Why then, do we still give and receive poorly wrapped presents, thoughtless gifts and practice gifting habits that we would rather keep secret? While some of these gift giving practices can be money savers, if not done correctly can come off looking like nothing but poor gift giving etiquette.

So, are we being smart, frugal or just plain tacky in our gift giving practices?


Regifting has become the answer to the question of what to do with all those gifts received that are unwanted.

By some, this is considered tacky, by others it is considered smart and frugal. Since Jerry Seinfeld first coined the term a decade ago, re-gifting has become an art form and perhaps a new gift giving practice that is here to stay. Read our Regifting Etiquette to help avoid being too "tacky."

Matching Gift Prices

Keeping a file of received gifts including the estimated price for easy reference so you will know how much to spend on a gift for their next occasion.

This ranks high on the tacky scale. If you liked the gift you received, the cost is irrelevant. When choosing gifts, the recipient should be considered first. Of course, if there is a budget this should be considered.

Presentation is Everything

Dressing up a gift in fabulous wrapping.

Who do you think you are fooling with this one? Putting time and effort into the packaging in order to make a cheap gift look better. The wrapping impression only last for a minute, the gift impression will last a lifetime.

Collecting boxes from desirable department stores.

Tacky, tacky, tacky. Less expensive gifts are wrapped in the boxes from higher end stores to give the false impression that it was purchased from that store and is, therefore, a more impressive gift. If you feel that you need to camoflauge your gift in this way, then it probably wasn't the right gift to begin with.

Conserve Paper, Only Use Gift Bags

Only purchasing gift bags for giftwrap because they are reusable.

If you and your friends remember to save the bags and use them again, this can be a good way to save money on wrapping paper long term. As a side benefit this is also an eco-friendly way to cut down on wasted wrapping paper. Similarly, there are other creative ways to saving money on the gift wrapping, see Creative Gift Wrap Ideas for more ideas on how to be a frugal gift wrapper.

The Gift Closet

Admitting to having a drawer or a closet with the sole purpose of storing generic gifts found on sale or clearance to pull from when an occasion arises.

This is a gift giving practice that could be considered smart and frugal if done correctly. Having emergency gifts is smart. Making sure the gift matches the recipient is the key to this frugal gifting idea.

Bargain Hunter

Shopping for next year’s holiday gifts the day after Christmas.

Shopping at flea markets, garage sales or after Christmas sales, can be smart and frugal. If you happen to find a gift that would be perfect for someone on your list, there is no reason you shouldn't buy it. However, keep in mind the #1 tip in How to Avoid Controversial or Inappropriate Gifts is... Do not pre-purchase gifts then match them to a recipient later - especially if you're giving the gift to someone special (like your girlfriend). If you tend to buy your gifts in bulk, chances are, your recipient will hate the gift you offer - most likely because they'll know it wasn't chosen with a lot of thoughtfulness.

Price is Everything

Purposely leaving price tags on the gift for the recipient to see.

This would be considered an extremely tacky gift giving practice and can make the recipient feel very uncomfortable. You definitely won't get the title of being "gifty" with this recipient.

Deciding How Much to Spend on a Wedding Gift

Cost of gift based on how much they are spending on you at the reception.

Another tacky gifting practice. There is a myth of etiquette that suggests to estimate how much your meal will cost the host by calling the reception hall and asking the price charged per person. Thus, the price you should spend on a wedding gift. If you take a date, you should contribute to a larger gift totaling the cost of two attending the reception. Our Guide to Choosing a Wedding Gift will help you in choosing a wedding gift. And, don't be afraid to consult the couple's bridal registry, which will give you a list of items in all price ranges.

And the list goes on... Almost everyone is guilty of one or more of the above. Whether society is changing the rules of etiquette or just becoming more financially savvy is undetermined. Only time will tell.

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