Gifting Etiquette: How Much to Spend on 7 Types of Gifts
Gift-giving shouldn't be complicated, but when you're looking beyond holiday gifts and birthday gifts for close family and friends, you may find yourself stumped.
After all, there are all sorts of occasions in which people are expected to buy gifts, including weddings, baby showers and even closing on a house.
"There is a lot of stress to give right," says Omer Reiner, a Fort Lauderdale-based Realtor. "A good gift helps build strong relationships; a bad gift can ruin relationships."
So if you find yourself wondering how much to spend on gifts and what types of gifts you should buy for the various supporting characters in your life, consider this your gifting etiquette guide to the following:
-- Wedding gifts.
-- Baby shower gifts.
-- Bridal/groomsman gifts.
-- Gifts for house cleaners.
-- Gifts for teachers.
-- Gifts for people you don't know well.
-- Gifts for Realtors/closing gifts.
[See: 25 Practical Gift Ideas.]
What's both tough and gratifying is that in these situations, how much to spend and what to buy is really up to you.
"When it comes to weddings, there is no relationship between what the hosts are spending on you and how much you need to spend on your gift," says Nick Leighton, host of the weekly etiquette podcast, "Were You Raised By Wolves?"
So if you want to spend a fortune, go ahead. But if you're on a budget, you shouldn't feel bad about aiming for the lower-priced items on the gift registry.
You could also buy something both thoughtful and affordable for the couple that (gasp) isn't on the registry, Leighton says. He concedes that if you know the couple will be living in small quarters, you may be better off sticking with the registry. "We have certainly heard from some listeners who strongly disagree (with going off the registry), often citing small apartments without the room for one hundred kindly intended items," Leighton says. "What they have room for is exactly the items they registered for."
How much to spend: If it's a close friend or family member getting married, aim to spend $100 on a wedding gift. But feel free to spend less if you don't know the wedding party well.
Baby Shower Gifts
This falls into the same arena as wedding gifts: Spend what you can, but don't feel like you have to go overboard.
"Our consumption-focused society often feels obligated to dole out large amounts of money for things like weddings, baby showers and events. Everyone is in a different place financially, and can't always afford an outfit for the event, let alone a gift," says Gary Grewal, a certified financial planner in Denver.
He suggests if money is an issue, offer to give your time instead to help set up the nursery, for example.
How much to spend: If you can afford it, $50 to $100 seems reasonable.
This can be tough for some couples, especially those saving for their own wedding. Still, your bridesmaids or groomsmen are likely spending a bundle to be in your wedding party, so it's a nice gesture to show your appreciation for supporting you on one of the most momentous days of your life. Typical gifts include jewelry, ties or tie clips, candles and keepsakes.
How much to spend: If your gift budget is tight, plan to spend between $35 to $50 per member of the bridal or groomsmen party, but if you're feeling generous, aim between $75 to $100 per party member.
[SEE: Affordable Wedding Gift Ideas.]
Gifts for House Cleaners
This could also apply to a tutor, pet sitter or someone who routinely watches your kids. If you're feeling especially generous, you may want to show your appreciation to someone who makes your life easier.
As with any occasion, if you aren't expected or obligated to give a gift, you should spend an amount you're comfortable with.
But what type of gift should you get? Unless you're inspired and have a unique gift in mind, in these cases, gift cards or cash is perfectly appropriate.
How much to spend: Jennifer Knowles, a Denver-based professor who teaches at Concordia University and Colorado State University, has a good idea. She says, "Around the holidays, I give all of the people who help my family a generous tip, equivalent to a week of their services. For example, if I pay our weekly cleaners $100 a week, then their holiday tip is an extra $100. My child's piano lesson cost $30 a lesson, so his tip is an extra $30."
Gifts for Teachers
Gift cards can be a really good idea for teacher gifts, says Knowles, who has three young sons and has purchased many gifts for teachers.
"Teachers love gift cards," Knowles says. "They receive enough mugs and candles each year to last a lifetime. I try and get them gift cards to places I know they'll use them such as local bookstores, their favorite restaurants, stores or Amazon. I will also have my child hand make the teacher something such as a card or a piece of art -- something special that the teacher can hold onto."
How much to spend: Says Knowles, "Generally, I stay around the $20 to $25 range." That would seem to be a wise plan. After all, you don't want to give a teacher something expensive that looks like you're angling to get your child better grades. But a $20 gift card to Starbucks is reasonable.
That said, if you really do want to go big, Grewal suggests purchasing school supplies for the class to make the teacher's and students' lives easier.
"If you know the teacher is struggling to afford new pencil sharpeners or any supplies, you could simply give those to him or her," he says.
Gifts for People You Don't Know Well
This is where gift cards can come in handy.
"Gift cards aren't generally as thoughtful as 'real' gifts and are best left to those times when you know absolutely nothing about the recipient and what might please them," Leighton suggests.
How much to spend: $10 to $20. After all, you don't know the person well. You're just presumably looking to brighten his or her day.
[READ: The Best Time to Buy Everything.]
Gifts for Realtors/Closing Gifts
Are you feeling especially grateful to a real estate agent for finding you that perfect house -- or helping you sell a home?
Well, closing gifts are a thing. But they aren't expected, so don't worry if you bought a house some time ago and never thought to buy your real estate agent a gift.
If you like the idea, though, "typically, we see retail home buyers and sellers give simple gifts to agents, such as gift cards or flowers," says Reiner, who is president of FL Cash Home Buyers LLC in Fort Lauderdale.
"Personally, when my wife and I purchased our first home, we bought it directly from the sellers and gave them a large flower bouquet," Reiner says.
How much to spend: If you're not feeling tapped out from the expenses of buying or selling a home, a thank you gift that costs between $20 and $50 seems reasonable and generous.
Best Practices for Gift-Giving
Leighton has a few tips to keep in mind:
Cash and gift cards as a gift. This is an easy option, but consider the implications. "Cash and cash equivalents can sometimes feel more like a tip rather than a gift, so be mindful of this and ensure this is indeed the signal you're wanting to be sending," Leighton advises.
Read the room. In other words, get what you think the giftee would like, and not perhaps what you would like. Leighton says, "In general, etiquette is all about being mindful of other people: their time, space, feelings and property."
It really is the thought that counts. Remember this when you're on a shoestring budget. "In general, the best gifts are the ones that are thoughtful, not the ones that are expensive," Leighton says. "I'd take a batch of your homemade brownies from a recipe that has been passed down in your family for generations over the $250 box of Swiss chocolate truffles any day."