Gifts and Etiquette


One of the most common questions that I get emailed has to do with this: how do I handle a gift when I've been invited to a wedding, birthday party, graduation celebration, bridal shower, baby shower, etc. (fill in the blank) and I can't go?

The short answer is this: you do not have to send a gift if you RSVP "No." No go? No gift.

I hope this helps to make a lot of people a little less stressed out!

If you're stumped for how to handle gift-giving occasions and general etiquette situations, you've come to the right place. Leah Ingram, a certified etiquette and protocol consultant, is your gift and etiquette guru. She can answer any question you may have pertaining to either topic. Check back often for her tips and advice.

In writing Leah for advice, you've given her permission to post your question on her website, albeit anonymously. Also, Leah tries to answer everyone personally but cannot guarantee you will receive an answer in a timely manner. Thank you for understanding.

Gifts and Etiquette Q&A

* What's the deal with wedding gifts?
* Graduation gift quandary
* Making a charitable contribution as a teacher gift?
* Holiday gift-giving for a child that's not related to you
* Limiting Christmas gift exchanges with a "secret Santa"
* Withholding gifts from a grandchild who never says "thank you"
* How to handle gifts with a destination wedding
* Gift etiquette for godparents
* "No gifts" requests in birthday invitations

Q: What's the deal with wedding gifts? How much do I have to spend, what's the best gift to buy and what happens if I can't attend the wedding?

A: Funny you should ask this question: I just came across a recent Associated survey that answers all of these questions and more.

For starters, the most popular price point for a wedding gift is $100 to $199, trailed by the more frugal range of $50 to $75. (In my mind the frugal range is more appropriate for shower gifts than wedding gifts. But that's just me.)

Still, there seems to be a disconnect on whether or not giving gifts is obligatory. Most respondents (70%) thought that the bride and groom should not expect a gift from all their wedding guests. In contrast, nearly the same number (63%) also said they would feel obligated to send a gift, even if they weren't attending the wedding.

In addition, celebrations leading up to the "walk down the aisle" inspired less frequent gift-giving, with only 10 percent purchasing something for the engagement party and 37 percent for the bridal shower.

Generational differences play a part in whether or not a gift is deemed necessary. Older people are much more likely to say the couple should expect a gift than younger people (35% of those age 65 and older vs. 24% of those under 30). In addition, almost three quarters (72%) of seniors say they would feel obligated to send a gift even if they didn't attend the wedding, compared with just half (53%) of those under 30.

When posed with a hypothetical scenario where someone was invited to a wedding but couldn't afford to buy the kind of gift they felt the couple would expect, the most popular solution among respondents would be to attend the wedding but buy a less expensive gift - 42 percent said they were very likely to do that. Relatively few said they would attend the wedding but not give any gift at all, and even fewer said they would make up an excuse to avoid attending the wedding. People were slightly more likely to say they would buy the more expensive gift even if they couldn't really afford it than they were likely to decline the wedding invitation and tell the couple reason why.

These findings seem right on target with my thinking about wedding gifts, except for the not getting a gift idea. I would NEVER show up to a wedding empty handed. How could anyone do that in good conscience?

Q: I don't know how much to spend or what to give as a graduation gift. Can you help?

A: According to NRF’s 2009 Graduation Consumer Intentions and Actions survey, conducted by BIGresearch, 58.9 percent of Americans who will buy for graduates will fill envelopes with cash, up from 56.8 percent last year. That’s the good news. Now here’s the bad news, especially if you like to receive gift cards: just 29.4 percent will give gift cards, down from 32.2 percent last year. The survey also found Americans will spend an average of $88.01 on gifts for an average of two students, down from $99.79 last year.

OK, fine, but what should you spend on a graduation gift for someone you know? My advice has always been this: spend or give what you feel comfortable giving. For some folks $25 is more than enough for a high school or college graduation gift whereas others may feel that because of a close relationship or simply because they earn a higher salary, $75 or more might be a gift you feel more comfortable giving.

What if you’d like to spend a little less or you don’t want to give money as a gift? Well, you can always go in on a gift with someone else to split the cost. And then you can put together a “tangible” gift that fits the occasion.

For the high school graduate going off to college, put together a dorm room essentials gift for him or her. It could be a laundry basket filled with new bath towels, hangers, flip-flops or Crocs , a package of bar soap, or any other supplies that a college freshman might need in the bathroom. You could put together a similar kind of gift with study aids (highlighters, paper clips, a flash drive, all in a desktop organizer) or study snacks (microwave popcorn, gum, trail fix and more, all packaged in an oversize bowl for holding popcorn or something such).

For the college graduate going off into the real world, getting him a gift that gets him ready for work is a great choice. This could be a professional looking bag, new work clothes (if you know his or her size) or even a “commuter” gift of a subscription to the daily paper, a travel mug and maybe a gift card for morning coffee to a place like Dunkin Donuts or a gas gift card.

Keep in mind that if you are invited to attend someone’s graduation party and you can’t attend, you are not obligated to send a gift. Phew. You’ll definitely save on money that way.

Finally, if you’re the parent of a graduate looking to save money on the party you throw, check out my graduation party advice in a Los Angeles Times story. I talk about how a party at home can be much more special (and way cheaper) than a celebration at a restaurant.

Q: The parents in my daughter's pre-school traditionally have given a gift certificate to the teacher as a holiday gift. This year, they've decided to make a donation to a charity in her name instead, albeit to a charity that the teacher supports. Is this appropriate? It seems to me that the teacher can contribute to the charity if she likes, but the gift of appreciation from the parents should be something for her, that she can use. What do you think?

A: Coincidentally, I just wrote about this topic of teacher gifts in yesterday's blog posting at my Suddenly Frugal blog.

The charitable contribution is a decision that I've made personally for my daughter's middle-school teachers this year, for financial reasons. That's because I would be 16 teachers to buy for since both kids are in middle school now. Plus, I know that charities are hurting this year. It just feels like the right thing to do.

However, if I were still dealing with preschool and elementary school teachers--and they were doing a class gift--I don't think that just doing a charitable donation is appropriate, unless the teacher has specifically asked that you do this. For example in my blog posting I talk about my daughter's long-ago first grade teacher telling us on back-to-school night that she didn't need any presents at the holidays and instead would we please buy board games for the class. That was a specific request that I respected and answered come December. Had she said that the American Cancer Society or the American Heart Association were her special causes, then I could have made a donation in her name in good conscience.

You have two options for dealing with this situation.

First, you can raise your concerns with the class parent who is collecting for the gift. Tell him/​her of your feelings and suggest that maybe you find a middle ground--especially if you discover that other parents are uncomfortable with the donation-only idea as well. You guys can decide to do the charitable donation and give the teacher a small gift from the class, like a box of chocolates.

Or, second, you can go along with the class gift contribution, and then give the teacher what you think she deserves to get at Christmas. For many years running this was how I handled things when the class parent collected for the teacher gift. I always contributed on my child's behalf, and then I went ahead and gave the teacher a separate gift just from us.

Gee, now that I'm writing this advice, I'm thinking that maybe I will add in a little something "tangible" to the middle school teacher's gifts. I wonder where I can pick up 16 little boxes of chocolates without spending a ton?

Q: My husband and I are struggling with what is appropriate gift-giving etiquette with my brother-in-law's live-in girlfriend's daughter. Are we expected to treat the daughter the same as our nieces and nephews?

A: If you are going to be celebrating a gift-giving occasion with everyone in attendance—including this live-in girlfriend and her daughter—then, yes, you should treat her the same as your nephews. For example, if everyone is getting together for Christmas or Chanukah, where there will be a gift exchange, do not exclude this little girl, simply because she is not related to you by marriage. How do you think that would make her feel if she had to sit there and watch everyone else opening gifts and there was nothing for her? Just get her a little something girly that someone her age would like and know that you’ve done the right thing by making this girl feel happy and included.

Q: I would really like to try to cut back on gift exchanging with some adult family members this year. I would still like to do a gift exchange with my nieces and nephews (even though some are technically adults). Also, I don't want my kids to get cheated by this decision. How do I tactfully suggest these changes?

A: I, too, would love it if I could cut back on gift exchanges with my family—maybe do a Secret Santa where we each choose one person and buy for that one person only—but the only problem? My immediate family (husband and kids) and I are the only ones that have bought into the idea. The rest of the family? They are perfectly happy shopping for months and spending with reckless abandon. So since we’re in the minority, we continue to do gifts as the majority chooses.

So unless you are the matriarch or patriarch of a family who sets tradition, I doubt you will get the rest of your family to buy into this notion of cutting back. That said, that doesn’t mean that you have to match your relatives’ spending, dollar per dollar. You should buy and spend what you’re comfortable spending—not what you think everyone else expects you to spend.

As far as the nieces and nephews, again, unless the family comes to a decision that, say, when kids turn 18, they stop getting Christmas gifts from the extended family, you should expect that you will continue to have to buy them gifts. I think this is an excellent time to rely on gift cards and I would bet that every one of your older nieces and nephews has an iPod or iTunes account, so a $10 iTunes gift card for each of them would be enough for them to buy 10 songs and spending $10 on each of them wouldn’t kill your budget—or at least I’m assuming it won’t. For the younger kids, give their parents $10 gift cards to Target or Toys R Us so they can get their kids the toys that they know the kids will like and you don’t have to worry about making a wrong gift choice that they’ll have to return.

Q: My granddaughter is 13 and lives in another state. Though we only see her a few times a year, we always send her gifts for her birthday and holidays. However, we never hear any words of thanks for anything we send her, and I'm getting very angry about it. For Christmas I usually get all of my grandkids one present from their list and a $100 gift card, but I'm irked because of the bad manners about thanking us that I don't know what to do this year. I believe she's at an age where she should be doing thanking us on her own, even if her parents aren't advising her because obviously they aren't.

A: I have heard this story time and time again—of giving relatives who shower their grandkids or nieces and nephews with gifts, and then never hear a peep of thanks from them. While your granddaughter is a teenager, she is still under the influence of her parents’ behavior, which means they are the ones dropping the ball about teaching her good manners. It is not up to you to teach her the manners that her parents should have been instilling in her since she was very young—my own daughters have been writing thank-you notes (sometimes with my help) since they were old enough to talk.

There are two things that you can do from here on in. First, the next gift you send to your granddaughter, why not give her something manners-related to drop a hint? A young person’s guide to etiquette and thank-you cards should fit the bill. Next, tell yourself that you will continue to send your granddaughter a Christmas gift until she is 18. And don’t go crazy with the $100 gift cards if you don’t feel like spending that kind of money. Something a bit more modest—like $50—would be fine.

Unless her behavior changes between now and then, you can feel comfortable “cutting her off” once she becomes an adult. Truth be told, most families usually stop giving the children in the family (especially large families) gifts once they come of age. And for kids who don’t appreciate gifts, I think 18 is a fine age to make this distinction.

If your son or daughter in law or your granddaughter ever question your decision to stop the gifts, then you can give them a piece of your mind—politely, of course.

Q: My sister and I are going to be attending our cousin's destination wedding in the spring. We are both bridesmaids in this wedding. We attended an engagement party (and gave gifts), and wedding shower is coming up (which mean another gift). My sister and I have booked (and paid for) our air and hotel accommodations. Now what we need to know is this: since we have laid out a considerable amount of money so far, is a wedding gift in order? We are not rich people and just paying for the air and hotel is a burden. I think that our attending this destination wedding is gift enough for our cousin. What do you think?

A: I agree with you that paying for everything for this wedding should be gift enough to the bride BUT that’s not the case. You and your sister are still expected to give the bride and groom a gift.

This is the problem with agreeing to be in someone’s wedding—you have to expect that there is going to be money and time involved, and perhaps the bride-to-be should have been a bit more forthcoming with her attendants about what was expected of them financially. This would have given you two the option of opting out of being in the wedding, especially if this is becoming (understandably) too expensive for you to handle.

Since it is expected that you will be giving their cousin a wedding gift, why not have chip in together for a single gift from both of you? Find someone affordable on the registry and split the cost. This way you aren’t showing up empty-handed to the wedding, and you haven’t spent twice the money as you would had you each bought a gift.

Now if the bride where thinking right, she should have purchased her attendants dresses as her gift to them. But it doesn’t sound like this bride was thinking about anyone but herself. Sorry to be blunt but that’s my take on the situation.

Q: What is the customary thing to do with godparents? Is it necessary to give them a gift at the baptism of a baby?

A: I don’t believe that you are expected to give a godparent a gift at your child’s baptism. However, if you wanted to give them a card, thanking them for taking on the responsibility of godparent for your child—and then slip in a gift card to that person’s favorite restaurant—I’m sure that person would graciously accept your gift of appreciation.

Q: We are having a birthday party for our one-year old son. We don't want gifts but would prefer that people contribute to his college fund if they want to do something. Can I put a note in the invitation expressing our desire for this?

A: I’m sorry to tell you this, but you cannot come straight out and ask for a gift of money in lieu of another kind of gift—unless you were asking for a donation to a good cause.

I guess you could justify that a child’s college fund IS a good cause, but others might not see it that way. I know a lot of children register for birthday gifts at places like Target and Toys R Us. Is it possible for your grandson to “register” for a college account? Then you could slip in a piece of paper with the invitation, letting people know that.

But just like with a wedding invitation, letting people know where you’ve “registered” doesn’t mean that they have to use that information when they buy a gift. They can choose to by off the registry or do whatever they want when it comes to buying the gift.

Now putting the piece of paper in the invitation could be seen as a bit pushy, so here’s what you can do instead: send out the invitation with your phone number for RSVPs. When people call to RSVP, if they happen to ask, “What would little Peyton like,” then you can say, “Well, we were hoping that people would make a donation to his college fund.” The person who is RSVPing can then choose to take the information about the college fund or ignore your suggestion and buy a gift anyway. Bottom line: you cannot control what people buy as a gift, and in this situation, you risk offending people by coming straight out and asking for money.

Q: How do I know how much to spend on or what to give as a graduation gift?

A: Every year around May and June, people write and ask the same question. Truth is, for any gift occasion folks wonder what the “right” amount to give when giving cash or the “right” amount to spend when buying a gift.

My advice has always been this: spend or give what you feel comfortable giving. For some folks $25 is more than enough for a high school or college graduation gift whereas others may feel that because of a close relationship or simply because they earn a higher salary, $75 or more might be a gift you feel more comfortable giving.

Here's what National Retail Federation (NRF) research shows folks will be spending on graduation gifts this year: "regular" folks will spend about $52 on each graduation gift; parents and other relatives plan to spend as much as $107 per graduation gift.

Not surprisingly gift cards and cash continue to be a popular graduation gifts, so says the NRF, with 32.2% of Americans choosing gift cards and 56.8% of Americans choosing cash.

Sometimes, though, you want to give a gift that may feel more "substantial" and money or a gift card in an envelope just won't do. In this instance, here's what I would suggest.

For the high school graduate going off to college, put together a dorm room essentials gift for him or her. It could be a laundry basket filled with new bath towels, hangers, flip-flops or Crocs, a package of bar soap, or any other supplies that a college freshman might need in the bathroom. You could put together a similar kind of gift with study aids (highlighters, paper clips, a flash drive, all in a desktop organizer) or study snacks (microwave popcorn, gum, trail fix and more, all packaged in an oversize bowl for holding popcorn or something such).

For the college graduate going off into the real world, getting him a gift that gets him ready for work is a great choice. This could be a professional looking bag, new wrinkle-resistant shirts, an appointment with a personal shopper at an upscale department store like Nordstrom or even essentials she'll need for a commute--a subscription to the daily paper, a travel mug and maybe a gift card for morning coffee to a place like Dunkin Donuts.

Q: My daughter will be turning 2 in July and we are having a very casual, pool and bbq party, and we really don't want a ton of gifts as she already has everything. Last year we asked for no gifts, and then when people asked what they could buy, we told them they could make a donation in honor of my mother who passed away. This year I'm finding myself in the same
situation. I would love it if I could ask people to make a donation to the Malaria No More organization, where $10 buys a family a mosquito net for about 5 years. How can I do that? Also, I really do not like it when people open gifts in front of everyone because it can make people feel uncomfortable.

A: Normally, I am very dead set against suggesting what to give a kid for a gift or making specific requests for presents within an invitation, but for some reason, your messages is worded in such a lovely way that I'm changing my ways.

I think it would be ok to make a request in the invitation but not so overtly as to be written on the actual invitation. Why not slip in a little card in each invitation about Malaria No More? You could hand-write on the top, "If you're unsure what to buy, please consider making a donation to this organization." Be sure you've got the organization's website on the card so people can find it easily. Then, the situation is out of your control and people will buy/​spend their money how they want to.

As far as opening gifts in front of others, that has become par for the course with birthday parties, hasn't it? When your daughter is older, you may not have much control over that, because her friends will expect it and, frankly, she will expect it, too (having attended other parties where this occurs). But for her party, with her being so young, you can quietly put the presents inside the house or, when people ask when you're going to open the presents say, "My daughter is going to be so tired at the end of the party, there's no way she's going to enjoy opening them. And we'd really like to help her savor the experience. So we're going to open them after her nap/​in the morning/​later this weekend." See where I'm going with this?

Q: My in-laws are coming to visit us for a four-day weekend. They are planning on leaving their home on Friday afternoon and arriving at ours after midnight. We have an infant that is still getting up multiple times a night, and my husband thinks that we should be awake to greet them, no matter what time they arrive. I'd like to ask them to arrive during a more "reasonable" hour, like Saturday during the day. Is that rude?

A: I think you would be perfectly within your right to ask them to arrive at a decent hour. If they don’t want to change the time that they leave their home—and therefore change the timing of their arrival—then you can offer to book them in a hotel nearby for the night. This way they can get a good night’s sleep without worrying about disturbing you and the baby, and you won’t have to worry about getting up in the middle of the night to greet your in-laws. Then you can all get together on Saturday when everyone is rested.

Q: My daughter is getting married soon and will be leaving with her husband who is re-enlisting in the Marines. They feel that it would be easier to buy things when they get to their destination. Is it appropriate to ask for gift cards somewhere in the invitation?

A: It is never appropriate to ask for certain gifts within an invitation, whether you're planning a birthday party, a baby naming or a wedding. However, your might want to suggest that when your daughter and her husband register for wedding gifts, they register for gift cards only at the stores where they like to shop. I know from shopping off of someone’s bridal registry list at Target that it's possible to register for gift cards in various denominations. Of course, you can’t stop people from buying them stuff but having only gift cards on the registry list should communicate their gift preferences pretty quickly and clearly without breaking any rules of etiquette.

Q: Should a 13-year-old girl accept clothing (a sweater and a camisole from American Eagle) from a boy who likes her (who is also 13)? My mother had a rule about gifts from boys, that they should be a book, jewelry, gloves, a scarf, a game, but not clothing. What do you think?

A: I hear what you’re saying about how the gift of clothing could be seen as inappropriate, but in my mind, it is inappropriate only if the gift itself borders on trashy or inappropriate (can’t think of a better way to describe it). My preteen daughters shop at American Eagle so I’m familiar with their clothing. I wouldn’t classify the company’s clothes as trashy or (here’s the word again) inappropriate, and I would say the same about stores like Aeropostale as well. What you’ve described him giving her seems perfectly fine. However, if he had given her something along the lines of lingerie, then I would have recommended that she refuse the gift.

Of course, what matters most is if this girl likes this boy and feels comfortable accepting his gift. If they don’t have an established relationship, I would question his motives in giving her this kind of personal gift.

Q: If you're invited to a bridal shower for the couple, and take a gift to the shower, do you also take a gift to the wedding? I have always been told that you don't have to take a gift to the wedding, because then you're double giving, especially if you've chosen something off their registry.

A: Yes, you are supposed to take a gift to each occasion, even if you've purchased something off of the registry. It is not double giving. To be honest with you, I've never heard of someone not bringing a present to both the shower and the wedding, if that person is attending both. There is one exception to that, though: if you are invited to both the shower and the wedding, and you can attend only one, you would bring a gift to the one event you can attend. You needn’t send a gift in your absence when you RSVP “no.”

Q: My brother-in-law and his wife are notoriously bad gift givers. The latest trend has been DVDs, such as the DVD they recently gave us for a TV series that we don't watch or want to watch. They did not give a gift receipt. I understand that the point of gift giving is the thought and not the gift, but there was really no thought put into the gift at all. My brother-in-law's wife has actually said during the year that she stocks up on random things when she sees sidewalk sales so she will have things to give out during holidays and birthdays. How do we get them to give us better gifts?

A: Unfortunately, you cannot tell someone what to give you without them asking you first, “What would you like for Christmas this year?” You can drop hints, like “We can’t wait each week to watch ‘Lost’. It’s our favorite show,” so that if she finds a DVD set of “Lost” at a tag sale and gets it for you, it will be more appropriate.

Speaking of tag sales, it really is unfair to judge someone by WHERE they buy your gift. My mother in law is on a limited income so I know that most of her holiday gifts come from a dollar store. Is most of it cheap and does it breaks before New Year’s? Yup. Do I know that she meant the best when she bought it? Absolutely.

So, you can drop hints and drop your expectations when it comes to getting gifts from your brother in law. Then if he continues to give you inappropriate stuff that you can’t return, I’d say start selling it on eBay. At least you can make a few bucks this way.

Q: We are about to become grandparents for the first time.Is there a traditional gift that grandparents give to the parents-to-be? I'd heard that we should help outfit the nursery or purchase for them their crib.

A: Congratulations on the soon-to-be birth of your new grandchild. Yes, it is traditionally the grandparents place to help purchase nursery furniture for the parents. Another way you can help is to hand down any furniture that your son or daughter used as a child (if you still have it) to use in the new baby’s room. My mother gave us a rocker from my childhood room and my husband’s mother gave him a dresser. Though they didn’t match the crib they also helped us purchase, it was a lovely and sentimental addition to our child’s room.

Q: I'm throwing a bridal shower for my sister. It's her second marriage. She and her fiance have been living on there own for 15 years so they have everything they need. Would it be tacky to request gift cards as presents? That way they can use them towards things they need and to fix up there new place.

A: You cannot request gift cards or cash for that matter when inviting people to a bridal shower. What you can suggest that your sister do is register at a store or two that has items they would like to use to fix up their home—say Target or a Lowe’s—and then see if they can’t add gift cards in certain denominations to the registry itself. This would give them the gift cards they’d like to receive plus some of the home furnishings they might genuinely need to fix up their new place.

Q: I'm going to an engagement party next weekend, and I have no idea what the rules are about gifts. Do I bring one? If so, what's a reasonable price range?

A: Any chance that the couple has registered already? I always advise the readers of my books to register as soon as they get engaged, just for this reason--very quickly there will be occasions for which people will want to give you gifts. This is especially true of couples who get engaged in the last fall. Before you know it, Christmas and Hanukkah are here, and people may want to buy you wedding-related gifts for these occasions, too. And if you register, you make the gift-giver's life much easier.

If they haven't registered yet, I concur with the $25 to $50 price tag of a gift--and perhaps make it a gift card to a place like Target. Then you can just slip the gift card into a greeting card. However, one of my favorite engagement gifts was a Tiffany ice bucket, which we used and loved for many, many years. It finally hit the dust--literally--when it cracked in our last move. After 15 years, Tiffany ice bucket, we hardly knew yee. These ice buckets are a bit pricey but they do last and they are wonderfully versatile for entertaining.

Q: We received a wedding announcement, simply printed on cardstock you would find in a stationery store, from our former doctor and his wife. We used to be good friends with them, he treated all of us as a doctor but we haven't seen them since we moved away in 1990! We trade Christmas cards with brief messages but that's it. Am I obligated to send a gift?

A: Some would see this announcement as a fishing-for-gifts tactic—especially since you haven’t seen the person since 1990 and you don’t exchange holiday gifts, only greetings. However, this could have been a very innocent action on their part, in that they are happy and excited to be married, didn’t have a lot of money to make up announcements (thus the DIY kind that look like they came from a stationery store), and wanted to share the good news with everyone they know, including former patients from more than a decade ago.

In either case, in most circumstances you are not obligated to send a gift when you received a wedding announcement—especially if there had been no indication that you would have been invited to a wedding and/​or if the announcement ended with something like “We will be celebrating our marriage at a wedding reception later this year.” Your receiving an announcement with mention of a future celebration means that a) you will likely be invited to this forthcoming celebration and b) you will have a chance to bring the happy a couple a gift at that time.

By the way, the only time you would send a gift after receiving a wedding announcement—and if there didn’t seem to be a celebration down the road—would be if it had come from someone you are very close to, such as a godchild or your niece. In other words the kind of person to whom you would send Christmas, birthday and graduation gifts without giving it a second thought.

But back to your situation and what you should do. In this instance, I would think that sending a congratulations card with a brief handwritten note inside would be sufficient and should be very well received.

Q: If we are invited to a high school graduation party and cannot make it (because we were invited to another one first), what is appropriate to give as a gift?

A: If you are invited to a celebration and cannot make it, definitely call with your regrets. As far as gifts go, if you can't go, you are off the gift-giving hook. However, if the guest of honor--or in this case, the graduate--is someone really close to you (nephew, godchild, daughter of your best friend), then I would send a guest in your absence.

As far as what to give, a gift card is always a good idea, because it is safer than cash. Also, if you are going to be mailing a gift in your absence, it's better to send a gift card in the mail than to send cash. I like gift cards from stores like Office Depot, because the person can use it to get school supplies. Another gift card idea: an iTunes gift card, so they can download songs on your dime! If you want to give something tangible, why not order or purchase something related to the college where he or she is going next year?

Q: My husband and I have been invited to a wedding, and the invitation said "No gift by request." Does this mean that they want money? People have been saying that this means that they really don't want money. I thought $50-$100 would be appropriate so they have something to spend on their honeymoon. What should I do?

A: No gifts means no gifts. I know that it’s hard to imagine going to an event without bringing anything but if this is what the couple requested, then you should respect that. If you feel like you must do or give something, then find out what the couple’s favorite charity is, make a donation in their name, and then enclose information about your donation in your card.

(Addendum to above advice: The person who wrote to me wrote back after I'd given her the above advice. She decided that giving a gift to charity was a cop out and went with $100 in a greeting card instead. To each her own.)

Q: I was recently married and I am getting started on writing my thank you cards. One of the gifts we received did not include a card or any way to identify who it was from. I really want to thank the person for the gift and not overlook them, but I don’t know how to figure out who it is from. Any suggestions on what I should do?

A: First of all, congratulations on your recent wedding and kudos to you for writing thank-you notes. Too many brides these days let that important part of the gift exchange process slip by the wayside. Again, good for you.

Now as far as solving the mystery of the card-less gift. Any chance you still have your guest list? Could you figure out who gave you that gift via the process of elimination, such as you know you’ve sent thank yous to all of the people on the list except for three or four? (For example, when I was married, I wrote down each person’s gift next to their name on the guest list. This trick also works for birthday parties or any other gift-giving event for which you've created a guest list.) If so, then you could call those three or four people, offer your “mea culpa” for bothering them, and then let them know that you have a card-less gift that you didn’t want to go unrecognized. Explain what the gift is and then ask, “Any chance this gift was from you?” Once you find the person who gave you this gift, you can thank them on the phone, and then you should finish up by writing them that proper thank you note.

Q: I received a monetary wedding gift in the form of a personal check from a longtime girlfriend of mine. She had post-dated it and asked me to hold off on depositing it. I waited but after I'd deposited it, the check bounced. I really don't know how to approach this. I do not want to embarrass her in any way and there is always the possibility of a bank error or something like that. It has been several weeks and I thought she might have noticed it on her bank statement by now. Should I just casually mention it to her in an email? I am obviously going to send a thank you note regardless and do not expect a replacement. I just don't know if I should mention it at all to her or just let it go.

A: Sad to say, I was in this situation when I got married some years ago. I, too, received a post-dated check which, when deposited, eventually bounced. Like you I didn’t hear from the gift giver (whom I know knew by then that his check had bounced) but I didn’t wait to hear from him either. I was direct with the gift giver about the check bouncing—called him the moment I got the notice—and I think you should, too.

Don’t sell yourself (or your gift) short by just assuming a thank-you note is in order. This person gave you what amounts to a fake gift and she doesn’t deserve thanking—she deserves to have the mistake pointed out. Yes, it could have been a mistake but she needs to know about it so she can figure out what happened—and how she can replace the gift. By the way, my relative that bounced the check eventually sent me a replacement check for the original amount plus $25—the amount my bank had charged me for the bounced check.

You’ve done nothing wrong. Don’t be shy about contacting the gift giver and letting her know the check bounced. Good luck!

Q: A co-worker is getting married soon. I have been invited to a shower and to the wedding. Should I give two gifts or may I give a more generous gift for the shower and not give an additional wedding gift?

A: The proper thing to do is to bring a gift to each occasion—the shower and then the wedding. You really can’t combine the two or bulk one gift up in order to avoid giving another gift.

Don’t sweat it, though. Bridal shower gifts are usually simple and relatively inexpensive.

Is the bride having a theme? Can you find something on her registry that fits the theme? Recently, my cousin got married and her bridal shower had a kitchen theme. In keeping with that theme—and my preset budget—I decided to buy her all of the “stirring” tools on the registry. This included wooden spoons, spatulas and slotted spoons. All told, I spent about $30, and was able to give her what looked like a significant gift--and which I knew didn’t cost a lot of money. Then at the wedding, I gave her and her new husband a check (it was a New York wedding so that’s the traditional gift), which was for significantly more than what I’d spent for the shower gift but still well within my budget.

Q: I had a baby shower thrown for me one week before the birth of my baby. The shower was wonderful, and 40 people attended, all of which are good friends. Tragically, my son died at six days old from complications at birth. I never got the chance to send thank-you notes from the shower, and I'd still like to do that. I am so grateful for the gifts and support I've received from my family and friends, and I would like to let everyone know how much I appreciate them. Also, although I have lost this child, I want everyone to know that I want to keep everything for my next child. How should I handle this?

A: I am so sorry about the loss of your son. I can’t even imagine how painful that must be. You seem to be a very generous person if, in your time of sorrow, you want to thank those who lovingly showered your with gifts while you were still pregnant. I think that writing a note from the heart would be fine.

Here’s an example you might want to use: “Dear Sue: Thank you for the wonderful gift of the baby booties. As you know, (name of son) died six days after he was born, and while he never got a chance to enjoy your wonderful gift, I would like to hold onto it for my next child. Thank you for your generosity, and I hope to see you soon.”

Does this sound like something you would write naturally? Good luck, and thanks for writing.

Q: Every year my husband's brother and his wife host a Super Bowl party, and we look forward to it each February. I just found out from my sister-in-law (my husband's sister) that my husband's brother called everyone two weeks ago to invite them over, but we never heard from them. My sister-in-law thinks that they might be mad because we couldn't spend Christmas with them for the first time ever. What should I do--call and confront my brother-in-law or let it go?

A: Before you say anything to your relatives about their excluding you from the celebration, think ahead to how they’re going to react. Are they forgetful people and will just apologize and be OK with your saying something? Or are they control freaks or those who have trouble with emotions—and so your saying something will just open a can of worms or cause a major fight to break out? Since I don’t know your family, I can’t tell you exactly which path to take. What I can tell you is that, under normal circumstances, it’s not OK to inquire as to why you were not invited to a certain celebration. Yes, the people were rude in excluding you, but you would be even more rude if you interrogated them about their decision. In my mind when you don’t invite someone to a get together—and previously you did include that person—then that speaks volumes about that person’s true feelings about you, however much that truth might hurt. And I’m sorry that this happened to you.

Q: We spent this holiday with my in-laws, who had given us a "wish list" from which to buy their gifts. Every item on the list that we purchased was not "just right" for them, and they want to return them. I'm being pestered for receipts that I cannot find, and I can't help but feel frustrated and insulted by this situation. I was under the impression that, when returning gifts, letting the giver know about it is a last resort--not the first thing you say when you open the package.

A: I am appalled that someone delivered you a “wish list” for Christmas gifts, and then when you bought them what they requested, they told you that they wanted to take them back. Yikes.

Here’s how I suggest you handle it the next time they bring up receipts for returns. Tell them, “Gee, since you gave us your wish list and I bought you what you had requested, I figured there was no need to keep any receipts since this is what you asked for. I’m sorry but I’ve shredded all my receipts. You’re on your own with returns.”

Q: Last year at the holidays we had some houseguests that my husband and I thought were incredibly rude. They ate our food--including a cheesecake I'd baked for my husband's birthday but hadn't served him yet--did laundry, showered, shaved etc and made no monetary donation to the household or even brought a housewarming gift. And they never sent a thank-you note for our hospitality. They've just called to see if they can stay with us again this holiday season, and I'm not feeling very hospitable. In fact, I told them that should stay in a motel. Was I off base?

A: While I wouldn't expect a house guest to make a monetary donation to the hosts, I would expect him to bring a gift, send a thank-you gift or note after the fact, and to clear things ahead of time about what food is OK to nibble on and what is off limits.

I think you were brilliant in suggesting that the couple stay in a motel. Bravo to you for standing up for yourself--so many people would have given in and then been miserable. And don't think for a moment that you're the one with bad manners because you didn't extend a welcome to them again--they're the ones with the bad manners for assuming you would.

Q: I recently had a baby shower and received a gift I did not like, but I didn't get a gift receipt with the gift. Is it OK or would it be rude to ask for a gift receipt? What If the person doesn't have one? Wouldn't they get embarrassed, and then they will surely know you did not like the gift?

A: I’ve been thinking about your question for a few days now, because I was on the fence on how to answer it. So let me propose two solutions to the problem, both of which I think are fine.

My initial response was, no, you cannot go back to the gift giver and ask for a gift receipt, because that’s a give away that you’re going to return the gift. Sometimes, you just have to accept that you’re going to get gifts that you don’t like, but that’s what eBay or regifiting is for.

On the other hand, you could tell a little white lie and say something to the effect of “Thanks so much for the hot pink baby sling. You’re never going to believe this but someone else gave me the exact same one. Since I don’t want your gift to go to waste, I was going to try to find something else I could use for after the baby was born but I don’t know where you got the sling. Any chance you’ve got a gift receipt I could use?” Of course, doing this will take quite a bit of chutzpah that not every person may possess. But it is an option, if you so choose.

Q: My mother-in-law gave my husband a "Daddy Basket" of goodies when we had our 4th son last year. The basket was lined with a cuptowel and was full of snacks/​goodies for him to enjoy. I recently overheard my mother-in-law asking my husband' sister about a cuptowel identical to the one in the Daddy Basket, and I realized that she wanted that cuptowel (and basket) back.

She has given us Daddy Baskets for our other 3 boys, but I've never given them back and now don't even remember what baskets she gave us. I returned this most recent basket in question (and the cuptowel), and she told be that the baskets/​liners have never been part of the gift. I think it is rude to expect part of a gift back. She could've at least mentioned that she wanted them back when she gave the gift or put her name on the bottom of the basket, like you would on a casserole.

I feel that if you give a gift basket, the basket should be part of the gift. What is your opinion?

A: Your mother in law's gift of a Daddy Basket is wonderful, but expecting you to return part of it ruins whatever good feelings the gift delivered. I am appalled that someone would give a gift in a container and expect it back--especially a basket and a towel, which, as you know, you can get for not a lot of money.

I agree with you that if the Daddy Basket was given with a quid pro quo--that is, I'm giving you this gift but expect the basket and towel back--then she should have stated so upfront. Or, for Pete's sake, just buy another basket and towel for future gifts she might give. Probably the only time I could condone expecting a gift container returned is if you brought food to someone's house in a nice dish or pie plate. I think it's a given that you wash that dish or plate, and return at the next convenient time.

But giving a basket for a gift basket back? Yeesh. That's like the florist coming back to your house to collect the vase that the flowers were sent to you in.

Q:For 14 years I've been sending my nieces birthday and Christmas gifts, and for 14 years neither their parents nor the girls themselves have acknowledged my gifts. At first I was concerned that my gifts weren't arriving, but then I starting tracking the packages via the postal service. For how long should I continue to send these girls gifts? My mother-in-law is appalled that her daughter (my nieces' mother) behaves in such a thoughtless way, but still says nothing about it to her daughter. I don't want to punish the two girls for their mother's rudeness but I'm getting tired of no responses for the gifts I've sent. What should I do?

A: If it makes you feel any better, the most common complaint/​quandary in the emails I receive has to do with thank-you notes—or the lack thereof. Trust me, I’m a big believer in thank-you notes, and I hound my kids to write them after birthdays and holidays. My mother did the same with me, and now writing them is second nature. It’s sad that your nieces’ mother doesn’t value thank-you notes in the same way.

At the same time, I think that you’re right that you shouldn’t punish the girls because of their mother’s behavior. But sooner or later those girls are going to have to be responsible for THEIR response to gifts. By age 13, if not sooner, they should be writing thank-you notes on their own. However, if they continue to ignore your generosity as they get older—for example, they don’t even call to verbally thank you—then I believe that you can stop sending gifts. If you’re looking for a time to do that cut off, I would recommend age 18 or when they go to college.

Q: My son has been dating a girl for a about a year. Her parents want to meet us. My wife and I feel that proper protocol would be that we meet ONLY after they become engaged (if they do). Are we right?

A: I don’t see the harm in meeting your son’s girlfriend’s parents, even if an engagement isn’t on the horizon. Is their any reason not to accept their invitation to meet them? Do they not live close by and therefore going to meet them will cause a financial hardship? As a parent myself, if my child was dating someone that could potentially become a spouse, I’d want to know sooner rather than later what kind of family that person came from—including getting to know that person’s parents.

Q: My family is attending my brother-in-law's wedding. There are myself, my husband, and my three kids attending. Everyone has a part in the wedding except myself. My husband is the best-man, one of my daughter's is a junior bridesmaid, the other is the flower girl and my son is the ring-bearer. So far, on all of the tux's and dresses and shoes and hotel and shower gifts, etc, etc., we are up to $1500 in expenses. So my question is...How much should we give to them as a gift on their wedding day?

A: I’m sorry that you’ve had to lay out so much money for the wedding—and you haven’t even gotten the gift yet. Unfortunately, because it is a close family member (I’m assuming your husband’s brother), you really should be somewhat generous with the wedding gift. I’m not suggesting that you bankrupt yourself to buy the gift but perhaps you can find something “substantial” on the gift registry to give. I’m thinking something that comes in a really big box and maybe costs more than the average gift on the registry but is within your budget range.

Another way to make the wedding gift more affordable yet still have the “wow” factor is to go in on it with your husband’s siblings or close relatives. If you pool your money, you’ll all get more bang for your gift buck.

When my husband and I got married, his cousins all chipped in and bought us ALL of our stemware—wine glasses, water glasses and champagne flutes. We got 12 of each. That was a huge gift, in a huge box, by the way, and I know that it was substantial financially because, heck, I’d registered for the glasses. But because three couples and a set of parents went in on the gift, it wasn’t a killer for anyone to afford.

Q: Have you noticed a trend toward people throwing baby showers for a second baby? I keep getting invitations (2 this year) for these. I understand when it's a first baby but another one? Come on! Plus, I'm already going to bring a gift when I go to see the new baby. Does having a 2nd baby shower go against etiquette?

A: You and I will probably disagree on the whole second baby shower thing, but I see nothing wrong with it. It’s a big deal having a child, even a second child. If family and friends want to shower the second-time mother with a celebration, that’s wonderful. However, I agree with you on the whole gift thing, especially if you are going to be bringing a new baby gift once the kid is here and a big brother/​big sister gift as well.

Here are some ways to handle these invitations. If you are invited to a second-time baby shower and are morally opposed to the notion, then decline the invitation. RSVP no and don’t think about it again. When the baby is born, you can send a little something, if you feel like it or you can just send a card. While a baby gift is nice, it’s not required whenever someone has a child.

Your second option is to attend the baby shower and bring just a small gift. I mean, really small, like a bib or a little stuffed animal—something that won’t put a huge dent in your budget. That way you won’t show up empty handed and you won’t feel taken advantage of in the gift-buying department.

Also, you could look at this second-baby shower as a chance to shower the mom, who will now be juggling two kids. Would you be opposed to buying her some kind of pampering present? What about going in with a few other women for such a present? That might make it affordable for everyone involved.

Q: I just got married and have decided to change my name, both personally and professionally. What is the etiquette of letting my business contacts know of this? Can I just email them?

A: I would send an announcement to your business contacts, just as your company would notify its employees when someone new joins the firm. You can send your name-change announcement in the form of a memo or press release, or you can get more formal and have an announcement printed on card stock. You can say something like “As of June 1, 2006 Jane Doe will be known at Jane Smith. Her new email address is (insert here). Please update your files accordingly.”

Q: What is the going amount to give as a gift to a "cash only" bridal shower?

A: Before I give you my answer, can I just say
something? Having a "cash only" bridal shower has got to be one of the tackiest things I've ever heard. No wait, I've heard of couples requesting cash at their wedding, too--which is also tacky--but the idea that you, as the guest, have no flexibility in your gift shopping is just plain rude and wrong.

That said, I always advise people to spend what they feel comfortable spending on a gift. Vague, yes, but in my opinion what you spend should have more to do with what you can afford than what the recipient expects. If you're not making a lot of money, you shouldn't spend a lot of money on your gift. On the other hand if you're well-off, then you should be able to spend a bit more on a gift, regardless of the occasion.

As far as dollar amounts go, if you can swing $25 to $30 for the gift, then I believe that would be a fair and polite amount to give the bride. Good luck with your shopping--oh, wait, that's right, all you have to do is go to the ATM. Can I say it again? Tacky.

Q: We are coming up on our second anniversary of our first date. I will start by telling you I like to do things creative and hand-made because she seems to like them more. In the past I have cut out 101 hearts and on each one wrote a reason why I love her on them. I would like to do something like that again. I am kind of limited to resources since I am currently serving in the US Army in Iraq right now. I have done the jewelry thing in the past too. For the first time ever I am just kind of stumped and was wondering if you could throw some ideas my way.

A:I’m honored that you wrote to me, asking for my advice. You are doing our country proud by serving in Iraq, and I wish you the best

So let me ask you—what did the two of you do on your first date? Is there a way you can recreate that first date or portions of it in a gift? If that’s not possible, could you employ some family or friends back home to surprise her with something, such as filling her bedroom with a large number of red helium balloons or a flower that means something to her—well, I mean lots of flowers? Do you share a favorite movie? Can you get her a copy of it sent to her with a note about why you love watching this movie with her—and how you wish you could be there to watch it with her on your anniversary?

I hope that these ideas spark some creativity in your own mind or give you a bona fide idea that you can run with.

Q: My daughter was married last June. My husband and I did not not purchase them a wedding gift. With all of the other expenses from the wedding, we were very short on money. It still bothers me that I didn't give her a gift-gift, especially since the groom's mother did have a gift for them that they opened the day after the wedding at the brunch. I know it's after the fact but I have two other children (boys) who will probably be getting married in the future and I would like your opinion on this.

A: Have you ever considered writing your daughter a note, telling her exactly what you’ve told me? I’m sure it would touch her deeply and I would hope it would clear your conscience.

As far as your other children are concerned, I would recommend speaking with them before the wedding plans make you so crazed that you don’t have a quiet moment to spend with each child. Ask your children what they expect from you, as far as gifts go, and share with them that even though their sister said she didn’t want a gift—and you respected her wishes—your not giving her a tangible gift gnawed at you for reasons you’re not sure of and you would like to avoid that gnawing feeling in the future. Find out if they would accept a gift from you and then decide what would make you feel the best about either giving or not giving them a gift for their wedding.

Another way to handle your gift quandary is to identify some service or something they need for the wedding—say, the band—and say that paying for the band would be your “gift” to your child. Would that make you feel as if you did something special in the realm of a gift.

Q: My 19 year old niece has recently taken to giving money given to her to her favorite charities and announcing same in her thank you notes (which notes come a little more regularly than they used to come). I usually send her a small gift and a substantial check.

I admit that I feel very conflicted about this. On the one hand, my check was freely given to her and she has the right to do with it whatever she wishes. On the other hand, my husband and I contribute regularly to the same types of charities as does she (it so happens that the three of us, unlike the rest of the family, are vegetarians).

Nonetheless, it irritates me. There. I admit it. If I wanted the money to go to a charity, I would have sent it to them. However, I find appalling the idea of donating in someone else's name and I won't do it.

My inclination is to stop giving her money and just send the bracelet or whatever it happens to be. Just tell me - am I wrong?

A: You are a very generous aunt to be sending your niece a substantial check whenever you want to send a gift, and I commend your niece for sending you a timely thank you note.

Onto your quandary: I’ll say it straight out--I do not believe you have the right to assume that your niece will use the gift in a way you deem appropriate. And considering she’s using the money to donate to charity, well, that’s quite honorable of her. It’s a rare teen who doesn’t take the money and shop.

Think about it this way. What if your niece went out and bought a tangible gift that you didn’t approve of—and you learned of her purchase in her thank you note? Would you cut off her future gifts of cash because you want her to shop in a more suitable way? You seem to like to give the gift of cash, versus the gift of stuff, and your niece clearly appreciates it.

I recently found myself in a position that your niece could easily be in, if you say something or let her know you’re going to change how you give gifts to her because of her charitable donations. A relative gave us a large cash gift for my children’s college fund. My husband and I made a decision about the money that this person did not approve of, and every chance this person gets, I get a jab disapproval. It’s gotten to the point where I want to write her a check for the amount so this person won't be able to say anything anymore. Would you want your niece to do the same to you?

I understand that you are irritated, but I think this is an instance where you have to let your irritation go or you might end up damaging your relationship with your niece.

Q: I'm getting ready to send Thank-you note's for wedding gifts. How do I address my In Law'--as Mom & Dad or by their first names?

A: The best way to handle addressing your inlaws is to think about how you address them in conversation. Do you call them Mom or Dad, Mr or Mrs or Jack and Sue? Also, what are you comfortable calling them? My mother in law, for example, always refers to herself as “Mom” when she calls or signs a card but I address her by her first name. This is what makes us both comfortable, and it’s been working this way for 13 years. So, if in doubt, ask them what they’d like you to call them but then go with whatever name/​title you feel comfortable with.

Oh, and good for you for writing thank-you notes. You have no idea how many brides do not make them a priority!

Q: I am planning on having a housewarming party. I am not married but am moving in with my boyfriend. We don’t plan on getting married ever. Is it okay to register for housewarming gifts?

A: Congratulations on the big move--moving in together. I'm sure your housewarming party will be great.

As to whether or not you should/​can register for your housewarming, I have to ask: what is your motivation for registering?

Are you afraid that no one will buy you a gift?

Are you trying to make up for the fact that you won't ever register because of your choice not to marry?

More importantly, how will your family and friends react to the news that you've registered for a housewarming party? Will they think it's no big deal or will your decision to register put them off?

Once you've answered these questions, I believe you'll figure out if you should register or not.

On a related note what you might want to do is create a "wish list" at a retailer that let's your family and friends know your gift preferences over the year. Creating a wish list may seem a bit less pushy than a registry, and it won't be tied into one event only.

Q: How should a new mom handle it when someone sends her a baby gift that she either already owns, comes in the wrong size or color or is hand-made, but hideous?

A: Regardless of whether a new mom receives a gift that she already owns, isn't quite right or is hand-made but hideous, she should always be gracious upon receiving the gift ("Thank you so much. This is so unexpected.") and she should always write a thank you note.

As far as the gift she already owns, if she's comfortable enough with the gift giver, she could say something like, "Oh my gosh, this is so perfect for me. In fact, it's so perfect that I just got another one last week." At that point she's dropped a subtle hint that she already has the item, and if the gift giver picks up on it, she may say something like, "Well, I've included a gift receipt so you can feel free to return it" or she could say something like, "Oh I had no idea. Why don't I take it back to the store and get you another one." But the gift recipient, the new mom, should NEVER suggest that the gift giver return it or do anything so she can get a brand new present.

However, that's not to say that the gift recipient can't attempt to return or exchange any items that she's received and which isn't quite right for her. But if she does, this isn't the kind of information that you should openly share in thank you note.

Finally, if you can't return or exchange a gift, you can always donate it to charity, such as the hand-made and hideous gift. If the gift won't bless your life, at least it might bless someone else's life. (Check out my newest venture, which offers information on donating "stuff" to good causes.)

Q: Is it ever appropriate to re-gift an unwanted, or unneeded present to somebody else?

A: I have no problem with regifting as long as you don't regift to the person that gave you the gift. In order to avoid doing this, I would suggest keeping a "gift log" (if you will) for your gift closet (where you keep gifts to give to others, including regifted items). Write down who gave you which gift and when and then when you regift, write down to whom you're giving the regifted gift and when. That way you can avoid having a gift come full circle.

Q: I am curious about what is considered a proper thank you from children when they receive gifts from close family members, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles. Traditionally, our family has phoned the relative (most of the time long-distance) to thank them for nominal gifts, such as Easter presents, Valentine's Day candies, etc; but the children have called and mailed written thank you notes for more significant occasions, such as birthdays and Christmas. Is this considered proper social etiquette? Also, when a child receives a gift, should the parent send a thank-you note to the gift giver as well, or is a written thank-you from the child sufficient?

A: At the risk of sounding like Paula Abdul on "American Idol," I'm just so proud of you! You're teaching your children a very valuable lesson in thanking people for gifts--both verbally and through written thank you notes--and I'm sure your children will grow up to be very well-mannered adults.

As far as HOW to thank people, while I prefer handwritten thank-you notes for all gifts received for any occasion, I'll admit that I let my kids slide when it comes to second-tier gift-giving occasions, such as Easter. As long as they thank their grandparents or uncle in person or with a phone call, that's good enough for me. However, for birthdays and Christmas, we always set aside time to write thank-you notes. The kids may not like it, but I believe it's an important skill to learn.

When my girls were really little and couldn't talk, I would write the thank-you note on their behalf. However, I never adopted the first person baby speak that some parents do when writing notes on their kids behalf. That's always been a bit too hokey for my taste. Once my girls could talk and we needed to write a thank you note, I would ask them what they wanted to say to the person in thanking them, and then I would write down what they said (bad grammar and all to make the notes genuine). Then I would have them attempt to sign their name in crayon. Sometimes they would even draw a picture on the note. Now that my girls are old enough to write, they write their own notes. True, these notes are often short and sweet--Dear Grandma, Thank you for the stuffed bear. I love it. Love, Jane--but they get the job done.

And don't give yourself extra work by feeling as if YOU need to thank someone who gave your child a gift, even though your child already did the thanking. One note from the recipient (your child) is sufficient.

Q: Someone gave us a really unusual wedding gift that, truth be told, I don't like very much. Twice I have gone to put it out in the garbage, but each time I started to feel guilty and then took it back. If I knew how to navigate eBay, I would sell it there. Nonetheless, since it was a wedding gift I find I am having trouble letting it go even though I really don't like it at all! What should I do?

A: There is nothing wrong with wanting to get rid of a wedding gift (or any gift, for that matter) that no longer brings you joy. With anything in your home, if you don't love it and use it, get rid of it. This includes gifts you've received over time.

Selling the piece on eBay is a good idea and you can still do that, even though you don't know how to do it yourself. That's because there are lots of places now that are like 21st century consignment shops that allow you to bring the stuff you no longer want to them and then THEY sell the things on eBay for you. Of course, they keep a percentage of the sale but you'll still make something off of it (assuming the item sells) and you don't have to do any of the legwork.


This book helps you to avoid a wedding-day disaster
How to plan a wedding for about $5,000
Get everything you need for a wedding on eBay.
Books on wedding planning, including gifts to buy the happy couple
Gifts and Etiquette
This book provides everyday etiquette advice.
Gift-giving advice for all occasions

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