10 Gift-Giving Mistakes to Avoid in 2020

Advertising Disclosure: When you buy something by clicking links on our site, we may earn a small commission, but it never affects the products or services we recommend.

Upset women opening a bad gift
PR Image Factory / Shutterstock.com

Welcome to the season of gift-giving! And after the year we’ve all had, who couldn’t use a wonderful surprise or two?

But before you start wrapping, take a moment to explore the art and science of picking proper presents.

From poor presentation to surprise pets, avoid these gift-giving gaffes.

1. Over-gifting

Man holding holiday gifts
CarlosDavid / Shutterstock.com

Giving gifts that are too expensive not only strains your holiday budget, it can make the recipient feel uncomfortable.

Giving is not a competitive sport. Fight the notion that higher price always means deeper appreciation. However humble, a carefully chosen gift that reflects the recipient’s personality and interests is impressive enough.

On a strict budget and struggling to find the perfect present? Explore “11 Gifts Under $25 to Make the Holidays More Affordable.”

2. Buying based on your own interests

Woman upset about receiving a golf club as a gift
Sean Locke Photography / Shutterstock.com

Confession time: My interests and hobbies are all-consuming. And in my eagerness to share them with others, I’ve made a few gift-giving blunders.

Before you buy, do a quick ego check. Does the gift truly reflect the personality and lifestyle of the recipient, or is more about your love of soap-making, container gardening, Civil War history, or whatever? Keep gift-buying altruistic. Choose items that speak to the personalities of those you love.

3. Crossing personal boundaries

Man upset after receiving a bad gift
tommaso79 / Shutterstock.com

Certain gift categories push the boundaries of appropriateness. Underwear, body lotion, pajamas and other intimate items should be reserved for your significant other. You’ll save yourself — and the recipient — a few awkward holiday moments.

In a last-minute gift-giving pinch? Imported chocolate, a gift card to a local independent business, or a selection of good coffees and teas are much safer choices.

For more ideas, check out “10 Gift Shopping Tips for Procrastinators.”

4. Donating to the charity of your choice

Stuffed panda bear with holiday gifts
BeeBen14 / Shutterstock.com

The world needs more socially conscious giving, but if you’re donating on behalf of someone else, follow two simple rules:

  1. Choose a cause that’s close to the recipient’s heart, not necessarily yours.
  2. Add a simple token to the gift — a T-shirt, coffee mug, or other physical symbol of the monetary support.

Not sure where to begin? Charity Navigator makes research easy by evaluating charitable organizations based on fiscal health, accountability and transparency.

5. Ignoring presentation

Pressmaster / Shutterstock.com

Details matter. According to editors at Town & Country, ignoring presentation is bad gift-giving etiquette.

Remember, exchanging presents with friends and family should be an event. Take a few extra moments to neatly wrap a gift, add a hand-tied bow, and fill out a gift tag. Not only will it make the experience richer, it’ll add a bit of grandeur to even the simplest gift.

6. Giving blindly

Woman upset about receiving a bad gift
pixelrain / Shutterstock.com

Especially between adults, not every gift has to be a surprise. According to Psychology Today, if there’s someone notoriously hard-to-buy-for on your list, asking a few questions is better than buying blindly.

Start by asking if the person prefers gifts that are practical or fun. Then, a few general questions about hobbies, favorite foods, or taste in music or books will set you in the right direction. Let the surprise be in details — color, added features, unique details — not in the gift itself.

7. Giving promotional swag

Boss giving a gift to an employee
Dmytro Zinkevych / Shutterstock.com

Business owners, items featuring your corporate logo aren’t really gifts; they’re promotional swag. According to Diane Gottsman, an expert on business etiquette and owner of The Protocol School of Texas, most employees and clients don’t want gifts covered in logos.

Instead, choose items that are universally appealing (think gift cards or custom gift baskets), will be used throughout the year, and reflect the true value the recipient brings to your organization.

8. Regifting

Women upset about regifted presents
ByDoerr Martin Frommherz / Shutterstock.com

Thinking about regifting? Ho-ho-hold on. While it may feel like the smart and frugal choice, regifting is rarely a good idea. Remember, the world is surprisingly small and social circles overlap in unexpected ways. Regifting puts you at risk of offending two people — the original gift-giver and the new recipient.

When it’s time to give a gift, put your recycling instincts on hold. Meanwhile, discreetly donate those unwanted presents to a charity shop in a neighboring town or county.

9. Giving novelty gifts

Upset man cringes at a bad gift
Khosro / Shutterstock.com

This one’s for the guys. When men buy gifts for other men, there’s a tendency to avoid any awkward emotional moments. Instead of putting thought and care into choosing the right gift, guys gravitate toward novelty gifts that will inspire a laugh instead of a hug.

Of course, I’m generalizing. Still, it’s important to be aware of the cultural influences that shape how men interact with each other. Guys, reserve gag gifts for white elephant parties. Take a risk. Hugs happen.

10. Gifting a surprise pet

Dog next to a gift
Kristina Igumnova26 / Shutterstock.com

I’m all for giving our furry friends forever homes, but trying to acclimate a pet to its new environment during the holidays is a recipe for disaster. These well-intentioned but misguided gifts are the main reason animal shelters see post-holiday spikes in the numbers of surrendered animals.

Don’t gift a pet unless the recipient can be involved in the selection process and is fully prepared for the 10- to 20-year commitment. Then, adopt — don’t shop — for that new four-legged friend.

Get smarter with your money!

Want the best money-news and tips to help you make more and spend less? Then sign up for the free Money Talks Newsletter to receive daily updates of personal finance news and advice, delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for our free newsletter today.