The average person spent upward of $800 on holiday gifts last year, according to the National Retail Federation. And if you shell out that much cash, you want the recipients of your gifts to be happy.

We grilled the experts on how you can score big. (Hint: You might want to go with a gift card rather than something super personal). Before you even think about shopping, check out some do’s and don’ts, which will guide you in the right direction.


Gift cards. To you, it may sound impersonal. To the receiver, it’s the perfect present. According to an NRF survey, 59 percent of people say they’d love to receive a gift card as a present — and this is the ninth year in a row that gift cards have topped the list of most requested items. Make sure, however, that the value of the gift card is in line with the prices on items in the store, says Lizzie Post, co-president of the Emily Post Institute. For example, don’t give a $25 gift card to a store where the majority of items cost significantly more.

Clothing and accessories. Just behind gift cards come clothing or clothing accessories as the most requested holiday gifts, according to the NRF survey, at 52 percent. But be careful with this one, said Sue Fox, author of “Etiquette for Dummies,” and founder of Etiquette Survival in California. “Unless you’re absolutely sure of the person’s tastes and size, purchase gift certificates or gift cards in lieu of clothing,” Fox said. “You may have perfectly good taste, but everyone’s preferences differ, and a gift card to a favorite shop may save the recipient from having to return the gift.”

Experience gifts. If you know what the person likes to do, these are better than material gifts, according to a study at the San Francisco State University, which found that those who receive experience gifts were satisfied with them longer than material gifts.

These could be anything from manicures to tickets to a local play, sporting event, concert or movie, Fox said.


Ties and socks. Unless they are really unique, like a fantastic bow tie (and in this case, he should be a fan of bow ties already), skip the ties, said Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert at The Protocol School of Palm Beach. Same goes for socks. “I went to Japan and found one-toe socks,” Whitmore said. “I gave a pair to my dog groomer, and she thought it was great because they don’t sell them over here and because they came from Japan.”

Perfume. You may love the scent, but it doesn’t mean that your friend will, Whitmore said, suggesting that you veer away from this category unless you know the bottle that your recipient wears. Scents are tricky and also a little too personal, which is why she also doesn’t recommend giving candles, body lotion or anything else that gives off a strong odor.

Vacuum cleaner. Your loved one may need a new one and may even be lusting after a specific model. But the holidays aren’t a time to wrap it up with a bow unless specifically requested, Whitmore said. “If my husband gave me a vacuum, I would have felt insulted,” she said. We all have to do chores, and these chores usually feel a tiny bit better if you’re doing them with nicer tools. But these would be best gifted another day or bought as random acts of kindness. The holidays are a time to splurge on something you might not necessarily need.


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