Everyone loves a good celebration—friends, cocktails, and maybe even some live entertainment if you’re lucky. But there’s one element of any party that’s known to cause universal dread and second-guessing: gift giving.

We can all remember someone who’s been at the center of an epic gift-giving disaster. Whether it’s a birthday, holiday, or special milestone, gift giving is a delicate art. Thankfully, we’re here to help you avoid some major embarrassment at the next holiday party like giving your boss a Management for Dummies book.


First, birthdays. If the party’s at a restaurant, keep the gift small—your friend won’t want to lug a cast iron skillet back to their place at the end of the night. Instead, buying dinner or drinks is always a solid option.1 Worried about not spending enough? Jung Lee, co-founder of the event planning firm Fête, believes that “giving a meaningful, thoughtful gift is more important than how much you spend.”2


Next up? Special milestones. These days, registries make weddings and bridal showers a breeze. So, go with your gut. There’s no need to buy a Dyson V7 Absolute Cordless vacuum for your old acquaintance from college, but if it’s someone you’re close with, spending a little extra is probably a good idea. The exact amount you spend depends on your closeness with the couple. According to FiveThirtyEight, the mean spending for an immediate family member is $147. Extended family dropped to $71, and friendship ranged from $50-$82 depending on the relationship. And speaking of money, 94% of respondents to a SurveyMonkey Audience survey said that cash was a perfectly acceptable wedding gift.3 So, if it’s the day of the wedding and you realize you haven’t picked up a gift, head straight to the ATM.


Last but not least, the holidays. The best way to approach the holidays is to make a “gift list” and review it annually. There are no rules as to who can be on this list―it could range from your best friend to your mailman. Just include anyone in your life for whom you’d even consider buying a gift. Think about things like how your relationship with this person has evolved, how frequently you’ve kept in touch, and whether or not you exchanged gifts for special occasions throughout the year.4 For those who don’t pass the test, send a personalized holiday card. This way, they’ll know you’re thinking about them.

There are no rules as to who can be on this list―it could range from your best friend to your mailman.

Attending a holiday party? If it’s at someone’s home, you should always bring a gift for the host. Wine, cookies, or holiday decorations are perfect go-tos.5 If you are hosting a party, a fun way to help your guests avoid the gift-or-no-gift conundrum is the White Elephant gift exchange. Here’s how it works: each participant brings a wrapped, unmarked gift. Guests are randomly given numbers, and they select gifts in that order. The twist is that after the first person chooses their gift and opens it, the second person has the option to “steal” the first person’s gift, and the game continues this way.6 This is a great way to celebrate without having to buy presents for everyone at the gathering. Plus, it’s perfectly acceptable to bring a Ring Pop as a gift to these things.

With all of that said, it really is the thought that counts. Just knowing someone thought of you will undoubtedly make you smile, even if the gift is a White Castle Candle. And hey—if the gift’s that terrible, there’s always Ebay.


Take the party location into account

Remember to check the registry

Spend more on those closest to you