The LearnVest team has celebrated a lot of birthdays recently, so we'll be the first to admit that the cost of gifts really adds up. A lot of us are aching to know: Which friends do you actually have to buy gifts for? When is a simple celebratory drink okay? Is your mere presence ever enough?
There's no need to pull a no-show to your friend's party in order to get out of the gift-giving obligation. We sought the expert opinion of Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, one of the nation's leading experts on etiquette.
LV: Is it appropriate to vary how much you spend on a gift by your relationship to the person? After all, we imagine that the guy you've been dating for three years might feel let down by only receiving a simple birthday card instead of a gift...whereas your old college roommate whom you don't speak to very often might think it's the sweetest thing ever.
The Emily Post Institute disagrees. The cost of a gift should never be what's important, especially in these economic times. Getting the perfect gift for someone has nothing to do with how much you spend. Lizzie says, "Don’t overlook the simple things in life. Words are free but the sentiment behind them can be everlasting." She likes sending a handwritten card via snail mail. This is true for everyone, including your significant other. “My boyfriend and I have been together for over two years. When we first started dating, our gifts were more expensive. But now that we are homeowners, the gifts have become less elaborate and more from the heart. This year for his birthday I made him a card and he loved it." If you are the creative type, opt for colored pencils, glue, and paper to make the card that much more heartfelt.
LV: If a friend invites you to her friend's party, do you have to bring a gift for the girl you don't really know?
Lizzie warns us that the first thing your friend should do is to make sure with the host that it is okay to bring uninvited guests. It's a common mistake to assume that it’s okay to bring a friend whose name wasn’t on the list. If the host of the party is okay with your attending, then the best way to show appreciation and acknowledge their birthday is to bring a host/hostess gift. This could be as small as a coaster set or flowers in a small vase. When giving a gift in this situation, you should be looking to purchase small tokens of appreciation that should fall under gifts for home entertainment.
LV: When is it okay to buy someone a celebratory drink instead of an actual gift? Is that cool for peripheral friends but not close friends? Is that any more acceptable for guys than for girls, or is it gender-neutral?
According to the Emily Post Institute, a drink should never be a substitute for a birthday gift (regardless of gender). Not everyone celebrates with alcohol so rather than assume it’s just better to give a tangible gift rather than a Corona with lime.
LV: If you're going to someone's house party, is it okay to bring a bottle of wine as a gift, or should you buy an actual traditional gift?
It’s a great gift to bring a bottle of wine to a house party. One thing that the gift-giver needs to remember, however, is that the bottle of wine is a gift and might not be opened during the course of the evening. Post reminds us that a host puts in the effort to plan a party, and your choice of wine may not complement what she had originally sought out to do. Don’t take it personally if the bottle is not opened during the party. This advice goes for any food item that you may decide to bring.
LV: If you and your significant other are friends with the same person, is it okay to buy a gift from both of you instead of two gifts? Is there a measure of how close each of you is to the birthday person for that to be--or not to be--acceptable? If you're buying a joint gift, does that affect how much you should each person spend? If you'd spend $30 alone, do you have to spend $60 together? Or is $40 okay?
The Emily Post Institute thinks that it’s a great idea to partner up and give a gift. This idea does not just have to pertain to couples. Good friends can get together and partner/team up and pool their money together to get one big gift for someone. Lizzie's friend just celebrated a birthday and several family members and friends teamed up to purchase one big gift. What each person is to contribute to the gift has be decided between those individuals. The main factor that should go into how much you give towards the gift is your budget and what you are comfortable giving.
Other Inexpensive Birthday Gift Ideas?
Not everyone can be a top chef, but Betty Crocker counts, too. Baking cookies, cakes, brownies or any other sweet baked good is an excellent way to celebrate a birthday and a fantastic gift idea. One of Lizzie's favorite gifts to give is a selection of recipe cards: Research the person's favorite food recipes online. Write them down on index 3 x 5 cards. Research a place near you, like Staples, that does lamination and get your recipe cards laminated. It will preserve them if they accidentally fall inside the mixing bowl.