Mister Manners: How to navigate gift receipts, regifting, and more tricky holiday etiquette questions

Thomas Farley.

Thomas Farley, aka Mister Manners, knows that holiday giving can be fraught: You could accidentally spend too much, or too little, or regift something to the person who originally bought it for you.

No need to panic, says the etiquette expert, whose clients range from JPMorgan Chase to the United States Army.

One of Farley's top tips: You can make almost any gift feel special by presenting it with a heartfelt note or in-person explanation of why you thought they would enjoy that particular item.

"People love gifts that have a backstory," he explains. "And to be able to have a backstory to your gift, that's a real winner gift, providing that it's something that you know they would truly love and enjoy."

Mister Manners provides tips for proper gift-giving etiquette

Video by Courtney Stith

Here are Farley's answers to some of the season's most common etiquette questions around gifting.

What do you do if someone buys you a more expensive gift than you got them?

That's terrific, up to a point. If someone gives you something excessively priced, there needs to be a conversation where you say, "This is lovely, I so appreciate your gesture, [but] I simply can't accept something so extravagant."

If they've outspent you by 20 or 30 or 40 dollars because they can, I would be profusely thankful. I would make sure to send them a thank you note. But I would not feel in any way that the gift I was giving, providing it was thoughtful, was inferior.

What's a tactful way to ask for a receipt to return a gift?

I think that the gift giver, providing that you know they really love the gift, wants to make sure that it fits you: your body, your decor, or that you don't have something identical already. So if any of those are the case, I think it's completely fine to ask for a gift receipt. And then offering them a follow-up explanation: "I love it, but I have that color already. I'd love to get that same identical shirt in a different color."

As the giver, I think it's a thoughtful gesture to make sure you provide a receipt so that that awkward exchange doesn't need to happen.

Regifting can get tricky. Are there best practices I can follow?

I'm actually a big advocate for regifting, I think, both for the environment and in terms of reducing the amount of clutter that we all have in our lives. With some conditions: You want to make sure it is in fresh, clean, original packaging, that you've removed the gift tags, and that this is something your gift recipient will truly love.

Make sure that the two individuals do not know one another. You don't want the original giver to see it in the home of the person you've just given it to. "You can say, John, I got this coffee table book, which I do like quite a lot, but knowing that you're a huge fan of Palm Springs, I think this might be something that you'd truly enjoy, and I'd like to give it to you if you'd like to have it."

So you're not trying to make up a story or make up a ruse about where you got the book, but rather you're owning up to the fact that this is a regift.

What should you bring if you're staying with someone during the holidays?

If you're coming in from out of town and staying with a family for a series of days or even weeks, I love the thought of bringing small, thoughtful gifts for each of the children that reflect their interests.

By the same token, if you are coming for a dinner party or a small festive occasion, unless you are related or unless your friends' children call you aunt or uncle, because you're just so close to the family, I wouldn't worry terribly much about having a gift for all the children. That's a lot of gifts to be buying, especially if you're going to a lot of parties.

This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

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