Guerrilla Guide to the Holidays: Holiday Etiquette

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As the holidays approach (just seven weeks away!), you’re only getting more prepared.

If you’ve been following our weekly Guerrilla Guide to the Holidays, you’ve already made your travel plans and selected the perfect gifts for everyone on your list.

And it’s only the first week of November.

Since you definitely don’t want to quit while you’re ahead, the next thing we’ll help you cross off your to-do list is . . . mastering holiday etiquette.

While it’s certainly a time of year to express appreciation, all those family visits and rites of gift-giving, whether with friends or coworkers, can also mean frayed nerves, stepped-on toes or general awkwardness.

But guess what? With a little preparation — and our guide to holiday etiquette — you can navigate the next few weeks with nothing but grace, gratitude and good cheer.

Handling Awkward Money Situations

Family and Money:

It’s the Murphy’s Law of Relationships: The people who love us most also have the greatest power to hurt our feelings. Combine the general sensitivity surrounding money issues with the kinds of probing questions that family members have a knack for asking, add a dose of holiday stress, and anyone can end up in an explosive situation.

But you can ward off fights with this simple, disarming tip: When someone inevitably asks, “When are you going to get a bigger house?” or “Why did you buy such an expensive purse?”, simply respond, “Thanks for your concern about my personal finances. You’ll be happy to know that I budget carefully and am in good control of my money, which is why I’m waiting to buy a bigger place/I was able to get this purse.” Then go back to eating your cookie.

Old Friends and Finances:

You come back home and want to see all of your best friends from high school—only now one makes three times what you do, while you know another just lost her job.

Here’s how to catch up with each, without letting money come between you.

If They Make More: Be the first to suggest activities—and nominate budget-friendly ones. It might mean meeting for pumpkin lattes (festive, yet inexpensive), taking a hike or spending a night cooking at home together. If she still prefers to do something pricey, simply say, “After buying gifts, that’s a bit beyond my budget this year,” and offer a similar idea within your means.

If You Make More: If you’re trying to figure out how to handle dates with friends who have less, it’s easy to reserve lower-budget activities, like a fun breakfast at your old favorite haunt, or an afternoon of tea and cookies, for them—and save a more expensive dinner out for friends with more room in their budgets.

Holiday Party Etiquette: Being the Perfect Guest

Always show up to holiday parties with a token of appreciation for the host. If you want to make it easy (and less expensive), buy a case of your favorite bottle of wine or champagne before party season starts and bring a bottle to each occasion. If you run out, you can always bake cookies or bring an appetizer.

After the event, send a thank you note. While a handwritten card, so rare nowadays, will feel like a special treat to the hostess, an email expressing your appreciation also does the trick. (For how to write a great thank you note, read this.)

Declining an Invitation

The holidays are a busy and stressful time for everyone, so don’t be afraid to turn down an invite. A simple no—“Thank you for the invitation, but I can’t make it. Have a wonderful time!”—works if you’re just too tired to go. If you have a real conflict, but want to show you care, offer to help prep the day before or invite your friend to do something else low-key on a night you’re both free. (And read this tip-filled post on freeing up more time for yourself.)

Office Holiday Etiquette: Giving Gifts to Coworkers

Choosing holiday gifts for others in the office is a nice gesture, but it does raise a lot of questions: Who to include? How much to spend? What is an appropriate gift? Use our chart below to navigate these tricky waters.

Who To Give or Not to Give? Budget
Boss Not Necessary. It’s fine to get a gift for your boss if you two are friendly. But because he or she likely makes more than you, don’t feel you need to give a gift that reflects his or her lifestyle. Go for something personal and thoughtful that shows your knowledge of what he or she likes or needs. $0-$20
Co-worker Depends. Giving small gifts to coworkers with whom you’re close is fine, but stick to simple choices: home-baked goods, an inexpensive bottle of wine, a Starbucks gift card, etc. $0-$15
Assistant Definitely. Your assistant, whether personal or shared by the office, should be thanked for making your life that much easier. Cash is best, though an American Express gift card or a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant or store also works. $25+
Intern Yes. If your interns made your life easier, and especially if they worked unpaid, they deserve a small thanks around the holidays. Treat them to lunch or buy the kinds of gifts that could be useful to any young professional, i.e. business card holders, a pivotal career book, or a letter of recommendation before she asks. $10-$15
Secret Santa Up to You. If your office is doing Secret Santas, don’t feel you have to participate. If anyone asks why you’re opting out, just say, “I have some big-ticket items on my shopping list this year, so unfortunately, being a Secret Santa isn’t in my budget.” If you do join in, choose gender-neutral gifts that anyone can use: a bottle of wine, a picture frame, a wall calendar, etc. Up to $15

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