15 Times When You Really Should Bring a Gift

Gift giving can be awkward and the etiquette tricky to navigate. Close friends and family who are possibly gift-worthy don't tend to ask for gifts outright on the invite, and many times, you don't want to ask if you need to bring a gift, either! (See also: 9 Gifts to Give to the Neighbor You Like)

So here's our gift to you: a rundown of 15 semi-ambiguous instances when yes, you really should bring a gift.

1. First Visit to Someone's Home

When you're invited over to a person's home in a formal sense, whether it be a neighbor, colleague, or an acquaintance with whom you'd like to become friends, it's a good idea to bring something like flowers, a wreath, or a fruit basket.

2. Dinner Party

Find out what the menu is, and determine what item to bring. If you can't cook, a good bet is a bottle of wine, a pie, or an appetizer tray. If you're broke, offer to help clean up.

3. Funeral

This can be a sore spot. Funerals are so expensive that these days families set up donation funds, so ask if there is one. If not, send a care package of food, bring drinks to the wake, provide handkerchiefs, whatever feels right.

4. House Party

The older the host, the more important this is. No one likes a mooch, so be sure to bring a bottle of liquor, wine, a case of beer, or some snacks. The more party supplies there are, the longer the party can go!

5. First Business Meeting With New Client or Partner

This is especially true for international business meetings. Reserve this for when the contract is landed and signed. Once you have a working relationship, it's a good idea to send a card along with a bottle of champagne or get creative with something related to your services.

6. Father's Day

Everyone knows to get their mother something special on Mother's Day, but dads tend to get short shrift. If you have a good relationship with your father, send anything other than a card and a tie, like a fancy shave or a dinner at a steakhouse.

7. Housewarming

This one may be conventional wisdom, but now that fewer and fewer people can afford to buy homes, this can be a tough one for younger adults to master. Best bet: gift cards to places like Home Depot and Bed, Bath, and Beyond or freshly made food.

8. Wedding

You're likely already spending a lot to be at the wedding, but gifts are usually necessary. You will need to follow their lead. Some will ask for household items on Amazon, to donate to a charity, or for cash to put toward their honeymoon. Check their invite or wedding website for information.

9. Bridal Shower

The whole point is to "shower" a bride with gifts, right? Ask for the registry, or get a gift card. This is different from the bachelorette party, for which you generally do not need to buy a gift (unless specifically asked).

10. A New Baby

If a close friend or family member has a baby, you should send them a gift to celebrate. If they are extra close, you should get them something even if they don't have a registry. A Babies-R-Us gift card, a huge case of diapers, even a hand-me-down onesie is a huge help and appreciated.

11. Thanksgiving Dinner

Hosting Thanksgiving is a big undertaking! Many hosts try to do it all, and it can be hard for them to think of everything. Bring a homemade side dish, wine, dessert, appetizers, extra glasses, napkins, ice, whatever will help round out the menu and make the host's life easier.

12. Birthdays

There are some obvious milestones that warrant gifts, whether they are in the form of gestures or material things — especially 1st birthdays, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, quinceanera, 18th, and 21st. If someone you are not very close to has a birthday, buying them a coffee, cocktail, or lunch will do; and a card always works.

13. Graduation

If a nephew, niece, grandchild, or child of a significant other graduates elementary school, middle school, high school, or college, it's expected to give a gift. A copy of Oh, The Places You'll Go! will work if you don't know them very well, but usually a check, gift card, or a nice meal is a good way to celebrate their accomplishment.

14. Romantic Anniversary

Gender politics are pointless here — each person in the relationship should show a gesture of love on this day. Some jewelry, a nice dinner, a backrub, anything that the other person enjoys can be a reminder of your love.

15. Christmas

The biggest gift-giving day of all can be intimidating. You have a budget. How do you know who deserves a gift and who doesn't? If your workplace is having a gift exchange, one gift under $25 will suffice. Key relatives and best friends get presents. All other friends and neighbors? Your yearly holiday card will do just fine.

Any gift-giving opportunities missing from this list? When do you bear gifts?

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15 Times When You Really Should Bring a Gift

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Guest's picture

I don't actually expect or give gifts for *everything* on this list, I'll let you guess which to determine what kind of social pariah I am, ;) but I do gifts at need. When someone is having a really rough time and I know what will perk them up, or when someone is going through medical issues, I like to spend my gift money at those occasions more than the prescribed ones.

Amanda Meadows's picture

Revanche -- that is really kind! The moral is: be a good friend/family member no matter the occasion. We left off those moments of caring in need for this particular list because situations can be case by case and sometimes have family or friend politics involved.

Hopefully, there are a few people in your life who rarely have times of need or emergencies, and are shown that you care as well! :-)

Guest's picture

Don't agree with:
2) Dinner Party - Do you think you have to pay for dinner? Do you think your host can't provide suitable drink and dessert? Your obligation for attending a dinner party is a social one, not a material one. You need to invite your host to one of your parties. Isn't that more fun anyway?
3) Funeral - I wouldn't call what you bring a "gift" in the traditional sense. More like kindly help for the bereaved. Ask what you can do to help and take the load off of them.
4) House Party - See Dinner Party above.
11) Thanksgiving Dinner - See Dinner Party above. But, you might volunteer to help, and that might include making one of the dishes. I don't really consider that a "gift".

So, to summarize, you shouldn't be expected to pay for hospitality. Rather, you are obliged to return the hospitality in kind. This has the happy effect of promoting more festive events for you, your family, and friends!

Guest's picture

Hm. And here I was, inviting people over simply because I like their company....well, silly me. Guess I never realized that I should be doing it to get a return invitation. Seriously, where do you live where it's a requirement to reciprocate every time you go over to someone's home? Warn me, because I have to be prepared to start setting conditions for my friendships if I ever move there....what do you do, keep a tab of who came over and what they ate and whose turn it is next?

Guest's picture

I don't give "gifts" for Thanksgiving. I think bringing a dish is nice enough.

Amanda Meadows's picture

Totally. As I had described, a "gift" in that instance is anything that will help round out the menu or serve the food. In my house, we always run out of ice for the signature cocktail, so whoever brings ice to dinner is a hero!

Guest's picture

1, 4, and 7 seem the same event to me...definitely 1 and 7...