Mistakes are a part of life.  But mistakes aren’t always a bad thing; making mistakes is often how we learn important lessons. Of course, it doesn’t always feel that way in the moment. When you make a mistake, you can feel guilty, defensive, or embarrassed. And there’s an extra jab, if you’ve made a mistake while you were trying to do something nice. It feels like a double whammy: not only did you not do the nice thing you intended to do, but you’ve actually made things worse than if you had done nothing at all.

For example, many of us have made mistakes in choosing and giving gifts. It can be awkward and uncomfortable. Even worse, gifts are supposed to help strengthen our relationships. But making a gifting mistake can sometimes damage a relationship.

Here are four common gifting mistakes and how you can avoid them.

The Excessive Gift

Giving a gift that is far too expensive often comes from a place of good intentions and generosity, but it can easily come back to bite you. Giving overly excessive or expensive gifts can actually create a negative reaction from the recipient. They may feel obligated to return the favor, but either don’t have the means to do so, or simply had other plans for that money.

An expensive gift can also cause confusion about the nature of the relationship, since expensive gifts are usually only exchanged among family or romantic partners. Plus, if the recipient generally lives a modest lifestyle, the expensive gift may actually be embarrassing for them. And now they have to decide between using or displaying a gift that is inconsistent with how they live their life, or refusing or returning a gift, which they may worry will be seen as rude.

How to Avoid it:

  1. If you have exchanged gifts with this person regularly, stick to roughly the amount you have spent in the past. Any dramatic changes in how much you spend can create an uncomfortable situation.
  2. If you are trying to purchase gifts for many people at once, make a budget, and stick to it. It’s not worth going into debt to send over-the-top gifts that may not be well-received.
  3. Make sure the gift is consistent with the type of relationship you have with the recipient and how well you know each other.

The Gift That’s Too Personal

Everyone has different boundaries of what’s too personal. Most people wouldn’t give anyone but their immediate family or romantic partners things like underwear or pajamas. But what about any clothing at all? Giving clothing as a gift is a minefield of possible ways to give offense, from getting sizes wrong, to being way off on style.

Things like bubble bath, lotions or other skin care products can also feel like an overstep. Not to mention the fact that they are products that people may have very specific preferences about, when it comes to fragrances or ingredients.

How to Avoid it:

With clothing, the best suggestion is just don’t do it, unless:

  1. It’s already well established in your relationship that clothes are an appropriate gift;
  2. You are absolutely certain of the correct sizes; and
  3. You know their style as well as you know your own.

If that’s not the case, but you’d still really like to give clothes, consider taking them shopping, instead of purchasing clothes for them. For other gifts, a good rule of thumb is to avoid gifts that go directly on someone’s body - i.e. soap, lotion, body oils or powders, etc.

The Gift that’s a Chore

Studies show that gift recipients prefer gifts that are more convenient and practical over gifts that require a lot of effort on their part. For example, gift recipients prefer a gift certificate to a good restaurant that is nearby over an excellent restaurant an hour away. So, think twice before buying someone a gift that requires them to DO something. This can be a gift card (which requires them to go shopping), or a physical item that requires assembly. But it could also be an experiential gift. Experiential gifts are very popular, but they can also require a significant time investment on the part of the recipient.

How to Avoid it:

If you’re choosing a gift that requires the recipient to spend time doing something, consider a couple of things:

  1. Is there some part of it that you could do for them? For example, if it’s furniture from IKEA, give them the gift itself, plus the gift of YOU putting it together for them.
  2. Is this something you are certain they want to spend time on? Popular experiential gifts like art or cooking classes can take up a lot of time. Before giving these as gifts, make sure the recipient has time for them and that this is how they would prefer to spend that time.

The Backhanded Gift

This one should really go without saying. But gifting someone a membership to a gym, a dieting cookbook, or a makeup tutorial is not a good idea. You may be coming from a truly well-intended place, but gifts that are about self-improvement in just about any area send the message that there is something wrong with the recipient that needs fixing. Instead of making them feel good and improving your relationship, they feel crappy and you come off as mean or controlling.

How to Avoid it:

Chances are good that you already know how a gift like a diet book or gym membership could make the recipient feel bad. The mistake is thinking that you know someone who is an exception to this general rule. Avoid this by simply never giving these kinds of gifts unless they have specifically asked for them.

Bonus Tip: Give People What They Want

It’s not necessarily a mistake, but more of a missed opportunity. If someone asks for something specifically, it’s because they want that exact thing. Don’t get cute trying to find something similar but (in your opinion) better. Just take the opportunity to give them exactly what they want. It may seem boring to you, but the recipient will truly appreciate it.

The Bottom Line

Giving a gift should be a great experience for the giver and the recipient. But mistakes can make it awkward and uncomfortable. Make sure that your gifts send the right message and strengthen your relationship by avoiding common gifting mistakes.