When Carrie Aulenbacher turned 40, she didn’t want a big party. Instead, she opted for a cake from her husband and an afternoon visit from her mother and father.

Secondhand gifts are standard practice in Aulenbacher’s family, but what she unwrapped was far beyond what she expected: a late 1970s palm-sized emergency sewing kit, a dozen plastic icicles and a broken plastic bead organizer, all presented in a cracked plastic tote.

“I was happy it wasn’t a gag gift,” Aulenbacher says. “But these from my own mother to her daughter on my 40th birthday left me speechless.”

Giving secondhand gifts: Tacky or tasteful?

Consumers will spend an average of about $1,007 this holiday season, with over 60 percent of that being spent on gifts, according to the National Retail Federation. Meanwhile, a recent Bankrate survey finds that 16 percent of Americans would give used or secondhand gifts to save money.

But is regifting to cut back on costs poor etiquette?

Whether giving a secondhand gift is tasteful depends on the way it’s gifted. Jennifer Porter, a manners teacher and etiquette coach in Seattle, is an advocate for properly regifting.

“Gift giving is a gesture that should be celebrated,” Porter says. “It should be as fun for the giver as the receiver. Gifting is about sharing a little bit of yourself and passing it along. Regifting is a great way to share that.”

Tips for those thinking of giving secondhand gifts this year:

Aulenbacher’s situation wasn’t the proper way to give secondhand gifts, but she decided not to confront her mother over the matter. Thankfully, situations like Aulenbacher’s can be prevented.

“With a little bit of thought and care, gifting is appropriate,” Porter says. “And if someone notices, there are ways you can handle the situation delicately.”

If you’re considering giving secondhand gifts this year, follow Porter’s tips to avoid any awkward situations.

Keep the gift in its original packaging: Presentation is key. Porter says if you opened an item and realized you don’t like it, that’s not an eligible item to regift. Consider donating open items instead.

Take the time to rewrap the gift: “It’ll make you feel better as someone who is regifting, if there’s some guilt involved.”

Don’t give the gift to someone related to the person who initially gave it to you: This would be the worst-case scenario where feelings would likely be hurt, so just avoid it entirely.

If someone notices you regifting something they gave to you, Porter says being honest is the best way to diffuse the situation.

“Express your gratitude of the gift, but explain that you weren’t able to use it so you decided to pass it along,” Porter says.

Don’t regift junk: Porter says a good gift should be thoughtful and given with good intention.

Giving secondhand gifts doesn’t have to bring embarrassment or guilt to the gift giver, Porter says. If the thought does bring guilt, consider giving something unique and inexpensive instead.

“A nice card or a batch of cookies works great,” Porter says. “Gifting should be a joyous thing. It’s not just about what you’re giving someone, but also about the thought behind it.”


Kelly Anne Smith writes for Bankrate.com.