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Today's column & open thread on budget gifts

Posted by Robin Abrahams  July 28, 2013 04:47 PM

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Today's column is online here. I advise two good-hearted locals who are struggling with questions of shower and birthday gift-giving etiquette. T.P. from Boston wrote:

How should I word the invitation for my son's sixth birthday? We usually ask guests to do a book exchange in lieu of a gift. I always have gift-wrapped extra books on hand. Where does this fall on the rudeness scale? Between two kids we end up spending hundreds on gifts, mostly for kids we hardly even know.

I suggested the following, and invite you to give your ideas as well--

T.P., requests for no gifts or alternate gifts should, first and foremost, be clear. "Instead of a present, bring a book to swap!" is clear. "Please, no gifts unless you feel moved to make a donation to the Worthy Child Charity" is passive-aggressive and leaves everyone feeling confused. Keeping extra books on hand for those who forget or don't like what's on offer is a sweet idea, but why gift-wrap books that are meant to be swapped? Now that the kids are old enough to read, they might like to see the titles.

Also, while I don't have children myself, I strongly suspect that you can cut back on the amount that you spend on presents for O.P.K. (Other People's Kids) without suffering social sanction. I will have an open thread on my blog for parents who want to share economical gift ideas--see what other readers suggest for you!

What do you think, dear readers?

(For more musings on the difficulties of 21st-century gift-giving, along with a few solutions, check out my Perspectives Essay, "When Everyone Has Everything," from last September: "Giving gifts serves symbolic functions--cementing relationships, celebrating life transitions--as well as the practical one of providing people with stuff they need. And this is at the crux of today's etiquette dilemmas: For the first time ever, most of us have too much stuff and not enough money.")

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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