I love giving gifts at the holidays, but it can present some sticky issues. What if somebody gives a gift to you when you weren’t expecting it? (And you’re not prepared with something to give in return). Who should you gift, and how? Here’s a little advice:

Prep a few “extra” gifts. It’s smart to stock up on multiples of a moderately-priced gift with universal appeal—fancy scented candles, bottles of local olive oil, boxes of chocolates—so that if somebody gives you a gift that you weren’t expecting you can reciprocate. Keep a wrapped one in your house and another in your car—you never know when they’ll come in handy, and if you have extra you can always use them as hostess gifts in the new year.

Organize gift exchanges for large groups. For any large group to which you belong (whether your extended family, your coworkers or your group of friends) it’s smart to draw names out of a hat so that everybody only has to buy a gift for one person in the group.  That way you can spend a bit more on one person but less overall, and really give something thoughtful.

Give a few “random acts of holiday kindness.” At the holidays, it feels important to share with others, especially those who aren’t expecting it. Consider giving little gifts (or just a card) to the friendly barista who frequently whips up your morning coffee, the person at the UPS store who helps you send off packages to distant relatives, or somebody like a toll collector or bus driver who you encounter on a morning commute.

Don’t blow your budget. Being generous at the holidays shouldn’t mean depleting your bank account. It truly is the thought that counts, and less expensive but thoughtful gifts can mean just as much or more than pricey ones. You can bake cookies, cakes or other homemade treats to give as gifts, or create “gift certificates” that offer your services for pet sitting, babysitting, giving rides to doctor’s appointments, or whatever you think a friend might need from you in 2015.


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