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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

Going Broke Over Birthdays? How to Survive Gifting at Your Office

A baby shower gift for your co-worker, lunch on you for an office buddy’s birthday, a great Christmas present for your boss—when it comes to office gifting, it can easily seem like you’re spending more money on your co-workers than you are on yourself. Gift-giving is a part of many office cultures, but what if you’re on a budget—or just plain gifted out?

I’m here to tell you that gift-giving doesn’t have to break the bank—and it might even be good for your career. Here are a few ideas to consider for your office celebrations.

What’s In It for Me?

For starters, you’re probably wondering how buying yet another baby onesie or set of his-and-hers bath towels is really going to help your career. Simple—it shows that you understand the office culture and you want to be part of the team. Think of it as a small investment in your professional reputation. Participating in office parties and celebrations is a great chance to show your boss and co-workers that you’re a thoughtful, friendly person with great social skills—all factors that can work in your favor the next time you ask for a promotion or a raise.

Consider Group Gifting

Okay, so I promised that gifts for your co-workers don’t have to put a serious dent in your wallet. But, what’s girl to do when she’s invited to an office bridal shower, only to realize that everything on the bride-to-be’s registry is $50 or more?

One option that lets you save money and still give a great gift is group gifting. Round up a few other budget-minded co-workers and ask them to contribute $15 or $20. Before you know it, you’ll have funds for the perfect gift—without sacrificing a week’s worth of grocery money.

If you’re organizing a group gift, you’ll want to keep a few tips in mind. First, make sure everyone who contributes gets a chance to sign the card. (You want to give credit where credit is due.) Also, remember to collect the money before you buy the gift. That way, you’re not left holding the tab for an expensive present if other co-workers back out at the last minute.

Get Creative

Group gift not an option? Time to put your creative skills to work. A great way to create a memorable gift on the cheap is to combine something you’re purchased with something that you’ve made. For example, a baking pan packaged with a few cookie cutters and your best chocolate-chip cookie recipe makes a great gift for any treat-loving birthday girl. Need a going-away present for your co-worker’s last day? Combine her favorite snacks and a few packets of instant coffee in a new mug (or, even better, a mug customized with her favorite saying or a photo of the office crew). Every time she reaches for sip, she’ll fondly remember all the awesome co-workers (a.k.a. you) at her old gig.

And one final tip for gifting on a budget—don’t neglect the presentation. Spending a few bucks at the dollar store on cute ribbons and wrapping paper can take a gift from so-so to Martha Stewart-worthy before you know it.

(Kindly) Opt Out

Of course, no matter what your budget, there may still be times when you want to abstain. Maybe you don’t know the person well, or, well, maybe you just can’t bring yourself to spend your hard-earned dollars on one more pair of tiny baby shoes.

If you don’t want to contribute a gift, you have a couple of options. If the party is taking place after work, for example, you can decline (and thus, opt out of the gift-giving requirement altogether) by claiming to have previous plans. (And yes, it’s totally okay if those plans only involve watching episodes of Gossip Girl in your pajamas).

But sometimes, attendance at office celebrations is pretty much mandatory, especially if the party is held during the workday. If this is the case, honesty is usually the best policy. Saying, “My budget’s a little tight this month, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate!” then pulling out a thoughtful card and a plate of delicious cookies can help smooth over any awkward moments.

When Gifting Goes Too Far

All this said, if office gift-giving gets totally out of control, it could be time to bring up the subject with your boss. As with any work issue, you’ll want to stay positive and come prepared with a few solutions. For example, you could say, “I love that we have such a tight-knit office, but chipping in for multiple birthday presents every month is really putting a strain on my finances, and I imagine that others might feel the same. Instead of buying gifts, what if we threw a pot-luck or each contributed just a few dollars for a birthday cake?”

The bottom line is that, with a little creativity, office gift-giving can be affordable, and even fun. So consider the benefits (not to mention the good karma) that comes from participating in office events and traditions, and remember that there are plenty of ways to celebrate without blowing your budget.

Photo of woman giving gift courtesy of Shutterstock.