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Answer Angel

Should you wrap up a receipt with that gift?

It's the time for gift-giving quandaries. Fear not, Answer Angel Ellen swoops in with some timely solutions.

Ellen Warren

December 13, 2013

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Dear Answer Angel Ellen: When giving a present, is it tacky to include a gift receipt, or is it thoughtful? What if you bought the present supercheap at some cheapo store, and you want the recipient to think you paid full price or at least shopped at a full-price store? What if someone gives you something, and you want to ask for a gift receipt to return it? Is that too tacky? What if someone asks you where you got it, and it was some bargain place, and you don't want the person to know, but if you lie and it's returned to Macy's, say, you will be found out?

— Secret Cheapster

Dear Cheapster: That's a lot of really good questions, and several directly apply to us bargain gifters! If I gave somebody a heavily discounted gift from a cheapo store and the recipient asked for a receipt, I'd think that was way out of line and I'd lie and say I bought it on vacation and don't remember the name. No receipt. So sorry. However, if I paid full price at a decent store (what are the chances of that?), I definitely would include a gift receipt. Why not? But don't do what I'd do (at least, not in this case).

To find out the right way to handle these issues, I contacted not one but two great-great-grandchildren of the late doyenne of good behavior Emily Post. Daniel Post Senning says, "Deception is never good etiquette." So, scratch the part about lying about that vacation purchase. As for asking for a receipt so you can return a gift you received? Anna Post says, "It's not necessarily tacky," but it should be limited to people you know well. On the issue of including a gift receipt with the bargain gift you're giving and your fear that you'll look like a cheapskate, Senning says the cliche is right: It's the thought that counts. So, he says, "Getting overly concerned about the cost or representing that the cost is more than it is is never good practice." Both Post and Senning say including the gift receipt is thoughtful and nice — but not required. They've convinced me. I am putting a gift receipt in all my packages this year. It seems like the decent thing to do, and if my friends and family find out I'm chintzy — I mean a bargain shopper — so be it. (P.S. They already know.)

Dear Answer Angel Ellen: I supervise three people — all women. Two of them are in their 30s with husbands and children; one is a grandmother in her 60s. Every year I wrestle with what to get them as a Christmas gift. Among the gifts I have given them are: plants, boxes of candy, Christmas hand towels, Christmas necklaces and earrings, calendars, candles, Christmas dishes for appetizers, and I always feel the gifts fall short. Can you recommend something in the $25 to 30 range? (By the way, this comes out of my pocket — my employer doesn't give me a budget for this.) I really don't want to give them gift certificates.

— Nancy

Dear Nancy: This is such a common problem with office gifting. You don't want to give boring, ho-hum stuff, and they don't want to get it (even if it is the thought that counts). And before you know it, you've blown $75 (of your own money, you good woman) on three gifts that give no one even the remotest kind of a thrill. How about something just a little festive that doesn't involve a Christmas theme? I took a spin through one of my favorite online museum stores, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (mcachicago.org), clicked the button for "under $25" and found dozens of options that could work for your co-workers. A "cat purse hook" ($17.95), so you can keep your handbag nearby at the restaurant, a whimsical "hot man trivet" ($20) shaped like a prone man or my personal favorite (and you can't beat the price: $5.95), a fun "blinking ring" to wear to a party, let the kids play with or napkin rings if you buy multiples. Museums across the country have similar unusual and reasonably priced gift offerings. Enjoy browsing. I guarantee you'll have trouble making up your mind.

Dear Answer Angel Ellen: Living in a warm year-round climate, I still feel weird wearing white, sandals, island-y apparel, etc. after Labor Day. What do you suggest for staying comfortable but also stylish?

— Pamela

Dear Pamela: Forget the idea that you can't wear white after Labor Day. It is the thing all year long now, even in cold climates (with chunky sweaters, boots and the like). Where you live, I can't think of a single reason not to dress for the climate — including sandals and "island-y apparel." Put a Hawaiian shirt on your inflatable Santa and aloha ho ho ho!

Angelic readers

To the reader who asked for advice on eliminating under-eye bags, JoAnn writes, "Most hemorrhoid creams work, they shrink tissue. Go with the creams not the ointments. Apply under (not in) your eyes. It also helps if you stay away from salt."

Reader rant

Is it ever appropriate to go sleeveless in the office? A slender woman wore a sleeveless blouse to work. Our office is not casual, or even business casual, and some women go sleeveless year-round. They also don't wear socks or hose. These "scantily clad" women are the same ones who complain that the office is too cold. Am I just jealous that these women are fit enough to get away with this? This dressing seems most inappropriate for a workplace like mine.

— N.M.

Dear N.M.: If sleeveless tops and bare legs are your only objections to your office mates' attire, consider yourself lucky. How about the proliferation of ridiculous show-your-underwear-when-sitting-down skirts, strapless dresses, X-rated cleavage and cheesy rubber flip-flops. I've seen all of those and worse at work. It's not your job to tell the offenders to cover up, by the way. If you're offended, drop that issue in your boss's lap, and let her deal with it and the ensuing dirty looks.

Shop, drop, then get help

Send your rants and questions — on style, shopping, fashion, beauty and makeup — to answerangel@tribune.com.