Updated on 10.20.09

Ethical Frugality Week: Regifting

Trent Hamm

This is the final entry in a weeklong series of articles on the ethics of frugality. How far can you take things without crossing an ethical line or diving into seriously socially unacceptable waters? I’ll be recounting some of my own stories – and some stories from readers – along the way.

“Mindy” writes in:

My husband and I received a panini press as a wedding gift from his aunt. After opening it and looking at it, it appeared as though the press had actually been used already. There seemed to be a thin film of grease on the plates of the press and the packing was pretty messed up. My husband argued that his aunt probably did it because she thought we would actually like it and she already had one on hand. I thought it was really rude and kind of gross. Please don’t tell me you think this is an acceptable way to save money.

The first question raised here is whether a re-gift is appropriate at all. If someone gives you a gift, is it appropriate to keep it and then gift it to someone else? If it is, is it appropriate to use the item before re-gifting it? In other words, is it appropriate to gift someone a used item?

Let’s break it down into the three separate arguments.

Regifts are tactless. Someone gave you a gift because they thought you would appreciate it. If you simply use it as a way to get out of having to buy a gift for someone else, you’re taking the care and thought someone put into the item for you originally and tossing it out the door. If you absolutely must refuse a gift, do it quietly and tactfully by returning it and not making an issue out of it. After all, if you found it useless, why would someone else find it to be a great gift?

Regifts are fine if they’re never used. Sometimes we wind up with duplicate or redundant items or gifts that simply don’t match some aspect of our lives. That doesn’t necessarily mean the item isn’t useful or isn’t a good gift – it just doesn’t match your situation. In that case, regifting is a great way to take that item and breathe new life into it by passing it on to someone who will find value in it.

Used regifts are fine. Sometimes, you have an item in your home that’s superceded by something else. For example, perhaps you get a knife set and find that you mostly just use the chef’s knife (this often happens), then someone buys you a very expensive chef’s knife. That knife set now sits there unused, but it’s a perfectly good knife set, perfect for a friend or family member. So why not wrap it up and give it to them as a gift?

My take? I’m with the middle road on this one. I have no problem with regifts as long as the regift is an item that you received that you genuinely have no use for but can genuinely see that someone else might have a use for. In this case, it does honor the original gift, as someone thought of you and purchased an item that you would actually use – and you do use something already that fills that niche in your life – so you’re passing the gift along to someone who also might genuinely use it. The thought and care and goodwill of the item is intact.

What about used items? If you have an item in your home that you no longer use and think someone else might use it, just give it to that person without the pretense of a gift-giving occasion. If you don’t have anyone to give it to, sell it in a yard sale situation or give it away to a goodwill store.

If you do choose to re-gift used items, you should be aware that the recipient will likely feel as Mindy does – that the gift was simply something you had lying around the house that you could box up to get out of any responsibility for having to think of or buy a gift. In other words, they may feel some serious disrespect.

One thing I think we can all agree on: it’s pretty foul to regift something that you’ve used and not bothered to properly clean. It’s practically the equivalent of dropping some leftover food into a box, wrapping it up, and presenting it as a great gift. If you fall on the side of re-gifting used things, at the very least, you really should clean them well.