Dec. 17, 2008— -- Barbara Bitela has a box reserved for vanilla-scented lotions, necklaces and white wine. They're the gifts people give her that the California resident has no use for – she doesn't like the smell of vanilla, she finds wearing jewelry around her neck uncomfortable and she rarely drinks white wine.
But Bitela doesn't let the gifts go to waste. When she's in a hurry and needs to find someone a Christmas or birthday gift, the box is the first place she looks.
Bitela is an avid regifter – someone who gives away presents that someone else gave to her. Bitela is such a fan of the practice that she wrote a book about it: "The Art of Regifting."
"Like many families, during the Christmas season, we get so many things we can't use, don't want or can't stand to have around the house," Bitela writes, "that we have resorted to this precious activity."
Given the recession and the financial pressures facing many consumers this year, when it comes to holiday gift-giving, more people might decide to follow Bitela's lead.
"I think people will be looking this year to be more creative on their gift giving because of all the issues that we have right now in the economy. People are just more welcome to ideas and ways that they can actually cut back in the holidays," said Tanisha Warner of Money Management International, a credit counseling agency. Two years ago, Money Management created Regiftable.com, a Web site dedicated exclusively to regifting.
"We're always looking for ways to give people tips during the holidays to save money. This was just one of the angles we wanted to use," Warner said.
Juan DeCaprio, 24, said he planned to regift for the first time this year because he's worried about losing his job. The Southern California man will give his mother, father and girlfriend presents that he receives from others, he said.
"I'm just trying to save as much as possible," DeCaprio said, "in case I'm next on the layoff list."
The recession notwithstanding, not everyone's in favor of regifting. Critics say that regifting, especially when done carelessly, is tasteless.
"I don't think just because the economy's bad, it gives you a reprieve to regift," said Lizzie Post of the Emily Post Institute. "Do homemade gifts, cut back on your list and let people know that you can't afford to gift this year."
Bitela said that one of her primary reasons for regifting is convenience – it saves her the hassle of driving to a store and waiting on line to return an unwanted item.
But she also said there's nothing wrong with saving money by regifting, as long as you make sure that the gift is "passworthy," which Bitela defines as "that which is worthy of being passed and the item should make a favorable impression."
"It's not really about the price tag but the generosity in your heart when you step up to the plate, take the time to wrap it, put someone's name on it, smile and present it," Bitela said.
Planning to regift? Here are some tips on how to do it right, courtesy of Bitela, Post and Regiftable.com:
Out with the old, out with the used: Regifted items must be unused and, unless they're antiques or heirlooms, fairly new. A Regiftable rule of thumb: "If you have to dust it off, it is not regiftable."
Give the people what they want: If you're regifting an item, it should be something you think the other party would actually want.
Say you receive a shirt that doesn't fit you, Bitella said. "Instead of being a Scrooge about it," she said, "you can take it and say, 'This is a really nice shirt. ... My cousin would really like it, let me wrap it and give it to her.' "
Nice regifts come in pretty packages: If the original packaging was opened, wrap it so that it still looks like new – that means new wrapping paper, ribbons, tissue paper, etc.
"Do something to make it look like it hasn't been opened and rooted through," Post said. "I think common sense can dictate that."
Forever yours: When gifts bear personal inscriptions or monograms, passing them on is seriously taboo – chances are, the regift recipient will figure it out. Regifting presents that are incredibly personal to you – say a special dish or a handmade sweater -- is also a bad idea.
The original gift giver, Post said, "thought she hit the nail on the head."
"If they really thought about it and it's someone who you see regularly, she's going to be wondering where it is," she said.
Small circles, big trouble: Some people are fine with regifting – others, not so much. And if you regift within a small circle of friends, the chances of getting caught go way up, experts say. The original giver for instance, may find your regifted item at a mutual friend's house.
"Regifting inside a very small circle," Bitella writes, "is discouraged unless you really know and trust the people not to react badly to some ill-perceived gesture."
No give-backs: Here's a surefire way to get caught: Giving the regifted item back to the person who gave it to you in the first place. To avoid that embarrassing situation, make sure to keep track of who gave you what.
Strapped for cash but not keen on regifting? Experts say there are alternatives: Consider frugal gifts such as homemade baked goods or personalized gift certificates entitling the recipient to your babysitting services, yardwork help or other chores. (Regiftable.com has ready-made vouchers for such gifts available here.)
"The holidays is a time about giving thanks to the people we care about and showing how we do care for others," Post said. "Let that be your guide for what you're giving, not materialistic stuff."