The gift that keeps on giving

A blank gift tag tied with red ribbon on a white background. Clipping Path included.

Regifting is shedding its stigma, but it requires some rules so this resourceful recycling doesn't suddenly turn tacky.

That sweater from Aunt Jane is nice, but it's just not you.

You can't return it, but you don't want it. What do you do?

Regift it!

Regifting is giving an unwanted gift you received to someone else. That is, pawning off that sweater onto your pal Jimmy.

The term "regifting" was first used on a 1995 episode of "Seinfeld," when Jerry received a label maker from someone who had received it previously as a gift from Elaine. When Elaine saw it, she exclaimed, "He recycled this gift! He is a regifter!"

The practice has since become not only accepted but applauded by those trying save money and resources. Some say regifting reduces the holiday's environmental impact or provides a way to pass on treasured family heirlooms. Others think it's incredibly tacky.

Whatever the case, it's shedding its stigma.

What is a white elephant or Yankee swap gift exchange if not the opportunity to regift without shame?

Regifting has become so popular that there's a Web site, http://regiftable.com, created by Money Management International (MMI), that gives hints for regifting and offers a place to share regifting horror stories.

There's also a book on the subject: "The Art of Regifting: Your ABC's Guide to Regifting, the Do's And Don'ts, Urban Legends and Folk Lore" by Barbara Bitela. It claims to "turn your act of regifting into more fun than receiving."

Chances are that you have regifted. If you haven't, you've at least thought about it. That's OK. We have, too. In fact, 58 percent of respondents in MMI's 2007 holiday survey say they regift, or are considering doing so.

Of those, 42 percent say they regift to save money and 62 percent do it because they think the gift is something the recipient would really like.

"I don't see anything wrong with it," says Kelly Nichols of Charleston. "But I would never do it just to unload something onto someone else. I would only do it if it was something I really thought the person would like to have. My intentions are the same whether I go out and buy something or already have something to give: I want to give the person a present."

Regifting can be done successfully, but if you're going to do it, there are some basic rules to follow. Fail to do so, and you can set yourself up for a huge embarrassment and turn a gift into a gaffe while simultaneously alienating yourself from two people: the receiver and the original giver.

"When we got married, we got multiples of some things, so we saved them to give to other friends when they got married," says David Pringle of Mount Pleasant. "But one time, we forgot to check carefully for a card and our friends found a card that clearly showed that it was given to us as a gift. Luckily, they were good friends and we had a good laugh over it and they weren't offended." Here are some guidelines for regifting from regiftable.com:

-- Never regift handmade, one-of-a-kind items or free promotional items.

-- Only new, unopened gifts in good condition should be considered for regifting. Never give partially used gift cards. Don't give items that you have owned for a long time. A general rule of thumb: If you have to dust it off, it is not regiftable.

-- Successful regifters use common sense. If you are going to regift, be sure you know who gave you the item, so you don't return something to the original giver. Only regift items to people who are not likely to see the original giver.

-- Be sure that the recipient will appreciate the item. But that doesn't mean to give it back to the person who gave it to you.

-- While gift bags in good condition can be reused, wrapping paper is a one-time thing. Always spring for a new card or gift tag. Nothing betrays a regifting secret better than the discovery of a hidden gift tag from the previous giver.

-- If you don't plan to announce the gift as a regift, ask yourself if you can keep the secret. Never feel guilty about regifting once you've done it.

-- An item that's an unwanted gift for you could be a welcome donation to a charitable organization.

It is also an option to suck it up and keep an unwanted gift, after all, it was a gift. But if you get something that you absolutely do not want and cannot return or regift to someone you know, there are alternatives.

Swapagift.com (swapagift.com) is a forum for buying, selling and swapping merchant gift cards; Freecycle Network (freecycle.org) is all about giving stuff for free; and, of course, there's always eBay.