Thank you notes are always lovely to receive, but writing them can be a different story depending on why and when you’re sending them.
Instances where sending a thank you note is entirely appropriate (and even expected) are endless. Coming from a family who had stacks of carefully selected cards for the year hiding away in a cabinet, there are a million opportunities throughout the year to write a thank you note to someone.
However, we think there are a few major occasions that you want to prioritize:
Baby and bridal showers
Holidays (Christmas, Valentine’s day, etc)
In other terms…
- Did someone watch your kids so you could get errands done? Thank you note.
- Did you stay at a relatives house to attend an event or visit family? Thank you note.
- Was your friend there for you during a tough time? Thank you note.
There is hardly a time when a thank you is unnecessary, but someone will certainly notice when you don’t send one, and should have.
So, how long do you have to send a thank you note? Etiquette says as soon as possible, with a maximum of two weeks post-receiving a gift or the occasion. For weddings or other events when you’ll be getting gifts both before and after a specific date, we recommend sending thank you notes as you receive gifts prior to the event date – this means they get a genuine thank you immediately when you’re enjoying the gift, and you also have less of a chance of forgetting to send one entirely!
While the actual appearance of the card is not terribly important, it is important to think about how much you need to write in a thank you note, so pay attention to what you might be writing and how much space you’ll have. Those miniature cards at the store are adorable, but if you’re writing a very thorough thank you, they won’t leave you enough room. A standard “card size” is perfect, especially when writing to close family members or friends (because let’s be honest, you could probably write a novel thanking them)! Bonus points if it’s a personalized card, or a handmade card from a local artist! But any card will do.
Okay, now how do you actually write a thank you note? Let’s see…
Step 1: Get the “thank you” out of the way
The first sentence of your note should be dedicated to thanking the recipient for their gift, gesture, or hospitality. This part does not have to be too grand, but make sure that it is clear what you are thanking them for.
Helpful hint: When opening presents, be it during a holiday, birthday, or event shower, make sure there is somebody writing gift and card recipients down on a separate sheet of paper. This not only gives you a list of who you need to send thank you notes to, but it also allows you to add a more personalized statement than “Thank you for the gift”.
Step 2: Tell the recipient how you used the gift, what the money went towards, or how much you enjoyed it!
Don’t you love when someone tells you how much they enjoyed something you had a part in giving them? Or exactly how it helped you to accomplish and enjoy “x, y, z…”? Well, use that as inspiration for this next part of your thank you note. If you’ve been using the scarf your friend made for you, let them know! Did you use a gift card to purchase something you’ve had your eye on for a while? They’ll love to know it went towards something you can use.
Step 3: Personalize your note!
The jury is out on whether you should mention developments in your personal life in a thank you note. Some people think that a thank you note should be centered on the recipient, while others think that talking about good news can be appropriate. We personally think that if you have a more candid relationship with the recipient, or if you’ve been out of touch for a while, it is perfectly appropriate to share your news – but ultimately YOU know your audience, and you’ll be able to decide whether or not you should elaborate or save it for another time.
Helpful hint: Offer to catch up (see Step 4) if you want to talk more in-depth about recent life developments and don’t think it fits in for the card itself.
Step 4: Wrap it up, you’re almost done!
The last sentence or two of your thank you note should not only mention your “thank you” again, but it is a nice gesture to look to the future. Is there an event coming up that you might see this person at? If the recipient is a family member, will you see them for an upcoming holiday or family reunion? Additionally, if you want to catch up in more depth in person or over the phone, this would be a good time to mention it!
Step 5: Regards,
Here is where you can be as informal as you like! Generally, for a thank you note, you shouldn’t be using “sincerely”, as it tends to be a bit inhospitable or lukewarm. For relatives, “love” is always a good go-to, but “all the best”, “warmest wishes”, or even “thanks again” are all just as good.
Now that you have your thank you note written and sealed in the envelope, make sure they reach the post office and don’t live on the table for the next few weeks (we certainly don’t speak from experience here…).
And for a slightly more uncomfortable situation: what if you really didn’t like the gift?
It happens! You really have two options: keep it neutral and concise, or tell a white lie. While we don’t condone lying, a thank you note is probably not an appropriate place to tell Aunt Shirley how much you hated the sweater she got you. Instead of focusing on the actual gift, stress how kind it was for them to get you a gift in general (i.e., Thank you so much for the sweater! It truly means a lot that you thought of me during the holiday season.) All in all, their kindness should be thanked, even if the gift wasn’t quite a home run.
And last but certainly not least, we always believe that handwritten, or at least snail-mailed is always better! Social media is quick, hassle-free, and who can argue with not having to go to the post office and buy stamps?! However, nothing beats the personal touch of a personally thought out and signed thank you note.