In the course of your job, you're likely to encounter your fair share of obligations, like buying magazines to support your colleague's son's baseball team, chipping in for the administrative assistant who recently had a baby, or sending flowers to the nice bookkeeper in accounting who's recovering from heart surgery. There's no question that working in an office can open the door to a host of unplanned expenses that wreak havoc on your budget and just plain stress you out. And with the holidays coming up, you may be wondering how on earth you're going to navigate gift-giving at work.

Are you obliged to purchase a gift for every member of your team? What about your boss? While there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to holiday gift-giving at work, here are a few basic guidelines for you to follow.

Five professionally dressed adults in party hats smiling; two are exchanging wrapped boxes


1. Prioritize your boss and the colleagues you work with most

If you work in a large office and interact with dozens upon dozens of people on a daily basis, you can't be expected to purchase holiday gifts for all of them. But it's not a bad idea to come up with a little something for your direct manager, as well as the handful of co-workers you collaborate with the most.

That said, those gifts don't have to be expensive, nor do they have to be overwhelmingly personal. A nice box of chocolates is a great way to say "happy holidays," as is a tin of coffee or tea with an accompanying mug.

2. Be prepared to chip in for support staff

Chances are, your company employs a few key people who truly keep the place running, like the office manager who always makes sure the supply closet is well-stocked, the custodians who keep everything clean, and the receptionist who never complains about fielding lunch-order deliveries. These are the people you really don't want to be stingy with around the holidays, so if there's a collection going around to get them a nice gift, chip in.

You may be asked to contribute a specific sum, in which case it pays to comply if you're able to financially. And if you're told to kick in whatever amount you want, it wouldn't hurt to ask for a suggestion so you have a benchmark.

3. Aim to reciprocate

There may be people you work with who don't automatically make your "must gift" list but think of you highly enough to buy you a holiday present. Anyone who's kind enough to give you a gift should get something back. That something doesn't necessarily have to be of equal value, though. For example, if you're given a $25 gift card to a coffeehouse chain or department store, you can reciprocate with a tin of home-baked cookies or a book you think that colleague will enjoy reading.

Though gift-giving at the office may seem like a burden at a time of the year when you're already spending a fortune, remember that gifting strategically could help strengthen key workplace relationships. Be sure to factor co-worker gifts into your budget this holiday season because a little generosity on your part could really go a long way.