Just as there is proper etiquette to gift-giving, there is also thank you note etiquette. To show respect, be timely with your response after receiving a gift, card, or support.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- When Should You Send a Thank You Card?
- Is it Ever Too Late to Send a Thank You Note or Card?
- Four Tips for Sending a Late Thank You Note
While it’s always a good idea to send thank you cards promptly, sometimes life gets in the way. It’s okay if you’re not able to get your thank-yous as quickly as you’d like, but is there a time limit? Is it ever too late to send a thank you note or card?
In this guide, we’ll explore thank you note etiquette so you know how to handle any mishaps. Saying thank you can be seen as an art form. But remember, it’s the thought that counts.
When Should You Send a Thank You Card?
First, let’s discuss when you should send a thank you card, the ideal time frame to do so. Thank yous are often expected after the following events:
- Receiving a gift
- Someone hosts an event in your honor (birthday, baby shower, etc.)
- You’re a guest in someone’s home
- A job interview
- Someone offers support or kindness
In general, you should always feel empowered to send a thank you card when you are feeling particularly grateful.
So, when should you send your thank you card? The general rule of thumb is to send your thank you note as soon as possible. There is no hard and fast deadline, but it’s generally best to send your message within one to two weeks.
The longer you wait, the harder it becomes to say thanks. The person may have been expecting a thank you note sooner, or they may worry their gift never made it to you. You’re also then stuck in the position of having to explain why your note took so long to arrive.
Is it Ever Too Late to Send a Thank You Note or Card?
Is there such a thing as “too late” when it comes to sending a thank you note or card? In short, no. It’s never too late for a belated thank you message. Yet, the longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes to navigate your thank you.
While you should still feel comfortable saying thank you after a bit of time has passed, you might need to tread carefully. Because timing can differ depending on the specific gift, keep the following in mind:
If you received money as a gift, it’s important to be as prompt as possible with your thank you message. Money is a thoughtful gift, and it means someone was thinking of you in a time of need or on a special occasion.
Because money is such a generous gift, no matter the amount, it’s always important to say thank you no matter how much time has passed. While it might feel awkward to say ‘thanks’ if several weeks or months passed, it’s a good idea to recognize this act of kindness.
Don’t let your embarrassment keep you from saying thank you. Most people understand that life gets in the way. It’s much better to feel a bit embarrassed and say thank you than to avoid saying anything at all.
For a birthday card or present
Knowing a loved one is thinking of us on our birthday makes us feel special. If someone went out of their way to give you a birthday card or present, it’s important to say thanks. While it’s traditionally considered appropriate to say thank you within two weeks of receiving your gift, that’s not always possible.
If you go over this 2-week mark, you should still send a thank you note. The only exception to this is if you received a birthday card only. In this case, letting them know that you received and appreciate the card is typically more than enough.
For a wedding or engagement party
When friends and family gather to celebrate your wedding or engagement, they often bring gifts. Like with birthday gifts, it’s important to thank these people for their kindness as soon as possible. Again, two weeks is a good rule of thumb.
That being said, even if your guests simply attended and didn’t bring a gift, it’s still important to thank them for being there for this event. It’s never too late to be gracious, even if it feels uncomfortable sending a message after a few weeks or even months. A thank you note is sure to be appreciated, no matter how overdue.
It’s okay to be candid if time got away from you after a significant milestone like a wedding. Most people understand how quickly these events pass us by and how writing these thank yous might have escaped our notice. As long as you get around to it eventually, your loved ones will likely be understanding.
For a funeral or sympathy gift
If someone gives you a funeral or sympathy gift, there is a lot of grace around the timing of your response. After a loss, the last thing on your mind is responding to gifts and support. You’re likely handling many other practical arrangements, and it’s okay if this is at the bottom of your to-do list.
That being said, it’s a good idea to send your thank yous when you do find the time. If possible, you can task someone else with this process. It’s best to send your thank yous within two months, but there is much more flexibility considering the situation.
For someone’s time or support
Last but not least, sometimes it’s nice to say thank you when someone gifts their time or support. Because this isn’t tied to a milestone, there is less emphasis on the timing of your response.
Like with all the above, sooner is better, but it’s never too late to say thank you after someone shows you their support. No matter how much time has passed, don’t hesitate to reach out to show your gratitude.
Four Tips for Sending a Late Thank You Note
Whether you have to send a thank you note for money a month too late, or you’ve fallen behind on thank you messages after a wedding, it might feel intimidating to take the first step.
Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and get started to make sure the people in your life feel appreciated. These tips can make the process a bit easier.
1. Don’t ignore the timing
One of the most tempting ways to go about these types of thank-yous is to ignore the late timing altogether. Sometimes, this can read inconsiderate.
Instead, be frank about how late your thank you is. It’s okay to point out the elephant in the room. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Starting your message with a short recognition is more than enough. The openers below are great options:
- “I’m so sorry for not having acknowledged this thoughtful gift sooner…”
- “Sincere apologies for how late this note is…”
- “A belated yet heartfelt thank you…”
2. Avoid making excuses
Along those lines, it’s also important not to fall into the trap of making excuses. You can certainly acknowledge that life has gotten in the way, but don’t spend too much time explaining all that’s happened in the meantime.
For example, if you’re responding to funeral gifts, you might wish to let them know that you’ve been working through the loss. If you’ve recently gone through a significant milestone or life change, it’s okay to admit that you’ve been overwhelmed.
3. Focus on them
It’s always important to focus on the recipient when writing thank yous, no matter how late. Let them know how much the gift or their support means to you.
Everyone wants to feel appreciated, so this is your opportunity to show them how special they are. This is also a good strategy because it takes some of the attention away from your lateness.
4. Consider a digital message
Last but not least, if you’re worried about how timely your message is, you might wish to send a digital message instead. Digital e-cards can be a great alternative to a physical message. It ensures your message reaches their inbox instantaneously. No more hoping and praying that snail mail arrives quickly.
When paired with an appreciation gift, an e-message can be a great way to show your thanks and appreciation. Also, picking up the phone, texting, or sending an email are all effective alternatives to a physical card or note.
Thank You Cards: Better Late Than Never
When it comes to thank you cards and notes, it’s better to send something late than not at all. It’s only natural to worry that sending a belated thank you message will come across the wrong way. In reality, it’s always better to express gratitude, regardless of how late.
We all know the feeling of waiting just a little bit too long to say thank you. What starts as a small delay can quickly grow into something larger. Then it feels impossible to get the ball rolling once you’re so far behind.
Take this as a sign to approach the uncomfortable and feel better after. There are no time limits beyond the ones we place on ourselves. Take a deep breath, and one by one, let the people who matter most know how grateful you are.