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Mind your money manners this holiday

by Sarah Skidmore /  / Updated  / Source: The Associated Press

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The holidays can be stressful as family, friends and spending collide — and more so during tough times.

Here are tips on eight key challenges in minding your money manners at the holidays.

What do I get someone who has been unemployed for two years? Most gifts seem inappropriate when he is having trouble paying basic bills.

Get them something they can use. A gift certificate to a grocery store or megastore like Target or Walmart that sells both necessities and niceties is thoughtful, said Diane Gottsman at Protocol School of Texas.

"It doesn't say, 'Sorry you are out of work,'" Gottsman says. "It sends a holiday greeting, not a sympathy greeting."

How do I tell my friend(s) I can't afford to exchange gifts?

You don't have to disclose all the details of your financial situation but be honest.

"There is nothing wrong with saying to your friends, 'We are all time-strapped and economically strapped these days, let's just do lunch or let's not give gifts,'" says Gottsman.

Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert, points out that many people are in this predicament and may be relieved to hear this suggestion. The holiday is about celebrating your friendship, not spending.

What about family?

The same rules apply. Here, it's especially important to set expectations ahead of time. Some families stop giving gifts, give them only to children or set price limits to curb costs.

If some family members won't go for it, be honest with yourself and them, Whitmore said.

"You can tell them, 'This year I am going to have to bow out. You know I love you, but I really have to watch it,'" she suggested.

One family member gave me a much bigger gift than I gave her. What do I do?

Your relative is what experts call an "outgifter." Whether it's an outrageous gift or minuscule, just be gracious and accept it as a gesture of kindness. If her intention is to outgift you, then her heart is not in the right place anyway.

Do not engage in the arms race of giving. It will drive you nuts and spin your budget out of control.

What do I do when someone gives me a gift and I didn't get him one?

Ignore the desire to stammer and make up lame excuses, Gottsman says. Accept the gift gracefully and make sure to send a thank you note or do something nice in exchange.

"It doesn't have to be tit-for-tat or gift-for-gift," Gottsman says.

Do I have to give my boss a gift?

No. It's nice if you want to show appreciation, but keep it small: Homemade baked goods or, for someone who plays golf, a bag of tees tied with a bow would work.

This has become less of an issue as bosses have cut back on the gifts and bonuses they hand out.

"You never want to outgift your boss," Gottsman says.

Lyudmila Block of Etiquette Outreach says work place giving always creates question marks. No matter who it's for, no work place gift should be expensive or religious. And it's best to stay away from gags that might be misinterpreted.

Is it OK to regift?

The jury is hung on this one.

Make sure the new recipient would actually want the gifts, that it's in the original wrapping with all the parts included and that it hasn't been personalized. One etiquette expert recalled opening a platter that had someone else's name on it.

Gottsman suggests being direct about the regifting, letting the recipient know by saying, "I have a beautiful sweater that I have not worn that would be perfect for you; would you like it?" Or "I have two of this; would you like one?" That's safer than passing off a regift as something newly purchased.

"We do need to be frugal," Gottsman says. "I think owning it is better than pretending."

Do I need to give gifts to the mail carrier, hairdresser and baby sitter? Where do I draw the line?

Use your best judgment. If this is someone you see regularly and they make your life easier, a small gift is worth considering. So: The baby sitter who is there every day and goes out of her way to make your life better? Sure. The mail carrier you've never met? No.

The gifts can be anything from a Starbucks card to a cash bonus, depending on the person and situation.

"These are the people that grace your life throughout the year," Block says.

Most important is to stay in your budget and remember you are acknowledging people and thanking them for their time.

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