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Gift-Giving on a Budget: 7 Etiquette Tips

With the current economy, many of us will need to keep our shopping lists short this year - but the proper etiquette for holiday gift giving on a budget is not always clear. Here's some advice.

Suggest a Gift Grab

Don't feel pressure to go overboard if money's tight. You're not alone. This year, consumers plan to spend roughly $700 on holiday gifts, less than in 2009 and 2010. To save, propose to family members a "Pollyanna" or gift exchange with a price limit. This way everyone still gets a gift, and you've managed to ease the financial burden on everyone.

Wrap Your Skills

You can always make your own gifts, but instead of tossing a photo in a frame, try giving the gift of your skills. If you have web expertise, for example, offer to help your sister-in-law set up her blog at no charge. Or, if you have a knack for baking, establish a home-delivered cookie-of-the-month club for a niece or nephew in college.

Give the Gift of Time

For your busiest friends, offer a time-saving favor: a free weekend of babysitting, or free home organizing. Also popular this year is the gift of charity. At sites like, and, you can search for your loved one's favorite causes and create a personalized greeting card announcing your donation. The amount you donate can stay mum, so you stay within budget. Just make sure to let your family and friends know in advance if you're not planning to give store-bought gifts this year.

Re-gift Carefully

According to etiquette experts at the Emily Post Institute, "gifts should be recycled only rarely," unless you're positive the gift is something the recipient would love to have — like a family heirloom, or an item you know the person collects. If it's something you'd really like to receive, then chances are good it's a decent regift.

Thank Your Helpers

No matter what your budget is this holiday season, it's important to show appreciation for those who regularly helped make your life easier this year, from babysitters to gardeners and house cleaners. In many of these cases, cash is preferred. But not necessarily bills. Opt for retail or bank gift cards enclosed in a hand-written card. For babysitters, the holiday bonus typically equates to one or two day's work. For helpers who come more regularly, such as nannies and house cleaners, a week's pay is a common holiday gift amount.

Gift Appropriately at the Office

The general etiquette is to only gift those who work for you, not those who rank higher than you, such as assistants, interns and employees you manage. Consider giving a bank gift card, or a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant. As for co-workers? That depends. At some companies, it's also common to exchange gifts with team members through an exchange or Secret Santa. In those cases, do stick to the agreed-upon price range. If there's no office tradition, it's perfectly fine to skip gifts. After all, you don't want to give a gift to a co-worker who has nothing wrapped for you. To spread some holiday cheer, you can always treat everyone at the office by leaving out candy canes or holiday snacks on your desk.

Don't Feel Pressure to Match Gifts

What if a friend or family member surprises you with a gift, and you have nothing to give in exchange? Be honest. Instead of saying you left your gift at home (and then run to the mall to buy something, anything), say you kept your list tight this year, but really appreciate that they thought of you. If you want, you can always make plans to spend quality time with that person in the near future, by either grabbing coffee, catching a movie, or having lunch — and maybe picking up the tab as a treat.


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