smart spending

Gift-giving etiquette tips for the holidays

What to give to whom?
What to give to whom?

Singer Paul Simon includes something similar to a Christmas song on his album "So Beautiful or So What." In it, the narrator is working two low-paying jobs and worrying about the expenses of the upcoming holiday. "Oh, the music may be merry, but it's only temporary. I know Santa Claus is coming to town," Simon says.

No doubt many in this struggling economy can relate this holiday season. Besides buying gifts for loved ones, there are always lingering questions about what to do for the numerous people who intersect our lives every day: co-workers, bosses, our personal mail carrier, baby sitters and other numerous service providers. Holiday gift-giving etiquette can be tricky, especially when it comes to tipping. It can also vary regionally. While residents of Sun Belt states might want to give something extra to the person who cleans the pool every week, those in New York City high-rises may think of building superintendents and doormen.

"I don't think there are any general rules, and that is why it is so challenging for people," says Nancy Mitchell, who runs The Etiquette Advocate in Washington, D.C. For those who are light on discretionary funds, there are plenty of homemade options, she says. They also say environmentally friendly gifts are all the rage, and donations made in the name of the receiver are popular, too.

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