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The ethics of giving

By Jennie Bragg, producer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Everyone wants to give the perfect gift, but things don't always go as planned.

Is re-gifting uncouth? What about making that dreaded return? And when is it OK to give the gift of cash?

Handle the sticky situations that come along with all that holiday loot with grace and sensitivity and you are sure to have a happy New Year.


Whether you are using it as a way to save money or save time, re-gifting is an art.

Be cautious about what you re-gift and how you go about it. "There are some very strict rules," warns Sara Humphreys, executive editor of Real Simple. "You can't just give anything that you have gotten. Make sure that the recipient never knows the person who gave you the gift in the first place. There should be no overlap, because you never know what is going to happen."

And consider your presentation. Re-wrap the gift, or at the very least, put a festive holiday bow on it. "Make sure the gift is not opened," says Humphreys. "It can't be opened and taped shut. And make sure it is a gift that you would actually give to the person."

Returning gifts

While returning gifts after the holidays can be a pain, it certainly doesn't have to put a strain on your relationship with the person who gave you the gift.

If the person provided a gift receipt, feel free to return the item.

If not, Sarah Humphreys suggests asking the person who gave you the gift if they would mind terribly if you returned the item for something more useful to you. "You should ask," says Humphreys. "If you think they are going to be offended, you can try to get away with not letting them know."

You forgot a gift

Oops! You forgot a gift for someone on your list this year.

Now is not the time to fret.

"Apologize profusely and follow up with a note and a gift," says Carmen Wong Ulrich, author of 'The Real Cost of Living.' "I keep little ornaments in the closet, so I always have a stash of them for next year to give. You can always just reach in and pull one out."

And if you are really in a pinch, suggest that you will provide a service to the person, rather than giving them a tangible gift.

"I think the biggest gift and the best gift is the gift of time," offers psychologist Wendy Walsh. "Give gift certificates for a free night of babysitting to a couple with a new baby. Offer to an elderly person to come and do their laundry or do their grocery shopping for them. And you can wrap that up. You can make a beautiful gift certificate on your computer."

Giving cash

Fifty-eight percent of people say they plan to give cash as a gift this year, according to Consumer Reports. But how much money is appropriate and who is it acceptable to give money to?

"It really depends on family," suggests Wong Ulrich. "Really think about how much you can give, because within families, there are a lot of us that are suffering at different levels."

If a member of your family requests money rather than another gift this holiday season, consider giving him or her the amount you would have spent on a gift. And presentation is key. Don't pull a twenty dollar bill out of your wallet at Christmas dinner.

"I would recommend if you want to give cash, go to the bank and purchase new bills," says Peter Post, director of the Emily Post Institute and author of five etiquette books. "Use those rather than that dirty crumpled up bill that's been in circulation for years." To top of page

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