Mellody Hobson: Watch Your Holiday Money Manners

With the the holiday season, it's time to make some crucial decisions on giving gifts -- in the office, in the neighborhood and in the charity world.

There is a certain etiquette involved with buying gifts for co-workers, employees and even the boss. Here is a quick Q&A on how to appropriately spend your money this year.

1. What should you buy your boss? And what do you buy for the people you work for? How much is too much and how much is too little?

For most people, these questions come down to money. If you're like most people, you don't want to overspend. I don't want to underspend.

Exchanging gifts at the office can be tricky. Many firms have policies around holiday gift-giving, so find out what yours is. Gifts could be discouraged at your office, in which case a holiday card for each person in your immediate department or team would be appropriate. Other companies have "Secret Santa" policies where each gift giver spends the same amount.

Should you decide you would like to give a gift to your boss, your direct reports or a few select co-workers, there are a couple of things to avoid -- namely alcohol, gifts with religious connotations, and especially gag gifts. What you think is funny your boss may find offensive. Remember, giving no gift at all is better than giving the wrong gift.

Office gifts should be in a reasonable price range, and they should reflect something your co-worker enjoys -- an everyday latte or a gift certificate to his or her favorite lunch spot.

2. What is the appropriate gift to give your neighbor?

Assuming you and your neighbor enjoy a casual friendship, a small but thoughtful gift is appropriate.

In general, neighborly gifts should be little goodies or gadgets that lift spirits but don't break the bank. However, if you really want to make a real statement, consider giving neighbors a gift that every neighbor would appreciate -- for example, offer complimentary snow removal service in the winter. Write them a card and let them know you or your plow service will clear their driveway for the next snowfall or shovel their walk for January.

3. How do you give a charitable gift in someone else's name?

A charitable donation is an excellent gift, and giving a contribution in someone else's name is very easy.

You can call the charity directly and process the contribution over the phone. Likewise, most organizations allow you to make the donation online and direct it in the name of another individual. If you're making an online donation, making sure you fill out the gift or tribute fields.

Finally, ask the charity to send the recipient a card telling him or her that a donation has been made. (Often, the donation amount is withheld, and you can always choose to hide the amount.)

Make sure you get the tax deduction -- just ask the organization for a receipt.

4. Tipping … Isn't it 15 percent to 20 percent all the time, or is it more during certain times of the year?

The general rule of thumb for tipping -- 15 percent to 20 percent of your total bill -- goes out the window during the holiday season.

You might give a waitress or a cab driver a couple of dollars over the requisite 15 to 20 percent. When it comes to the regular services you receive, like your weekly manicure, the general rule is that your holiday tip should equal the cost of the service.

For instance, tip $40 for a $40 haircut, tip your trainer the cost of one session or tip your babysitter a day's pay. Mail carriers cannot accept cash gifts, but they can accept gifts that do not exceed a $20 value.

5. When is it OK to "regift?"

I actually think regifting -- giving away a gift that was given to you by someone else -- is fine, and there are even times when a regift is appropriate and thoughtful. For example, if you receive something that you know you are definitely not going to use, and it is not personalized -- bad idea to regift a personal gift -- go ahead and give it.

My only suggestion is that it's probably a good idea to repackage the gift and make sure there is nothing on it that would be a giveaway that the receiver is second in line.

Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Capital Management in Chicago (www.arielmutualfunds.com) is "Good Morning America's" personal finance expert.

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