The Do's and Don'ts of Giving Cash for the Holidays

Photo: Getty ImagesGreenbacks. Benjamins. Clams. Dough. Call it what you want, but everyone knows there's no better holiday gift than cold, hard cash, right? Well, sort of. But just because you're throwing money around doesn't mean etiquette should get tossed out the window, warn experts.

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"People in certain situations are going to really appreciate cash," Diane Gottsman, etiquette trainer and founder of the Protocol School of Texas, tells Yahoo Shine. College grads, high school students, and newlyweds top the list of cash lovers, though there are many more. (Um, hello!) "What makes it warm is the way you present it — you're not going to hand over a wad of ones, for example."

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So what are the guidelines to giving money? Stick to the following, and you should be fine:

  • Streamline. Present as few bills as possible, Gottsman suggests.
  • Personalize it. Enclose the cash in a nice note card and take the time to write something sentimental. "Because the money may soon be gone, but people tend to keep cards that mean something to them," she says.
  • Reconsider for a romantic partner. If you decide it is the route you're going to take, Gottsman advises, "The cash has to be accompanied with something else under the tree—something tangible, that you know they are going to like, even if it's small." And put it in a nice card, she adds. "If [money] is all you give, it feels cold."
  • Never give cash in an office situation (especially to your boss). "You wouldn't want it to come across as a bribe," Leah Ingram, author of "The Everything Etiquette Book" and "Gifts Anytime," tells Yahoo Shine. Because, depending upon the situation, "stuffing cash in someone's hand can be a bit shady." That goes for any sort of professional clients, in which case giving cash could be like "something out of a Scorsese movie."
  • Don't give money to teachers. Just like at work, Ingram notes, "I don't think it's appropriate. Are you buying good grades for your kids?" Instead, she suggests, opt for a thoughtful gift card.

You'd be in good company with that choice, actually, as more than 80 percent of holiday shoppers say they'll buy gift cards this year, spending a collective $29.8 billion, according to the latest data from the National Retail Federation. It's an alternative way to put prettied-up cash, with a few but not too many restrictions, in somebody's lucky hands.

Other clever options along that line, according to a recent New York Times story on cash gifts, include making direct contributions toward student-loan debts or tuition. You can do that in myriad ways — by mailing a check to the recipient's loan provider (as long as you know the account number), using the online service, contributing to a future student's 529 account (also with the account number, or through the Ugift program), or through services including GiftofCollege or GradSave. You might want to even consider helping someone pay down his or her credit-card debt. Because, really now, who wouldn't just love that kind of gift?

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