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Cheapskate Etiquette

Want to split the check or regift that present? Here's the right way to be cheap — and courteous.

En español | "Let's face it, Jeff. There are two kinds of people: Those who are embarrassed to ask for separate checks, and those who aren't. In general, we prefer to be friends with the latter."

That's what a fellow frugalist, Gerald Thomson of Phoenix, told me when I interviewed him for my book The Cheapskate Next Door.

See also: 5 ways to save big with coupons.

Peggy Post, the great-granddaughter-in-law of etiquette queen Emily Post and a director at the Emily Post Institute, says there's nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about when addressing potentially awkward money matters. Whether it's who pays for a date, cutting back on holiday gift giving or the need to borrow money from a family member, the key to such conversations is to be direct and honest. "The most important thing is to be open, honest and sincere when you broach any money-related issue with family or friends," Post says. "As long as you do it politely and raise the issues up front to avoid any misunderstandings or hard feeling later, you will be fine…. Oftentimes others will feel the same way and appreciate you broaching the subject."

dollar bills and coins on tip tray

Photo by: Simon Jarratt/Corbis

Don't skimp on the tip.

Tipping. Someone once told me that "a cheapskate is someone with a seven-figure salary who's a bad tipper." Not so, at least according to my survey for The Cheapskate Next Door. Of the self-proclaimed "cheapskates" polled, more than 90 percent said that they typically tip 15 to 20 percent when dining out in a restaurant, which is the generally accepted range for gratuities. (And yes, they base their tip on the total bill, before any coupons or two-for-one discounts, which is the proper etiquette.) Even if you're trying to economize, it's unacceptable to ignore customary standards for tipping in restaurants and elsewhere. "The question should be whether or not you can afford to do something in the first place," Peggy Post says. "If you can't afford to leave an appropriate gratuity, then you really can't afford to dine out." Cheapskates next door agree: They tip appropriately at restaurants; however, they dine out almost 80 percent less than the typical American family.

Next: Experts say re-gifting is OK, on a few conditions. >>

Gift giving and regifting. As the holiday season approaches, many of us are experiencing some Wallet Anxiety Disorder about gift shopping. If you're looking to cut back on gift giving this holiday or maybe adopt an alternative gift exchange plan, Peggy Post suggests writing to friends and family members well before the holiday shopping season starts to suggest scaling back. (And by the way, if someone with whom you normally do not exchange gifts happens to give you a present, there's no need to reciprocate; a simple thank-you card will suffice.)

The good news is that regifting is now officially "in," so much so that the classic book Emily Post's Etiquette has been updated to include regifting protocols. "The most important thing is to be honest with yourself and ask yourself if this item will truly be appreciated by the intended recipient," Post says. It's a question of motivation: The priority shouldn't be that you want to unload something you've been given, but rather that you're certain someone else will appreciate and enjoy it. Obviously, regifted items should be in good condition, freshly wrapped and, oh yeah, not something you received from the same person you're intending to regift it to.

Potluck etiquette. Potlucks have become the black-tie dinners of the new economy, at least in my social circle. But here's something I didn't know: According to Mary Hunt, author of Debt-Proof Living, the leftovers from a dish you bring to a potluck always belong to the host. "The dish was your contribution to the host's party," she writes. "However, if the host invites you to take what remains, you are free to do so." Fair enough, but nobody gets to keep my Tupperware.

Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.

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