updated 10/30/2008 6:09:11 PM ET 2008-10-30T22:09:11

You don't have to be a Grinch to save on tipping this holiday season.

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The question of whom and how much to tip gets complicated when budgets are tight, but there are gracious ways to say thanks without emptying your wallet.

In its December issue, which hits the stands Nov. 4, Consumer Reports suggests focusing on giving cash to those who may need it most or giving smaller gifts, such as candles or soaps.

"People understand times are hard. Most people would, of course, prefer cash, but if you can't swing it, a handwritten note goes a long way," said Tobie Stanger, senior editor at Consumer Reports.

In addition to the advice listed in the issue, Stanger suggested some ways to save on tipping this year.

1. Focus on a few people. If you're scaling back on whom you tip, focus on those you see most often or are in your home, such as child-care providers. Also consider their financial situation. Your personal trainer, for instance, may not appreciate cash as much your house cleaner. You might also consider skipping those you tip regularly — such as hairdressers or manicurists.

2. Team up with others. If you're getting a gift for your child's teacher, a gym instructor or building superintendent, ask others to pool money for a gift. One nice present may be more appreciated than several small gifts anyway.

3. Make a donation. Many charitable organizations will send a note simply stating a donation has been made in the person's name, without specifying a dollar figure. Donations are also tax deductible.

4. Buy in bulk. If you've got a lot of people to tip or give gifts to, consider buying in bulk at a wholesale warehouse. For instance, you buy jams, biscuits and teas and put together small gift baskets yourself.

5. Cook up your gifts. Baked goods, whether made from scratch or from a pre-made mix, are popular, thoughtful and cheap. Just be sure you're aware of food allergies and restrictions.

6. Small gestures. Even if you can't afford to give any gifts this year, a card expressing your thanks lets people know how much you appreciate them. Small touches, such as adding a single flower, can go a long way, too.

If it's your first holiday in a new area, ask around if tipping is expected, Stanger said. For instance, she said, tipping a school bus driver is probably more common in the Northeast than in other parts of the country.

In some situations, you may not be allowed to tip. Mail carriers, for instance, can only accept non-cash gifts or gift cards worth $20 or less. School districts may not permit gifts to teachers either.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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