Face it. Living below your means requires a good bit of creativity from time to time. You have to get pretty clever to stretch a buck.

But just how far can you go in matters of etiquette before you cross the line?

Ask yourself these questions when making a decision having to do with gracious living and etiquette:

  • Is my choice to be cheap going to harm or insult another person?
  • Will my behavior leave a fragrance or an odor?

Rule of thumb: Be cheap with yourself and generous with others.

Don’t, for example, require a service person to forego a tip so you can live below your means. If you cannot cover a decent tip, don’t eat out. Or order less.

When in doubt, err on the side of generosity.

I am invited to a bridal shower I cannot attend. Must I send a gift anyway?

No. Simply respond with your regrets. However, if you are invited to the wedding and cannot attend, in that case you should send a gift.

Am I obliged to give a person who gave me an unexpected Christmas gift, a return gift even if he or she is not on my gift list?

No. A simple thank you note is all that is required.

Do I have to tip the bellman to carry my bags to the room? I really do think it is ridiculous but don’t like that awkward moment when he just stands there.

Yes. It is customary in our culture to tip a bellman $1 per bag, or if the bags are heavy $2 per bag—but only if you choose to use that service. You can be kind in saying that you’ll carry your own bags (and save the tip).

I received a gift certificate for a very elaborate day at the spa. Am I obligated to tip the staff?

Determine in advance whether a service charge is included in your gift. You can either look on the certificate itself or call ahead to ask. If none is included, then you should tip 10 to 20 percent of the value of the treatment to be shared between those who provided the individual services.

My former fiancé broke our engagement. What happens to the ring?

The ring belongs to the person who paid for it regardless who broke the engagement, according to the The Emily Post Institute. And both parties should return any gifts received from the other during the relationship.

On what portion of the restaurant bill do I pay a tip?

Pay the tip on the total for food and beverages before tax. It is customary to pay 15 percent for good service; up to 20 percent if the service was excellent.

When using a two-for-one restaurant coupon how do we figure the tip?

Determine what the cost would have been for the meal had you not had the coupon. Figure your tip on this amount, before tax.

The pastor of our church will perform our wedding ceremony. Do we have to pay him since we are members of the church and weddings are part of his job?

Performing weddings and funerals is typically outside the scope of a minister’s regular duties. Yes you must pay him at minimum $200, more if travel is involved. Give this gratuity to the best man in an envelope along with a gracious note of thanks. He will in turn give it to the officiant following the ceremony.

What is the etiquette to follow when having a makeover at a cosmetic counter in a department store? There is no charge for this service, but am I expected to leave a tip?

There is typically no charge for this service. You owe nothing if you buy product or take less than 15 minutes of the sales person’s time. Otherwise leave at least $15.

Must I tip a flower delivery person?

According to Judith Bowman, author and etiquette expert, no. When the customer pays a delivery charge for non-food deliveries like furniture, flowers and balloons, a tip is not required. Flower delivery people do not expect to be tipped.

However, if the driver goes out of his way to make a delivery under special circumstances or has had to return more than once to catch the recipient at home, a small tip of $2 to $5 is a gracious gesture.

When we eat out in a group, the bill is often divided evenly among group members. We are not big drinkers nor do we make extravagant food choices, while some people in the group go nuts. How can we ask to pay just our portion of the bill without seeming too cheap?

Kindly ask the server for a separate check before you order. If this is not possible, try to position yourself so you are the one to accept the check from the server. First check to see if the gratuity has been already added to the bill (this is not an unusual practice when there is a large group).

Place your money on the check—being extremely careful to include every item you ordered plus tax and a generous tip (round up)—and pass it along. Believe me, your gentle boldness will be appreciated by others who will follow your lead.

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