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Breaking up with a gift giver can be hard to do

Gift givers are getting ready to cut.

Against the backdrop of record high unemployment and other financial struggles, people are taking out their holiday gifts lists and finding themselves having to cross off friends, relatives and co-workers this year.

A survey earlier this fall by market research company NPD Group found that 27 percent of people said they would cut their personal or business lists this year. But when gift comes to shove, not everybody can go through with it. Marshal Cohen, NPD's chief industry analyst, expects about 19 percent will trim the list.

Still, it's the first time in the five years the question has been asked that the number has topped 10 percent. It's usually 5 percent to 8 percent.

While it may be a relief not to have to buy for a family friend or your book club, breaking up with a gift giver can be hard to do. To avoid hurt feelings and awkward situations, experts advise, be kind and tell the truth.

"Be honest, and say, 'Times are tight this year and I'm having to cut back. Do you mind if we don't do gifts?'" said Peggy Post, director of the Emily Post Institute.

And don't wait too long. "Do it early" so your friend doesn't buy you a present before you break the news, Post said.

But in place of the latest best-seller or pair of gloves, come up with an alternative, like a holiday lunch. "Don't forget there's a lot of gifts that are free - your attention, your time, maybe your talent," says gift expert and author Robyn Spizman.

WHOM TO CUT

When it comes to friends, Spizman suggests cutting people you don't see any more. Instead, send a card with an offer to get together. If you live nearby, invite the person over for dinner.

When it comes to family gifts, you can skip grownup gifts and buy only for children, or draw names for the adults, so each person buys and receives one gift. The same can be done for children, by drawing names for, say, all the cousins.

When it comes to thanking people, a gift isn't always necessary. "If you give your business to someone, you can shake their hand and thank them," Spizman said. "You give them your business - that's a gift."

GIFT ALTERNATIVES

Part with a possession: "Maybe this is the year you pass something down that was meaningful to you - a baseball, a comic book," Spizman says. Or she suggests giving four or five books to help someone start a library or a piece of jewelry.

Lend a hand: "Long after the fruit cakes are forgotten, people remember true help," Spizman said. "They remember when you repotted the plants at their front door when they no longer have the energy, or the soup you brought, because you made that by hand." Or you can offer to baby-sit or run errands.

Share a tip: If you're getting together with a group, everybody can bring a dish along with a copy of the recipe for each person. Or if you're gathering for a girlfriends' dinner, add a theme by asking guests to bring their favorite beauty tip, says Spizman.

Pick up the phone: "Call someone and say, 'I'm thinking of you' and 'You mean the world to me.' That is beautiful," Spizman says. Or stop by to spread some good cheer.

Give by giving back: Tell your circle that you're donating money to a charity or working in a soup kitchen in their honor, Post says.

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