And here's a parting tip about one aspect of the seasonal gift ritual that's often fumbled: The thank-you note. The world of good you've achieved by savvy gift-giving can be undone if you thoughtlessly fail to thank those who remember you on their gift lists. "Always follow up any gifts you receive with a sincere thank-you note," advises Ann Humphries, president of ETICON, a Columbia, South Carolina, etiquette consultancy.

Keep thank-you notes short, but do personalize them; mention the item that was given and why you value it. And, adds Humphries: "E-mail won't do, not for anything more than the most casual gifts. Good policy even in the 21st century is to send handwritten thank-yous. You will be remembered for your notes."
It's tough to come up with $25 gifts that send a zinger of a message, but gifting mavens are ready with these timely suggestions:

A fistful of dollars. This is just the thing for world travelers, suggests Rancho Santa Fe, California-based gifting expert Joli Andre - a wad of Euros or Japanese yen or Canadian dollars, not the U.S. sort. For frequent flyers, having local currency on hand upon landing is a great time saver, and $25 can produce a bushel of foreign green (17,317 Chilean pesos, for instance). Most large banks handle currency exchanges for nominal fees.