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Minding your financial p's and q's

Emily Yoffe, a.k.a. Slate's advice columnist "Prudence."

Tess Vigeland: Our money habits are often, well, terrible. We are rude with our money. We display bad money manners. And so with that, we wish you Happy National Etiquette Week! Yes, there really is a National Etiquette Week -- special time to recognize courtesy, civility and good manners and bring attention to those breaches in etiquette that drive you crazy, including all those money faux pas.

So here with some timely advice about money etiquette is our good friend Emily Yoffe, also known as "Dear Prudence" at Slate.com. And Emily where, oh where do we start with this one?

Emily Yoffe: I wanted to start with -- since this is graduation season -- please, please, high school and college graduates, sit down and write -- yes, write -- the thank you note to people who have given you gifts and checks.

Vigeland: What? An e-mail doesn't do it anymore?

Yoffe: You know what, actually, an e-mail may would be fine, because I have sent many gifts and checks to graduates and I don't care if you graduate from law school, get married, have quadruplets -- I will never send you another check, 'cause you never thanked me!

Vigeland: So it doesn't matter what form the thank you comes in, just as long as you get one.

Yoffe: I wanted acknowledgment that I've done something that means something to you. So just -- what is gonna be, two minutes? Do it kids.

Vigeland: Alright. Graduates, you're on notice. Well, we asked our Facebook and Twitter fans to write in with their etiquette questions, so let's go ahead and get to them. Belinda Cron asks what to do when her family goes out to dinner and everybody tries to grab the check to one up everyone else.

Yoffe: Oh boy, can I join your family? I mean, just sit there! Let someone else say, "My turn." But that's something people can talk about.

Vigeland: Alright, well, this could apply to either family or a group of friends: When someone suggests that a group go out to dinner and then it ends up being at a very expensive restaurant, and there are folks in the group who clearly cannot afford it. What do you do?

Yoffe: I'm so glad you brought this up, because I want to say something about this. Adult birthday celebration, I think it is just the height of rudeness to say, "We're going to a really really nice place," which literally at the end of the evening, by the time all the wine's drunk, can put you back $100, $150. And even if you sat there, saying "OK, I'm going to have one glass of wine and a salad," it doesn't matter, because you're stuck dividing up this huge bill. I think it's fine if you hear it's gonna be at Chez Mortgage Payment to say, "Oh God, I wish I could be there, but I just can't."

Vigeland: Here's another one from our Facebook page, this one from Colleen Marie Kohlmeyer Brooks: What is the proper etiquette for notifying friends, family and neighbors that you are foreclosing on your house?

Yoffe: Oh dear. That's a word-of-mouth situation. You know, making a mass announcement of something really awkward like that, I don't think is necessary.

Vigeland: Alright, well, speaking of recession-related issues, I think over the last three years or so during the downturn, lots of people have faced the questions of how to gently talk about gift-giving, maybe to forgo it or do like a $10 maximum or something. It can be really awkward, I think for both sides of that.

Yoffe: I think you just have to talk about it. If it's with friends who you normally exchange birthday presents or whatever, you have to say, "You know what, this year, we're trying to dig ourselves out of the hole. Please let's not exchange gifts." As far as families are concerned, you just have to say, "Can't do a birthday gift exchanges, can't do Christmas this year." "Well, you're being a Grinch!" Yeah, you just cannot be bullied into putting yourself deeper into a financial hole.

Vigeland: Well, we just heard a story about tipping, but I don't think it addressed this question, also from our Facebook page: David Osaki wants to know what to do for the delivery driver, pizza or otherwise. He says, some people have suggested a fixed amount, since the driver does the same work no matter how much they're bringing to you. Or percentage of the bill, as if you were dining in the restaurants.

Yoffe: Interesting. I give like five bucks, because it's a door delivery. You know, it's the same if the pizza's coming or if I've ordered a meal to be delivered. But I'm willing to hear from other people. The thing is this person not your waiter or waitress, so you know, it's not this extended providing service beyond appearing at your door. So, I think the fixed amount is fine, but let me know if people disagree.

Vigeland: Oh, believe me, they will -- and they may not be very nice about it either.

Emily Yoffe offers her take on matters of etiquette, manners and morals as "Dear Prudence" at Slate.com. Thanks so much for joining us again.

Yoffe: My pleasure. Thanks Tess.

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I definitely take issue with "Dear Prudence's" "etiquette" advice. I was about to agree with her when she said it was the height of rudeness...and then I realized she wasn't going where I thought she was going. What is the height of rudeness is to invite someone to a birthday celebration and then expect them, as the guest, to pay. If you host a birthday celebration, and you invite others, then you have INVITED them. You are not allowed to charge them. And if you cannot afford to go to an expensive restaurant that way, then it is your responsibility to select something you can afford, even if that is just coffee and cake at your place. By the same token, it is very rude to declare that you shouldn't exchange gifts. Gifts are ALWAYS voluntary - always - and it is rude to tell others that they cannot give you a gift. If you cannot afford to give gifts yourself, you can choose to give a card or some other inexpensive and thoughtful token. But you cannot choose to dictate to others what THEY can do - as in "Can't do Christmas this year". Well, yes, you CAN. You are just choosing not to, and you can let the other people make a different choice. (As an example, one year my sister had no money yet chose to give me two crayon drawings her kids made of our trip to the park. To this day that is my favorite gift EVER) Please ask "Dear Prudence" to read genuine etiquette guides before positioning her personal opinions as genuine etiquette advice.

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