Dear Amy:

Like many people these days, my husband and I have struggled financially. We both work on commission, and there have been months when we've had no income at all. My husband is taking his Social Security benefits earlier than we had planned.

We have a problem that most people would love to have, but we're not sure how to handle it. We have a friend who is divorced and quite well off. He has two children in their 20s. Every year around the Christmas holiday season, he takes his family on wonderful vacation trips.

This year, our friend has surprised us by inviting us to join them. He is paying for all of our travel, hotel and related expenses at an over-the-top luxury destination.

I told my husband that I didn't think we should accept the gift, but he really wants to go, and our friend was so excited to bring us. I'm overwhelmed at this generosity.

Do you have any suggestions on how we can appropriately express our appreciation? Something that doesn't cost a lot of money but says we are grateful? I know he isn't doing this for our thanks, but I feel we should do something special.

- Lucky Friend

Dear Lucky: You are correct in that your friend is not sharing his largesse to be thanked, and you are also correct in that you must thank him.

One way of expressing your gratitude is to be a great sport, be in the moment and have a wonderful time. Drink in the experience you're being offered, and let it do for you what great experiences should do - renew and inspire you.

Take great photographs - with an eye toward documenting the experience. Get some good shots of your friend interacting with his family in various locations.

After you return home, turn your photos into an album. Write witty and warm captions for the photos, and on the last page include a photo of you and your husband. Your caption should read, "With affection and gratitude for the trip of a lifetime."

Dear Amy: I have a brother who sends out a Christmas gift list every year for his young daughter. She is 5.

This year we have been told that we need to attach a receipt to our gift, just in case the gift is duplicated and needs to be returned.

Although I am laughing with my other siblings over this, I cannot believe it. Have they forgotten what a gift is?

I would never think of asking for a receipt in case my kids or I don't need or want something. It is a gift! Should I only give this child cash for the rest of her life? Be a rebel and give gifts without a receipt? Must I give exactly what I am told? Any way I look at it, it has taken the fun out of purchasing a gift for my dear niece.

- Giftless

Dear Giftless: Get the child what you want to give to her. Tell your brother that if your niece wants to return the gift, they should let you know and you'll take her through the process of exchanging a gift. That should deter them.

These people have created their own problem in providing a specific list for their daughter. If everyone in the family buys only off the list, they increase the risk of gift duplication.

If they really want to control the process, they are going to have to set up a gift registry where they can track exactly what people are purchasing. Don't suggest it.