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money and wedding gifts

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JD over at get rich slowly posted an interesting readers question on how to be more frugal with gift giving. As is often the case some of the comment interchange metamorphasised slightly, in this case about the gift giving at a wedding. I wanted to respond to some criticisms of my views but felt that it would be better to do so here rather than on the original post (as there’s more room).

My comment was the following:

I’m not (and never have been) married, but I’ve been to a few weddings and I always want to give a gift. I don’t like giving money because I always have a small budget and I don’t want to look cheap (I don’t really enjoy giving money anyway).
I prefer to give something that the couple want and find gift regsitries very helpful especially if I am fond of the couple but don’t know their personal tastes very well.

Michael Langford wrote the following in reply which I’ve highlighted with italics - my response in intermingled in plain text:

You might like giving a gift. But if you don’t keep in mind what the couple needs, you’re just assuaging your own ego, not helping them.

When trying to plan a registry, especially if you realize china is not something you need and pass on it, you have to put out a *large* amount of effort finding 5-25 dollar items you “want” so small gift givers aren’t frustrated. This just wasn’t our experience, this was some frustration we found out 3 of our married couple friends also shared. We end up putting a list of small items we might someday want or need, then end up throwing away or storing for years.

I’m afraid that if someone puts something on their gift registry then I am bound to assume that its something they want. And putting in effort for your friends is just one of those things that I think you do. If you think its too much trouble, then don’t bother - but effort is what relationships are about.

Give your friends a real gift, that of the item they’d actually use, the money, and take the risk that they’ll think you cheap.

Not everyone likes to receive money, just as I don’t like to give it. Why should I take the risk of looking cheap when there is a gift registry to choose from where I can buy something that they have said that they want in my budget.

And by the way, every bride and groom knows exactly how much every item costs on the registry. Everyone does. You’re not hiding your “cheapness”, you’re just making the bride and groom indulge your vanity. If they really need the item, and no one gets it, then your gift of money will be (possibly) spent on it. However if it was just a cheap item put there so “Young friends can afford something”, you just did them a huge favor.

Part of me thinks that this is a cultural issue. There really is more of a money taboo in the UK than in the US. For example, we don’t tip at the bar, although we might buy the bar staff a drink. Even though everyone involved knows the price of the drink, we can collectively (and subconciously) pretend that money isn’t involved. I think that it works the same way for me with gifts. I am not saying that this is healthy, merely that it is not uncommon.

Ask one of the more recent married couples you know and bought gifts for which one they’d have liked better: The gift or the same amount of cash. You’ll see who you’re really making happy by gift buying is you, and you’re not helping out the new couple as much as simply dropping cash in the envelope would.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. All gifts come with some obligations. They are meant to strengthen the relationships between people. Of course I’m making myself happy by buying the gift, I want to improve my relationship with these people because I like them and they like me. In any case, not everyone prefers cash and I feel distinctly uncomfortable giving it - gift giving is supposed to give pleasure to the giver as well as the receiver.

Please feel free to comment on my comments :)

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5 comments for “money and wedding gifts”

  1. I’m generally with you on the gift giving, though I have no problem giving money if that’s something I really do think a couple needs. Ideally a gift reflect the personal nature of the friendship because you know what the perfect gift is. In reality it’s not so much this. Personally, i think gift giving in the U.S. is overblown part of the culture. Gifts should never be required obligation. Gifts do strengthen relationships, and should be ideally exhanged when there’s cause. Birthdays, Weddings and such in themselves do not represent cause in iselft.

    Posted by dong | July 11, 2007, 4:00 pm
  2. Hi plonkee,

    Americans also have issues giving cash. I also had that problem too until a frank discussion with one man who gave cash (who was a friend) after my wedding. There are several memes such as “You didn’t take the time to find something for them”, “How crass they are showing off their good fortune”, etc, that givers of cash/investments get levied at them.

    There is a weird, somewhat parallel situation though that to me seems oddly similar to cash: when you give a gift card, that “counts” as a “real gift” rather than cash. It is a strange phenomena that by constraining 1> They must *spend* the money and 2> Where they must spend it, you’ve all of a sudden given a “gift” rather than cash.


    PS: I’m unaware of the penetration of gift cards into the UK. In the states, they’re little credit card sized cards with the same magnetic stripes on them all American credit cards use. They’re only good at a particular store chain (Wal-Mart or Whole Foods or McDonalds, etc), and over time, their value is reclaimed by the store if you don’t spend it.

    Posted by Michael Langford | July 11, 2007, 4:45 pm
  3. And if it truly bothers something inside of you to give money instead of a gift, don’t put yourself through that (at least more than once, maybe to try).


    Posted by Michael Langford | July 11, 2007, 4:47 pm
  4. Michael - I’m glad you found me.

    I’m not surprised that there are also cash hangups in the US - I can only speak on what I know from the UK and also from observing US habits (esp. with respect to tipping because it is quite different).

    I believe that cash is perceived as less thoughtful because it often is. Sometimes cash is an appropriate and thoughtful gift but it suffers from also being the default ‘I couldn’t be bothered to think of what to get’ gift. Also, cash is not good for gift exchanges - two people swapping cash is a little counter-productive :) .

    And it is interesting that gift cards (which we have in the UK now) are more of a gift than cash - perhaps because you’ve got to think of the right shop to get it from.

    I’ve given cash as a gift quite recently, and I didn’t enjoy it - but it was the most culturally appropriate gift, so I just sucked it up. Its good to try new things though.

    Posted by plonkee | July 12, 2007, 9:51 am
  5. Until I started dating my wife, who was part of a Russian immigrant community in New York, I though giving cash was really painfully tacky (I’m American). After attending a few weddings while we dated, then having our own, I am a complete convert. It saves the guests trouble - no guessing what to get - and it is absolutely far and away the best gift for a newlywed couple. I cringe now when I have to attend an ‘all-American’ wedding where I’ll be looked as some sort of unwashed heathen if I bring an envelope with cash in it, so instead I go out and buy my standard wedding gift - a nice picture frame. Useful, eh?

    As a side note, I really don’t see the point of a gift card - it’s basically handing someone cash but saying “only spend it at this store”. Again, all well and good until you get a gift card (as we did) for a store that your out-of-town visitors like that doesn’t have a location within 100 miles of your home!

    Posted by Brip Blap | July 17, 2007, 10:41 am

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