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:
Iâ€™m not (and never have been) married, but Iâ€™ve been to a few weddings and I always want to give a gift. I donâ€™t like giving money because I always have a small budget and I donâ€™t want to look cheap (I donâ€™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 donâ€™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 donâ€™t keep in mind what the couple needs, youâ€™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 â€œwantâ€ so small gift givers arenâ€™t frustrated. This just wasnâ€™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 theyâ€™d actually use, the money, and take the risk that theyâ€™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. Youâ€™re not hiding your â€œcheapnessâ€, youâ€™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 â€œYoung friends can afford somethingâ€, 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 theyâ€™d have liked better: The gift or the same amount of cash. Youâ€™ll see who youâ€™re really making happy by gift buying is you, and youâ€™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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