Daily Money - The birthday gift EVERYONE wants

plus Livestrong + Cheddar Bay Biscuits
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June 26, 2024 • Issue #244
Dollar Scholar
Ancestry

Hi y’all —

Happy birthday to you… probably?

July, August and September are the most common birth months in the United States, meaning you probably have a birthday — or know someone who has a birthday — coming up soon. And try as you might to plan ahead, I’m willing to bet you, too, have found yourself running around the house in the hours before a party searching for an item you can wrap and conceivably pass off as a present.

As the Dollar Scholar, I wonder whether the solution is staring me right in the face in moments like this. It would be so much easier if I could just Venmo them a few bucks or email over an Amazon gift card… but is that too impersonal? Does it come across as thoughtless?

Is it rude/tacky/weird to give someone money as a present?

Not according to Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas.

“Cash is king,” she tells me. “Everyone loves money.”

People of all ages welcome monetary gifts — and sometimes, they prefer it. In a 2019 survey from Mint (RIP), 61% of respondents said they’d prefer cash or a gift card to a quote-unquote “traditional” present. A 2023 YouGov poll found that “cash or money in some form” beat books, event tickets, clothes and electronics in a ranking of the holiday gifts people would be most excited to receive.

“I think giving money as a present can be perfectly appropriate and even appreciated in most instances,” etiquette expert Myka Meier, from Beaumont Etiquette, writes in an email. “It's a gift that truly allows the person you are gifting to choose what they really want or need.”

Meier points out that, in some cultures, it's actually standard to receive money for certain occasions. The New York Times reports that in Japan, for instance, the typical goshugi — envelope of cash handed over in association with a celebration — is up to ¥50,000 (over $300). South Korean weddings often have a designated person who collects all the chug-ui-geum.

Thanks for all the birthday wishes. If you’re looking for a last minute gift idea, I just want to say, from the bottom of my heart: send me money. Any amount’s okay, but a comma or two is definitely preferred

Speaking broadly, cash can be preferable if the recipient is going through a transition and/or taking on expenses associated with a new life stage. Think: graduations, weddings, baby showers. The money can help offset the debt they’re taking on, and that’s no small thing given that a whopping 88% of people admit they’re financially stressed.

It’s also certainly better than buying someone something they don’t want.

But there are some caveats to be aware of. Gottsman says whether a gift of money is perceived as impolite often depends on the relationship you have with the recipient.

For instance, while your 15-year-old nephew might be stoked to get $50 cash, your more established great-aunt might be offended — she might interpret the gesture as you suggesting she needs money. It could also go south if you’re in a new romantic relationship where your partner is waiting for you to give them something meaningful.

“Think about the recipient's lifestyle and your relationship with them,” Meier says. “Consider if they might prefer the flexibility of cash or if they would appreciate the thoughtfulness of a bespoke gift.”

If you’re worried about seeming cold, Gottsman suggests you “warm it up” by getting a crisp bill from the bank and enclosing it in a nice, handwritten card. That shows the recipient that you put time and effort into the present (and didn’t just pull a crumpled twenty out of your back pocket 10 minutes before the party).

This goes for gift cards, as well. Choose a place that you know, based on your shared history, the recipient loves. That way, you’re personalizing the gift and enabling them to get a treat of their choice on your dime.

Say your cousin loves going to their local AMC movie theater but has trouble justifying the $15 popcorn combo given her strict budget. With an AMC gift card, you’re letting her splurge without the guilt of overspending on something frivolous.

That’s going to make more of an impact on them than a random hand cream she’ll never use.

“It is not a thoughtless gift if there's some thought put into it,” Gottsman says.

The bottom line
(but please don't tell me you scrolled past all of my hard work)

Giving someone money as a present is not rude, tacky or weird, as long as I do it carefully. The key is making someone feel like the money is a present I picked out just for them — a task easily accomplished by driving to the bank to get a new bill, including a heartfelt note in a card or intentionally selecting a gift card to a place they love.

I love it.
via Giphy

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Receipt of the week
check out this wild celebrity purchase
Flavor Flav
via Instagram

Rapper/Swiftie Flavor Flav has dedicated himself to a new pursuit: saving the struggling seafood chain Red Lobster. Flavor Flav posted on Instagram earlier this month to say that he “ordered the whole menu” on a recent trip to Red Lobster. And then he did it again. AND THEN once more to donate to those in need. This likely cost about $1,600 each time, according to Us Weekly, which all adds up to a pretty hefty takeout bill.

Internet gold
five things I'm loving online right now
1
I admire the dedication of this dude, who brewed what he thinks is a close approximation of a 3,000-year-old beer recipe consumed by the likes of Ramses the Great. Using ingredients such as dates, honey, sycamore figs, frankincense and ancient yeast, he created his Sinai Sour, which the New York Times says has “a rich, refreshing, cider-like quality.” Drink up.
4
This is a fantastic story about the mid-aughts ubiquity of the Livestrong bracelet, which despite Lance Armstrong’s ultimate fall from grace raised millions of dollars — and a lot of awareness — for cancer patients. “You’re pulling it out of the shadows, out of those chairs in the treatment rooms, and bringing it out into the streets in a very visible way around people’s wrists where people can connect,” one source told Texas Monthly. “And it’s, ‘Oh, you too, you too.’ You realize that there isn’t anybody who’s unaffected by it.”

401(k)9 CONTRIBUTION
send me cute pictures of your pets, please
Remy
via Erica Stec
This is Remy, sibling of Celia, last week’s 401(k)itty contribution. Remy is happy to accept cash, gift cards and/or bacon as birthday presents.

See you next week.

P.S. Do you like giving money as a gift? What’s your favorite Chappell Roan song? Is  your birthday coming up? Send cake to julia@money.com, please and thank you.

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