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I Want To Give This Gift But I Can’t Afford It. Can You Pay For It For Me?

I will let the following e-mail speak for itself. Some quick background….she e-mailed first a relative she is not that close too and requested it to be forwarded to ( I am assuming) family members who ( in her mind ONLY ) would be able to deliver the goods. I feel that maybe someone should help her and let her know that this may not have been in good taste but I am gobsmacked about what to do about this…

The E-Mail…

Please see message below from M.  She asked me to forward this to all of


>Friday, October 01, 2010
>To: B
>Subject: Hello!

>Hey B!

>I hope life is treating you well these days.  I can’t believe I’m almost
>halfway done with this semester already!  It’s flown right on by!!

>I was hoping to run something by you just to fill you in and then you can
>decide where you want to go with it from there.  As you may or may not know,
>my parents’  XXth wedding anniversary is going to occur in about 2 weeks.
>Since my sister and I have never really done much with regard to their
>anniversary, we decided that this might be the year for that.  So we put
>together a weekend for them at a bed and breakfast this weekend.
>They’re really excited about it and I’m really excited that they are able to go.

>As far as where you come in, I was just going to try to let everyone know
>that I was doing this, and since it came out of my own pocket and I am a
>struggling college student that doesn’t have much financially to contribute,
>I was just going to let you know that we were doing this and if you wished
>to contribute anything to the cause, that would be lovely.  Don’t feel
>obligated by any means… I’m not going to have to go without food for
>extended periods of time or anything, but I just need to be somewhat careful
>in my spending.

>So anyway,  I was hoping that you might be able to forward this email to
>some other family members as well just to let them know of this cause (C
>and J, H and B, S and C, H and M, G and M, etc.).  Again, if it’s not in your interest >to donate  anything, don’t  feel like you have to at all.  Thanks for reading!


In these current economic times of recession and tight finances, the temptations to yield to money etiquette faux pas increase.  FYI. yours truly is a contributing etiquette expert for an article on money etiquette issues in the November 17th issue of Woman’s Day magazine.

Let’s start with the origin of the problem, a daughter named M.  While her and her sister’s intentions to bless their parents on their anniversary with a stay at a Bed and Breakfast is admirable, the fact is the gift exceeds their budget.

Lesson 1:  Give gifts that are within your financial means.

The cost of the B&B stay is apparently considerable enough that she has resorted to begging from other relatives to foot the bill.

Lesson 2:  If you are going to give a group gift then offer others the chance to get in on the ground floor of the decision and make it evident that this a group gift before committed to buying a particular item.  There is nothing wrong with group gifts that everyone has agreed ahead of time to contributing to but to buy the gift *you’ve* chosen and then plead poverty to extract the funds to cover your over expenditure is poor manners.

And I use the word “begging” purposely because although M reassures the recipients of this forwarded email that they are under no obligation to give, she negates it all with a somewhat passive aggressive explanation that she “won’t go without food” if she pays for  this gift solely by her own means but that she’d really needs to pinch her pennies.

Lesson 3:  It used to be that people were much more discreet about money and, like sex and how you voted in the last election,  how much money you had or anyone else had was not a topic of polite discussion.  In other words, a person’s financial status is really no one else’s business.  Announcing to the world that you are so poor you cannot afford the gift you intend to give is indiscreet and soliciting funds based on that declaration is tasteless.   (And conversely, declaring that you are wealthy enough to cover all expenses is tasteless.)  Because this email has been forwarded to who knows whom, the effect is like when  a panhandler on the street gives whomever walks by a tragic sob story trying to extract some change from passersby.

So, what is a recipient of such a request like the above email to do?

Lesson 4:  Recipients are under no obligation whatsoever to contribute to these causes.  If they want to give a gift of their own, they are free to do so but they are also free to ignore such pleas.  The OP asks how she can help her relative understand the tasteless of her deed and to that I say, perhaps the collective action of everyone refusing to contribute money will send a power signal that maybe this wasn’t the best idea.


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  • jenna October 7, 2010, 2:56 pm

    “We don’t know what semester M is in. First semester of freshman year is a lot different than last semester of senior year.”

    In terms of what you are learning, sure. Financially, not so much. If anything, senior year is harder because first semester of freshman year, your parents are more likely to give you some money to start off, but expect you to be more able to cover your own expenses by senior year…and you have to prepare for starting your post-college life in just a few months.

    So I still don´t feel bad for her…if she has to pinch her pennies because she bought an extravagant gift, then that´s an important life lesson. It´s also an important life lesson to see that people aren´t going to jump to your aid to give you money if you can afford to survive but have to budget…you have to work these things out yourself. I do think her heart is in the right place but she´s just a tad misguided and naive, but I also do NOT feel sorry for her. I had to pinch pennies for years – I never went without food but sometimes that food was ramen or rice and ketchup or “beans…again” so I just do not have sympathy for someone who feels they are entitled to not have to do that. Hopefully she will learn.

  • Chelsey October 30, 2010, 10:16 pm

    @jenna: I do have to correct one thing: there is a financial difference between freshman year and sophomore year, depending on what kind of financial aid you’re receiving and possibly what school you go to. When I was a freshman, I was paying $6000 a year after financial aid went through. Each year, financial aid grew more and more (they don’t pay as much for freshmen because they’re more likely to drop out–the less of a risk you were, the more money you got). But my senior year, I was GETTING $6000 a year. I had received grants as a reward for doing things like making it to my junior year and then my senior year with a GPA higher tan 2.0. There was certainly a significant difference in my financial situations. However, I do concede that it wasn’t a big enough difference to do something like pay for my parents to go on a vacation or something. It was nice for buying little Christmas gifts and the toiletries I needed, though, without mooching from my parents (which was a HUGE deal to me–I loved not having to ask Mom and Dad for a few bucks to get the things I needed).

  • Chelsey October 30, 2010, 11:59 pm

    Oops! I meant to say senior year, not sophomore. Sorry!