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Financial Gifts: The Etiquette of Giving and Receiving Money

As a kid, did you ever have a relative that sent a check – or cash – for your birthday? While cash can’t always replace a thoughtful gift (avoid giving $100 bills as an anniversary gift, for example), there are times cash money is the most appreciated gift you can give or receive. That said, here are a few rules of etiquette to follow when giving – or receiving – a financial gift.

For the Recipient

Never Ask for Cash – First, if somebody asks you what to get you, never say “cash”. The decision to give cash should always be with the giver, never the recipient. Asking for financial gifts – no matter how badly you would rather have some extra funds to pay the bills than a new George Foreman Grill – makes you look greedy.

Show Your Appreciation – If you are lucky enough to receive a cash gift – for your birthday or perhaps your wedding – thank the giver for their generosity both at the time of the gift (if given in person), and with a thank you note. Show equal appreciation for gifts large and small, as a small gift from a peer on a limited budget may have been a bigger stretch than a large check from a rich relative.

Follow Up on Large Gifts – If you receive an especially large gift – generally over $1000 – perhaps for a specific purpose like college tuition, graduation, or a wedding – it’s especially polite to send additional thank you notes reiterating your appreciation and describing how their gift has helped you. It’s almost like non-profit organizations provide stewardship reports to donors describing how their charitable gifts are well-spent.

Never Discuss Financial Gifts – Never disclose to anybody else how much somebody gave. As with most financial matters, cash gifts should be held confidential. For the recipient to talk about somebody’s cash gift is insensitive, for a giver to talk about how much they gave is classless and uncouth.

If You Protest, Do So Only Once – Finally, in the event of a spontaneous “gift” – let’s say a friend wants to reimburse you for a favor you provided them or reimburse your for gas or other expenses, it is perfectly OK to decline the gift (if you wish), but only once. If the giver insists, then graciously accept their offering without further protest.

For the Giver

For Whom is Cash Appropriate? – It is important to know the etiquette regarding when – and for whom – cash is and is not appropriate as a gift. Generally, it’s not cool to give financial gifts to your significant other for any occasion. Personally, I also avoid giving cash to close friends or family members, the exception being for major life events like weddings or graduations.

How Much to Give? – One of the problems with giving cash gifts is there is always the question of how much. The answer is the amount that you can afford, and that you feel is appropriate. Never give more than you can afford just because you think that’s what is expected of you. For example, if you are going to a lavish wedding that you guess might have cost the bride and groom $100 per head, don’t give $200 (for you and your guest) if it strains your budget. By contrast, if you can easily afford $200, don’t necessarily limit yourself to a $200 gift because you know that’s what the wedding costs.

Cash can be an easy, straightforward gift for the giver that the recipient will appreciate and put to good use. Just follow these etiquette rules and give cash gifts with the peace of mind that doing so won’t lead to an awkward situation.

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Published or updated on June 12, 2008

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


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  1. Mark says:

    I am a father of 3 teenagers and the husband of a wife of 19 years. I have always believed in working hard and making it on your own. I taught school and coached for 17 years, but recently I had a financial disaster that has rocked my foundation to the core. I have become very depressed. Is there anybody out there that can help me! I know this sounds crazy, but I don’t know what else to do.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I have a question: If a friend wants to give a financial gift to help someone reach a personal goal, and they want to set up a bank account to do so for that friend, how do they legally go about not having the receiving party have to pay taxes, etc. on it?

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