The audacity of asking for cash gifts

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By: ShardayyyCC BY 2.0

If you ever want to get into a quick argument, try talking to someone about doing a cash wedding registry. People love to debate the issue, and sometimes it feels like the discussion just goes on, and on, and on. In fact, the New York Times recently published an article by Princeton sociology professor Viviana Zelizer that makes it clear that the debate has been raging for over a 100 years:

[Giving cash] horrifies traditionalists, who see giving cash as the ultimate commodification of a sacred ritual. Money is acceptable for charitable donations or bonuses, but certainly not for friends or family.

In the December 1909 Ladies' Home Journal, for instance, the writer Lou Eleanor Colby said she had found a way to “disguise the money so that it would not seem just like a commercial transaction.”

(Read the full article here, and Sociological Images' perspective here.)

The historically-respected solution is disguising the cash. These disguises have shifted from hiding cash in art or integrating it into crafts, to gift certificates (like cash, but the giver still controls where it's spent), all the way to the current solution of honeymoon and cash registries. (It's not actually cash because it all happens on the internet, right?)

Despite the methods for “hiding” the gift of money, there are still folks who simply canNOT abide. And if the shrieks of “TACKY!” have been raging for over a century, I certainly don't think Offbeat Bride is going to be able to magically change anything. (Of course this is very much a regional and cultural thing — in some areas and some cultures, cash gifts are totally the standard!)

That said, I feel like part of what goes unexamined in this debate is who generally benefits from non-cash gifts: RETAILERS. I mean yes: the thoughtfulness involved in picking the perfect gift is awesome. I get a little buzz when I manage to catch a loved one mentioning something in conversation (“You know that old wool sweater from college? It finally unraveled passed the point of no return…”) and then surprise them months later with the perfect gift (“Oh my god, how did you know I needed a new Merino sweater!?”) That's an awesome feeling.

But I have to wonder how much of the etiquette around cash gifts being supposedly awful is generated by the retailers and industries that benefit from it. Like the manufactured tradition of diamond engagement rings, how much of the tradition of purchased gifts trumping cash is generated by retailers?

I don't have an answer to the question, but whenever you're considering advice or etiquette or traditions that simply MUST be followed, I find it's helpful to consider who's got the biggest investment in that tradition.

Comments on The audacity of asking for cash gifts

  1. “Dear loved ones,
    As we have been living on our own for many years, we have many of the things typically gifted to newly-weds who are also leaving the nest. We also know that some of our particular lifestyle preferences may be inconvenient for our guests to accommodate. With that in mind, if the spirit moves you to gift us with more than just your presence, please consider contributing to the funding of our new home, in which we hope to throw many parties to which our loved ones may be invited.”

  2. I grew up in the Northeast in an Italian family. Geographically, it’s always been gift for the shower, money for the wedding (from what I’ve seen). Culturally, the Italians will throw an envelope of money at you for any occasion. Funeral, birth, wedding, birthday, you name it, they’ve got an envelope of cash for it. Bringing a gift to a reception isn’t necessarily considered tacky, it’s just out of the ordinary.

    My fiance is from the Midwest. His sister had two or three registries, two showers, and a gift opening party the day after the wedding. His Mom asked us if we were going to register. I hadn’t planned on it originally until I found out about the shower. Thing is, we are in our mid-30’s, have lived on our own since late teens-early 20’s, and we have at least two of almost everything. We said we were going to make a small registry, but since we want to buy a house and we currently have no room for much, we were hoping for money (or nothing) for the wedding.

    I’ve taken the F it attitude for the wedding. I think the T word is BS and I’m pretending it doesn’t exist. I would never be rude or break (real) etiquette, but anything goes in the realm of “tacky”.

  3. My fiance and I are moving across the country 2 weeks after our wedding, and doing so by plane – meaning whatever fits in our luggage is all that comes with us. Unfortunately, there will be no room for toasters and china in there. We’ve explicitly asked for no gifts, which people aren’t listening to, so as an alternative we’re asking that it be greenback (meaning cash only), which some people aren’t listening to. It’s just unfortunate because I’ll have to leave whatever gifts we receive behind because we can’t bring this stuff with us.

  4. The information in the article that the cash vs. gifts debate has been going on for at least a hundred years makes me wonder if cash gifts are considered tacky not because they are less advantageous to the retailers, but because cash gifts are considered normal in Eastern Europe. The very strong social trends of rejection and fear of whatever traditions the most recent wave of immigrants have brought with them is a consistent trend in history. I can easily see cash gifts being rejected for this reason alone, and then that rejection getting codified into tradition.

  5. I enjoy being audacious, and my academic work often deals with commercial culture. I like buying my own shit at antique and thrift stores, need nothing from a registry with a retailer, amd DON’T CARE if family members or others find my asking for cash as tacky or audacious. I’m a poor graduate student and mama throwing a huge expensive party for all y’all’s butts. GIVE ME SOME MONEY IN LIEU OF A GIFT I WILL SELL ON THE INTERWEBS ANYWAY.

  6. We’re currently in this dilemma now, where we have to word our invites JUST right in order not to step on any toes. My fiancee and I have been living together for 4 years, we already bought a house, we are pretty much settled so buying household items simply won’t work for us. We are having a themed wedding, and we’d much rather have our guests spend money on their outfits than on gifts for us. We do have a little phrase inserted so far in our invites for those who 1. Insist on giving a physical gift and 2. Those who insist on giving cash. We said something along the line of “…No gifts necessary, but if insisted upon, feed our nerdy desires with a copy of you favourite book, or a donation towards our choice…” We figured that it is much cheaper for our guests to bring a book, or money for a book than to spend hundreds on something waaay more expensive. We love books and we love adding to our collection too, so it seems like a win-win for us as well as the guests.

  7. we have and are asking our guests for money, we have little poems to put it in the nicest way cash please. we are planning to go to disneyland paris as a family moon for our wee girl for a few days and the money is going towards that and work on our house. i dont think it as rude but as modern, times change, traditions arent the same, it use to be tradition to not move in before married but all the couple i know either/and have kids, a house and all furniture and accesssories needed.

  8. My husband and I did a destination wedding, so a lot of our guests gave us money to avoid having to cart a gift along with them. The money came in a variety of forms – cash, cheque, gift cards – but the cash gift that touched us the most, was from my cousin. We got married in Banff, AB and when she arrived in the mountains, she found some tree branches on the ground, put them into a pot with some dirt, and then clipped bills to the branches, creating a “Money Tree” for us. She also included a lovely poem she’d written about how with this “Money Tree” she wished us a life full of wealth – emotional, spiritual, physical, mental, and of course financial. I’m sure some of our guests probably thought her gift was tacky, but for my husband and I it was one of our favourites, not because it was cash, but because it was original and came from the heart!

  9. This is soooo funny to me…

    I live in Oregon… Here, every wedding I have been too has the MONEY dance lol. The Bride and Groom go on the dance floor. Typically they start the dance with either the groom attaching a bill to the brides dress OR with the bride with an older male family figure and groom with an older female family figure and the older family figure attaching money to their partners wedding garment. People cut in through the dance to attach money and dance with the bride or groom.

    I’ve also seen boxes out for people to deposit money in. Gift registries are big. And while Ive never heard of a honey moon registry I love it. As I love the idea of providing guests with paypal information to help out towards a home down payment. When I get married, I’ll probably have an array of options.

    Also, here in the NW it is not frowned upon to bring a gift to the wedding, just don’t expect it to be opened there. Those are typically opened after the honeymoon and receive and thank you card within a month/6 weeks after the wedding.

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