I’ve heard it. You’ve heard it. Giving cash (or often, gift cards) shows you don’t care. You don’t feel like taking the time or trouble to pick out a “real” gift.
Let me tell you a thing.
Once, years ago, a friend had been trying to find something to give me for Christmas. I was in rough financial straits at the time. It seemed silly to give me something useless. I had bunches of books and movies already, and also he didn’t know what I might want. (This was in the days before Amazon wishlists. Or at least, before I had one.) I had just moved from a good-sized house to a tiny apartment, so I had no room for anything more than I had anyway.
Anyway, as the situation dragged into January and he got to feeling worse and worse about it, he finally handed me $50. He told me I couldn’t spend it on bills–I had to get something I wanted.
Friends, I went to a discount home store and bought myself some curtains. My little white box of a living room got curtains, and my new place became much more homelike. My daughter’s room got purple sheer curtains, and I got to stop worrying about how she never remembered to close the blinds before changing. My bedroom got bright red blackout curtains–so I had a pop of color AND some additional darkness for days I got to sleep in. I even bought a little curtain for the kitchen door, so people knocking couldn’t see in!
My point? Most of the time, you’re not going to want to buy someone curtains. You don’t want to buy them a swimsuit. You’re probably not going to go out and buy them tires. These are things a person can really want, and not be able to get, and you giving them cash lets them get the exact thing they want.
I lived in that apartment for five years, and every time I adjusted the curtains, I thought of my friend’s gift. When I moved, the red curtains went up in the kid’s room. The purple ones got moved to the housemate’s room (briefly.) The kitchen one went up in the cutout between kitchen and dining room.
My friend worked hard to give good gifts, and he mostly succeeded, but those curtains are the only thing that I still remember ten years later.
It would have been different, of course, if I hadn’t been barely holding on. If I’d been able to afford to go buy my own curtains, him doing it wouldn’t have meant much. If your friend can’t really use the cash, then maybe it’s not the best option. Maybe they’re holding it together, but you can’t remember the last time they did anything fun? Get them movie tickets. And/or a Starbucks card. A zoo membership. A summer swim pass. One of my favorite gifts for a dear friend who reads a LOT is a gift certificate to a local bookstore. She gets to browse a bookstore (favorite activity), purchase books (favorite activity), and come out absolutely guilt-free about having made irresponsible use of money. Give the gift of an experience—research says it’s worth far more to us than things anyway.
If you and your friend are at the point where you’re writing checks to each other to show your love, of course, maybe donating to each other’s favorite charities would be a better option.
Anyway. It’s not Christmas or my birthday, so why am I talking about this tonight? Because I’m eating pizza. A friend sent me money for whatever I needed “move-related” and tonight everyone was hungry and we still haven’t found all the pans and we don’t know where a lot of the food is (sue me, we’ve been eating out of the freezer but now it’s getting bare and I’ve got a book due so shopping is not in the cards.)
I probably won’t remember the pizza in ten years. But i will never forget the kindness of my friend, who has done so much from a distance to make those in my household feel loved.
Tl;dr? Cash is only cold if it’s not given with love. Don’t be afraid to give a friend a dead president or two.