The case for giving cold hard cash as a present this Christmas

By: Zandile Chiwanza on December 13, 2019

Groceries were the last thing I spent my money on in my third year of university as I was struggling to make ends meet. I was studying full-time and working two jobs trying to keep up with my fees as an international student, paying at least $24,000 in tuition alone. It led me to increasingly rely on the food bank that year. 

Recognizing my struggle, a good friend of mine gave me a grocery gift card for Christmas that year. One of those grocery stores where there was mostly fresh produce. On top of this, she added some cash in an envelope, “for the taxi ride home.” 

Kale and apples might not have been at the top of my wishlist at the time, but that specific thoughtful gesture impacted my thoughts on the etiquette of giving and receiving money. 

Before this encounter, I grew up thinking monetary gifts were impersonal, especially from loved ones. But as a broke adult, not only did I realize it’s the best gift of all time, it can also be one of the most thoughtful. 

As Christmas approaches and people are gearing up to find the perfect gifts for their loved ones, I asked my social media whether they felt strongly for or against cash as a gift. 

“YES! YES! YES! To receiving cash,” Renée Francoeur, a journalist based in Toronto replied. 

Recognizing my struggle, a good friend of mine gave me a grocery gift card for Christmas that year

“My sister and I told my parents, no presents but they insist on putting something under the tree so it was just money in an envelope last year. We hope they do the same again this year because I need new brakes on my car and she has a wedding to pay off!”

 Zanele Mhlaba, a recent graduate based in New York, agreed. 

“My biggest thing is I don’t want people to waste their money on things I’m not going to like,” she said.

“Just hand over the money, because at any given time, extra money could help me out, you know.”

However, she acknowledged it also depends on the situation. 

“I love gifts from people I’m really close to because they are usually sentimental and they come from the knowledge of interacting with me often.” 

Of course, it doesn’t work for everyone

Hope Elder, creator of MÛRES, who lives in Montreal is just not here for receiving cash as a gift. To her, money is the “easy root.”

“I would be offended if my partner gave me money for Christmas,” Elder said. Also “how much is acceptable? Because I know you’d be annoyed with $10.”

Actually, even $10 is good for me because that can cover my Spotify bill.

On a serious note, Elder made a fair point. Gifting cash can be awkward. I remember when I first suggested to friends and family that I preferred monetary gifts, it was met with some resistance. Naysayers felt it was too “lazy” or “impersonal.”

“One of the problems with giving cash gifts is there is always the question of how much,” wrote David Weliver, founder of personal finance site Money Under 30. “The answer is the amount that you can afford, and that you feel is appropriate.”

Just hand over the money, because at any given time, extra money could help me out, you know

I’m also aware that in some cultures it's considered rude to gift someone cash.

According to Weliver the first rule when somebody asks you what to get you, is to “never say ‘cash’.” 

“The decision to give cash should always be with the giver, never the recipient,” Weliver added. “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.” 

I just wonder, what am I (your loved one) going to do with this “new George Forman Grill” when I’m struggling financially?

Octavia Ramirez, founder of Paper and Coin Magazine, is also in the pro-cash camp. Ramirez thinks it’s totally fine to request to be gifted cash over the holidays, regardless of whether or not you're in a tight financial situation.

“It's very common for weddings or other types of occasions for people to gift cash, and even request "monetary gifts only" on their invites,” Ramirez pointed out.   

“Why should the holidays be any different?”

Being upfront about what you want

One thing we all agreed on when it comes to gift-giving, there is always a high chance of an awkward moment when you receive a gift you don’t need or want.

Ramirez thinks monetary gifts  are a far more “sustainable option, as it prevents people from purchasing random stuff that may potentially just end up being re-gifted, not used, taking up space in storage, or in the garbage.”

With all this in mind, I’m encouraging gift-receivers to tell your loved ones exactly what you want for Christmas this year, even if it makes you look greedy. 

Since I’ve made it clear I only want cash or cash equivalent gifts, when Christmas rolls around I can expect cash, prepaid visas and gift cards to Shoppers Drug Mart. For anyone who wants to get creative and is looking for ideas on what to get me, I point to the one year my roommate took care of our hydro bill. I was very thankful for that. 

If you’re going to ignore my advice on cash, then I propose all you gift-givers at least do one thing to make life easier for us cash-lovers: provide a gift receipt. That gives us the option to assess what we don’t need or want, and get some money for it.