‘I’m concerned my friends will think I’m cheap’: I used to give friends’ kids $100 gift cards, but I left my job in tech. Is $25 an insult?

Dear Quentin,

I am 52 and live alone on a single income.

For the past 15 years, I earned a large salary in a demanding role at a tech company.  The company was sold and I took time off and then started a different job in a new industry. I earn half of my old salary, and I have 75% less stress.

I have been generous in the past when giving gifts for graduations or birthdays for my sister’s or friends’ children ($50 or $100 gift cards). Now my budget is greatly reduced, and I can only offer $25 gift cards. Is that an insult?

I am concerned my friends will think I’m cheap. 

Do you have advice for me?

Aunt and Friend Who Wants To Do the Right Thing

Dear Aunt and Friend,

What matters is that you remember their birthdays and mark their graduations — not whether you give $25, $50 or $100. There’s something more valuable than a $100 gift card, and that’s a card with a message saying you wish you could be there to celebrate. 

We are all under orders from etiquette experts to give X amount if you’re a parent and Y amount if you’re an aunt or uncle or a close friend. This guide even suggests that you add $100 for every degree earned. What a load of poppycock!

But there is no hard and fast rule. It all depends on what you can afford. You could also buy something like a board game or card game for the entire family to enjoy. Monopoly has editions for many U.S. cities.

The reason etiquette experts give ranges for how much to give for graduations, birthdays, communions and bar or bat mitzvahs is to help take away any social awkwardness and provide a framework to make life easier. All those guides should have caveats based on income.

The Moneyist, to be fair, is guilty of this too. I recommend tipping in restaurants up to 20%, although that varies by restaurant and by city. But I don’t think your friends or siblings are holding you to the same one-on-one social contract that a customer enters into with wait staff. 

Your siblings’ and friends’ children will receive many cards from friends and family for birthdays and other special occasions. I don’t see them shaking each envelope for a check or a $50 gift card. Children want to be remembered by their friends and family, and they want to be seen.

You could also do other things like take them to the movies, out for pizza or for a game of tennis in the park when you’re next in town. There are so many ways to connect with your nieces and nephews and your friends’ children.

Remember: time + birthday card = memories.

gift cards can’t put a price on that.

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