Asking for Cash as a Gift: Can You? And How Should You Do It?

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You have a personal milestone on the horizon — i.e., wedding, baby shower, birthday — and you know you’ll be receiving lots of gifts. Celebrations are exciting, and you’re grateful people want to give you gifts, but to be honest, you just want cash.

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Whether you don’t really need anything right now or know your well-meaning loved ones tend to miss the mark on gifts, you’re not sure if it’s OK to straight up ask for money.

The quick answer is no, said Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, based in Marblehead, Massachusetts. She said events like birthdays, graduations and weddings are not fundraisers, so it is not appropriate to outright ask for money.

“These are major lifecycle events that are celebratory in their own right,” she said. “As the honoree, you should be grateful and humbled that your friends and family are marking the occasion with you. The invitation is not an invoice.”

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However, she noted that your guests are excited to celebrate with you and will likely want to offer their well wishes by presenting you with a tangible gift.

“While it has been and remains to be gauche to ask outright for cash, there is a lovely, little loophole,” she said. “If that is what you prefer, you guide them to the cash-as-a-gift option.”

Smith said you can accomplish this by discreetly steering them toward a monetary gift.

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“If and when they ask what you would like for your birthday, graduation, wedding, you may reply with a statement along the lines of, ‘I truly already have all I need, right now I am saving up for a trip, car, house,'” she said. “Now your guest has the information and can make their decisions accordingly.”

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While this should get your point across, Smith said it still might not work, because people have different ways of thinking about gift-giving — which is perfectly OK.

“Do understand that there are some people and some cultures where giving cash is the preferred option and other people and some cultures where they will do anything to avoid giving cash,” she said. “Even for baby showers and wedding showers, where the entire purpose of the event is to give gifts, some prefer items instead of cash.”

On the other side of the debate, Jennifer Porter, a Seattle-based etiquette expert and founder of Satsuma Designs, said it is absolutely OK to ask for cash as a gift for a major life milestone.

“Asking for money as a gift has one important caveat and that is the ask must include a concrete plan for what the cash gift will be used,” she said.

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In fact, Porter said requesting money with a clear purpose is a welcome guide for gift-givers.

“Our modern world is expensive,” she said. “Friends and relatives really do want to give what’s wanted from a new couple, parents or graduates.”

She also emphasized the importance of writing a thank you note for the gift.

“[It] should include a reflection on either how important that ‘purpose’ is and that it has been secure[d] [or] purchased with their gift or that it is gaining interest in an account and will be used in good time,” she said.

Essentially, different people have different views on whether or not it’s OK to ask for cash as a gift. Therefore, it’s best to consider your audience when deciding if it’s appropriate to request money, and if so, how to go about it.

If your gift-givers are of a more traditional mindset, you might opt for Smith’s more subtle approach. However, if you’re relatively certain people will be fine with your cash-only request, Porter’s idea of requesting money with a purpose will likely go over just fine.

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About the Author

Jennifer Taylor is a West Coast-based freelance writer with more than a decade of experience writing about anything and everything. Since earning her MBA, personal finance has been her favorite topic, as she’s passionate about writing stories that educate, inform and empower. Specifically, she specializes in budgeting, debt repayment, savings and retirement.
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