Finances & Money

When you’re old enough to refuse cash gifts from family

Madame X at My Open Wallet posted about her Moral Quandary of accepting cash from her parents, especially during financial hardships.

I faced this problem recently as well. For all my life, I have accepted cash gifts from my family for birthdays, Christmas, and some other random holidays or events. After getting married 3 years ago, I got a new source of revenue from my in-laws. I am flush with joy that both sets of parents find me worthy enough to send me their hard-earned dollars, but here’s the problem:

My wife and I make more than both sets of parents, plus grandparents, combined

That’s right. People that make far, far less than us are sending us their cash.

Also, my parents and grandmother have quite a bit of non-home debt. My wife’s parents have very little debt overall. But, none are in the position to ever get to really retire, especially with bills, debt and cost of living always going up. So, the question is:

Is it right for me, as a grown adult, to keep taking money from my parents or grandparents?

My answer is NO. Personally, I think that giving people money without directing them towards using it in a specific manner, such as for debt or schooling, is an unwise investment. Sure, I’ll give money for weddings, but that’s something different. But for other events, if you’re going to give cash, tell the receiver that you’d like it used for say, their student loans, or to put in savings for school. If you can find out where to send the money to directly, then do so. It’s one less reason for that cash to burn a hole in their pocket.

How did I handle stopping the cash gifts? I simply bought a cheap thank you card, wrote out a Thank You note detailing why, in diplomatic terms, I would rather they keep the cash, and sent the card, with the cash inside, back to them. I may deposit the cash and send a check instead if it’s a larger amount.

My note said something like this:

Thank you sincerely for your cash gift. However, at this adult stage of our lives, I would rather you keep the cash for your own savings or debt repayments, and give me the gift of your company by visiting when you can.

For example, my parents asked what I wanted for my birthday 2 years ago and I replied:

Nothing material except the whole family coming down to visit for the weekend.

That was enough of a financial strain in itself to request material things as well. My family complied and it was one of the best birthdays I could remember because we all had a great time touring the D.C. area together.

So, think about that cash gift next time it arrives in the mail or in person. Do you REALLY need it more than the giver? Would you really put it towards your debt or savings IN ADDITION TO what you already planned to save or pay down? Give it back with some kind words, and move on to more meaningful gifts than money.


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Clever Dude


  • Good for you, Clever Dude. When a “grown up child” can pull off a successful combination of (a) diplomacy and (b) unselfishness towards his/her parents (and write an actual pen-and-paper thank-you note as well!!) that’s surely a sign of maturity. I never felt better about myself than when I was holding a yard sale and rolling every single last one of those loose back-of-couch-cushion coins in order to make a down payment on a modest house without having to ask the parents for a low-interest “love loan”… They’ve done enough for us, just dragging us safely through adolescence, doncha think?

  • I agree with you 100%, but I can’t think of anybody who wouldn’t be offended by the suggestion that they can’t afford to give their children money. Obviously you don’t say that explicitly, but it’s implied.

    I can’t really think of a truly diplomatic way to do it.

  • I can’t get my parents to not give me cash, mainly because my younger sibling really expects and ‘needs’ it. Therefore my parents think it’s more fair if we all get cash. however, I think my older sister basically give it back by giving my parents cash, treating them out to dinner or via a gift that is equal or more in value.

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