Cash:  The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Earlier today in my mail I received a Christmas card, ostensibly by my 90 year old mother (but which, in fact, was sent on her behalf by my oldest sister).  It was the first such card I’d received in at least three years, so I was quite surprised to receive it.  I simply figured at her advancing age my mother had decided (or perhaps had decided for her) that sending holiday cards was no longer necessary.

Inside the card were gifts, in the form of four gift cards from a restaurant chain.  While I greatly appreciated the gesture, the fact of the matter is that not only was this a waste of money, but it actually creates a burden.

The reason?  These restaurants have no local presence here, and thus are of no value or use to me and my family whatsoever.  So as a result, I’ll be putting them up for sale on eBay, in hope of recouping some portion of their value in cash – which, in turn, will go into my childrens’ college funds.  I’m not at all ungrateful (in fact, quite the contrary), but simply put this was a waste of money.

My point with this is that sometimes no matter how well intentioned, what you may think you’re giving someone as a gift may in fact not be.

My mother, and my children, would have been far better served had she simply arranged to have a check cut for the amount of the gift cards, along with a note saying “Here’s something for the kids’ education fund.”  Instead, I now need to “liquidate” these cards, probably at less than 75% of what they cost and in a process that could potentially take weeks or months.  I’ll need to buy my children presents in her name (I’ve been doing that for years, so that’s not a big deal).  Whatever I ultimately am able to recoup from these cards will meanwhile go into their college funds, though in addition to the lost value interest will also be lost due to the delays in “cashing out” the gift cards.

So a bit of advice:  if you encounter a situation where you have someone you want to give a gift, but don’t know what to get them?

Don’t guess.  Ask them if there’s something in particular they want.  And if you’re afraid or unable to do that?  Just cut a check.

Include a note suggesting where the money could be put to use if you have a desire to see it earmarked somewhere in particular.  It’ll be a whole lot less effort for you as a donor, there’s little to now way you’ll “guess wrong” with what to get your intended recipient, and your recipient in turn will be able to apply your generous gesture in a way that it can be most effective, rather than at least partially wasted.

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