Friday, August 11, 2006

Spending money on friends and family (or, money can't buy me love?)

One thing that frustrates me is the association of being "cheap" with being stingy and un-generous with the people around you. For me personally-- and, as far as I can tell, for many or most of my fellow blogging frugalites-- those things certainly don't go together. When I'm treating a friend who's a student to dinner, paying for my younger sister's plane ticket to come visit me, or buying gifts for friends and family at the holidays, those are some of the only times that the little "frugal voice" in my head stays quiet. Treating people, giving gifts, lending money interest-free... sharing with people I care about makes me happy and is totally worth it to me.

I think it's definitely good that I'm not as cheap in relation to others as I am for myself. But I've been thinking that if I want to be frugal and responsible, I need to have some limits on what I spend on others, too. When my sister comes to visit on the plane ticket I bought her, do I pay for all her restaurant meals and museum tickets too? Should I give pricey holiday gifts to my parents every year or just every once in a while? Do I cover starving-student friends' dinner bills every time we eat out together?

These questions are really hard for me, because I really want to be generous, and I try to be extra-vigilant of my tendency to stinginess. It's like once I let things past my personal cheapie threshhold, they can just keep adding up indefinitely because I can't figure out where more reasonable boundaries lie. I feel like, well, none of these things are a significant burden on my well-being, I've got plenty of money in savings for my age, so it's selfish of me not to do things if I can. But on the other hand, I do sometimes look at how much I've spent on others (and the effects on my bank account) with regret and a sense that I have to reconsider my go-with-your-gut, whatever-feels-right approach.

The best way to navigate this that I've come up with is to try to find meaningful, appreciated things to give and share that don't cost money. Cooking dinner with or for my friends instead of going out to eat. Finding things to do with my sister in Chicago that are fun and also cheap or free. Investing a lot of time, thought, and creativity into gift-giving-- but not necessarily a lot of money. And the (maybe-not-so-) ironic part is that these sorts of things tend to turn out better than the kind of generosity that's measured in the dollars and cents I spend on people. Yet there's still a degree of reluctance, nevertheless-- while I take pride and satisfaction in spending less money on myself, I can't shake the feeling I'm a cheapskate when I hesitate to spend on others.

So am I crazy, or are other people like this too? Do you set any sort of guidelines or limits for yourself on gift-giving, treating, and other generosity towards your loved ones, or do you just have better instincts and/or habits than I do about this stuff?


Kira said...

I like to spend money on others, and generally drop at least $200 every time I go home to see my parents. But I consider that I save money at home so that I can spend it how I like when I go to visit. It's kind of a tradeoff.

But I think that the middle ground of trying to do nice (but cheap) things for people is a good idea - it helps break the idea of "if she really liked me, she'd spend money on me" which a lot of people have, and which I think they would probably be ashamed of and deny vehemently if asked directly..

Ms. MiniDucky said...

I love to buy things for people, and do when I can. When I can’t, I maintain that thought and effort are key, which is why I’ll sacrifice sleep and my only free hour each night to plan a party, in lieu of throwing down $200 to say “We love you.” (We still spent the money, just on a party with all her friends. And hey, time IS money, right?)

With my family, the older cousins treat the kids. (The clothes shopping was unusual but she knows that things aren't going so well at home, so I wouldn’t get the things I needed for myself. She knows me.) I pay when I go out with my younger cousins - always for the meal but may take them to the mall or bookstore to hang out but not buy anything.

Cash gifts are expected and in large quantity for graduations, in a passing it down manner, but rarely anything else. I always got $100 from older cousins when I graduated HS/college so I'll do the same for my younger cousins (or the best I can).

For other gifts, I give what might give the recipient the most enjoyment for the occasion. I find many times the expensive gifts are given when the giver panics because they didn’t what the recipient would really like. Last year I found a great deal on heart locket keychains that supported the Breast Cancer Foundation, and with a picture of each of their pets in them, they were great for all the girls.

Whoops, so rambly!

Stargazer said...

I was just working on a blog similar to this. I feel like you just completely spoke to me when I needed it--thanks! I am the same way: big heart, small bank account if I am not careful. Anyway, it's nice to see that other people have the same dilemma that I do.