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cashing out

When I was a kid, an aunt used to give me a $2 bill in a fancy envelope every Christmas. (At the time, no one told me about $2 bills and bad luck, though I guess that would explain a lot about my accident-prone youth.) She’d tell me to save it for a rainy day but of course I spent it right away on whatever caught my eye at age six and up: candy, balsa wood airplanes, whatever.

So now I like to give the gift of cash to my nieces and nephews and god-children. Depending on their age, they get a $5 or a $20 bill. My partner thinks it’s kind of crass and easy, and it turns out one of my sisters-in-law thinks so, too. She’s rather I not give her kids money, she says. Problem is, I don’t want to give money to some kids and socks to others; I don’t want to carve out different classifications of kids in my own family.

So what do I do? Ignore my sister-in-law and stick with a tradition that resonates with me? Abandon it?

Mr. Greenbacks

Strictly Classified says: I see both sides of this argument, and my advice is to do what works for you. It can be tricky picking out a gift for a child, and I was always happy to receive cash. If your sister-in-law has major beef with cash gifts, maybe you could come to some sort of compromise (say, a college fund).

The Designing Woman says: There are going to be a lot of people espousing the virtues of gift cards vs. cash. As someone still thought of as a child to most of my older relatives (I’m in my mid-20s), I caution you to think carefully about which cards you give to which relatives. The $50 gift card my uncle got me for Christmas was awesome because it was to one of my favorite stores—and a little creepy because it was to Victoria’s Secret.

The Practical Cogitator: Gift cards. There’s your answer. They come in all amounts. Same as cash, only now you get to decide where they spend it.

Here’s how you can have a little fun: iTunes cards for the cool kids—they’ll all love it. Who doesn’t want music, apps, games etc.?

Now for the sister-in-law. Her kids will also enjoy receiving a gift card, to spend on whatever they want. You could buy them a card to somewhere like Chuck E. Cheese’s, Applebee’s, Target, or the worst offender—Walmart. The kids will love it, and your S-I-L will have to take them there. I’m quite sure after an afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese’s, or fighting the crowds at post-holiday Walmart next year, she’ll beg you to give the cash gifts again.

The Omniscient One says: Cash is a lazy way out. It doesn’t say you’re sticking with a tradition, it says you don’t want to take the trouble to think about each of your young relatives and what they might actually like and be excited about when they open your present. My presents to my nephews were always their favorites because their moms could be depended upon to give them sweaters and warm socks. Uncles should be giving fun gifts that have no practical value!

The Sales Guy says: Has anyone in your family turned down your generous gift? I think not. As a child, cash was king at Christmas, and in these economic times it beats another sweater or scarf. If, however, your nieces or nephews have a particular interest or have specific collections, then you know it will have some special meaning. One can always go that route.

Dining Out says: I’d rather give (and receive) US dollars than give (and receive) lame gifts made in China. If your sister-in-law truly has issues with her kids having possession of cash, issue them savings bonds.

Smart Money says: Cash and gift cards are anathema at my family holiday gatherings. As easy as it may be, it is lazy. I hate shopping as much as anyone (more), but I suck it up. You better too. Hopefully we’ll shop separately. I’ve been known to accidentally eviscerate my fellow shoppers. Happy Hellidays! Let’s keep the weapons at home.

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