Category Archives: Gifting

Penny Pinching

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I was very good friends with a couple who moved to Hawaii twenty
years ago. We kept up a long-distance friendship for a long time, and I
even went there to visit back in the 90s. But for years it has waned to
the point of non-existence. If you’d asked me, I’d still say I liked them,
but I don’t think I’ve had two phone calls in the last five years.

 

Yesterday I heard from the wife, saying the husband had died of
cancer, after a year-long battle. It was a warm email, though in
retrospect it feels like she may have sent it as personal email to a
great many people, just changing the salutation. When I went to the
memory site (with photos and stories and places to post the same,
each page had a very large “Contribute” button at the bottom, to help
defray medical expenses. I’m sure the medical bills were large, but I’m
on a tight budget too. Am I obligated to contribute?

Penny Pinching

 
Dear Pinching:

If you are truly down to counting pennies you are 100% off the hook,
assuming the idea that you have not sent even $25 doesn’t keep you
up at night. If you do make charitable contributions to non-profits, you
could divert a little to send your former friends. But if you are truly so
bust that you cannot afford to contribute, then send a nice personal
note, and an apology for being unable to help out at this time.
Friendships ebb and grow over time. It’s not uncommon for people
who have seemed incredibly important to one’s heart to fade with time
and distance. There’s no shame in having drifted apart. Do what feels
right, and send a heartfelt note. If you have memories or pics to post,
do it. And say kaddish for your friend.

Family Values

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My son is graduating in three weeks. We’re a middle class family that
lives sustainably and frugally. He is graduating with only $10,000 in
debt, has a choice of job offers, a girlfriend, and has generally been a
dream kid (teen-aged years notwithstanding). He lacks for nothing.
We would like to have a graduation party and invite family, friends of
family, and friends of his. Our relatives are poor but very proud. We
want to invite them but don’t want them to feel obligated to give gifts
even though we gifted their three kids handsomely when they
graduated. Is there a way to invite them without shaming? We don’t
mind, btw, accepting gifts from richer friends, but no one should feel
obligated.

Family Values

 
Dear Family Values:

It’s hard to have a party where some people give gifts and others do
not without the non-givers feeling guilty or shamed in some way. You
could include in the invite a note that says No gifts please, or Cards of
good-will only. At a minimum that will deter boxes and overt or
ostentatious displays of congratulations. Most millenials prefer cash
anyway, so those that wish to include gift cards of cash or credit with
their cards can do so, and the relatives will be none the wiser. If they
choose to do that also, have your son use some of the money to buy
them gifts in the future.

 
Be proud of your son and his accomplishments. Toast him lavishly and
underscore the importance of the values with which you raised him.
Lucky him. Lucky you.

Second Life

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a relationship question that is long-run not short. I’ve been with
my new girlfriend and (I hope) eventual wife for two years. She
started dating me even though I wasn’t fully divorced. And slowly but
surely it has become a strong loving relationship. The problem is that
her 14-year old daughter still refuses to accept me. The ex is a pot-
smoking, guitar-playing, rock-star wanna be who doesn’t get that at
age 45 his chance for fame and glory is long past. But his daughter
adores him. I’m older than any of them and within three years of
retirement from a very high stress job I can’t wait to leave. The
daughter is smart but not get a scholarship brilliant. There has been
no discussion of adoption given her age. And I am happy to help out
with college costs in addition to my usual monthly household
contribution. But I am not eager to prolong my work life misery for a
young woman who treats me with scorn. I know it sounds early but
how can I explain my needs without further alienating her?

Second Life

 
Dear Second Life:

Relationships grow and change over time. It’s the rare parent, even a
bio parent, who has a great relationship with a teenager. And with my
advice I’m am in no way advocating that ant offer of support you make
be seen as a bribe to get her to appreciate you more or treat you
better. That said, be as honest and transparent as you can with both
mother and daughter.

 
Explain that your current level of financial support for the household
will go on even after you retire in three years. Say that you are willing
to contribute towards college costs in addition, but not to work longer
to contribute more. Say that when the daughter does apply to schools
she can count on a firm commitment from you of $x thousand per year
for a specified number of years. Explain that the only criteria are on
going civility and maintaining a specified grade level. Be clear that the
support will end if she drops out, does poorly, or treats her mother or
you with disrespect. Nothing may change or time and familiarity may
improve things. But you can proceed with a clear conscience.

Frustrated

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I know you get these sorts of questions annually, but every year I am
irritated, offended, and frustrated when I shop at the local markets
and malls. Right after Thanksgiving there appear like magic flocks of
bell-ringers who sit outside store entrances like guard dogs. They’re
the ones who collect for various charities– almost always Christian
charities—from morning till night. Often they are disabled, or mange to
look very uncomfortable sitting in the cold 24/7 (I would be). They act
shaming and smugly superior when they wish you “Merry Christmas!!”
every time you pass by them without giving a donation. One woman
seems determined to get my goat. Every time I go in she says Merry
Christmas and every time I go in I say “Happy Holidays,” “Happy
Hanukah,” “Holy Kwanzaa,” and so on to let her know that not
everyone in the world is Christian. Is there something that I else I can
do to make the point that the whole world does not revolve around
December 25, and that America is a diverse cultural landscape?

Frustrated

 
Dear Frustrated:

This is a great chance to combine cultural education with creative
messaging. Also to enhance your computer skills. Go into your favorite
word processing, spreadsheet, or make-a- drawing program. Print up
pages of colorful and creative holiday messages. Avoid red and green,
angels and holly boughs, or other traditional Christmas imagery. Print
up messages like Thank you for respecting cultural diversity., Happy
Hanukkah, Season’s Greetings, Celebrate Solstice, etc. etc. Make the
messages things that when opened will educate the person who sees
them. Yes the message will probably annoy and irritate them, but
that’s partially our goal, correct? Put each in a gift little gift envelope,
the kind that you might use to tip the newspaper delivery person, and
hand write Happy Holidays on the outside. Keep them in your purse
and when you see the bell-ringer and she says Merry Christmas give
her your biggest brought-you- a-gift smile and stuff one of the
envelopes in her donation can. She will soon get the message, though
I doubt she will also come to some unflattering conclusions about you.
We live in an increasingly polarized world. Unless we can find a way to
remember how to be kind to one another, and to honor the message
that every one of the great religions brings to us– Love your neighbor
as yourself. Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. etc-
-we are headed down the wrong track with great velocity. I don’t have
answers, and I share your frustration. But only kindness can defeat
hatred.

Generous, But Running Out of Cash

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

For the last six weeks I’ve been laid up after surgery. I had a variety
of helpers early in the process, whom I paid $10-20/hr until I figured
out whose style worked with my cleaning standards and healthcare
needs. I eventually settled on a woman who rents a room from one of
my friends down the block. She’s intelligent, helpful, and very useful.
I’ve paid her $5-10 more per hour than anyone else for the last
month. While it’s cost a lot of money, it’s really felt worth it, though
thankfully I am using her less each week. Now that the holidays are
coming, I’m trying to figure out how I can say a special “Thank you” in
ways that are not monetary. Do you have any good ideas?

Generous, But Running Out of Cash

 
Dear Generous:

I’m among the people in life that doesn’t like gift cards. While
recipients may like the discretion of choosing their own gift, I think
just giving a coupon is not nearly as personal as a gift that feels
chosen. So I’d make up a gift box for your help that covers the gamut
of a day. Perhaps a special soap, something attractive to wear, a pair
of earrings, and something wonderful to eat, whether that’s fancy
chocolate or baked goods. Most importantly, I would include a very
personal handwritten card that says, I appreciate everything you have
done in ways beyond what money can express. My healing would not
have been as strong or fast if you were not in my life. Thank you,
thank you, thank you. Best wishes for the new year.

Not Rich Either

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

A friend helped me out when my car broke down. She ran me to a
doctor’s appointment I could not miss, on her way to her job. In her
rush to help unload me and my gear, she locked her keys in her car.
Fortunately AAA came within a half hour, but she got docked pay. I
said thanks for the help and gave her $10 to cover gas and her time
before we said goodbye. Should I compensate her for lost work?

Not Rich Either

 
Dear Not Rich:

Anyone who is working an hourly job for which they can be docked pay
deserves your generosity, even if you feel tight. A missed doctor’s
appointment would inevitably have cost you far more than an hour’s
pay for her. I’d offer her cash, and of she refuses, send her a gift card
to the local market. She was kind. You should be too.

Sort of Like an Aunt

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My best friend’s son is graduating from college this year. He’s going on
to a professional program in a year, but first taking time to travel and
detox from 21 years of school. He and his girlfriend are going to travel
in South and Central America, taking not much more than backpacks
and smart phones. It reminds me of my youth. I like this kid and wish
him well. I’ve also helped him a lot in the past five years, primarily
with editing his college essays and scholarship applications. As a result
he’s been able to accrue almost no school debt. I expect to help him
again this summer, to get his apps ready for the next set of
submissions. The question: What should I give him as a graduation
gift? I generally hate giving money, but he really lacks for nothing. If I
give cash, how much?

Sort of Like an Aunt

 
Dear Sort of Like an Aunt:

If this kid is like family, you should give him something you won’t be
embarrassed about. Even though you say you’re used to helping him,
you’d never have said No if he had come asking. So while your time
and effort are certainly worth something, they are also a gift you have
already given. It would be slightly churlish to keep rubbing his face in
your help, and to use your editing as some kind of quid pro quo for a
gift.

 
That said, you don’t have to give more than you are comfortable. My
guess is that he and his girl will be staying in hostels and eating on the
cheap. Think about a card, accompanied by a check of say $25-50,
that says: Have a wonderful time on your great adventure. The
attached is to be used exclusively for a lovely meal and a place with
your own bath and copious hot water. I expect to hear great stories
when you return!

Mom and Wife

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I was raised Jewish-ish by a single mother who was more of a new-age
hippie Buddhist pantheist than a practicing Jew. Surprisingly I married
a man who is far more devout than I am and have grown to love
keeping a kosher house and all the rituals of the seasons. This year for
Chanukah my mother sent our three children three books, for them to
share with one another and with us. Two were spiritual books about
astrophysics, which didn’t bother my husband at all, as he works in the
sciences, and often quotes Einstein to prove that God and science are
not incompatible. But the third book was a collection of Buddhist
bedtime stories. I recognize that my mother (who is good-hearted
even if she doesn’t totally understand my life choices) does not mean
to offend, but my husband sees is as undermining their faith. They are
11, 8, and 5, so still very much malleable in their learning. What
should I do with this book?

Mom and Wife

 
Dear Mom and Wife:

What a wonderful gift of a learning opportunity your mother gave your
family! The world is filled with people who are devout members of
religions other than Judaism. For your children to be raised in a bubble
without knowing that, or understanding that other religions offer their
adherents many of the same values, rituals, comforts, and emotional
sustenance as Judaism would be a horrible disservice to them. Surely
even your husband has to negotiate multiculturalism in his workplace,
and has learned to treat others with the same respect he wishes to
receive.

 
I would use the stories as teaching moments for the family, with or
without your husband’s participation. Among my favorite memories
from childhood is talking and sharing with my mother while we cleaned
up after dinner. Perhaps have the older two rotate reading the stories
a few nights a week. Then talk about what they are about in terms of
values such as compassion and generosity. Then compare those values
to Jewish teachings such as goodness and tzedakah. Focus on what is
best in each religion and what unites us as people instead of what
divides us. If Jews and Buddhists cannot do this there is not much
hope for the planet. And thank your mother for her thoughtful gift,
telling her it’s a teachable moment for everyone including your hubby.

Thanks, But No

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I have a friend who keeps giving
me her hand-me- downs like she is doing me a big favor. I’m not sure
where she got the idea that I admired her taste, which I most certainly
do not, though I do politely tell her that I like whatever new purchase
she is modeling when we get together. This is, btw, a woman who
proudly tells me “I don’t like to shop” but who manages not to wear
the same thing twice in a season. For my birthday, she gave me, gift-
wrapped no less!!, a box of “gently worn” duds that she said I had
admired. I managed to swallow my horror and surprise and said
“Thanks but I’m in giving-away mode, so perhaps you should donate
these to a women’s charity.” I know she means well, but this feels
both awkward and inappropriate. Do you have a gentle way to forestall
what I fear is coming my way again in December?

Thanks, But No

 
Dear Thanks, But:

Asking if you want a no-longer- needed item is considerate. Gift-
wrapping it is rude and/or a very bad joke. Either way, unless it is
something you have truly coveted, the appropriate response is Thanks,
but No thanks. Women I know who are in acquisition and/or shedding
mode have made an annual clothing exchange party for people to
bring their out-grown, under-worn, and otherwise no-longer- wanted
attire. All the residual clothing, jewelry, and accessories are donated to
local women’s organizations that help people in transition who are
homeless or who might need professional attire they could not
otherwise afford.

 
If you suspect this person is planning to “gift” you again for Hanukah,
make it a non-event by telling her how you are culling your clothes
down to the essentials as part of a self-improvement program. You
could, in your nicest possible voice, say If you’re interested in
anything….., but only if you can keep a straight face.

Not A Grinch

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m part of a circle of friends who’ve traded holiday gifts for decades.
Eventually we stopped giving them to all the children too, but it would
feel very strange, even socially uncomfortable, to skip Hanukah gifts
for the core friends. This summer I gently suggested donating our gift
money as tzedakah instead; I could see the “Grinch” tag aimed my
way. These are people who need not one thing. They’re all downsizing:
from purging their closets of work clothes after to retiring to moving
into a condo. Even at the risk of social stigma, I feel torn between
sending an email saying, In your honor I have made a Hanukah
donation to [our synagogue or some non-profit] and buying some silly
token gift to demonstrate that we should have outgrown this ritual.
You want a vote?

Not A Grinch

 
Dear Not A Grinch:

There are so many people who are in true need that spending any
money at all on useless consumerism feels more wasteful than silly. If
I ran your world, I’d stick with your tzedakah plan for half of your
budget and organize a group excursion (as in “the gift of a collective
experience”) with the other half.

 
Start with an email that says roughly, I know we’re all downsizing, so I
have decided not to gift “things” this Hanukah. But I love you all and
want to honor the depth and duration of our friendship. In our
collective names I have made a donation to [insert name of Jewish
organization that serves the needy, say Jewish Federation]. I’m also
proposing that we pool our resources and start a new annual holiday
tradition of an excursion to somewhere wonderful, for example,
theater tickets or a day trip to somewhere fun. Let’s find new ways to
make the world and our psyches better. There may be some grumbling
about Grinch-iness, but your true friends won’t tell you about it.

Not Cheap But Not Feeling All Too Obligated Either

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

What’s etiquette for people you feel obligated to give a gift to, but
neither particularly like, nor want to spend a lot of money on? Most of
them make more than we do, and I am comfortable. I also hate waste.

Not Cheap But Not Feeling All Too Obligated Either

 
Dear Not Cheap:

A lot depends on the timing, so you may need to hold this idea until
earlier in December next year, but it works from now to eternity. Pick
a charity you care about. There’s a zillion needy and deserving non-
profits, all of which could/would make better use of whatever you
would contribute. Pick one or two, and tailor the note below
accordingly. Send to each and any on your “no gift” list, preferably in a
nice card.

Dear [Recipient]: As you know we live in a world of abundance than
many on the planet do not share at the level of material comfort we
enjoy. I thought about getting you any manner of beautiful clothing,
household décor, exotic condiment, or rare vintage. Instead I decided
to donate in your name to [organization]. They feed the hungry,
create shelter for the homeless, provide protection to refugees, etc
etc. I know you have a big heart and a generous soul, and will support
this choice that I am making on your behalf. If, for some reason, you
do not, please tell me, and let’s forever release one another from the
obligation of reciprocal gifting. Best wishes for the New Year. I hope it
is filled with all the blessings you deserve.

Single Homeowner

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Please don’t laugh. My contractor and I are turning to you the way the
two self-declared mothers turned to King Solomon. Whatever you say,
we will do. That’s true even if neither of us agrees with your advice,
because we can’t agree with one another. Here’s the scoop: Three
plus months ago I started a backyard remodel project. New retaining
walls and replacement decking. I told Ludwig (my contractor) my
budget. Along the way he suggested and I agreed to add-ons and
changes (primarily invisible and structural) and I decided on upgraded
materials (composite decking and natural stone). In addition, I started
adding a long list of “honey do” items to the list: everything from
putting in new toilets and upgrading electrical outlets to digging in
plants and fixing an outdoor water feature. He’s close to done and
refusing to accept more money from me. I feel about this guy the way
you would about your favorite brother. I don’t want him working for
free, which it sounds like he does for many other people. I want to be
able to call him again when I need him. But mostly I respect and
appreciate him and want to show it with money. I think I owe him
close to $1,500.

Single Homeowner

 
Dear Homeowner:

I’m no Solomon but I do have a simple solution. Buy him a hefty gift
card from your local version of Home Depot. I’m talking $500 or
something large and beguiling that no man who makes a living with
tools could resist. Every contractor I know has a garage full of toys
and a secret lust list for more of them. That ensures he will be repaid
for at least part of his time.

 
Put the gift card in a note card that says roughly, Ludwig: I cannot
repay all the wonderful things you have done for me. But I want to try.
Enclosed is a gift card for tools. Go play!! Also include a check for
$1,000. I cannot compel you to cash it now, but even if you do not, I
want you to keep it for lean times between jobs. That way I’ll know
you’re always going to be happy and healthy when I call you again,
which you know I will do when my honey-do list gets long enough
again. He may protest, and you cannot compel him to cash the check
now. But one day he will. That’s when you should call for him to do
more work for you again, unless you have a homeowner crisis sooner.
Guys like him are more valuable than gold. Congrats on finding him.

No More Fudge!!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Every year my brother sends everyone in the family the same gift: a
box of bourbon-flavored fudge. It started when he moved to Kentucky.
The first year I thought it was a Southern food joke. But it’s become
annoying. I don’t like or eat the fudge. All my friends have had it re-
gifted to them. I’ve been forbidden to bring it to potlucks and gift
exchanges. It’s not that I need a different or better gift. But I hate
wasted money. If he really did want to send me some food there’s a
long list of things I would prefer, from fruit and cheese baskets to
something more esoteric. I’ve also taken up food preserving and
making everything from homebrew to kim chi, and would rather trade
specialty items than subsidize stores. Do I keep quiet or speak up?

No More Fudge!!

 
Dear No More:

Nothing beats honesty. People want their gifts appreciated, not
dreaded. Google to find out what he’s paying and then send him a
simple email. In it explain that you love him and love exchanging gifts.
But you’ve decided to be clear about what you do and don’t want to
share. Tell him that for the next few years you are proposing a
different gift exchange: everything from home-canned beer or
preserves to something re-gifted. Explain that you’d considered re-
gifting his last batch of fudge back to him, but that it seemed
unappreciative.

 
You can say that your family has changed its values around gifting,
given the life of plenty that you are living. Say you love him and want
to honor him so your gift to him is from your hands and heart, and
comes with only one condition: no more bourbon fudge. Say that if he
wants to gift you, you’re happy to have him donate to any of a list of
named charities, or send food from a similar list. But say you are
fudged out and ask him to respect that. The rest of the family can say
the same or eat fudge.

Got An Empty Yard

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a large and underutilized garden space in my backyard and a
large front yard that gets lots of sun. I have heard about the “grow
food not lawns” movement, and would like to figure out a way to offer
some space to a family or group that might benefit from the produce,
and maybe even who live in an apartment and might want to feel dirt
on their hands. Any ideas about how to locate such a family and what
kind of agreement to make with them?

Got An Empty Yard

 

 

Dear Empty Yard:

You have a full range of options. One is to hire a professional
landscaper and have that person put in a full garden for you, replete
with raised beds, berry bushes, and fruit trees. Then you could tend it
or find others to help you, in exchange for a share of the fruits and
veggies. Another is to locate a family through a sustainability network,
a local foods network, or a non-profit that assists families in need. You
can post a description of what is available, and what you want in
exchange. For example: Local homeowner with XxY square feet of
sunny garden space wants to help a family in a cooperative gardening
project. Please email me at name@youremailaddress.com if you are
interested in helping plant and maintain a garden space in exchange
for 2/3 of the produce. Homeowner will bear all costs of planting and
watering, in exchange for help with weeding and pre- and post-season
chores.

 
I would suggest some boundaries between the shared garden space
and your private backyard space. I’d keep access to the backyard
limited to times when you are at home and can supervise what is
going on. I’d also keep the yard locked, in part because you don’t want
your home to become vulnerable if less scrupulous people hear about
the access. You may make good new friends from this venture. And
you may find that a non-profit group wants to sponsor this activity, so
there’s a rotating cast of visitors. Your neighbors may be enthusiastic
and follow your model, or cautiously concerned. I’d alert them to your
plans to forestall criticism. Note: Check your community statutes to be
sure this plan is legal. There are a surprising number of regulations
about what you can do with your property.

Contest Mama

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Among the joys of coordinating fundraising our non-profit is dealing
with raffles. My team is a great set of hustlers. They canvassed the
local business community for prizes for our annual dance and raffle
and got forty, count them, forty prizes. They range in value from a cup
of coffee daily for a week to a three-day weekend at a vacation cabin.
The bad news is that we now have only fifteen days to run the raffle.
Our goal is to raise awareness of the organization and raising
attendance at the upcoming fundraiser: a summer formal ball we hold
under the full moon. One good thing: because one of our board
members owns the local FM station, we get lots of free airtime. How
can I use the donations well?

Contest Mama

 
Dear Contest Mama:

My gut says divide the prizes into two sections: some for the publicity
and others for the event. Rank them in value. Use the lesser half for
the publicity. Ask the radio station to announce the contest for a few
days first: entry free to all. I don’t know the per person cost of the
fundraiser dance, but consider having anyone who the radio contest
entered into a special drawing for a free pair of tickets to the dance.
Be sure each ad for the drawing and each pull of a name mentions the
name of the non-profit, its mission, info about the big event, plus your
website.

 
The radio contest can be answer a trivia question about your
community or organization, a simple pull the name out of a hat for
people who email in, or the __th caller after the announcer says dial,
with the prizes awarded one or two times a day starting now. Three
days before the event have a drawing for tickets, with participants
(other than call-in winners) having to enter on your website. Then give
the dance tix away with fanfare. The rest of the donations you can do
at a silent or live auction, or as a door prize pulling names out of a
hat.