Giving cash as a gift generates far more happiness in the recipient than is generally realized. According to studies, giving cash achieves the original purpose of a gift: Fulfilling a personal wish based entirely on personal taste.
Every year Christmas seems to come around as something of a surprise. The date is always the same, but still this “celebration of celebrations” is a stress factor for many people and often associated with hard work. A crucial and yet difficult question is “What should I give?” The gift should be straightforward, comfortable, safe and pleasing for both the giver and the recipient. For all these reasons, a cash gift often makes the most sense for everyone involved. Unimaginative? Uninspired? Only at first glance. Joel Waldfogel, an American scientist and professor of economics, suggests another perspective on the tradition of giving Christmas presents in general, and money gifts in particular. His publications include the book Scroogenomics – Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holiday. The professor’s research found that everyone involved in the gift was satisfied when cash was given. Waldfogel’s second argument for cash gifts, points out that in the US alone, $85 billion is “misspent” on unappreciated Christmas gifts every year. Cash is a much more efficient gift option.
The gift of cash fulfills a personal wish
Waldfogel isn’t alone. In the article “Give them what they want: The benefits of explicitness in gift exchange”, academics Francis J. Flynn (Stanford) and Francesca Gino (Harvard) explain how fundamental misunderstandings arise between those who give gifts and those who receive them. Unsurprisingly, a gift is better received when it is explicitly wanted. The hit rate for surprise gifts is comparatively low. They also describe how the act of giving money is often subject to a misunderstanding. The giver thinks that a gift of money will leave a bad taste in the receiver’s mouth, but the receiver is actually far happier than is assumed.
And not just at Christmas either. In her article “Money as gift: the value and significance of monetary presents”, the Austrian historian Professor Silke Meyer describes familiar money-giving scenarios: The grandmother who slips a note into her grandchild’s hand when saying goodbye, swearing him to silence with a conspiratorial wink; the friendship group who, lacking time to buy a “proper” present, wrap up money in creative ways; the colleagues collecting for a wedding present who debate how the gift of money should be delivered.
Small gifts and friendship
“Money is at the heart of these gift-giving practices, and where money is the gift, clear rules and conventions apply,” writes Meyer. He quotes one of the now numerous guides on the topic of cash gifts: “Giving money as a gift enables the recipient to fulfill a personal wish based entirely on their own taste”. Original packaging transforms ‘impersonal’ cash into a very ‘personal’ gift.”
Red envelopes to guard against the wrath of the spirits
In China, cash gifts in red envelopes known as hong bao are presented during Chinese New Year and at weddings and have a long history. Cash bonuses are also given by companies to their staff before the New Year. Hong bao gifts were originally intended for children, who were believed to be particularly vulnerable to the wrath of angry spirits, so concerned parents would give their offspring “lucky money” as a sort of bribe, hoping to quell the fury of the spirits.
When money sticks to a bride’s dress
Giving money is not just an established custom, shaped by different times, cultures and perhaps also religions, it can also be a very individual act for a special context or occasion. It can elevate the act of giving and receiving above the mundane. Money-giving at weddings is booming, in all kinds of different cultural forms and contexts. At Greek weddings, family members attach money to the happy couple’s clothing during the first dance, or throw it onto the dance floor. Alternatively, the groom’s tie may be cut off and “sold” piece by piece. In Poland, guests attach money to the bride’s dress in return for a dance with her – or they form a circle around the bride and throw the cash into her veil.
But back to Christmas – or almost.
Tradition becomes business: Hanukkah money
Hannukkah, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights, celebrated at the end of November or start of December, also has its own tradition of giving money as a gift. To get the children into a festive mood, coins are given as presents – either real cash or chocolate coins. In the early 19th century, American chocolate manufacturers turned the tradition into a business idea, packaging chocolate coins in gold and silver foil. Chocolate coins remain hugely popular for “Hanukkah gelt” in the USA.
Gifted notes need to look good
Business-savvy confectioners – whether accidentally or intentionally – forged a link between sweets and money. Both are great gifts. But a cash gift is a bit more special when it’s a crisp, new note, not crumpled or dirty. What grandmother would hand a dog-eared note to her beloved grandkids? Who would pin a shabby €50 to a wedding dress? For any special occasion, a new note is best. Whether given as a gift or used in every day transactions, its popularity is possibly due to the banknote’s durability, security and the features and substrates used by G+D Currency Technology for this purpose. Happy “Cash-mas” and may the spirit of gift giving long outlast the Christmas holiday!