When Invitations Become Money Grabs
by, 01-05-2009 at 01:01 PM (2501 Views)
In the last year, Iíve noticed a trend among the invitations Iíve been receiving in my mailbox: Rather than being simple invitations to celebrations, they are becoming thinly disguised money grabs. I have been invited to weddings and told (not requested, but told) to give cash. Iíve been invited to a ďgoing away to college showerĒ right on the heels of the high school graduation party where I gave the graduate a check that I assumed would be used for college expenses. Iíve been invited to a Sweet 16 party and told to give cash to contribute to the birthday girlís car. I was invited to a baby shower for a fifth child (I always thought the baby shower was only proper for the first, maybe second, child and after that it was assumed that the other kids would be using hand me downs). Another baby shower invitation told me to give cash that would be put in the kidís college fund. (Oh, really? My response was almost to ask if I could get that in writing since I suspected that most of the cash would be going toward other things.) I was even invited to a divorce shower where the divorcing woman was seeking presents so she could set up her new household since the ex-hubby was getting the house.
Of course, all of these invitations (except those cheeky enough to outright ask for cash) come with all sorts of crazy registries attached. People have registered at Toyís R Us for childrenís birthday parties and sent me the lists. The college shower invitation came with a note that the student-to-be was registered at Target, Pier One, and Bed Bath and Beyond, but cash was acceptable, too. (I wanted to ask if they took MasterCard and Visa, as well.) The divorcee registered at almost every store imaginable, including Tiffanyís. (Is there really something at Tiffanyís that you need to set up a new house?) The topper was the baby shower that listed, among the traditional stores like Target and Babies R Us, that gift cards to Best Buy and the Apple Store would be appreciated ďin order to pay for babyís future electronic needs.Ē That one left me speechless and temporarily unable to come up with even a sarcastic response. Iím still working on it.
Maybe Iím old fashioned and this ďinvite my money, not meĒ strategy is the new norm, but it offends me. I was always taught that gift giving was just that: a gift, not an obligation. I was taught to ask for nothing and be happy with anything you received because a gift, no matter what it was, meant that someone thought enough of you to get you something. And certainly, except for letters to Santa (which you outgrew around age nine and wouldnít dream of doing at age thirty), you never explicitly stated what you expected to get. You would never include on an invitation that you wanted cash or gift certificates to a certain store, and you certainly wouldnít tack on a list of the items you wanted.
The only occasion that I ever expected to register for was my wedding. And I certainly didnít include a mention of it in the invitation. If someone asked, it was okay to tell them where you were registered, but you left the rest up to them. If they chose to use the registry, fine. If not, that was fine, too. You didnít include the whole registry list in the invitation, as I have seen several brides do lately. I guess I can sort of understand the popularity of registries. They do make it easier for people to choose a gift. But this idea of registering for everything at every store and then telling everyone about your choices smacks of greed, not helpfulness.
Iíve noticed something else, as well. As these money grab invitations become more popular, the size of the guest list seems to increase simultaneously. Where a birthday party might have once included ten people, all close friends of the celebrant, now I routinely see parties of fifty or more and most of the guests are very distantly associated with the celebrant, if they even know her at all. Half the time I wonder why Iím getting invitations to Sweet 16ís (Iím certainly not sixteen and donít have any kids that age), baby showers for the kids of people I hardly know, and weddings of people I can only claim a passing acquaintance with. Why this sudden interest in ballooning the guest list? Maybe Iím cynical, but I have to wonder if some of these people are thinking, ďHeck, if Iím going to ask for money and gifts, I might as well ask as many people as I can think of so I can grab a little more.Ē That might not be the case for all, but Iím getting the distinct impression that this is where weíre heading.
The truth is that while Iím happy so many people are having celebrations (I like a good party as much as the next person), I simply canít afford to buy this many gifts, particularly for people I hardly know. My budget canít keep up with this sort of thing. Maybe now that Iíve put that out there in public some people will quit inviting me to things. Read this: If you only want my money, I donít have any more to give. If you want me to come to your party and are okay with the fact that I might arrive sans gift, invite away.
A couple of times when Iíve politely declined invitations to parties for people I hardly knew (largely because I could smell the money grab a mile away), Iíve been snubbed later. Example: I ran into a woman that I only have a passing acquaintance with in the grocery store a couple of weeks after I RSVPíd to her daughterís wedding invitation that I would not be able to attend. The woman pulled me aside and told me, ďI hope youíre happy. Janie (not her real name) was so counting on you coming to the wedding and sheís so disappointed you wonít be there. Youíre ruining her day.Ē Hereís the thing: If I even knew Janie, I could understand her being upset. But Iíve never met the girl. And I only know her mother in passing. So I doubt my absence will matter one iota Janie. Apparently, however, the absence of my gift is causing quite a problem with her mother.
I find myself somewhat adrift in this new world of parties as blatant begs for money. I enjoy celebrating special occasions and I enjoy giving gifts when I genuinely feel moved to do so. In other words, I like to give gifts to people that I know and whom I trust want my presence at their function because they want me first, gift second (if at all). I donít enjoy the fine line that I now must walk in order to preserve my budget.
If I say no to some invitations because I feel like Iím only being asked to go for the gift, but I say yes to the invitations of people I genuinely care about, inevitably it gets around and someone will eventually ask me to justify my choices. I could be rude and say, ďWell, gee, if youíd really wanted me there you wouldnít be asking me why I bought a gift for Julie but not for you. You would have been disappointed that I couldnít go. Period.Ē But responses like that arenít likely to win me any etiquette awards.
I could just go to the parties without a gift, but Iím certain the host of a money grab party would frown on my eating their cake without giving something in return. Sometimes I feel like Iím part of a balance sheet that the host has drawn up. ďOK, if we spend $50 per person in dinner and cake, can we reasonably expect that they will bring a gift that will earn out our investment?Ē If I show up with no gift, I blow their investment plans. Maybe thatís not a bad idea. Blow a few peopleís earning plans and see if the ridiculous invitations stop.
I could just stop going to any parties and say, ďThatís it. Iím unavailable for anything.Ē But that punishes the people I care about, as well as myself because I do like to socialize and celebrate with people. I have to find either a middle ground or a thicker skin that can stand up to the disapproval of those whose invitations I decline.
My solution for now is to muddle through; to accept the invitations of people that I feel really want me there, that I am close to in some way, and politely decline the others. Basically, Iím buying gifts and accepting invitations for those who donít ask for anything beyond my presence. If you feel the need to ask for money or attach a ďsuggested gift listĒ to your invitation, expect a no from me. If you want someone to contribute to a car fund, or a future electronics need, Iím not your girl. I canít afford to buy gifts for everyone who asks and, even if I could, I wouldnít give it to someone rude enough to show more interest in my wallet attending the party than my person. However, if you ask for nothing from me beyond my presence at your function, you might get a phone call from me asking if you are registered somewhere. Or I might sniff around and find out about that something special youíve been wanting and get it for you. I can be surprisingly generous when the occasion is right. But I will no longer respond to demands for generosity disguised as invitations.