Just in time for the Holidays, here's a way to think about the gifts you'll be giving friends and family--especially your grown kids and their kids. It comes via the Sketch Guy, a financial columnist and blogger for the New York Times.
In a recent column the Sketch Guy (aka Carl Richards) raised this provocative question: Is your spending aligned with your values? The Sketch Guy's point: It pays to look at the things we spend money on (invest in, in his terms) and see if the spending furthers our values or if there is a better way to invest (spend) on that value. (His example: Two men meet for lunch once a month; it costs them $40 each. What they really value is getting together to talk, not eating a lavish meal. They've switched to taking a hike together once a month.)
Does value spending apply to how we handle gifts for our grown kids, their kids and our disposable income?
You bet. The first friend I asked about it told me this story.
Two years ago, when the oldest of her daughter's daughters was having a Bat Mitzvah, she and the GrandPops went up to her daughter's home in Connecticut a few days early. Her son-in-law asked her to take the Bat Mitzvah girl and her younger sister to a particular beauty salon to get their hair styled for the big event. The bill: $140--not something my friend couldn't afford but she resented it. She did not see the value in spending that much money on hair cuts for young girls. So this year when the younger daughter was having her Bat Mitzvah, she and the GrandPops once again went up to Connecticut for a few days. This time when her son-in-law asked her to take the girls to the beauty salon, she asked him for the cash to pay for it. She wasn't going to spend money on something she didn't value.
That was a lesson she started to apply to gift-giving. When one of her granddaughters wanted a GoPro video camera for her birthday, my friend thought about it carefully. She was wary at first. GoPro is not inexpensive (around $200 for a simple one) and it seemed like a fad but that didn't drive her decision. "She's interested in photography and film-making. It was something that furthered her interests." my friend says. "I didn't mind buying it for her." When the younger daughter wanted a floppy, fuzzy floor chair for her birthday, my friend applied her value reasoning. "It wasn't something I would chose, but she loves books and I could see this as a cozy place for her to read."
Another friend says she and her husband applied the value-spend test to a family vacation to celebrate their 50th Anniversary. Where some of their friends have taken their families to luxury resorts to celebrate, they took a different tack, As scientists who've supported a host of environmental causes, they booked a trip for ten--their two adult sons, their wives and four preteen and young teen Grands--to the Galapagos Islands for a week. They saw it as a chance to introduce their grandchildren to the natural wonders of the world. Expensive? Very. But a worthwhile investment: Who know where the exposure to natural habitats and Darwinian change might lead. To say nothing of an introduction to blue-footed Booby birds.
Paterfamilias and I are not quite as rigorous as some of our friends. We have been known to indulge American Girl Doll requests (Value? Her interest in a particular point in history was piqued) and a Lego car racing set (Value? Putting it together is problem solving). But we have drawn a personal spending-value line: Jimmy Choo shoes, no; soccer boots, always.