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Party invite asks for cash ‘gift’ for engaged couple. Do I have to cough it up?

The question

Recently, we were invited by long-time neighbours to a garden party to celebrate the "upcoming marriage" of their daughter, and to meet their future son-in-law. The invitation announces that the couple will marry on a tropical island at an undetermined future date – maybe next year. It seems clear that we, and all the other neighbours who received the invitation, will not be asked to the wedding. The happy couple have invited us to bring a "gift" of money to the upcoming party to help them set up house. This scenario has really got people talking. Everyone agrees that this cash gift is intended to take the place of a wedding gift. Some neighbours feel that they should give a wedding gift only when there is an actual wedding. Those neighbours plan to attend the party and wish the couple all the best, but hold off on the cheque. Others feel they must give their gift at the party, as requested. They feel that if you accept the invitation, you accept the terms. What should we do?

The answer

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Cash "gift"? Cash grab, sounds more like.

Not that I'm opposed to asking people for cash gifts. That would be pure hypocrisy on my part, since my wife, Pam, and I did that for our own wedding: In lieu of presents, we asked people to contribute to our "honeymoon fund."

No one seemed to mind. Hey, it saved them the hassle of picking out a present. But we're talking close friends and family. And it was our wedding. And we weren't too well off. It was the only way we were going on a honeymoon to beautiful Tofino, B.C., where we also cut costs by staying with Pam's best friend – and I became the "fifth wheel" on my own honeymoon! But that's a story for another day.

In your case, this getting-married-on-a-tropical-island couple don't seem to be hurting too badly financially. The whole thing has the feel of a shakedown, and makes me kind of mad to the point where I'm not sure I can answer this rationally, let alone impartially.

It might be my cheapness goggles. Cheapness goggles can cloud your judgment just as much as beer goggles, and I'm worried if it were up to me, I'd give you the wrong advice, so this week I decided to bring on Pam as my special pro bono Damage Control consultant.

Pam is much nobler than I am, and always takes the high road, even when money is tight. Recently, for example, she bought a $75 ticket for a friend's charity event even though she couldn't go, which would have been like two knives in my heart: one, shelling out in the first place; two, not even getting any chardonnay or coconut shrimp out of it.

Time is always tight for Pam as a busy working mother of three, so I cornered her one morning in the bathroom as she was getting ready for work, to get her thoughts.

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Me (sitting on edge of tub, having read question out loud): "What would you do?"

Pam (checking self out in mirror, smoothing wrinkles in dress): "Well, I'd probably cough up the money, because, well, they asked. Maybe like $100. Cheap for a wedding present, I know …"

Me: "But this isn't a wedding present!"

Pam (turning sideways, checking rear view, seeming pleased): "Exactly. I do wish I could see the wording of the invite, though, how they have the temerity to ask for money. Our wedding invites, if you recall, said, 'If you would like to give a present …,' making it sound like people didn't really have to."

Me: "Well, it was a wedding. Of course people were gonna give presents."

Pam: "Hey, we've been to plenty of weddings where we didn't give presents. We're the worst."

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It's true: We're terrible. It's that year-long after-buffer (you know, how supposedly you can give a present any time within a year after the wedding). You think you're going to buy a present, you keep putting it off… Vis-à-vis this party, you could show up sans cheque, invoking the standard one-year wedding-present after-buffer, then see if you get invited to the wedding proper. Ah, no, that's the cheapness goggles blurring my vision.

Basically, I think Pam's right: It comes down to the wording of the invite. If it says, "If you'd like to give a present," then I think it's up to each neighbour's individual discretion whether he or she shells out or not. (That is what she said, isn't it?)

If the invitation has the chutzpah to flat out request a cash present, then I think your other neighbours are right: If you want to go, you have to cough up.

As much as it pains me, deep in the breadbasket of my poor, hard-working wallet, to say so.

What am I supposed to do now?

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