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Published: Apr 06, 2022 7 min read
Dollar Scholar Banner With Speech Bubbles With Venmo Logo
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This is an excerpt from Dollar Scholar, the Money newsletter where news editor Julia Glum teaches you the modern money lessons you NEED to know. Don't miss the next issue! Sign up at money.com/subscribe and join our community of 160,000+ Scholars.

What do planking, the cinnamon challenge and that period in the 2000s when it was somehow considered stylish for teen celebs to wear full-length dresses and skirts over jeans have in common?

Answer: They’re all bad trends.

Listen, I’m no stranger to doing something bizarre just for the lulz — I mean, I once dragged my family to the Cabbage Patch hospital in Georgia where we watched a nurse deliver a cabbage baby from a mother tree — but some trends are better left skipped.

One I’ve been seeing lately, for example, is people posting their Cash App/Venmo handles on social media on their birthdays. They’ll soften the blow with some cutesy message like “if you want to contribute for drinks!” or “bday gifts accepted here,” but the idea is that they want money. It’s transparent, I guess, but it strikes me as weird.

Even weirder is that I can tell from my Venmo feed that it works — people do indeed see the posts and randomly send cash.

Is it rude to ask friends to Venmo you for your birthday?

I called etiquette expert Elaine Swann to find out. She says she’s noticed this, too… and she doesn’t love it.

“This is a trend that is gaining traction that would normally be inappropriate or not necessarily socially acceptable,” Swann says. “It is a bit gauche to ask for money.”

She says she thinks digital platforms have facilitated this by making it easy for people to request cash in a disconnected manner. If someone were to ask me face-to-face what I wanted for my birthday, I’d probably hesitate before saying, “I want you to give me money.” On some level, I just intrinsically know that’s not great manners and would avoid it so as not to make things awkward.

It feels different when that interaction is happening behind a screen or via Instagram story blast. But it’s still inappropriate, according to Lizzie Post, co-president of the Emily Post Institute and co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast.

“With adult birthdays, you don’t ask for gifts anyway,” Post says. “It’s really lovely when friends decide to give you a gift, but automatically putting out your Venmo as a just-in-case-you-want-to-get-me-something … I am not a fan of the practice.”

Thomas “Mister Manners” Farley, a nationally syndicated etiquette columnist, adds that it can come off presumptuous and borderline rude. It also raises questions about what my goal is.

If I’m sharing my Cash App ahead of my birthday party, “is this simultaneously a fundraiser? If that’s the appearance of what you’re doing, it starts to appear unseemly,” he adds. Is it not enough for me to spend my birthday surrounded by the people I care most about? I need a financial contribution from them, too?

Farley says it puts a burden on the guest that’s not unlike the pressure to buy Girl Scout cookies from a co-worker’s child or sponsor a pal’s walk for charity.

“That guilt settles in,” he says. “It’s one thing when a third party is receiving the money. It’s a whole other story when you as an individual are simply looking to offset some expense or line your pocket a little bit on your special occasion.”

Asking for Venmo payments also may indicate a misunderstanding of the meaning behind a present. Farley says that gifts, whether they’re monetary or not, are generally exchanged because of the strength of a relationship with someone — “not because you’ve put out a funding call” on Facebook.

However, the etiquette rules are different for needs and wants.

If I’m in a scenario where I’m desperate — if, for example, I can’t scrounge up $26 to pay my electric bill my lights will be shut off — it might be acceptable to ask my followers for help. Post would still recommend I lean on my private network of friends and family before asking social media for financial support, but she says she understands that sometimes that’s necessary in emergency situations.

In those (hopefully rare) cases, I’d want to be as detailed as possible about what donations will go toward and when. No blanket statements here.

“Make it meaningful and very specific so people know what they’re contributing to,” Swann says. “Attach it to something as opposed to a frivolous money grab because it’s your birthday.”

And if I’m so lucky as to receive money, I have to make sure I show how grateful I am for their help.

The bottom line

Blasting out my Venmo or Cash App on social media and expecting people to send me money because it’s my birthday isn’t a great habit. It should be up to my guests to decide whether they want to give me anything, ever, and it’s not polite to strong-arm them and/or assume that they’re in a place to give me cash.

Despite how convenient it might be, “the manners are really lacking around this,” Post says. Close friends won’t have to be told what to do for my birthday, and “if a follower really wants to get you something, they’ll DM you and you can work that out,” she adds.

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