by JEANNE FLEMING, PH.D. and LEONARD SCHWARZ
Question: Is there anything wrong with asking family members to give me money for my birthday instead of sweaters I don't care for, food I don't want and gift cards to stores where I don't shop? I don't mean to sound unappreciative, but at my age (35), I'd really rather just have the money and buy things I like.
Our answer: As that eminent ethicist Mick Jagger once observed, you can't always get what you want.
Unless, say, you plan to ask your doting grandmother who's living on Social Security to write you a four-digit check, there's nothing unethical about telling someone you prefer money over any other gift. But that still doesn't make it a nice thing to do.
You appear to believe the chief function of a gift is to provide you with what you want most. Often, however, gifts are intended mainly to express affection, to honor the relationship the gift giver has with you and to share the gift giver's taste. While the folks who give you presents no doubt hope to please you, it's unlikely they think of the occasion as a great opportunity to transfer money from their bank account to yours. What's more, they probably realize that in order not to disappoint the recipient, checks need to be for a greater amount than they'd ordinarily spend on a gift or even a gift card.
Our advice? You're an adult, not a kid saving for college or a new computer. So unless someone very close specifically asks you what's on your wish list, don't announce that what you're looking for is cold, hard cash. After all, you don't want your relatives to think you have a cold, hard heart.
Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of the upcoming book “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at FlemingandSchwarz@right-thing.net.