I’m Not Sure How I Would Answer This Question

Here is one of the questions Dan Ariely was posed in this week’s Wall Street Journal:

Hi, Dan.

My son Joey is turning one year old, and we’re throwing a birthday party for him. People usually give toys on such occasions, but I’d like to ask them to give him money instead. How can I do this without seeming rude?

I usually like thinking about what my response would be and then comparing it to Dan’s answer.

But with this question, I’m kind of baffled.

On the one hand, it seems like an odd request, to ask for money as a birthday gift for a one-year-old. If I received such a request, I’d wonder if the kid would actually ever see any of that money. Even if the parents said that the money would be used to set up a college fund for their child, I’d still wonder. I’d feel more confident in such a situation if the parents set up a public Go Fund Me page, in the child’s name, stating that the money will become the child’s when he or she reaches a certain age, like 18. But even if there was a Go Fund Me page, I’m still not sure that parents should be asking friends and relatives to help fund their child’s education. It seems like that is the parents’ responsibility, not other people’s responsibility.

On the other hand, some people may not know what to give a one-year-old on his birthday and may end up buying something that goes unused. In those cases, money, no matter what it ends up being used for, seems like a better choice, and so these people will be grateful for the recommendation.

So what might I have suggested? Well, I’ll turn to my wife for help with this one.

My wife loves to give books as birthday presents to little kids, and I have to agree with her that it seems to be the perfect gift. A book offers the chance for the parents to bond with their child, and hopefully instill a love of reading in the child.

So given that, if parents are going to make a suggestion on a gift, I think asking for books is much better than asking for money. It’s a great present for the child and makes it much easier for those who will be bringing a gift to the party.

Here is what Dan suggested:

It’s always tricky to use a social occasion to ask people for money. To sweeten the pill, I would ask people to donate toward a specific goal. For example, what if you told your guests that you want to open a college savings account for Joey? You could ask them not just to give money but also to write down advice for him to read when he goes to college. Ask your guests to write their messages in a book that you can give to Joey when he turns 18.

I have mixed thoughts on his response about asking for money for a specific cause, but I love his idea of having the guests share some advice with the child that they can read at a later time, such as when they turn 18.

Such an idea could be combined with my suggestion (stolen from my wife) of asking for a book by having the giver write inside the book why they picked that book. Perhaps it was one of their favorite books as a child, or one of their kid’s favorite book, or they loved the artwork, etc.

I think such gifts will be a nice memento to have as the child gets older; a collection of books that were hand-picked for them by friends and relatives, with a hand-written endorsement by the giver.

P.S. By the way, I don’t think my suggestion is completely original. I have a vague recollection my wife going to a baby shower where this exact type of request was issued with the invitation. Original idea or not, it seems like the perfect present.