Dear Penny: How Much Do I Spend on My New Co-Worker’s Wedding Gift?

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Dear Penny,

My team is taking up a collection for a joint wedding gift for a new employee in our office. She’s been on staff for about a month, and our team is a mix of directors and junior-level employees (she’s an entry-level staffer). 

My question is: What is the appropriate amount to contribute to the collective gift? Are directors expected to give more even if they don’t work directly with the recipient? We’ll be giving a VISA gift card, so it’s not like we have to hit a certain dollar amount for a present from the registry.  

No one on staff is invited to the wedding as a guest since we don’t know her well enough. I realize no one will know how much I contribute other than the person organizing the gift, but because it’s a wedding I feel like I should give more than I normally would to someone I don’t know well. 

What’s your take on this? 

-D.

Dear D.,

This woman’s wedding is no doubt a very big deal in her life, but let’s be honest: It’s not that big of a deal to you.

We all have lots of acquaintances, each of whom will celebrate big events in their lifetimes. But we only have so much money and time and brain space. So we have to focus our resources on the people we hold dearest. Office hierarchies seem irrelevant here since you don’t work closely with this employee.

You’re not obligated to contribute anything. But realistically speaking, there’s a lot of pressure when co-workers ask for money. Since it doesn’t sound like chipping in would cause you hardship, I say fork over $10 or $20.

One good practice that can help you keep gift-giving in perspective is to budget a small amount each month for gifts. Base it on how much you can afford to spend on gifts, but also on how much you want to. Keeping a separate bank account just for this budgeting category can simplify things even more.

The goal isn’t just to stop yourself from spending too much on gifts. Treating the money you have to spend on other people’s special occasions forces you to decide what’s important to you. If you ever feel like you need to give more to someone who’s a bit player in your life in honor of their special occasion, you ultimately have to accept that it may mean spending less on your best friend’s birthday present or your parents’ anniversary gift.

As for how to address collective gift giving in the office, I think there are a few important lessons here. First and foremost, anyone who’s organizing an office gift should understand that people aren’t just contributing out of goodwill. No one wants to look like the office cheapskate.

It may not seem like such a big deal if you’re financially stable, but when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, chipping in for random wedding gifts and birthday cakes and going-away presents throughout the year can be a real strain. Don’t assume you’d know if someone you work with was struggling.

If you’re the one coordinating, make it easy for anyone not to contribute without feeling ashamed. Send out an email to everyone filling them in on the plan. Make it clear that giving is completely optional. If someone doesn’t give, assume there was a reason and that it’s none of your business. Under no circumstances should gossip about who gave what be tolerated.

Also, tread very carefully before asking employees to contribute to someone in a higher position. Again, I don’t think your respective ranks are a major factor here since you don’t work directly with the bride-to-be. I also feel good about the fact that you’re all going in on a gift for an entry-level employee. However, this would give me pause if entry-level employees were being asked to contribute to a gift for their boss.

Alison Green of Ask a Manager has a good rule of thumb here, which is that workplace gifts should flow downward, not upward. In other words, it’s fine for managers to give their employees gifts, but employees shouldn’t be asked to shell out for their boss’s gift.

Individually, each of you is wondering what the appropriate amount to give is and how much everyone else is giving. But collectively, it really doesn’t matter how much you give. You’re showing the new co-worker that she’s welcome. I’m sure she and her future spouse will appreciate the nice gesture, regardless of how big or small.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].




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