‘We did not place blame or offer advice’: Are we flaunting our wealth if we give our friends and family money?

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Dear Quentin,

How can one best give sizable cash gifts to family & friends without being seen as, “flaunting wealth”?

We have some family and friends who are struggling to make ends meet, particularly as result of the pandemic. Having means, we chose to help them financially and sent sizable checks. So as not to highlight family members who were struggling, we gave an identical amount to each.

There were no “strings” attached to their subsequent spending. We also did not comment on their financial situation, place blame, or offer advice. It was purely to help, no-strings, no-judgment.

‘But one recipient subtly indicated we were flaunting our wealth. We were taken aback.’

But one recipient subtly indicated we were flaunting our wealth.

We were taken aback. Our full intent was to help ease financial burdens. They were struggling to live; we had extra. Pretty simple. But that comment had us reconsidering how our actions were being interpreted.

We also give to well-known charities and local assistance organizations, but our strong preference is to target our giving directly, to help our family, our friends and our causes. We feel giving back and helping those in need is a moral responsibility, particularly when it concerns family. There but for the grace of God…

But what if that giving is working against our relationships? Does “giving” now require a statement of intent?

To Do Good

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Dear Do Gooder,

If you’re giving money to your adult children, writing a check with the same amount of money for each party can be the easiest way to avoid allegations of favoritism. If you’re writing a check to extended family members and friends, however, it can get slightly dicy. In those circumstances, it’s better to make discrete enquiries and ask, “How can I help?” That way, you are giving the potential giftee the opportunity to say, “Yes, it’s OK to have this conversation.” And you are also giving them agency in this decision rather than passive recipients.

It’s also better not to give people fair warning about your intentions. Receiving a check out of the blue will make people feel awkward and, even though you say there were no strings attached, they may not be aware of that. What’s more, they could feel beholden to you either way. Money has a destabilizing effect on relationships: it can disturb the delicate equilibrium of a relationship that is based on other factors such as mutual respect, love, loyalty and likability. If the receiver of the gift believes there’s a chance there are strings now or in the future, that’s a problem.

There are lots of ways you can tailor gifts to a loved one’s individual needs. MarketWatch has run a series, “Gifts that Pay Off,” on gifts that bring value to a person’s life financially rather than depreciate over time. But the main clause here is a good one: You are attempting to do a good thing and spread your good fortune. For every half-dozen close family members you give a monetary gift to, there will be one who finds a problem with that. While it’s always good to take stock of your actions, I don’t believe you should let one offended person spoil it for everyone.

There are likely five other people who are glad of the financial reprieve and, if one family member or friend believes you are flaunting your wealth, they can always give it back.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

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