Dear Crabby,

Is it wrong to give money for gifts?

I confess that as I get older and older, and more and more family members need to be recognized somehow for birthdays and such, I tend to resort to giving money — or a gift card, which is still basically money only a more inconvenient form for the recipient. I’m 72 years old and have become somewhat clueless about what sort of gift (in my price range) would make the recipient jump for joy.

My problem is, I’m sensing a general ho-hum attitude about yet another card with some green stuff stuck inside. Am I just being lazy?

Grandma Green Giver

Dear Grandma Green Giver,

You’re not being lazy; you’re being practical. Certainly there are people for whom cash gifts are appropriate and people for whom they are inappropriate, but I think you’re OK on this one. It’s standard for family matriarch and patriarch types to give money for birthdays and such. It would be weird if you gave your husband cash. It would be weird if you gave a friend cash, especially one you see frequently. But it’s not weird to give your kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews cash.

For one thing, like you said, there are more of them all the time. If you have three kids and each of them has two kids, you’re talking about nine gifts. Add in nieces, nephews, sons- and daughters-in-law and great-grandchildren, you could be talking upwards of 3 million people. Finding and buying personally relevant and thoughtful gifts for that many people is impossible.

For another thing — convenience aside, this is important — cash is usually the best gift you can give to family members in younger generations. A cash gift allows you to tacitly say two things that can be awkward to acknowledge straightforwardly: “You are young and broke and could use some help,” and “I am old and I love you, but I have no idea what you weird-as-hell kids are even into anymore. Is Van Halen still cool? I remember reading something about Van Halen in Newsweek.” The cash gift bypasses all of that awkwardness.

I suppose it may be true that there’s a “ho-hum attitude” among the recipients of your cash gifts, but I assure you that’s more a function of lack of surprise than it is about value. I don’t get really excited about payday, but I sure do rely on it. I’d be none too pleased if I opened up my biweekly envelope to find a sweater I know I’ll never wear instead of a check. Is it a drag that there’s not more surprise involved? I guess. But you’re giving them something they’ll like and can actually use, which is sort of the whole point. Plus they don’t have to pretend to be happy about the Van Halen reunion CD while secretly wishing you’d just stuck to cash. Everyone wins.

Hope that helps.