What? Not another baby shower!
Tired of workplace solicitations for wedding gifts, going-away parties, birthday presents or school fundraisers? You're not alone.
Been hit up at work for any bridal showers or wedding gifts lately? It's the high season for nuptials, but don't imagine you'll be free of such requests in the fall. General office giving knows no season.
Depending on the time of year and the demographics of your workplace, you may be routinely hit up for baby showers, birthday gifts, going-away bashes, 10k run sponsorships, band candy, or scout or school fundraisers. That's not counting invites to "parties" whose purpose is to sell candles, cookware or toiletries.
Being pressured for contributions in the workplace was one of the seven "most awkward money moments" from a recent CouponCabin.com survey. Of the more than 2,100 respondents, 25% cited "group gifts" as a source of stress.
When do you say "Enough!" More to the point, how do you say it?
One way to call a halt is to let the bosses do it for you. "Ask the higher-ups for a 'no soliciting' policy," suggests Jennifer Derrick of SavingAdvice.com.
She speaks from experience: At one former workplace so many people complained that management decreed an end to in-person selling. However, workers were allowed to put sign-up sheets/order forms in the break room: "No pressure, no recriminations if you didn't participate."
Or how about just being honest? A Get Rich Slowly reader who had to watch every penny said she found office parties "increasingly difficult and annoying."
"I'm not trying to be a (jerk) during celebrations," she wrote, "but I simply don't agree with spending money on every co-worker's life events."
Blog editor J.D. Roth suggested that she be very specific about her situation, e.g., "I appreciate the offer (but) I'm focusing on paying off debt." Being clear about her motives, he says, "may help her co-workers understand where she’s coming from."
Avoiding the 'perky busybody'
Other personal finance blogs have taken on this topic, and judging from reader comments it's an embarrassing and sometimes divisive issue. In one case, a reader was told that everyone was "supposed to" contribute $20. She offered $10, saying it was all she had and all she could really afford.
The organizer suggested she bring an additional $10 in the next day, but the reader stood firm. So organizer added her to the list of contributors -- and wrote "$10" next to her name.
Pressure much? Cough up or everyone will know you're the office Grinch!
But there was no pressure for any of these things. If you wanted to chip in, you did. Ideally it would work that way everywhere, but clearly life isn't ideal. In "how to avoid giving gifts at work" on a blog called brip blap, a guy called Steve gripes about the kind of "perky busybody" who constantly duns colleagues for contributions, "knowing full well that for most people refusing is an embarrassing proposition."
What if he doesn't even like the honoree, Steve asks, or what if he thinks birthday gifts or for kids rather than co-workers? How come people with seniority seem to get better stuff? And shouldn't those frequent $10 or $20 "contributions" be spent on his own family?
Give what you can?
Well, sure. But sometimes it's just a cost of doing business, according to Carol Roth of the Business Unplugged blog.
"When unsure about how much to give, ask the person collecting. If it's more than you can afford, give what you can," Roth says. "You never know when it's going to be your baby shower or wedding -- and you would want people to give readily as well."
It's possible to keep solicitations and costs at a reasonable level. A few more tactics:
Stealth donations. Pass an envelope around the office. It's up to each individual how much (or whether) to give. Just write your name on the outside of the envelope so you don't get asked twice.
One cake for all. At one of my former jobs the boss ordered a sheet cake from Costco each month and announced, "Drop by the conference room at 3 p.m. to celebrate the birthdays of Andrew, Lauren, Matt and Jim."
Potlucks rule! Much kinder to those on tight budgets. Those who aren't can splurge on deli platters.
Sugar buffet. Everyone brings in a favorite sweet, homemade or not, to enjoy with office coffee or tea (if this doesn't exist, a few people can chip in to buy the makings). You could also do a "healthy buffet," but where's the fun in that?
Use daily deals. Keep an eye out for restaurant or bar specials near the workplace and have everyone chip in to buy several. If you've got a really small group, watch for daily deals on the secondary market; for details, see "The cure for a Groupon goof."
Just say "no, thanks." Opt out of the luncheon or the buffet, but do sign the card and wish the honoree a happy whatever. Also say "no, thanks" if people urge you to sample the food for which you haven't contributed; doing so would make you look really cheap.
(I still remember a going-away party for which my department had made and/or bought some very nice treats. As we waited for the guest of honor to arrive, someone from another department walked into the room, lifted the foil off a platter, took some food and walked out without a word. Really?)
The point is not to ruin the baby shower or the bridal bash by staging a pity party of your own. It's to do what's right for your own finances. No time like the present for learning to set boundaries. So practice saying something like this: "I'm paying down my student loans/saving for a home of my own/whatever. As much as I'd like to, I can't contribute to every single celebration."
Think that's embarrassing? Compare it to the stress you'll feel if you wreck your budget in order to make other people happy. That way madness lies. Debt, too.
Readers: How do you handle office giving?
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