When Money Matters In A Relationship

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Have you ever wondered how much you should spend on a gift for someone to show them that they’re important to you?

I have. In fact, it’s happened more often than I can remember.

You might think that it’s the thought that counts, and that as long as you put your love into the making of the gift, that’s what matters the most.

But is it true in all cases?


My family

When I was growing up, my parents found themselves in a lot of financial difficulties.

My aunt and uncle (my dad’s siblings) were doing better financially than my dad, but they never bought me fancy clothes or gadgets.

Instead, they’d buy me books, dictionaries, a brand-new desk and bookshelf.

They helped my parents out with my tuition and education expenses.

They encouraged me to work hard in school because education was the one thing that could set me on a different path from the one my parents were on.

It was through education that my aunt and uncle also got a full scholarship to study abroad and saw what the world had to offer.

To them, help wasn’t just verbal or shown through simple gifts.

They put their hard-earned money towards my development and never expected anything in return.

Now that I make money, I’ve bought them gifts, both expensive and reasonably priced. I personally wouldn’t even buy such expensive gifts for myself. But I think they’re just small tokens of my gratitude for my aunt and my uncle.

They never asked for any of those things. Yet, it makes me happy to buy them what they like. It’s just one way I return the favor they’ve done for me for most of my existence. I don’t think buying them simple gifts or making a hand-made card would suffice.

After Mr. FAF started his new job, we plan to send our parents money every month. It’s a tradition in Vietnam and China. Once a person starts working, they are expected, if not by their parents then by society, to give part of their income to their parents as a way to say ‘thank you.’

I know my parents like telling their friends and neighbors about how much their children give them each month. They may not need the money, but the thought that their children are willing to support them financially makes them feel appreciated and proud.

Mr. FAF’s family

When I visited Mr. FAF’s extended family in China, his aunts and uncles would give me a hong bao (red envelop) with money inside. Mr. FAF told me it’s the tradition in China.

His parents have given their nieces and nephews hong bao when they first met their spouses. Now it was our turn to get the lucky money from his extended family.

Mr. FAF’s extended family and his parents’ friends would take us to restaurants, and we never had to pay. They would pick up the bill and make that clear from the moment they invited us.

On our weddings in Vietnam and China (yes we had two weddings!), red envelopes were expected instead of real gifts. The closer the family member, the more lucky money they would give us.

Before I met Mr. FAF’s parents, he suggested I buy them nice gifts so that they could show off the presents to their friends and neighbors.

The gifts didn’t have to cost hundreds of dollars, but they should be good enough for his parents to be proud. I think this is an Asian thing since my parents also like showing off to their friends what Mr. FAF and I gave them.


My best friend from college, like me, is very frugal. She has a well-paid job at a big pharmaceutical company but remains conservative with her spending.

As a gift for our wedding and the birth of Baby FAF, however, she gave us a bag full of new baby clothes and an envelop with lucky money in the hundreds.

I was totally surprised at her gesture. I’m sure she wouldn’t spend that much on an outfit for herself.

For me, it was not just money. She gave us the gift of her labor, overtime work, investment, and most importantly constant self-discipline to keep her expenses down. It was a gift of generosity made possible through her frugality.

She didn’t do that to show off. We always talk about how to pay off debt, invest, and save money. I’m the last person she would want to impress with her wealth.

We never exchanged gifts on any occasions. I don’t think we ever celebrated our birthdays together. She gave us so much because she cared.

I’d be happy with whatever gift she’d give me, be it a microwave, a blender, or a letter documenting our friendship. But she went out of her way to show me that my wedding and the birth of Baby FAF were special to her.

I can discipline myself not to spend even 25 cents on candy. But when a friend gives me such a generous gift, I usually don’t skimp on returning the favor. For me, maintaining a good friendship is more important than saving a couple of dollars.

I apply the same principles to my colleagues, neighbors, and anyone who go out of their way to be kind to me or help me out when I’m in need. There are things that money alone just can’t buy.

Money can’t buy me a good friend, but it can help me show a friend how I care about them. Money is not the only way to maintain a relationship. But it’s not a bad means to a good friendship if we use it wisely.

It’s not unusual for Mr. FAF and I to balk at buying fish that sell for more than $3/lb or a food item we think is not worth $4. But we’d be more than happy to treat our good friends, who have helped us so much when we’re in need, to a meal that can cost $30. We do it not to show off, but to show them our gratitude.

We’d also loan good friends money when they’re in need, which doesn’t happen often, and are ok with never getting it back. Our friends always return what they borrow.

In case they intentionally don’t want to return the loan for whatever reason, it’d be an expensive lesson for us to know where our friendship really stands.

For people I’m not close with or don’t interact with often, I’ll just try to comply with the social forms when it comes to gifts. A gift doesn’t need to be extravagant, but it shouldn’t be so cheap and thoughtless that they think I’m stingy.

When gifts don’t need to have a price

I’d be over the moon if Mr. FAF and Baby FAF gave me a hand-made card on any special occasion, be it Christmas, my birthday, or Mother’s Day. But at the same time, Mr. FAF and I share a joint account. His money is my money and vice versa.

If he gave me an expensive gift, I’d be happy at first. But after that, I’d feel a dent in my own wallet and feel like I’m the one who made that costly purchase, a move I personally wouldn’t take.

The same goes for Baby FAF. He’s just a baby and doesn’t even know what money is yet. But as long as he lives under the same roof with us and relies on our budget, he does not need to buy anything for me.


As much as I’d like to think and say that money is not important to a relationship, I believe that it is. As I’ve grown up and experienced life over the past 30 years, I’ve seen how money can strengthen a friendship or destroy it overnight.

But money is not evil. Money by itself is just an item with no emotion or plan. It can of course bring us happiness as pointed out by a recent data-driven analysis by Tracking Happiness. But it is the mind and the heart of a person that can tell money where to go, who to help, and what to do to be useful.


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29 thoughts on “When Money Matters In A Relationship”

  • I totally agree! Money can be such a touchy subject, bc so many people have expectations attached to it. If someone makes more, they assume they’re rich and stuck up, if they’re poorer, they get talked about in hushed tones as if they have a disease.

    Money can be used in such amazing ways, to help people and also to show we care. My husband will buy me a special treat, be it inexpensive flowers or some dark chocolate, and he is just showing he was thinking of me. And in turn, I do similar with things.

    We are frugal like y’all, discussing the smallest expenses most times, but there is a line you have to draw showing what is worth the expense. And family and friends are typically worth it.

    Love this!!

    • Thank you, Ember! Mr. FAF and I don’t exchange expensive gifts either. We think it’s not worth the money. We usually go to a steak house to celebrate our anniversary. But other than that, there’s nothing fancy involved 😀

  • Previously, when I was still paying off debt and saving money to buy a home, I was tracking my spending religiously to ensure that I don’t spend frivolously.

    Now that I have achieved some financial success, I started to loosen the grips on my spending a bit. If the spending is on people that I care about, I wouldn’t hesitate. After all, you have to spend your money sometime. Can’t be saving forever.

    • I know how you feel! Before Mr. FAF started his new job, I started tracking our spending religiously and would get upset whenever he bought something I thought wasn’t necessary. Now that we have two incomes, I still don’t buy anything I don’t need. But I don’t track his spending as much as before. It’s definitely more breathable now! 😀

  • I enjoy gift giving and finding a perfect item for a close friend or family member. My mom and brother are amazing and thoughtful gift givers, and I love returning the favor even if it costs a little more! I keep my eyes open throughout the year since I am frugal, and want the gift to be perfect! So, I’m halfway done with Christmas shopping already!

    My hubby and I don’t typically exchange gifts and opt for thoughtful cards and cooking together.

    • Wow I’m so impressed you’re done with your Christmas shopping so early! We just bought some Halloween props and felt that we had gotten one of our biggest holiday purchases done.

      Mr. FAF and I don’t exchange gifts either. Mr. FAF doesn’t like writing postcards, so we usually just go out and eat or he’ll cook something fancy at home ^.^

  • I just got married last month and when we were opening our cards and gifts I was shocked by how much some people gave us, especially some people that I know are hurting financially. It really meant a lot how generous they were and how happy they were for me and my husband

    I really like giving gifts. I always try to find something special that shows I really put some thought into making sure it is something the person will really enjoy

    • Congratulations on your wedding! September is a beautiful time to get married. I’m glad you got some great gifts you liked. 🙂

  • ” It was a gift of generosity made possible through her frugality.”

    This is beautiful, Ms. FAF! I have often wondered how AR Jr. will approach money and how we can help to form that. Mr. AR and I have very different “money views” based on our childhoods and our parents… both good and bad. I’m hoping we can teach AR Jr the benefits of frugality and financial freedom while instilling generosity and thankfulness 🙂

    • I sometimes wonder the same thing about Baby FAF too. Mr. FAF and I are both frugal, so I hope he will follow our footsteps. My sister and I, however, have totally different approaches to finances. I like to save, but she likes to live in the moment. We grew up in the same house and with the same parents, so I’m not sure what makes our beliefs about money so different. @_@

  • A lot of what happens in this world is due to our relationship with money. Good and bad. Responsible stewardship and philanthropy vs. wasteful extravagance and greed. Our attitude toward money can make or break all kinds of relationships — family, friendships, business partners, business to consumer, etc. Thanks for sharing this. Excellent and thought-provoking!

    • I totally agree! Money can bring so much good and bad to our lives. Sometimes I do feel that I think about money a little bit too much >_< Thanks for the kind comment! 🙂

  • For Christmas my husband’s family limits all gifts (white elephant game) to 25 dollars a person. That’s not including inflation so every year we only have to spend $50 on presents between the both of us. It’s thoughtful because they’re a frugal family and know that presents are not necessary.

    Our friends family on the other hand…huge spenders. Like an arms race. My friend gets a new Coach bag so she had to go out to buy a new iPhone for her sister who gave her the bag. It’s like…….whyyyy?? You didn’t need a bag but you’re required to pay for it in iPhones now.

    • Wow Coach bags and Iphone sound expensive! I got my sister Dave Ramsey’s book “The Moneymakeover,” and she was like >_< 😀 She's young, so I want her to learn more about good money habits. But I think it'll take time. I told Mr. FAF after he got me a $300 dress that from now on his gift limit is $10. If I don’t like the gift, I won’t feel too bad that he bought it. 😀

  • This brings up a lot of bad memories for me 🙂

    My relationship with money and family is incredibly complicated, made worse by the community expectation of filiel piety and money gifting as you’ve shared above, so I’ve seen more of the dark side of people’s expectations around money than most.

    My dad has made a lot of irresponsible choices with money during these years that I’ve supported him, choosing to gift money that he should have used to pay his bills for weddings and funerals, choosing to prioritize “saving face” over reality. That had an impact on me that he disregarded for so many years that I’ve come to realize that he has only been using me as a bank, drawing on my sense of duty and unwillingness to see him homeless until it’s nearly run out, rather than replenishing goodwill by doing his best to return the deposits by doing his best to conserve resources.

    I’ve had to live on the edge for so many years making up for his bad judgment that I haven’t been able to afford to attend my own friends’ weddings, to give them gifts that symbolized my love, or do anything like what’s expected in Asian culture. I had to come to terms with giving what I could because I was poorer than everyone and hoping that they knew the meager gifts weren’t indicative of how I felt, but rather was the most I could afford without tipping the carefully balanced scales of cash and bills. Still, I’ll never shake that quiet feeling that the thought didn’t count enough because people DO look at the value of a gift as much as they look at your intent.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Revanche! I have read your story on your blog and your recent interview with Liz @Chief Mom Officer. I was so amazed at your hard work, determination, sense of responsibility, and your drive for success.

      I’m sorry to hear that things are not working out with your dad. Sometimes I wonder why many people in Asian culture care so much about saving face at the expense of their family. It’s very typical for a Vietnamese man to treat their friends to expensive meals while their wife is struggling at home to save money for the whole family. It’s all for showing off and saving face, which I find ridiculous.

      I’m so glad you’re in a much better financial shape right now. Wishing you all the best! 🙂

  • Yeah, I was shocked at some of the gifts we received from friends for the baby and also for our wedding. It was a destination wedding so we didn’t expect any gifts (and in fact said no gifts) but we still had lots of gifts. One friend who didn’t attend our wedding gave us $500. I agree that gifting has to be reciprocal because it’s just rude not to reciprocate back.

  • We got a red envelope for our wedding. 🙂

    Tradition can definitely be expensive. We recently stopped exchanging all gifts with my brother and his family, after realizing that we are all well-off enough to not NEED gifts and in many cases there aren’t even things we want (if we do, we just buy it…) We’ll still get gifts for my nieces, but nothing for the adults.

    That being said I think that experiences and other ways of doing something memorable with them or for them will take the place of strictly ‘stuff’ or money gifts.

  • Have you seen that episode of the Big Bang Theory where Sheldon gets a gift and feels like he has to reciprocate with a gift of equal value? Sometimes I struggle with feeling like that. It’s hard to change the mindset of people who think expensive gifts are the things that represent the value of your relationship and then expect it in return. I try to stick with giving inexpensive but thoughtful gifts that reflect the person. I’m also firmly in the camp of giving experiences/investments in future/DIY stuff.

  • My family sounds similar to Mr. FAF’s (we’re Canadian though so without the red envelope tradition), in that anytime we go out for dinner or to an event with my parents (or my partners for that matter) they always pay. They live comfortably and can afford to do so, and even though we are also comfortable it just feels like the norm. When buying gifts for my parents I always try to go with someone unique over something pricey. If there’s something they want they will just buy it for themselves. The perk of that is that I can usually find something meaningful for cheaper.
    When gifting to friends I do try to equal things out based on gits we’ve done in the past. We also go out to eat fairly often with friends and alternate paying the bill. I don’t worry too much about tracking anything, it’ll all equal out in the end.

  • This is very true & relatable, most immigrants have gone through serious money crunch and appreciate the worth of their earning more than those who grew up in the western countries. But we should always remember where we come from and it’s worth trying to uplift those left behind. Appreciate that you are doing your part FAF!

  • There is no way around it. Money is intertwined in every relationship whether we intend to or not. Other people have set it, but it is a touchy subject and each person has their own relationship with money. Your last sentence summed it up beautifully in my opinion. Money with a purpose, whether it is to help someone who needs it out or to give someone an experience, can be powerful. The experience can be a vacation or the experience can be a cup of coffee and a walk in the park together. The value doesn’t matter, just the thought of spending time together and showing someone you care enough to spend time or your hard earned money on them.


  • One of the best things we did was to create a giving category in our budget. We wanted to give practical gifts to friends, family, or anyone that we felt called to give to.

    Sometimes we buy an actual gift and other times we just send money. Either way we want to express how much we love and care about them. It’s been awesome!

    Thanks for sharing!

  • I still remember the excitement of getting a Hong Bao from my parents. We weren’t wealthy or anything and some of my richer friends got hundreds of dollars while I may’ve gotten $20 on a good year. But I definitely treasured those moments. Now it’s cool that I’m able to give back to my younger siblings since I’m making an income.

  • I used to be in a ‘Secret Santa’ gift exchange for Christmas with friends for a few years and most of them wanted expensive items The person running the gift exchange set the minimum to be $50 which is pretty steep but I didn’t want to complain. The people I got wanted stuff that were close to $100 and unwilling I would just buy it. They were more than happy about their gift because they probably wanted it but they didn’t want to splurge on. All I asked for my gift was a few books that met the $50 minimum or a video game since they cost $50.
    Now I only get gifts for my family and it feels so much better because I could be creative with some gifts and they would be more than happy with it. For mother’s day, I drew up a sun and used Baby with Cent’s footprint as the rays for the sun. Mother with Cents loved it and now it’s hanging on our fridge.

  • I was trying to sign up the mailing list but it gave me an error message “Oops. Something went wrong. Please try again later.”

  • I think money can often be important in a relationship. In my case, I’ve retired early and therefore I get no monthly paycheck, but my wife is still working so she does get a paycheck. We must now have a budget to match these new circumstances, but that can leave my wife wondering if that’s fair – why should she be on a new budget when she’s still earning the same as before? It’s a good question, and not an easy one to answer.

    On gifting, I’m fully on board with what my parents used to tell me. It’s the thought behind the gift that counts, not the value. My daughter gave us the most amazingly thoughtful gifts last Christmas, they didn’t cost too much, but the joy we got knowing the love and thought that went into them was priceless for us.

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