Show me the graduation money

A reader recently wrote Judith Martin, a.k.a. Miss Manners, to get her opinion on whether graduates (or their parents) were obligated to have a graduation party in order to receive gifts.

“When I graduated high school in 1981, some of my friends had parties, but most did not. All of us still received gifts (usually monetary) from family and friends,” the reader wrote. “I’ve now been told that you have to have a graduation party for your child to receive gifts. I personally think it’s ridiculous. People now seem insulted if they receive a graduation announcement and are expected to send a small monetary gift if you don’t have a party.”

Now take note: The writer -- despite saying people shouldn’t feel obligated to give a gift -- doesn’t see his or her part in this “gimme” game. But Martin does.

“Graduation parties are indeed getting out of hand,” Martin writes. “But if you truly want to discourage the ‘gimme, gimme’ culture, which Miss Manners considers a noble goal, you should not be speculating about how best to get presents for your child.”

Martin says while it’s probably true that your graduate will more likely receive gifts if there’s a party, people either invited to a graduation party or receiving an announcement of said event aren’t obligated to produce a present. “Congratulations are all that is required,” she writes.

“The decision about giving a party should be based on your and your child’s inclinations, your resources, and whether this is something your guests would enjoy, not the expectation of tribute from them,” Martin says.

I concur.

Let’s Chat Today

Join me today, May 10, at noon ET for my online text chat. My guest will be Erin Duffy, author of April’s Color of Money book club pick, “Bond Girl.”

Read the review of the book, and join me for a discussion about Duffy’s time on Wall Street.

I’ll also be taking your personal finance questions during the chat. Be sure to send your questions in early or read the transcript later.

The Proper Way to Pinch Pennies

Are you thrifty or miserly?

Tim Parker of Investopedia.com posed this question while explaining the difference between being miserly and being frugal.

“Frugal people understand that paying more doesn’t necessarily mean a better value,” Parker wrote in the piece “People labeled as cheap wouldn’t pay a premium price regardless of the value.”

Here are a few ways to figure out if you’re miserly or frugal, according to Parker:

-- Miserly people look only at what something costs. “They believe that the only way to achieve value is to pay less, but they fail to take into account other factors,” Parker writes. But frugal people understand that it’s okay to pay more for quality. For example, a quality mattress may cost more, but the added support and ergonomics may help somebody with back pain.

-- Miserly people won’t spend the money to take care of necessary things, such as a needed trip to the doctor, while a frugal person will pay for the basics of life.

-- Miserly people annoyingly complain about the cost of something -- all the time. They complain so much it takes the fun out of an outing. Frugal people may be thinking the same thing, but they don’t voice their cost counting all the time.

This week’s Color of Money Question: What miserly acts or characteristics irk you the most? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state and put “The Proper Way to Pinch Pennies” in the subject line.

The Tipping Point

One Texas family learned that not tipping a food server in some cases is not an option.

Jasmine Marks and her family were blocked from leaving a restaurant after they refused to pay a 17 percent tip that was automatically tacked onto their check because they had a large party. Restaurants often apply an automatic gratuity for large dining parties.

The Markses told Jennifer Bauer of NBC affiliate KPRC in Houston that they didn’t want to leave such a generous tip because they had suffered from poor service. They said that their drinks were never refilled and that they didn’t receive their entire food order.

“If you’re not satisfied with the service, you shouldn’t have to pay gratuity,” Jasmine Marks said.

In the end, the group paid the tip, especially after the cops were called.

Here’s another question for you: Even if the restaurant has a policy for an automatic gratuity for large parties, should diners be forced to tip if they receive poor service? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state and put “The Tipping Point” in the subject line.

“They’re Back” Responses

For last week’s Color of Money question, I asked: “What do you think of the trend of young adults returning home to live with or live off their parents?”

The Washington Post’s Michael A. Fletcher reported on the growing number of children returning home because they can’t afford to live on their own. A Pew survey found that 29 percent of parents with adult children report having a child who has moved back in over the past few years.

Here’s what some of you had to say:

“Unless they are about to be homeless or in harm’s way, I think it only encourages or enables them to expect that someone will always be there to catch them when they fall,” wrote Liz Detrich of Pacifica, Calif. “My mom was a nurse and single mom who expected me from an early age to learn how to take care of myself. As a result, I think my mom did me a favor. She was warm, kind and nurturing yet expected me to rise to expectations and become a productive adult and contribute to society.”

Aldene Fredenburg of West Swanzey, N.H., wrote: “I wonder how much parents have been preparing their kids for moving out in the first 21 years of their lives. You can’t fail to teach your kids life skills, including how to manage money, for the first two decades of their lives and then expect them to know how to do it.”

Shira Newman of Atlanta doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with adult children moving back home after college.

“It would be wonderful if everyone could move out, and some do, but realistically, most can’t, even before the recession,” Newman wrote. “My sisters and I all moved back home after graduation. There was just no way we were able to afford - even with a job - an apartment in New York City. We could hardly afford to live at home, pay for the train and subway to Manhattan, and also clothe ourselves and feed ourselves on the salaries we were making. It just wasn’t going to be possible. I don’t know of people who could. We all saved money, and moved out as soon as we could.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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