No, you can’t have my money

Somewhere between my childhood and adulthood it became de rigeur for everyone to ask parents for money. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, and then I read a great piece on Slate by Jessica Grove

Somewhere, we got lost.

Somewhere, elementary school became an expression of our egos and not a place where our kids learned all 50 states.

Thanks Animaniacs!
Thanks Animaniacs!

I have 4 kids. This is almost entirely my fault– I took breaks from playing World of Warcraft, which as we all know is nerd birth control.

9 months after each break, a child is born.

Coincidence? I think not.

Each of those children is involved in one or more things where someone wants a “voluntary” donation. Here’s the current list (please forgive me for sounding like a MasterCard commercial):

  • Preschool teacher gifts – $30
  • Elementary school PTA suggested donation: $40
  • Middle School PTA suggested donation: $40
  • Kid #1 Swim group gift: $35
  • Kid #2 Swim group gift: $35
  • Kid #3 Swim group gift: $35

Total for “voluntary” contributions: priceless $215

This excludes the actual cost of these activities, as well as arbitrary fees paid for registration and supply. In other words, this is all guilt money.


Fellow parents: how did we let this happen?

I don’t really think my finance are anyone’s business, but I feel not even slightly ashamed to admit that $215 is a non-trivial amount of money. If I went out and spent $215 on, say, an awesome ScotteVest Jacket (omg 35 pockets!), I would be filling those 35 pockets with my belongings while looking for a nice dry bridge under which to live.

Yeah, well, that's just, like, you know, your opinion, man.

Then the “reminder” emails about my voluntary donations started trickling in.

We can’t have our party without your contributions!

We need to buy the Christmas gifts for the teacher/coach/lunch-lady!

Maybe I was just being a scrooge. I am already no big fan of Christmas: The Extravaganza.  

There is a whole separate rant about the culture of mandatory gifts for everyone waiting to be ranted.

I pay a portion of the salary for my kids coaches with my program fees. Why does thankfulness have to be expressed with a gift card? I want my children to be thankful the old-fashioned way, by saying “thank you”.

Maybe coloring some construction paper.

Really, though, it’s their job. No one passes the hat for me for just doing my job. When was the last time someone thought to collect for a Stay-At-Home-Mom? Why must I give a gift to someone who is doing their job?

It seems that what everyone really wants, though is to be recognized with a gift card. Nothing says “We appreciate you, <insert name>” like a $100 gift card to Target (because WalMart is for filthy poor people, right?).

Filthy poor people, and bizarre man-babies. With stripey socks. Yowza. via

Now I understand (thanks Jessica!).

We have to feel good about how good of a parent we are, because now parenting is verb and not just a byproduct of too much alcohol and Dave Matthews.

Can he sing? Eeeh… Not really. Was “Under The Table And Dreaming” the soundtrack for much babymaking in the 90s? Absolutely.

Is it wrong to push back? Maybe. But until we stop opening our checkbooks, we will keep handing out our money AND our time like they are worthless.


5 thoughts on “No, you can’t have my money

  1. I hate being told how much my voluntary contribution should be! I also don’t know when it became an accepted practice to GIFT people who are doing their jobs.


  2. I volunteer my TIME for the school, PTA, and other kid stuff. Isn’t that enough? (My husband, who give me all his money, tells me I charge too much for my time.)

    As for parties, gifts for teachers, hospitality lunches, “graduations” for 5th graders…when did that become an obligation of parents at public school? I don’t get it. You’re right. If you’re obligated (or coerced into it, gently or not), it’s not a gift nor is it voluntary.


  3. Thank you! This is why I follow…

    Anyway, I feel you about the whole “everyone at the school has got their hand out ting (think every kid in the school district selling candy bars to who? Everyone else’s parents whose kids are also selling candy bars?). Your last line says it all; handing out our money and time is like handing out compliments (or for that matter, ‘likes’ and comments on blog posts). If we pass ’em out willy-nilly, then what value do they actually possess?

    Indeed, there has to be a limit on what we give out. The Truth is, we can’t give to every cause. There is always gonna be someone who thinks you’re a greedy asshole because they can’t get a little piece of your rapidly shrinking pie.

    So be it!


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