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Measuring the Dollar Value of Friendships

We don't admit it. Not in our polite, the-best-ship-is-friendship society.

We judge the value of our friendships based on money.

Not "how much can this person give me?" value. Rather, it's a "how much am I willing to spend on behalf of this person" basis.

A friend recently wrestled with a wedding gift idea to give another friend she wasn't close to.

"Oh, you mean a low-dollar-value friend," I said.

She gave me the side-eye.

Her friend had mailed a postcard wedding invitation, probably from, announcing the wedding. It even included a web address for their gift registry, a Williams-Sonoma meets type of website.

"What are your options?" I asked.

"The wedding is next weekend, so most of the good stuff is gone already. All that's left are a few house gifts they'll never use, like a pastry server. Who the hell needs a pastry server?"

"What is a pastry server?"

"A fancy pie spatula."

"Bleah. What else can you get?"

"I can fund some of their honeymoon to Italy."

This is not an uncommon practice for weddings these days. A lot of couples, especially if they live in small apartments or houses, don't want a lot of stuff. So they request cash in lieu of gifts, especially for their honeymoon.

Some people look down on the practice. They prefer to give an electric pie slicer or his-and-hers matching ashtrays, which will be regifted to another wedding. But it's an excellent way for newlyweds to get a jump start on life.

"I could contribute to their airfare," said my friend. "How much do you think I should give them?"

"How good of a friend is she?" I asked.

"What? What does that have to do with anything?"

"It's everything," I said, ignoring her indignation. "Have you been to her house?"

"No. Why is that important?"

"It just is. Has she ever attended any of your events or special happenings?"


"Did she ever buy your lunch?"


"Then 25 bucks."

"You mean, since she never bought me lunch, I should cheap out on her gift?"

"No, it tells you what kind of friend she is. She's never invited you to her house, which means you're not a dinner party friend. She doesn't come to anything you organize, which means she's not a supportive friend. And she's never said, 'let me buy your lunch today,' which means she's not very generous. At best, that makes her a $25 friend. Hell, I don't even know if I'd buy her a gift in the first place."

"I was thinking $50."

"She doesn't sound like a $50 friend. That's a lot for someone you don't even meet for coffee."

"So what am I?"

"To me, you're a $100 friend. I'd give $100 to your airfare when you got married." That made her smile.

But she still gave 50 bucks.

I'm not suggesting we should assign our friends a monetary value. But one day, we will all face a dollar value decision about a friend, and it will say a lot about how the value of the relationship when you decide how much to spend.

Your college roommate, who you haven't seen or talked to for eight years is having a destination wedding in Hawaii. It will cost you $3,000 to attend. Do you go?

No, of course not. You haven't seen your friend in so long, you're not even morally obligated to attend if you lived next to the church. Send her a $25 Starbucks gift card and wish her well on Facebook, where she friended you two months ago so she could get your address and mail her "invitation."

Compare that to your best friend. She wants to go on an all-girls weekend to Chicago. Total cost is $750. Do you go?

Absolutely! This is your best friend, you enjoy hanging out with her, and it will be something you remember forever. And because you skipped your college roommate's wedding, you have an extra $2,250 to spend in Chicago, which means you can park your car for two days.

When you have to spend money on behalf of a friend, ask what kind of friend they've been. If they've been with you through thick and thin, spend more. If you don't even know where they live, and they've never even bought you a single coffee, spend less.
    Of course, if they've provided months and years of humorous newspaper entertainment, they're worth at least the cover price of their first novel. As soon as they write it.

Hardback prices, too, please. Don't cheap out and buy the Kindle version just because it costs less.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


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