Budgeting | Life | Personal Finance | Relationships & Family | Article

Why I’m Giving Money Instead of Gifts

by Rica | October 5, 2023 | 7 mins read

You’ve received an invitation to a friend’s wedding. It’s an honor to be invited and you start racking your brains for a suitable gift. After a while you land upon the perfect present, and then you realize that the invite has a line that says:

“We’re not registered for any gifts, but if you’d like to give something, a monetary one would be perfect.” 

This is a line that’s becoming increasingly common in wedding and housewarming invites. Instead of gifts, young couples would much rather receive cold hard cash that can go towards offsetting their event costs. However, many older Filipinos prefer to stick to giving a physical gift.

But why and when did gift giving become a must in The Philippines?

Filipinos and the idea of gift-giving

Nestor Castro, a Cultural Anthropologist from the University of the Philippines who specializes in Southeast Asia, traces back the roots of gift-giving in the Philippines to the pre-colonial era.  

“People engaged in reciprocity, which is the giving of goods and/or services, not in exchange for money but in exchange for other goods and services,” explains Castro. “Services include the Filipino concept of bayanihan where I help you; and then in times when I need help, please help me too.” 

And if returned from abroad, the goods for reciprocity were the items that you acquired overseas. “When they come back, they’re expected to give away gifts from where they went. This is what we now call pasalubong,” he adds.  


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As for the idea of giving cash as gifts, it’s nothing new in the country – records show that gifting money was practised as early as the Spanish period. 

“When the colonizers came, money became the standard medium of exchange,” says Castro. “They introduced money in the form of peso, peseta by the Spanish, where everything would have an equivalence in terms of money. So there was some development wherein the two became parallel to each other – you could either give gifts in terms of in kind or in money.”   

Given the strong Christian influence during the Spanish colonial period, the concept of aguinaldo or the giving of gifts (or cash) to children during Christmas soon took root, shares Castro. It also extended to other important occasions such as weddings and baptisms where godparents are expected to offer monetary gifts.  

Castro adds that the Americans also encouraged gift-giving culture by introducing “other non-sectarian forms of rituals such as birthday celebrations.”

Gifts vs cash

Not all of us have the luxury of time to shop for the perfect gift and unless you already know what to buy, you’ll usually spend a significant amount of time browsing the stores to look for ideas of what to get – it’s a situation that I’ve found myself in more than once.  

And it doesn’t end even after finding the right item. You still need to wrap it (or pay someone to do it), and if it’s for an event that you can’t attend, you have to find a way to get it delivered.


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If you gift cash instead, it’s hours of time and effort you’re saving. It’s also better for the environment as you bid goodbye to single-use wrappers and ribbons. 

For freelance events producer and entrepreneur Sheryl Viguilla, giving cash is her preference. “I really find it stressful to look for gifts that’s why I give cash especially if I am very busy,” she shares. “Even if I do have the time, I think I still prefer to give cash.” 

While online shopping is an option that appears to take less time, for Jois Baui who works as a virtual assistant, she’ll rather not take the risk. “I don’t take risks with online shopping because I am not sure about the quality. To spare me the trouble, I opt for cash,” she shares.  

There’s also the concern that despite all the efforts that you’ve made, the recipient may not like what you’ve picked for them. After all, everyone has different preferences, even between those who are close friends. As housewife Celle Dumol puts it, “Giving money is more practical especially when you don’t have any idea on what gift to give.” 

Why give cash gifts 

While it may seem impersonal compared to carefully chosen or handcrafted presents, cash is a very practical gift. The recipient can use it to purchase items they need or spend it on experiences that would like such as an out-of-town trip or a fine-dining experience. They can also choose to put it towards something they are saving for.   

Hence this was why my husband and I requested for monetary gifts from our guests when we got married, and it was very helpful as we were just starting to build our future together.  

Otherwise, what happened to Jois’s sister-in-law might have happened to me. “My sister-in-law and her husband received so many rice cookers on their wedding day that they ended up giving away most of them,” shares Jois.

Even if not duplicates, many of these well-intentioned gifts do end up given away, sold or collecting dust in the corner of the storeroom. Take it from someone who has unused gifts scattered around the home simply because I didn’t want to offend the people who gave them to me if I transferred their ownership.  


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Cash gifts can be personal

One of the main arguments against cash gifts is that it feels impersonal and lacks thoughtfulness.

However, you can think of cash gifts as empowering the recipients to use it in a way that not just benefits them, but also means the most to them. 

This was what I did when I gifted my goddaughter with cash for a special occasion. I sent her a message asking her to use it however she thought would be best for her. She was extremely thankful saying it meant a lot to her and with the gift, she could now buy something that she has been saving up for.  

Castro shares that he believes that cash gifts will get more commonplace and accepted. “In our culture, there’s always this tension between preserving traditional practices and adapting to modern ways,” says Castro. “I think they will co-exist with one another where giving cash gifts becomes very, very common but I wouldn’t say everyone will accept it. 

“With almost everything easily accessible online including sending and receiving cash, it’s a practice that people will adapt and get used to. 

“So it becomes a norm. People get used to it and I think it is still acceptable as long as the receiver doesn’t demand how much,” he adds. 

The next time you are wondering what to get a relative or close friend as a gift, why not opt for cash instead, especially if you aren’t certain that you’ll be able to find something that they would find useful immediately.  

And if it’s for someone who is more traditional and would rather receive a physical item, consider asking them if they have a gift registry or anything that they would like to be gifted, so that what you give them won’t go unused.