For the broke and insolvent, few events are more dangerous than another’s birthday. Society has decreed that, by virtue of being born, people deserve an annual validation of their existence. Fine, we’ll play along – but only up to a point, because, somewhere along the line, that simple acknowledgment became something else: It became a imperative to spend money. And that’s not okay.
If there is a valid argument for not having friends, birthdays are it. Gifts require thought, thought requires incentive, and incentive requires memory. In reverse: First you must remember a friend’s birthday (which is a feat, clearly), then you must decide whether or not the event requires the giving of a gift, then you must think of a gift. The decision to buy a gift and the logic leading up to it hinges on a number of factors. First, you must consider how much you actually like the person in question. Close relations like mother/father/sibling/lover are hard to avoid, so we’ll place them in a group called “The Unavoidable Few.”
Next come friends, some of whom you like and spend time with regularly. Buying gifts for members of this group depends mostly on the character and the nature of your shared relationship. If the relationship is not one that has yet been marked by gift giving, then it is perfectly justifiable to eschew gift giving in this case as well. A salutation and a quick nod are all that is necessary. Maybe a greeting card as well.
The next group, and potentially the most dicey, consists of those that you rarely see, the college friends who live on an distant coast or the semi-distant relative who only exists within the context of specific family get-togethers. Acknowledging the birthdays of these people requires slightly more effort and incentive. Gift-buying is almost entirely out of the question unless the incentive is overwhelmingly present. Examples of sufficient incentive include latent romantic interest (for friends) and proximity to death (for will-writing relatives).
Here, the phone call is a valuable tool. Before a phone call is made, however, you must ask yourself a few things. One, how much do you really feel like talking to this person? Are you comfortable with the idea of an extended conversation about “how are you doing” and “have any fun plans for the day”? If the answer is no, then it is possible here that you can consider the benefits of “forgetting” or perhaps being “too busy” to pick up the phone. This may give cast an negative light on you, but that’s a chance you should be willing to take.
But there is another possibility: Facebook. Rather than give any effort at remembering a relation’s birthday, do what most do currently, and completely forget about it. Instead, rely on services like Facebook to offer you timely reminders of the important dates. When the special moments arrive, click over to the relation’s page, type/paste “HAPPY BIRTHDAY”, click SHARE and be done with it. You’ve not only fulfilled your obligations, but you’ve also done so with the absolute most minimal of efforts. In fact, it’s the culmination of the various minimalist birthday greetings that will in the end create the larger, more significant sentiment: Your friend is cared for. Your contribution is a minor component of a congratulatory collage created by your friend’s extended network. The final product is larger than the parts that comprise it – so much so that your friend mind not even notice or mind when you don’t send a greeting at all. It’s a win-win situation.
Of course, none of that solves the gift-giving concern for both those closer relations and the grey-area-residing semi-distant ones. A rule of thumb in these cases is to weight the short-term costs of gift purchasing against the long term benefits of appearing kind and charitable. Don’t buy gifts for people who are unlikely to appreciate them, and definitely avoid buying things for those with bad memories or tight purse-strings. Your goal is to increase the chances that the gift-giving will be reciprocated. As such, buying gifts for people who are unlikely to respond in kind is like throwing your cash in black hole. You are making an investment, not donating to charity.