Big Daddy

Dear Big Daddy

Hey Big Daddy,
I work in a fairly small office of eight people, six of whom are women. I
point this out because I think that if there were six men in the office, I
might not have the concern I’m about to share with you. Whenever it’s
someone’s birthday, the office goes out to lunch together and we buy a cake.
So far, gifts have been limited to a card only. But this month, it’s the
senior vice-president’s birthday, and a couple of the women in the office
who are real chummy with her want to get her a gift certificate to a spa.
Already, we chip in for the cost of lunch at a nice restaurant and the cake.
I make less than everyone in the office, but we all pay an equal amount.
Looking ahead to the month of December, three of the women in the office
have birthdays, and if the spa package is the new precedent, I’ll be forking
over a lot of dough that could otherwise be spent on gifts for real friends
and family-not co-workers. How do I stop a bad idea before it gets out of

-Frugal in Fair Oaks

Hey Frugal,
Some battles are worth fighting, and some aren’t. If the women in your
office were conspiring to take the coffee out of the break room and replace
it with decaf herbal tea, I would tell you to engage in open revolt. But
what you are dealing with is a powerful force, and I fear you are
outmatched, outnumbered, and will be outsmarted by women who are more
experienced, wealthier and more organized. (Sound like a campaign you’ve
read about recently?)

If their mind is set on giving the boss a new perk in the form of a day spa
certificate, there is little that you can do to stop it. But you can try to
reduce the cost-at least for yourself-by being the first to suggest the
amount of your contribution. That way, you put the other women in your
office in the position of asking you for more, which they are unlikely to

If next month someone suggests extending the birthday perk to lower ranking
members of the office, suggest a birthday pool that everyone contributes to
each month. That way, when birthdays roll around, the cost of the gift is
determined by the amount of money already in reserve. And you won’t be
stuck with a big bill all at once.

Office gifts like the day spa packages are the private sector equivalent of
union dues-think of it as automatic garnishing of your wages for a cause you
may or may not agree with. Barring the passage of some sort of
constitutional prohibition on this type of forced giving, you are, as they
say in show business, screwed.

But with a little planning and compromise on your part, you can save
yourself from waging an office campaign you’re not likely to win.

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