It's spring, which means chirping birds, blooming flowers and the merciful end of the professional hockey season. It also means that it's time to shell out money for graduation and wedding gifts. This month, etiquette maven Alana answers your questions about how much to spend on graduation gifts, how to say no to your son's request for a graduate school loan and what kind of party is suitable for a college graduation.
Dear Alana: I need some updated information regarding an appropriate monetary gift for high school, college and further higher education graduation gifts. I am also interested in what should be spent on wedding gifts these days. I do not want to slight anyone by giving too little. Is there a difference in the amount you spend for a wedding gift if you will or will not be attending? Nancy
Dear Nancy: You would think that there would be some kind of secret guide to gift giving that we all get handed when we're 18. But there's just not. "The person should decide what to spend based upon their affection for the graduate," according to Peggy Post, the director of the Emily Post Institute.
So if that high school graduation present is for that little twerp of a nephew who was constantly assaulting you with whoopee cushions and sticking his face in your birthday cake, I'd say a $20 book on manners should do. If it's to celebrate your sister finally finishing that PhD in medieval literature after 15 years, I might give a $150 check -- she might need it, after all. As for the wedding question, Post says she conducted an informal poll and came up with $100 as an average price. But if it's your best friend getting married to that creep she met at onlinebootycall.com, you could probably spend more.
Contrary to urban legend, you don't have to spend more or less on a gift just because you're skipping out on the wedding.
Pitch this script: 'The Terminator'
Dear Alana: My son, who just graduated from college, desperately wants to go to film school to become a screenwriter. He doesn't have the money to pay for it. I could lend him the money, but I know he might have trouble repaying it. It's a lot of money. What do I do?
Nikki from Chicago
Dear Nikki: Who wouldn't want to go to school for three more years after the cozy cocoon of college? Heck, if my parents had offered to pay for me to go to film school after college, I would probably have already written, directed and starred in The Great American Movie and own at least six mansions in the Hollywood Hills.
But subsidizing your son's graduate school right after you've paid for his college education could teach him the wrong lesson about the way the world works. That's especially because he doesn't need to go to graduate school to be a screenwriter -- or a journalist, actor, street performer or one of the many other professions that is likely to lead him into a life of poverty and stress.
If he works for a few years and doesn't get anywhere, then it might be time for school. But until then, your son might do better to intern for the company of his dreams and potentially learn more than school would ever teach him.
Bring it on home for the graduate
Dear Alana: I was laid off from my job Dec. 31. My son graduates from UCLA in June. I had planned to give him a nice party, but because I have lost my job I will not be able to do so. What do you suggest? Instead of taking relatives and friends to a nice restaurant, do you think it would be OK to just have sandwiches at the house and just have people stop by for a specified period of time to congratulate my son? I am very proud of his accomplishment.
Paula from Orange
Dear Paula: Congratulations on your son's impending graduation. I hope he has exciting plans for afterward that do not include borrowing money from you to go to film school.
It's totally OK to have a party at your own house instead of a restaurant. Parties at home are more personal anyway: no waiter butting in to tell you they're out of the chicken Parmesan, no bemoaning that you got stuck sitting next to the off-smelling Great-Aunt Ursula.
You can even make it more of a personal affair at home: Leah Ingram, author of "The Everything Etiquette Book," recommends strewing photo albums of your son around the house so your guests can look at them and giggle at that picture of him naked in the bath (the one from when he was a baby, not last year).
When he's a famous Hollywood screenwriter, he can take you to fancy restaurants all you like.
Next month: The etiquette of saving for two. So you're getting married and you've saved enough to buy L.A.'s Coliseum, but your fiancee doesn't even have enough for a Big Mac. Or you're getting divorced and your husband doesn't want to sell the house, but you want some cash so you can move to Bali. How to deal with these thorny issues and still come out uninjured? Send your questions to askalana@latimes .com.