My brother and his wife live on a fixed income. They make ends meet by doing grocery shopping for a food-delivery service. I don’t believe they have any savings. (Their current financial situation seems much different from their previous marriages: There was plenty of money then.) When I can afford to, I send them checks to make their lives easier. I learned recently that they used some of the money I sent to take a trip to Europe. When my brother called to thank me, I gently told him that I give them money for emergencies — for unexpected medical bills and the like. Before I send them any more money, how can I make sure they will use it as a safety net — but without dictating how they spend it?
Let me first acknowledge your generous concern for your brother and his wife. Watching you zigzag through your question, though, it seems as if you want it both ways: to give them openhanded gifts (which recipients are free to use as they choose, including on European jaunts and Fabergé eggs) and to control how they spend your money. Before you send another check, decide what you want.
There is nothing wrong with calling your brother to say: “Please tell me to butt out if you like, but I worry about your financial security. If you ever have an emergency and can’t pay an essential bill, please let me know, and I will try to pitch in.” From a distance, this seems to be what you want to do: help protect them without becoming their bank or fairy godmother.
But to continue giving them money and then feeling resentful when they spend it differently from how you imagined, isn’t fair to any of you — particularly given your hazy sense of their financial condition and prudence. Who knows? Your brother may be grateful to have a backstop for emergencies.
What’s in a Name? Perhaps a Bigger Problem.
My boyfriend and I have been dating for two years. We’ve had all the serious talks you would imagine: our timeline for marriage and kids, where we’ll live, our financial goals. So, I was surprised when one topic blew up in our faces: I want to hyphenate our kids’ surnames — his-name-then-mine or vice versa. He refuses, and it may be a deal breaker for us. I want my family’s legacy and my identity to be part of our children’s names, and not just their middle name. His only argument is that it’s “not traditional.” How can I get him to understand how important this is to me?
Well, presumably, you’ve told him it’s important to you, yes? I am less concerned, frankly, about the surnames of your unborn children than I am by your boyfriend’s failure to engage with you meaningfully. This is a question of gender equality, in my opinion, and his lazy reliance on tradition is troubling, especially when that tradition has historically been used to sideline women.
Will he expect you to shoulder all the child care and domestic labor, for instance, because it was “traditional” for many of our mothers to do so? Your boyfriend may be aces, and this may be an isolated problem, but if it reflects his general willingness to communicate and compromise, think twice before marrying him.
It’s an Invitation, Not a Summons
The daughter of close friends lives in New York City. She announced that she and her fiancé were eloping to a fancy resort out of state. No guests were invited. On their return, they invited us to a dinner reception at an expensive restaurant in New York, and — oh, yes — it will be black-tie. So now, we are expected to buy a tux and a gown, travel to another state and stay at a hotel at New York prices — all without the benefit of attending an actual wedding. Your thoughts?
Back it up, friend! Given your apparent distress at the mere prospect of traveling to New York to be fed a free dinner at an expensive restaurant, I can only imagine your palpitations at having to attend a wedding at “a fancy resort out of state.” Let’s turn it down a notch, OK?
You were invited to dinner. That’s all. (It is probably in New York because that’s where the bridal couple lives.) Refuse the invitation politely if you don’t want to shell out for a tuxedo rental, a hotel for the night or for any other reason. No one wants a grouchy guest — not even close friends.
Hospitality Has No Tax Bracket
My son joined a competitive sports team on which most of the players come from families of modest means. My wife and I quite like the other parents and would like to socialize with them. We are relatively well off, with a large home and a cottage at a nearby lake. Would invitations to either of these places be construed as flaunting our wealth?
The parents of your son’s teammates are probably aware that some people in the world are better off than they are. If you and your wife focus on making your guests feel truly welcome in your homes, then I predict that’s how they will feel. Go for it!
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.