Dear Jeanne and Leonard: I’m an American living in the U.K. with my boyfriend, and we’re going to spend Christmas with his family here. The problem is, he has 11 relatives, for whom we’re each expected to buy presents, and this year the “spend limit” is $40 per gift (everyone spends close to the limit). This is breaking my budget. What should I do? I want to recommend a “Secret Santa” gift exchange, but I fear his family will be offended.
– Megan, London
Dear Megan: Rare is the family that welcomes an outsider recommending changes in the way they exchange Christmas presents. So if you want to propose a Secret Santa arrangement, propose it to your boyfriend, and see if he feels comfortable suggesting it to his family. If the idea doesn’t fly – with him or with them – ask your boyfriend to ask his relatives to place a spending limit of, say, $20 on the gifts they buy for you, and to explain when he does so that that’s all you can afford to spend on their presents.
We know, it’s still a lot of money. But you’re right: You don’t want to offend your boyfriend’s family by complaining about the way they celebrate Christmas, especially when you’re their guest.
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: I live a time zone away from my elderly mother, so my sister and her husband, who live close to Mom, are the ones who look after her. For this I’m enormously appreciative, BUT: As Mom’s gotten older, she’s entrusted the management of her money to my sister’s husband, “Brian.”
The problem is, Brian knows very little about investing. He’s simply a periodontist who got lucky buying Google stock a few years back and now thinks he’s a hotshot stock-picker. What should I do? My sister will be offended if I say anything about her husband. But I can’t afford to help support my mother if she loses her nest egg in the high-flying stocks he buys for her. P.S. I’m not qualified to manage Mom’s money either.
– Scott, Oregon
Dear Scott: When it comes to caring for an elderly parent, no one likes a sibling who does none of the heavy lifting but is critical of the job being done by others. What’s more, your sister wouldn’t be wrong to resent your interference.
But so be it. Unless you’re willing to bet that Brian’s lucky streak is never going to end, you definitely should raise the issue of his investment choices and lack of qualifications. First, though, do some homework. Contact brokerage firms, mutual fund companies and large banks in your mother’s area, and determine which ones offer investment management services well suited to her needs. Since no one is going to thank you for pointing out the problem with Brian, you need to propose a solution – a solution in the form of a vetted list of investment advisers who are unequivocally better qualified than your brother-in-law to look after your mother’s money.
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: When checking into a hotel recently, I gave the bellman who brought up our bags two $5 bills. Unfortunately, I’d accidentally folded them in a way that made it appear there was only one bill, and I could see his disappointment as he glanced at the tip while sticking it in his pocket. I’m wondering, was there a graceful way to let him know he hadn’t been shorted by some cheapskate?
– A Traveler, South Texas
Dear Traveler: Before he left the room, you should have said: “I may have just made a mistake. Could you be sure I gave you two fives, not one?”
But since you didn’t think that fast (not a crime), take solace in the fact that the bellman received the tip you wanted him to have. That’s what really matters, not that he mistook you for a miser.
Please email your questions about money and relationships to Questions@MoneyManners.net.