Category Archives: Finances & Giving

Great Customer

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I am an Amazon fantasy customer. I’m retired, partially disabled so it
is difficult enough to get friends to help with medical appointments
that I don’t want to also bother them for shopping, and well-off
enough that if there is something that I want—from an art book to an
appliance—that I can go online, browse, and have it delivered to my
door. I’m not proud of being a consumer but I also do my share of
tzedakah and recycling. I save on deliveries by being a member; they
get my business. The last four orders I have received have been
defective or wrong in some way. The first two were my fault: pressing
“buy now” too quickly and not reading the size details, and because
they were “no return” items I was allowed to keep them. The next two
were not as advertised and when I called to complain I got shunted to
a higher-level supervisor who questioned me I thought a little rudely. I
fell like I have been tagged in some way. How can I get my good
consumer name back and have the convenience I want and the
respect I deserve?

Great Customer

 
Dear Great Customer:

Generally speaking, the old adage “the customer is always right” still
remains a baseline for retailers. But in the age of long-distance buying,
consumers have both much more and much less information about
what they are purchasing. When we could stand in a store holding and
feeling the product and talk to a salesperson we could make bettetr
decision, though perhaps not as cheaply. In this age of knock-offs and
declining quality, it is easy to be disappointed with a purchase. As long
as a site’s shipping and return policies are reasonable, I think it’s
worth being loyal, but not to the point of paying too much or feeling
that you did not get the quality you paid for.

 
I would call and ask to talk to a customer service rep. Explain what’s
happened independent of a specific purchase. Ask if there is a way you
can learn more about products before you purchase, beyond the review
and questions section. Ask if they in some way tag you for too
many returns. Assuming you are treated like an adult, and not charged
to ship back defective items, I’d stick with a retailer you have trusted.
Remember, every time you buy from a new place, all you credit info
ends up being spread about the Internet. And each breach of security
is one more hassle to remedy and takes you one more step into the pit
of identity theft.

Still In His Prime

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’ve worked for 35 years and could afford to retire tomorrow if money
were all that mattered. But I just cut a fabulous deal to go to .25 time
at my firm as a Senior Advisor starting in January, make big bucks per
hour, and even be eligible for a bonus. I am simply not ready to give
up such a windfall, at least without trying it for six months. But my
wife says I am too stressed out and I should quit. I say look at the
vacations we could take with the money. You get a vote, though I
know the details are sketchy. What say you?

Still In His Prime

 
Dear Still In His Prime:

Money is hard to turn down; in our society it is a necessary addiction.
Big money almost always comes with stress. Ironically, we can get
addicted to stress as well. My vote is to map out a typical week with
your wife. If you can limit work to fixed hours that will not corrupt
your ability to make a new life (for example, three to four hours a day
on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) and truly restrict it to those
hours, .25 might be feasible, like a hobby that pays you while you
develop new, lower-stress things to do with your time. But my bet is
that it expands into five days a week pretty fast unless you are
vigilant. I would commit to a three-month probationary period, and
then review how it’s going with both with your wife and your
employer.

 
But don’t delay creating your second life too long. You my find that
retirement is much more fun than you think or fear.

Witness

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m of an age when my peers are inheriting money from their dying
relatives. Some of the bequests are modest, enough to pay off a car or
loans. But others are seven digits and I am watching an array of
responses. Some friends who have lived modestly and have good
social and political values have decided to donate much of it, in part to
live consistently and in part so they can honestly respond to requests
from children, friends, relatives, and hangers-on for gifts, loans, and
“emergencies.” I have seen the money become a burden and a
responsibility more than a source of pleasure. One particular friend has
an adopted child who has been in rehab more often than I can count.
She has begun to get her life on track, but everyone is always on pins
and needles about whether it will stick. My friend with newly inherited
wealth wants to but this child a house and a car and “make her life
easier after all she has been through.” The rest of us are horrified and
see the child as a black hole of misery who has ruined our friend’s life.
Should we speak or hold our peace?

Witness

 
Dear Witness:

No one can truly understand the bond between parent and child from
the outside. What you perceive as misery could be interpreted as love
and saving a life by them. But I understand that you think your friend
is somewhat of a soft touch and that some rational guidance now
might forestall more unhappiness later. It would help if you were an
attorney or financial planner who could speak with authority. At a
minimum you should encourage your friend to consult one.

 
A gift of a car is big in most people’s lives, but if your friend wants to
support her child’s recovery and make her daily life easier, that seems
like a whopping nice way to do it. A gift of a house seems like an act of
trust but perhaps an optimistic one. I could imagine your friend buying
the house in her own name and being the landlord, letter her child pay
rent towards eventual ownership in a manner that reinforces a healthy
financial regimen. Recovery is a very hard road. The principles that
support it should guide your friend as much as her love and hope for
her child’s future.

Dutiful Daughter

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My mother died a year ago. My sibs and I have been to services virtually every
week to say Kaddish and planned the headstone unveiling to coincide with what
would have been her 105 th birthday. With the family gathered and a service
conducted, we pulled off the covering and were horrified to find that her birthday
was wrongly engraved on the stone. I’d paid more than two thousand dollars
deposit (half the bill) to have a headstone for her that matched my father’s. It was
more than unsettling to have this happen with the whole family present,
especially because one of my brothers has been having major emotional issues.
I of course was scared I had screwed up but when I went home and dug out the
proof from the order I found that it was correct. I’d even had the rabbi check the
Hebrew. The stonemason must have made a mistake. How should I convey my
displeasure to the company and what kind of compensation should I ask for? If it
matters, I’m an attorney and my correspondence with them has all been on my
office email account.

Dutiful Daughter

 
Dear Dutiful Daughter:

I would leave a voicemail that sounds very distraught and let them
know you will be following up by email asking for mitigation and
remediation. Then do so. Be sure to stress how upsetting it was to the
assembled family and friends and how it disturbed a ritual and solemn
occasion with unnecessary pain and suffering. The last phrase has
vaguely threatening implications without specifically saying you’re
going to sue them. Then ask what the timeline is for correcting the
mistake, and whether they will replace the whole stone or correct the
defect (and how). But stress that it was to match your father’s and
that is why you chose that company. End by asking what they think is
an appropriate and fair discount. Be sure to attach a copy of the proof
to your email.

 
If they reply that they will replace the stone at no additional charge
beyond your deposit, you have gotten as good as you can get, pain
and suffering notwithstanding. If they say less, tell them you will
consider your options and reply after they have completed replacing
the stone. Then ask for half again less than what they offer. It’s
unlikely they will argue hard. Be sure to visit the grave yourself before
you pay another penny.

Weighted Down

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

What do you do when you are given not just one but two first, and you like
neither of them? A good friend asked me to read a book with her that I have zero
interest in (it is non-fiction, about topics I don’t care about, and is a small-print
paperback unfit for my aging eyes). She also gave me a piece of pottery heavy
enough to serve as a boat anchor, that I am serious considering using as a
doorstop. She kept asking if I liked them, saying none of her other friends like her
gifts, so what was I to do? I was more honest about the book, and said how
much I liked the art. I’m in divesting mode, not acquiring mode. Now what?

Weighted Down

 
Dear Weighted Down:

It’s awkward to reject a gift outright, especially when the giver is sitting there
asking you directly. Demurring on the book was a wise choice, as time is
especially precious as we age. I would wait a few weeks, but before the next time
you see her, return the book and say you simply don’t have the time to devote to
it. Tell her that you’re willing to co-read a book and talk about it, but you want it to
be a book you both agree on.

 
Re the pottery, keep it displayed for a while when she is around so she sees that
you value it. Then you can “disappear” it quietly. If she notices you can say that a
dear friend was visiting and loved it on sight, and asked if you would give it to her
for her birthday. It is what we used to call a white lie, which is technically a lie, but
will protect your friend’s feelings. Before the next gift-giving occasional talk about
your desire to downsize, and say you’re asking friends to pledge experiences,
not gifts, as time goes on.

Not Cheap

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I was recently invited to a 70th birthday party with for someone who
I’ve known casually from synagogue, volunteer work, local politics,
and mutual social. The invitation said “No cards, no gifts” so I wrote a
lovely card and was happy to attend a brunch at supper that turned
out to be more like a dinner. There were piles of political bumper
stickers and window signs to support various causes, which I took to
honor our mutual values. I saw many people I knew, and each one
came in bearing a gift. I was somewhat confused because I felt like I
had followed the rules. This is a community of like-minded souls but I
was surprised that I felt as badly as I did. Should I apologize
retroactively or just let it go?

Not Cheap

 
Dear Not Cheap:

When a host tells you what to do about gifts, I take them at their
word. There’s a big range in desires: some people make a list of
charities to contribute to while others request gifts from the registry
where they have identified what they want down to the brand, size,
and color. It’s completely at the discretion of the celebratee/host to
ask guests, and of the guest to do what they want and feel is right. I,
for example, loathe giving gift cards, while others think it is the perfect
solution.

 
In this case you should send an email and basically say, I saw a lot of
folks come in with gifts, which I understood was not what you wanted.
I felt badly, because I value our friendship, which has evolved from so
many different strands in our lives. Please let me know which of the
following places you would love me to make a donation to in your
name. Then include a list of organizations that you feel reflect your
mutual values, focusing on the ones that support the signs she had
provided for guests.

Not Moneybags

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

‘Tis the season of invitations and gift trolling. Many are for B’nai
Mitzvahs, which I recognize as an important rite of passage, though
some of these children turned 13 back in autumn, but apparently
needed the extra six months to learn the prayers and Hebrew. Some
are from colleagues for their children and others from seemingly
random synagogue members. The other half are about weddings,
which is a huge commitment and I honor (having failed myself). But
when I get an invite from second cousins in states across the country,
I feel more like I’ve been asked to contribute to the newlyweds’
coffers, and less like a valued relative. I‘m just your average middle-
aged, middle-class guy. I have family of my own that I support and
gift. What are the limits, beyond a polite No thank you?

Not Moneybags

 
Dear Not Moneybags:

Any invitation can be responded to with a polite note of No, thanks. I
wish you all the best, though it tends to be less blunt if accompanied
with some personal thoughts and good wishes enough to fill up a note
card. Only you can decide which of these to accept, but here’s some
baselines to consider, which can be augmented as much as you like for
people whom you genuinely love.

 
For B’nai Mitzvahs for children you do not personally know well, decide
on a book or two and give it with good wishes. I’d vote for something
about Jewish heritage, perhaps even a Holocaust memoir, and/or
something about Jewish values aimed at teens. You might even enjoy
sorting through the options. Then give exactly the same gift to each of
these young people, so there is no interpretive comparison.

 

 

For newlyweds, I give the same thing to each married couple, and you
are welcome to appropriate the ritual: a wooden soup ladle,
accompanied by a note about the importance of good nourishment and
nourishing communication as the key to a long-lasting relationship.
Again, for those you genuinely know and like, you can decide what
more is appropriate, even a cookbook or a stockpot.

Not Miser

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

How do you suggest dealing with a significant inequity in
income in a dating situation? We are both middle-aged and
started out life with a similar middle-class trajectory: stable
home, college, even both taught (me math, her English)
though not on tenure track. Then I went into business and
made a good living after risking a significant part of my then
life savings in a tech firm that did well. I’m not a millionaire
but I have a nice home and can regularly eat in restaurants,
go to theatre, etc. But my love life was not successful and I
divorced twice, both non-acrimonious and each ex happily
remarried.

 

Now I have met a woman I think I could very
much enjoy. But she is poor as a proverbial church mouse.
She says she lost everything in the recession, but there are
big holes in the story she told me. I haven’t pressed. I don’t
mind treating her when we go out (my generational
training). But I am reluctant to set up a pattern of paying for
everything to keep her life afloat, though it is clear that she
would be less stressed with an infusion of cash. I don’t think
I am ready for marriage, but I she’s the most fascinating
person I have met in a decade. Is there a middle path I can
walk for a while?

Not Miser

 
Dear Not Miser:

You don’t say how long you have been dating, but short of
an actual proposal, engagement, and wedding, I’m cautious
about suggesting you undertake large financial
entanglements. Many people suffered in the recession and
lost a lot. Teachers were probably already more vulnerable
on the financial food chain. But you cannot rescue them all.
Financial inequity in a relationship almost always becomes a
source of stress between couples, dating and even married.
Some work it out with various cost-sharing plans. Others
ignore it. But biting your tongue now is not a good recipe for
a long term balance.

 
I would do two things. First have a serious conversation with
her about money. Say you’re concerned by her past but
want to hear her history and really understand. Then say
when you go out on a date you are happy to pick up the tab.
That means meals, tickets, and various treats. But that you
are drawing the line on actually lending money. If that’s a
deal breaker, she will search for a more generous date and
you will lose her. Only you will know if that is a bigger loss
than money.

Trimming

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m in the process of cleaning out my house. I try to do an annual purge during
the holiday buying season, in part to spread the wealth around to women’s
shelters, homeless shelters, non-profits that do all manner of good, schools and
gift-giving community events. I feel that I have so much that it is more than just a
mitzvah. It’s necessary to remind myself how easy I have it in a world where so
many have so little and make do without on a daily basis. I’m living on a fixed
income now, so donating money is harder. I am trying not to buy what I don’t
need, and to trim what I have to what feels appropriate. Many of my friends are
into shopping and gifting. And even though each year we say to one another “NO
gifts, please!” when the moment comes to show up at their door it feels churlish
to come empty handed. Do you have a simple solution, especially one that does
not involve my checkbook?

Trimming

 
Dear Trimming:

I suggest a very simple solution that you apply uniformly to all your
friends. Identify the array or organizations that you plan to donate do,
whether it is in cash or in kind. The write an email to all your friends
and send it to them individually, not as a mass mailing. Personalize it
for each of them, with some acknowledgement of their individual
achievements for the year, such a promotions, weight loss, children’s
accomplishments, etc. Summarize your own gratitude for the plenty
you enjoy, and say that you are choosing not to participate in the
commercialism and consumerism of the season, instead opting to
donate to [insert your list here]. Say that you are going to show up
empty handed, and that you do not want your lack of gifting to be
perceived as anything other than what it is, an appreciation of your
happy sheltered life, and a wish that everyone can have at least as
much as they need.
Encourage your friends to do the same.

Living the Good Life

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

How can I pull the plug on a gift exchange that I did not initiate, but have
participated in for the past two years? I met a friend on a bridge cruise after my
divorce. Many of the single women were hunting for a man. I wasn’t, and ended
up in a random pairing with a smart Jewish woman from Tennessee. We have
partnered together online in the interim, but no more travel, for various reasons
on both sides. She has significantly more money than I do, but when she sent me
the original Hanukah gift I felt I had no choice but to reciprocate. Gifting has
continued for Hanukah and birthdays. Is there a polite way to end this without
hurting her feelings? I think she likes shopping and gifting people as a hobby.
Honestly, I don’t need anything except better knees and a few extra hours in
each day.

Living the Good Life

 
Dear Living the Good Life:

Send her an email that goes roughly: Dear Partner – I so enjoy our friendship. I
hope we can connect again in person sometime. This year for the holidays I have
decided to forgo gift giving and gift receiving. My life is so full and there are so
many in the world in such need. Below I have listed a set of organizations that
I’ve selected for their good works to make a hard world a better place for people
whose lives are much more difficult than ours. Please tell me which you would
like me to gift in your name, and please do the same rather than sending me
anything for Hanukah or in the future. We are so lucky. Let’s share.

Outgrown this Gift

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Every year my aunt sends Hanukkah presents for my three children. It
started when they were children, and she was pretty good about not
sending cheap plastic toys. Now they are 11, 8, and 5. Each year she
buys T-shirts made by a local to her artist. She lives a very hippie
community across the country so this is generally counter-cultural,
political humor, or just odd. We live in an upper middle-class
somewhat red district. The first couple years I like seeing my kids in
tie-dye and thought it was cute. But now she’s latched on to somebody
whose art is, not to put too fine a point on it, just plain weird. Even I
barely get the humor and the kids certainly don’t. We had made an
annual photo practice to dress the kids and send her a pic. But I want
to stop her from she spending money she doesn’t have a lot of on
something we don’t need or appreciate. Should I say something or just
let her keep sending them. I love her and appreciate the sentiment,
but….

Outgrown this Gift

 
Dear Outgrown:

However you do what you do, you should do it kindly. The fact that
your aunt thinks of your children each year is a lovely thing. I don’t
know how often she visits or you see her, but a conversation like this
in a vacuum may sound harsher than it might said casually over tea.
To imply reject a gift out of hand is churlish and cruel. Your family is
something to be honored so handle this gently.

 
You might tell her the children are growing so fast that the T-shirts
that fit now will be out of size or fashion by summer. Tell her that
perhaps switching to books or apps or something that doesn’t require
shipping is better. Tell her what each of them is particularly interested
at the moment, from dinosaurs to chess to a favorite movie or show.
Then hope for the best and say thank you very sincerely. Who knows,
she may have them in her will too; so at the risk of sounding venal,
think long run love and family, not just a gift you could easily donate
or regift.

Dunned

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

This is a very small amount of money but an ongoing problem. I have
a friend who earns maybe twice what I do. But she is what my father
used to call a schnorrer, a word that in English I think means a cadger,
someone who’s the last to reach for the bill. She always suggests
splitting the check down the middle, even though I rarely order a glass
of wine and she always does. You know the type I’m sure. Each year
the local symphony does an outdoor concert. It’s free but if you get
tickets over the phone there’s a $2 per ticket charge. They sell out in
hours. I get the maximum number of tickets per household because
someone is always short tickets. This year she begged for them,
saying she promised to take a friend for her birthday but had not
gotten through to the box office in time. I gave them to her when we
met for a movie, saying, You owe me $4. She didn’t pay me then, or
when we parted. Is it too late to ask? I don’t want to seem cheap, but
I’m irked. The “last straw” is small but weighty.

Dunned

 
Dear Dunned:

It’s okay to send an email saying, Hey we never settled up for the
concert tickets. It’s only $4 but I’m on a new budget plan and starting
to keep careful track of my money so I can see how much I am
spending on what. No need to send a check, but next time we go out
I’ll remind you. Also, from now on, I am going to suggest we eat on
separate tickets or split the bill based on what we order. It’s all part of
what I am called The Year of Living on My Budget. Thanks for
understanding and helping.

 

There’s always a chance she complains about you to mutual friends.
But the odds are that you’re not the only sap she’s had subsidize her
dining tastes. So they’re as likely to adopt your model as to judge you.
Even if they do, the word is out that you’re generous only to a point,
not to a fault. And if she won’t cooperate, order tea not food.

On the Spot

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Help me please with a reciprocal gift-giving question. In high school
our son was a shy nerd. He did not date at all, even though his best
friend/almost brother tried to fix him up on numerous occasions. He
went off to college and after a while got a girlfriend, and now, three
years in, they are both graduating with engineering degrees. She’s a
nice enough girl but she is his first, and I think he could do better with
more experience. Needless to say he is reluctant to risk having no one.
Her parents, who exploit him mercilessly with chores for their home
and business whenever he visits there on holidays and vacations, gave
David $200 as a gift. Our family tends to not give gifts at all, and
never gifts of cash or gift cards. We give flowers and food from our
garden, and personal notes. I feel like they owe him much more in
back wages and do not want to be shamed into giving her a gift just to
show we can keep up. She, btw, will make $30K more in her first job
out of school than I will after five teaching English as a second
language. It’s more than the money but it matters too. What should I
do?

On the Spot

 
Dear On the Spot:

I know people who only give cash or gift cards and others who never
do. It’s a matter of convenience, but there’s also the nasty issue of
dollars as some measure of affection. I come from the give-
something-meaningful school. In this case, I think money would not be
the right message, but I think zero gift given is almost an insult, so
unless you actively want to help end this relationship, you need to gift
something more than a polite card. Next time she visits you, have a
bouquet for her, and a swag bag of homemade items. You could
include a lovely wooden spoon/ladle/spatula set, something she can
use in her own kitchen. You can send her a note saying that her gifts
await upon her next visit, but that you are very proud of her
accomplishments.

 

Sit down with your son and talk to him about your dilemma and
decision. Explain you don’t want to be part of a battle of keep-up- with
the-not- yet-in- laws, and use the talk as a chance to probe what his
intentions are. The next big step for both of them will be job hunting.
Living in different cities may solve the problem. If they do move in
together things will escalate to better or worse. You’ll need to make
your peace with his choice, even if it isn’t yours.

Quitter/Not?

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I offered to give a casual friend a discounted rate for editing her first
book. It was supposed to be a small project, but it mushroomed when
she realized what a good editor could do for her. We had been
FaceBook friends prior, and would bump into one another around town
maybe once or twice a year. She paid me midway through what
seemed fair for what I had done thus far, but now, several edits later
with countless mind-numbing hours of proofreading later, she keeps
thanking me for “being such a great friend” and for “helping out so
much!” She also tells me how “other friends are donating their time”
and how appreciative she is that they are “because this is all so much
more than I imagined.” I’d warned her at the outside that the project
would take about double what she thought it would in terms of tine
money, and energy. Do I have to pay for being right?

Quitter/Not?

 
Dear Quitter/Not:

Business dealings between friends are always better when the
agreements are explicit and up front. If this is what you do for a living,
you should have said very simply in the beginning, I know we are
acquainted but I don’t do this work without my standard contract, here
it is. I am willing to reduce my hourly rate, or discount the bill, but I
cannot afford to work for free. So if this is more than you can afford I
can recommend some other folks.

 
Given that option is past, here’s what you can and should do. Send her
an email exlaining that you hate to be an I-told-you-so, but that for
the work you’ve done since she last paid you she owes you $xyz.
Because this project is turning out to be more than she expected,
you’ll discount it by, say, a third. But you can’t continue to work
without being paid. Explain that you made a mistake by not using your
standard contract form the beginning, but you trusted her as an
honest person and you still do. Book publishing is an industry and the
latter stages of proofing are the most aggravating. Encourage her to
use your time selectively, and suggest that she enlist good friends to
help her with the next few rounds of reading and proofing. Nothing is
more valuable than a fresh set of eyes, and, from my experience, the
single biggest proof-reading rule is READ EVERY WORD OUT LOUD.

Tired

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m an artist who’s started selling my jewelry at local festivals. I’m not
dependant on the money to pay my mortgage, but I do like knowing
people appreciate my work. The sales allow me to reinvest in supplies,
and are also a validation that it’s worth my time to sit in the hot booth
for days schmoozing with strangers. My favorite festival had
attendance that was down by a whopping 50% this year. My sales
were down by 40%, so I did better than some folks, but still it was a
sorry sum. There were many other unique activities in the area the
same weekend, but I also thought the organizers did an exceptionally
poor job of advertising and discouraged attendance by raising ticket
prices 50%, even though there were fewer artisans, food booths, and
musicians than last year. Now they are asking if artists will donate an
extra 5% of sales to help the non-profit that sponsors the event. They
say it is voluntary but selling is determined by a jury each year, and I
would like to think next year would be better. Should I “donate” part
of my sales and not look back, or should I tell them what I think of this
year’s show?

Tired

 
Dear Tired:

I’d suggest you give them both the benefit of your retrospective
wisdom, and a little of your reduced earnings. If the other artists were
equally impacted you will probably not be alone in your
disappointment and observations. Sometimes certain festivals run
their course, and other times they rebound, so perhaps this was just
an off year. Two bad ones in a row and I’d pass.

 
It’s worth offering to have a heart-to-heart with the organizers to tell
them what you feel from a vendor perspective. But if your sales were
down, the amount they are asking you to contribute is less than in a
great year, I’d offer to “donate” at least half of what they are asking
for, unless you do not want to sell your wares there in the future. Not
doing so might not be a cause for them to reject you. But if you want
to sell there next year, think of it as a one-time tax.