Category Archives: Spending

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.

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.

Money Momma

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m trying to help my son decide about grad school. He’s a good kid,
perhaps a little sheltered, who got great grades in honors college, then
took a gap year, and is applying for physical therapy school. It is both
very competitive and very expensive. He applied to five places and
through a clerical mishap missed a deadline for one. His two preferred
school are out west but he just got accepted to a very prestigious
program in the metro northeast, the only that actually gives
scholarships. This decision could be the difference between starting a
profession with as much as $150k in debt. How can I convince him
how important it is to not start life in the hole just because he likes to
camp and ski?

Money Momma

 
Dear Money Momma:

In the history of humans there’s never been a family in which parents
didn’t know better than kids what they should do. That is if you ask
the parents. These same folks probably ignored all the well-intentioned
advice of their own elders and bounced back (or didn’t). The moral of
the story: bring right doesn’t always convince anyone how to act.
Help your son keep all his options in play. If there’s a (relatively
minimal) fee to hold his place in the place that said Yes, until he hears
from all the schools, go ahead and pay it. Make sure he understands
that eventually he is going to have to decide but that he’s now in the
fortunate position of being able to use the early acceptance to
leverage the places he haven’t heard from yet. My advice, calling or
emailing the other schools and saying: I got into [prestige school] and
I’m waiting to hear about scholarship money. Can you please tell me
when I am likely to hear from you about acceptance, and whether or
not you do fund any beginning student.

 
Then sit down with him and do the math. Be sure to factor in all the
relevant variables, like how soon he might be paying in-state tuition at
the far-off schools, and the likely revenue stream for his first five-ten
years of employment, based on average salaries. Young folks don’t
usually understand the burden of debt. But seeing the numbers written
down in a spreadsheet, and seeing his future disposable income at
low-to- zero in some options and much higher in others might have an
impact. In the long run, he has to be happy, and he gets the last vote.

Second Life

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a relationship question that is long-run not short. I’ve been with
my new girlfriend and (I hope) eventual wife for two years. She
started dating me even though I wasn’t fully divorced. And slowly but
surely it has become a strong loving relationship. The problem is that
her 14-year old daughter still refuses to accept me. The ex is a pot-
smoking, guitar-playing, rock-star wanna be who doesn’t get that at
age 45 his chance for fame and glory is long past. But his daughter
adores him. I’m older than any of them and within three years of
retirement from a very high stress job I can’t wait to leave. The
daughter is smart but not get a scholarship brilliant. There has been
no discussion of adoption given her age. And I am happy to help out
with college costs in addition to my usual monthly household
contribution. But I am not eager to prolong my work life misery for a
young woman who treats me with scorn. I know it sounds early but
how can I explain my needs without further alienating her?

Second Life

 
Dear Second Life:

Relationships grow and change over time. It’s the rare parent, even a
bio parent, who has a great relationship with a teenager. And with my
advice I’m am in no way advocating that ant offer of support you make
be seen as a bribe to get her to appreciate you more or treat you
better. That said, be as honest and transparent as you can with both
mother and daughter.

 
Explain that your current level of financial support for the household
will go on even after you retire in three years. Say that you are willing
to contribute towards college costs in addition, but not to work longer
to contribute more. Say that when the daughter does apply to schools
she can count on a firm commitment from you of $x thousand per year
for a specified number of years. Explain that the only criteria are on
going civility and maintaining a specified grade level. Be clear that the
support will end if she drops out, does poorly, or treats her mother or
you with disrespect. Nothing may change or time and familiarity may
improve things. But you can proceed with a clear conscience.

Shocked

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m the person in my circle that people call to brainstorm their
problems with. Sometimes it’s a maybe-having- affair spouse, a
gambling-addiction; help with a resume or job search. You name it and
I’m the local helper/fixer.

 

A friend whose life has finally settled down after three tumultuous
years that included job changes for her and her hubby, an
out-of- wedlock baby by her eldest son, a major accident by her
youngest, and a sudden death-by- heart-attack of her father-in-
law, just surprised me with her New Life Plan, announced with bold,
large-font, capital PLAN. She wants to sell their house, relocate to a
big city two hours away, buy a five-bedroom home and turn it into an
Air B&B, and retire to become an innkeeper. If she took meds I’d say
she was off them, but she’s generally pretty rational. This feels like an
explosion of change without a clean strategy to make her Plan a
reality. To top it all off she asked if I would be interested in investing
in her new hostel with some of my liquid capital, and offered an
interest rate far in excess of what I could possibly get from a bank.
This is a friend that I love and value. But (A) I think she’s hallucinating
riches, and (B) no way would I lend money to such a sketchy venture!
How can I say those last two in much less confrontational ways? I do
not want to lose this friendship. Mostly I’d like to talk to the husband
but he rarely gets the last vote in their marriage.

Shocked

 
Dear Shocked:

I agree that your tone and word choice will matter. Also that what
seems like a PLAN to your friend seems like an out-of- the-blue,
disruptive, irrational response to trauma to you. But her life is her life,
not yours. The best way to be, and to stay, a friend, is to remain very
calm, supportive, rational, and non-confrontational. Often I suggest
writing an email to line out important thoughts you want to be sure
are not lost or misinterpreted. In this case, I suggest a series of coffee
klatches.

 

Tell your friend you want to meet her and ask her to bring a notepad
and pen. Then say very clearly, I understand you want to start over,
and that the difficulties of the last few years have left you shell-
shocked. Personally, I think your Plan is a little pie-in- the-sky without
enough information, at least for now. So No, Thanks to investing. But
I’m interested enough to want to hold your hand while you pencil it
out, do some solid research and a market analysis with financial
projections, and generally be a supportive bystander. If your numbers
persuade me, I’ll jump in and write a check. If not, I hope you’ll
reconsider the plan. Ether way, I love you. So let’s get to work. That
makes it hard for her not to do the serious homework that seems
lacking in a fundamental and expensive life change. If her market
analysis surprises you, both of you will feel better. If the numbers are
unsettling, maybe she’ll see the light.

Single Again

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

What’s an appropriate birthday gift for someone you have been dating
for two months? I like this woman and can imagine continuing the date
her. But I’m not in love or even committed to dating only her. Her
birthday is two weeks away. She just handed me a flyer for a special
foodie event: a seven-course dinner with wine pairings, at $80 a
person! I was planning on getting her a gift and taking her out for
dinner, but not for $200. What’s a polite way to decline but not make
her think I don’t like her? I should add that my ex always said I was
cheap, but I think I am pragmatic about money, not a spendthrift.

Single Again

 
Dear Single Again:

I think you politely say, Gee that looks like a wonderful thing to do
with one of your foodie friends. I had other plans in mind. Then you
follow through with a gift and a nice meal. And you continue to date
her, and whomever else you want. If this is a way to ascertain what
values you share (or don’t) around money, hooray for a quick and
cheap way to find out.

Feel Taken Advantage Of

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My 101-year- old aunt passed away in February. I was power of attorney and
executor of her estate. I’d helped her after being contacted by social services
when she was in her late 80s, because neither her brother nor her sister wanted
anything to do with her. I was warned to stay away by the family, who said she
was not a nice person. Very insulting, etc. She was my father’s sister, and even
he fought with her constantly. During that time I packed up her apartment and
moved her to a very beautiful, and very expensive, assisted living. She did not
get along with anyone. During this time I drove her to all her doctor, dentist,
gynecologist, colonoscopy appointments. I even had to change her diapers when
we went to some doctors. I moved her again. Same thing, and finally moved her
to a very good nursing home. Eventually she ran out of money. I was told to pay
for a prepaid funeral, as that was required for her to be on Medicaid. When she
died I was out of town. My cousin, who is ultra, ultra orthodox happened to be in
town. She called to tell me that she was taking care of everything. I asked that
she wait, but of course she went right ahead for a quick burial without consulting
me on costs that were not included. Now she wants me to pay almost $300
towards the funeral home and an additional $200 for the stone. I volunteered to
give her $100 and wanted to find out about a less costly stone. Do you think I am
obligated to pay any of these costs? Also when her family comes to town, they
eat like it is going out of style (at the restaurant) and NEVER offer to pay
anything.

Feel Taken Advantage Of

 
Dear Taken Advantage Of:

Your feelings are legit. They are also overdue. Your cousin’s family has
become so used to taking advantage of your generosity and good
nature that they’ve managed to forget your fifteen years of helping
out. My guess is that you have not done a good job of communicating
all that you have done during the past while, and that they got very
lazy and hazy about how things were being taken care of. But that’s in
the past.

 
The fact that your cousin made the arrangements without your
knowledge or consent implies she’s on the hook for all of it. Your offer
of $100 will not placate her, but I would send the check anyhow. If she
complains to the family and you hear about it, just remark quietly, I
wish I’d heard from them as much during all the years I was doing all
the care-taking and shlepping. That’ll end the complaints, and if it
doesn’t, you can still feel good about how you took care of your aunt.

Dunned

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’ll say it up front: I am old; I am not used to anything to do with
dating; I am a strong consumer advocate; I don’t like feeling foolish.
All these have come together in a personal and financial issue. I was
widowed five years ago. I spent a long time grieving the long true love
of my life. Friends kept trying to fix me up with eligible gentlemen of
my age (sixties) but it led to awkward after-effects in a small circle of
aging Jewish professionals. I decided to try online dating. I signed up
with a very well-known service, after carefully looking for the best
deal. It cost about half of what they advertise, and the person with
whom I signed up assured me that if I initiated at least five outreach
emails/contacts each month and was still single after six months, the
second six months would be free. That’s essentially 75% off so I
signed up, and yes gave my credit card. You can write the story. After
seven months (of no romance) I saw a charge on my credit card for a
full price six-month membership. I have made four phone calls
explaining everything above, and in each and all of them the only
answer I have received is “Mxxxx.com is not a refund company.” I am
angry and frustrated. I can afford the charge but do not want to.

Dunned

 
Dear Dunned:

I’m going to generalize my answer, since it applies to most similar
circumstances. You don’t say if you got the name of the original
salesperson, and recorded the date of the conversation. In future, any
time you get what sounds like a deal that’s too good to be true, start
an info file on the details. The second thing you should do is to make a
mark on your calendar a full week before the expiration date of such a
deal. That’s to call back the same 800 number and talk to customer
service. When you are faced with the barrage of vmail options, none of
which addresses your circumstances, keep saying Agent, Customer
Service, or waiting till the last option which may finally include a
sentence like, If you need to talk to a company representative. Explain
what you were promised and get a guarantee of what will follow. Get
the person’s name and id number, regardless of what you are told.
Then monitor your credit card.

 
Assuming, as has happened to me in similar circumstances, you are
charged for future services, immediately call back and complain, citing
all your previous contacts, including name and id. Get that ino about
any agent you speak with. If you are still told XYZ.com is not a refund
company, an infuriating declaration, immediately dial your credit card
company. Explain the outline of the problem, and say you can
document all the contacts you have had. According to at least one
major credit card rep That’s what companies say when they don’t want
to give a refund. They can say that all they like. But we will reverse
the charge and block that merchant from future contact with your
credit. That option will eliminate the specific site as a future dating
option. But there are many such places to go fishing. And your willing
friends would rather bathe in the yenta glory of a good fix-up, so don’t
count them all out.

Ticked Off

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My neighbor and I have shared hourly yard workers for years. No
matter who finds them among students, clients, employees, children of
relatives and friends, etc, we have agreed on what hourly rate to pay
and cooperated on schedules. The last regular gal we had was
amazing, but finally got a teaching job so we both fell behind during
fall and winter. My neighbor found someone new who is not as good
but needs the work and money. I had her scheduled to come on
Sunday, but my neighbor slid in ahead of me for two hours of heavy
lifting of rocks and soil, so by the time the gal got to my place she was
tired, dehydrated, and hungry. I fed her and she worked a paltry 1.5
hours, which barely made a dent in the mess. I’m frustrated with both
of them, especially because it’s my birthday week and I am
entertaining. What should I say to whom?

Ticked Off

 
Dear Ticked Off:

You should speak to both of them simply and clearly.
To the yard worker you should be very clear: I made a plan with you. I
was clear about how much work I had. If you had extra time you
should have called me to see if I wanted you to start earlier or work
longer before you made other commitments. I still want you to work
for me, but I want us on the same page about what you are saying yes
to and what I can count on. I’m past being angry but I do want to
know we agree.

 
To your neighbor: I know you found [worker name] so you probably
feel you have a proprietary interest in her and maybe even the rights
to first place in line. But I’d made a plan for Sunday and what you did
made it difficult for me to even make a dent in my weeds. I need at
least xyz hours of her time in the next few weeks. Can you wait to hire
her again, or at least consult with me before you do? [Pause to listen
to excuses.] Thanks for letting me know before she comes back to
your place.

Renting to Own

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Years ago I bought a house as an investment with a good friend. I’ve
lived there for the past fifteen years, and we have used the rental
income from the downstairs unit to reduce our principal payment. Now
he wants out and a different friend has offered to buy his portion, but
only if I agree to a big set of deferred maintenance. It will cost me
about $10K out of pocket (actually out of retirement savings) but the
alternative is having to sell my home and start over. I have agreed to
kick in the money if we can agree on the list of repairs, some of which
I know need to be done but some of which seem unnecessary and
ambitious. Some are cosmetic, some are structural, and some would
make it more modern for future resale. But I am only 65 and would
prefer to live here till the ends of my days. I’m appreciative, and I
don’t mind putting up with tenants below me, even noisy ones, but I
do want security. Ideas on how to talk to her?

Renting to Own

 
Dear Renting:

If your name is on the deed you are renting from yourself and the
bank, not from a landlord. But co-investing, co-owning, co-occupying,
and co-planning are not always the same thing. You don’t say if you
had a set of understanding and agreements with the original friend
when you bought the place. But now is the perfect time to lay them
out with the friend who wants to buy in. Note than any relationship
that does not have financial equity built into it is already unbalanced.
The point of the agreements is to have a level playing field. And just
like any new work or relationship situation, the earlier you can agree
on the rules the better. If she wants to recoup her money sooner than
you want to move, finding out sooner is critical.

 
Sit down with the new investor and make lists. Cash flow projections,
lists of needed repairs with estimates (even machete level ideas, times
$1.5 because construction always costs more), and agreements on
style. The latter is important because, for example, a new granite
countertop will cost you a whole lot more than wood or linoleum. Ditto
paint versus wallpaper or tile. Try to ascertain how much “artistic
control” your new co-investor will want. If you have a budget, then tell
her what it is and make it clear where your money is coming from and
that it is limited. Build into your agreement a condition that sale
requires the consent of both parties, as do repairs and improvements
that cost more than $X thousand. Then rank the needed repairs and
practice negotiating. It may take you a while to find agreement, but
the investment in communication is worth it.

Fair, Not Cheap

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

What’s a fair way to deal with money sharing in a reasonably large
group? I served on a committee at the temple for about a year. We
had many many meetings. Frequently I brought snacks, as did a few
of the other people. Nothing fancy, but the kind of nibble that makes a
meeting that lasts too close to dinnertime go a little faster. We had
two potlucks, and everyone brought food. When our service was over
we went to a restaurant to celebrate. It was not a cheap place, so I
and several of the other people ordered sparingly, everything from just
a salad to a couple appetizers. Other members had full course meals.
About half the people had wine. Not one but two bottles! I didn’t drink.
At the end the committee chair said, “Why don’t we just split the bill
equally?” I was sitting next to her and said quietly, “Why don’t people
kick in their share, with the drinkers paying for the wine.” She ignored
me. I heard one of the other people say, not quietly, “That’s the most
expensive salad I ever ate,” as she plunked in her $35. I didn’t want to
seem cheap so I did the same. It’s over and done, but I still feel
uncomfortable. Is it too late to say anything? Should I have done
something differently then?

Fair, Not Cheap

 
Dear Fair:

It’s always best to establish rules about money upfront. After the
event is far too late to say or do anything, because no one is going to
redress imbalances measured in fives and tens.

In the future I would suggest the following: Before people order, ask
the chair, in front of everyone else, Is the temple paying for this or are
we? Assuming the answer is that members will pay, and then ask up
front, Are we going to pay our own way or just split the check? That’s
the time to say, for example, I have a dollar limit, or I don’t want to
drink any alcohol, or something that creates an understanding among
others that you don’t expect to be a free rider and hope they do not
also. My guess is that some people on your committee have lots more
money than others. Those that do sometimes forget that those with
less watch their money more carefully and have different priorities for
how they spend it. A reminder never hurts, but the timing matters, a
lot.

Treading Carefully

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

A friend’s son is selling insurance. He’s new at it but is a charming kid
with the gift of schmooze, so in his first year he won a company-
sponsored vacation, which means he’s among the 100 best in the US.
I like him but am happy with my current insurance, so I asked him to
quote on long-term care, warning him up front that I wasn’t sure if I
would buy it. We agreed that the interview process would be good for
him and my eventual acceptance or rejection on medical grounds
would be informative for me. Surprisingly (I am a diabetic on high
blood pressure meds), I was approved. Now I’m dealing with a ticking
clock (30 days to sign and bind) and policy language that would choke
even an attorney. I know because I passed the contract to my lawyer
brother, who identified some very bad (for me) clauses, depending on
how they’re interpreted. I’ve also been told by several people of a
better company, though they are a little more expensive. I don’t want
to lose the friendship, but this decision is in $4-6K annual range for
me, so I am not undertaking it lightly.

Treading Carefully

 
Dear Treading:

Among the most important things to remember when buying insurance
is that the salesperson is neither the underwriter nor automatically
your advocate in a claims situation. When you buy car insurance,
your agent’s number is generally on your proof of insurance, but
bodies are different. So while I’m happy that your friend‘s son is both
a good kid and a success, the devil is in the details. You will need to
get down into the weeds of the policy language before you make this
decision.

 
Here’s an illustrative, but by no means definitive, list of issues to
consider. How many hours a day of care are you paying for? Usually
policies are denominated in dollars per day but you can translate that
into a percent of a day. Do you want to ensure twelve hours a day?
More? Less? Does the policy have an inflation rider? Depending on
your age that alone could be the most important question. Today’s
dollars and dollars when you’re in your 70’s/80’s are not worth the
same. Will it allow you to choose care at home or only in an
institution? Who decides who the provider is? If your
spouse/partner/fried were a certified caregiver, would you have that
choice, or must you go through a company? Who decides on the care
plan? If you are paying for, say twelve hours a day of care, but only
use six, is the monthly benefit reduced by 1/30 th for a day’s care or
1/60th? Can the company change policy language without your
approval after you’ve signed ? Can they raise rates: how often and
how much? What’re your options if they do? What if you pay the
premiums and die suddenly without using care, or have only used a
small portion of your benefits pool; what happens to the rest of the
money in your account?

 
That’s a fraction of the issues involved. Work to ask for changes to the
language, and be careful that it be signed by a company rep who is
legally allowed to do so (not the sales kid). The clock may be ticking,
but if you qualified you might do so again with this company or with
another. Don’t throw away your money on the wrong insurance. All of
that said, everyone I know who has had parents with long-term care
insurance has praised its value.

Itchy Fingers

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Among the happiest memories of my childhood was playing the piano.
It was my refuge in an otherwise dysfunctional and sexual abusive
family. I survived several equally abusive piano teachers until I found
the man who mentored me back to health and creativity, inspiring me
to get a degree in teaching and become an educator. With a busy life
of work and parenting, I slowly lost contact with the instrument,
though not my love of music. But as I developed happier things in life
I didn’t need it as a crutch. Now I am close to retirement and want to
but a new piano. I lost my old piano in a house fire ten years ago and
we haven’t had the money until now to buy a good instrument. As I
look for used pianos for sale in the local area I am seeing everything
from $100 garage sale beat-up uprights to $11,000 Steinways. I want
something good but I am so out of practice that I’m not sure I’ll be
able to tell what’s the right one. But I’m ready to return to the
keyboard.

Itchy Fingers

 
Dear Itchy Fingers:

I have several suggestions, both financial and aesthetic. Money’s easy:
set a budget of what’s your absolute upper limit. It can be $1,000,
$5,000, or $10,000, but whatever you decide is your max, stick to it.
Aesthetics is harder, but trust your gut and your ear to work together.
To remember how to play, choose a piece of music you have always
loved, say Moonlight Sonata and use that as your piano audition piece.
For every piano you try out, stick to the same music. You might even
consider renting a piano for a month or two before you start looking at
pianos to buy, just to get your hands back in practice.

 
Also, for a wonderful story, Google keywords Noah Adams + piano
lessons. I heard it on NPR eons ago when I started to learn piano as
an adult. It’s the story of his desire to surprise his wife for a special
anniversary with a candle-lit, rose-in- a-vase, rendition of a romantic
Schumann sonata. He goes on a search for the right piano, from
Steinways to junkyard finds. The book Piano Lessons would be a
wonderful place for you to start your own search. I suspect it will
inform it greatly. You’ll know your piano when you hear it.

Patron of the Arts

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a friend I do cultural things with. We are both seniors living on
affixed income, and we choose our events carefully, always looking for
discounts and bargains. Our special favorite is a first Wild Wednesday
two-fer that the local performing arts center offers for the resident
companies. These companies are primarily local performers but they
do sometimes import talented professional from big cities as a draw,
usually for their holiday galas or end-of- season show. We had tickers
for a performance a week ago that they did not cancel. But they
should have because the weather conditions were so bad that the
police department urged people not to leave their homes because of
downed trees and power lines and intensely dangerous driving
conditions. Obviously I did not go out, but the company refused to
give a refund (as other events the same night gave other friends) or to
honor the two-fer for their next show. They offered the me the chance
to pay full price for the next show, or a tax-deductible letter from my
first purchase. I am still fuming. Do I have any form of redress?

Patron of the Arts

 
Dear Patron:

You have to decide if you care more about getting your refund or two-
fer transferred to the next show that being, and being perceived as, a
pain in the patootie. My vote is with you: if the police say stay home,
they should have cancelled the show. But because they did not, they
figured that p***ed-off patrons were a better bet than losing money.
That said, pick up the phone and leave them a voicemail, and then
follow up with an email.

 
Here’s how I’d say it: I had two tickets for the [date] performance of
your [performance title] event. My friend and I were very psyched to
see it. We purchased the tickets on a Wild Wednesday. We are both
seniors living on fixed incomes. You know what happened with
weather. I assume you also know the Police Department advised
people “not to leave their homes unless it was an emergency.”; I love
the arts, but not at risk of my life. Friends who were to attend a
[alternate venue event] were given a refund. I was offered the chance
to brave the weather, to pay double to attend your next event, or
think of my ticket price as a donation. I would have preferred a
refund, but had to settle for the tax letter. I do not know why the two-
fer price would not be honored at your next event. It seems
discriminatory to the potential attendees you are trying to attract with
the two-fers. I am formally requesting either a full refund or that the
same seats be honored at the two-fer price in May. Please feel free to
contact me directly.. If you don’t get satisfaction, tell them you’re a
senior with lots of time on your hands and ready to use social media to
share your dissatisfaction.