Get advice on how to handle sticky financial situations.
Do I Have to Buy Something From a Merchandise Party?
Q: If I'm invited to a merchandise party at a friend's house, do I have to buy something?
A: The first question is: Should you go at all? If you know there's no way that you'll buy another piece of Tupperware (check out the company's website beforehand to determine what merch might be available), skip the event. But if there's a chance you might buy something, the only rule is to attend with an open mind. "If you go with the attitude 'If there's anything I like, I will buy it. If not, I won't,' that is very different than if you go with the intention of not buying anything," says Marianne Jennings, a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University in Tempe and the author of The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse (St. Martin's Press, $26, amazon.com). You are not obligated to purchase anything. If you choose not to buy, simply thank your host for her hospitality-no elaborate apologies about budget tightening or overcrowded cabinets required. It's not always comfortable to be the only one not pulling out a checkbook, but you have no reason to feel guilty.
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Do I Have to Pay to Fix a Neighbor's Lawn Mower I Borrowed?
Q: My neighbor lent me his lawn mower and it broke. Must I pay to fix it?
A: If you borrow something and it conks out on your watch, you're obligated to cover the cost of the fix, even if the item is old, says John P. Langan, a professor of philosophy at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C. Lawn-mower repair shops charge an average of $50 to $75 an hour, according to Consumer Reports. (It cuts, we know.) And if the machine can't be saved? Make a reasonable offer-say, $100-toward the cost of a new one, says Graham Phaup, the executive director of the Institute for Global Ethics, a nonprofit in Rockland, Maine. Your friend may not take you up on the offer, but he will probably appreciate the gesture.
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Should I Offer to Purchase Valuable Pieces From a Family Estate?
Q: My late grandfather's belongings are being divided among family members. Should I offer to buy any valuable pieces that I want?
A: Yes. Unless the deceased specifies otherwise, the executor of the will usually distributes smaller items among the heirs equally. So if you covet something that's worth a great deal (a grand piano, an oil painting), you should offer to pay the estate its fair-market value, says Jack Marshall, president of Pro-Ethics, an ethics training and consulting firm in Alexandria, Virginia.
Of course, your relatives might not take you up on your gesture. But if they do, consider hiring an appraiser to determine the item's worth. Emotions tend to run high in situations like these, and people can have a sentimental attachment to certain objects, says Marshall. If you compensate the estate for the item, no one will feel cheated and you can enjoy that vintage rug guilt-free.
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Can I Decide How My Child Spends a Monetary Gift?
Q: My young daughter received money as a gift. Can I decide how she spends it?
A: Most children under the age of 10 need adult guidance to determine what to do with their cash, says Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, a coauthor of The Millionaire Kids Club book series on financial responsibility. If the amount is nominal-say, under $15-have her save half and spend half. If the gift is more substantial, consider it an opportunity to teach money management. Suggest splitting the funds four ways: Have her spend one-fourth, save one-fourth for an item or experience she can't afford right now but may be able to in the future, give one-fourth to a good cause (a church collection or a school fund-raiser), and put one-fourth in an interest-accruing account.
Once she's in middle school or beyond, let her decide how to use the money-as long as the gift doesn't exceed $100, in which case you may want to weigh in. If she fritters it all away and regrets her choice later on, chalk it up as a learning experience.
Read the Rest: Your Guide to Money Etiquette