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Money Manners: Chipping in for neighborhood projects isn’t just about money

Dear Jeanne and Leonard: Every year, residents on the block where we recently bought a house celebrate the holidays in a big way. They go all out on decorations, and everyone chips in to buy Christmas trees for the sidewalk strip and to hire professionals to install lights. It’s not cheap. My wife and I, however, never make a big deal about Christmas – in fact, we often head to the Caribbean for the holidays – and we don’t want to spend our money on decorations. So what should we do? We don’t want to offend our new neighbors. But we’d much rather spend the money on our vacation.

– Smitty, Pennsylvania

Dear Smitty: Did you know about this tradition when you bought the house, or was it a Halloween surprise? Not that it makes any difference at this point.

Of course you’re entitled to tell your neighbors exactly what you’ve told us. But as new kids on the block, you risk not so much offending them as signaling that you’re not very interested in being neighborly. Since these are the folks you’ll someday be asking to share the cost of replacing a fence, store your frozen food when your freezer suddenly dies, or look after your dog or child when an emergency arises, what you gain in the long run by contributing to the holiday festivities is likely to be worth much more in good will than the contribution you’re being asked to make.

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Dear Jeanne and Leonard: Over the past two decades, my mother has paid for all her grandchildren’s college expenses. The youngest grandchild has one year of school left, which will cost about $10,000 after financial aid. Here’s why I’m writing: Mom is now in assisted living, which is very expensive, and she’s not as sharp as she once was. Still, she states unequivocally that she wants to give her granddaughter the $10,000. However, two of my brothers and I are now legally responsible for her financial affairs (none of us is the parent of the college student).

My brothers are against writing the check – they’re afraid Mom will run out of money – but I’m for it. I want to respect Mom’s wishes, and what’s more, I believe she can afford the $10,000.

Also, I know she doesn’t want to shortchange her youngest grandchild. Who should decide this?

– M.J., Northern California

Dear M.J.: Well, not the granddaughter.

Kidding aside, the person who should make the call is the person most responsible for your mother’s financial planning, whether that’s a professional or one of the three of you. While it’s your mother’s money, it’s that person’s duty to ensure that your mother is always able to pay for the care she needs.

By the way, there is another option: Your mother could lend $10,000 to the granddaughter’s parents, a loan your mother could then forgive if it becomes evident that she’s not going to run short of dough herself.

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Dear Jeanne and Leonard: My best friend and I have always treated each other to dinner on our birthdays. “Courtney” got married this summer, and I’m wondering whether I now have to treat her husband to her birthday dinner as well. He makes a lot more than I do.

– Danielle

Dear Danielle: A friend’s spouse can be such an inconvenience.

Seriously, if you invite Courtney and her husband out to celebrate her birthday, then yes, you have to pick up the entire tab. But you don’t have to invite both of them. Tell Courtney you’d like to take her out to celebrate her birthday, and ask her to tell you a day and time when she’s free.

Just be sure to say “celebrate your birthday as you and I always do” when you issue the invitation, and she’ll understand that she’s been invited to a party for two.

Please email your questions about money and relationships to Questions@MoneyManners.net.