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Money Manners: Driveway torn out by mistake

Dear Jeanne and Leonard: When my husband and I returned from vacation, we were shocked to find that much of our driveway had been torn out. It turns out that our neighbors had hired a firm to replace their asphalt driveway with pavement. But when the workers arrived to start on the demolition, they went to the wrong house, and our neighbors weren’t at home to catch the mistake.

Obviously, someone has to cover the cost of replacing our driveway, and our neighbor thinks that it should be the contractor. While the contractor is willing to accept responsibility, it seems unfair to blame this hardworking immigrant. As I understand it, our neighbor actually showed our driveway to him when he came over to estimate the cost of the job (I’m not sure why), and that must have been confusing. Moreover, she should have scheduled the work to start when she or her husband could be home to make sure everything went smoothly. What should I do?

– Daisy

Dear Daisy: Lucky your neighbors weren’t having their roof replaced.

What you should do is keep your opinions to yourself. Being the victim here doesn’t give you the right to insert yourself into your neighbor’s dealings with her contractor. You’re entitled to a new driveway, not to play Solomon in other people’s lives.

We know that you feel sorry for the contractor. But being an industrious immigrant doesn’t give him a pass on bearing the consequences of the errors he makes, and it’s patronizing to suggest otherwise. Plus, surely his contract specified the address of the work site.

Still convinced the contractor is being taken advantage of? Then there’s nothing to prevent you from giving him a substantial tip when his crew has finished installing your nice new driveway.


Dear Jeanne and Leonard: One of my siblings, “Sarah,” has volunteered to move in with our elderly parents and cook, clean and otherwise look after them. The rest of us agree – one grudgingly – that she should be paid. But the amounts we have in mind vary widely, and our disagreements on this point threaten to fracture what has always been a close-knit family. What do we do?

– Wondering

Dear Wondering: Throw tomatoes at the sibling who thinks that there’s probably no need to pay Sarah.

Seriously, one way to determine the appropriate compensation is to find out how much caregivers in your area charge for the services Sarah will be providing. If, on average, they charge, say, $30 per hour, and your family agrees that Sarah is likely to spend about five hours a day doing chores for your parents, then a reasonable salary might be $1,000 per week.

And what about the free room and board that Sarah is getting? Consider it compensation, not for the work she’s performing, but for being on call 24/7 and having her life revolve around your parents’ needs.

If our approach doesn’t appeal to you, think about consulting a professional guardian or a social worker with an elder-care practice. And whatever number you decide on, remember this:

If Sarah is being fully and fairly compensated, then she’s as obligated as any other sibling to pay her share of that compensation (or to have her compensation reduced by whatever her share would be).

Please email your questions about money and relationships to