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Money Manners: Showy gift doesn’t earn respect

Dear Jeanne and Leonard: I’m the youngest of four, and I’m sick of being treated as a happy-go-lucky, irregularly employed goof by my older siblings. The fact is, I’m a self-employed social media consultant, and I’m confident that I make better money than they do. But they like to see me as their slightly lost kid brother who has never been able to hold on to a job. Well, this August, the first of all the nephews and nieces is getting married, and I’m thinking of sending her a superexpensive gift so everyone will understand that I’m not the flake they believe me to be. What do you think?

– Andrew, Pleasanton, Calif.

Dear Andrew: Wouldn’t you be better off buying yourself a Tesla and getting to keep the badge of prosperity you plan to spend so much on?

The truth is, either your siblings don’t want to know how well you’re doing (sibling rivalry doesn’t necessarily end when everyone’s old enough to vote) or you’ve been doing a terrible job of signaling your success. Either way, a hyperextravagant gift is more likely to confirm for them that you don’t know what you’re doing than to change their opinion of you.

Which means you can forget about the grand gesture. All it would do is guarantee that subsequent brides and grooms in your family expect you to give them expensive gifts.


Dear Jeanne and Leonard: My two brothers and I bought a summer house together in 2007, overpaying for it because it had a great deal of sentimental value (our grandparents once owned it). A few years ago, one brother insisted on being bought out for what he would put into the deal. To gain some peace, I did as he asked, which meant paying him significantly more than his share was worth. Now, my other brother wants to be bought out at the same, above-market price. He says he no longer plans to use the house and would prefer to have the money for his retirement. But I don’t want to buy him out, especially when he wants too much for his share. I know he’ll be resentful if I say no, but I’ll be resentful if I say yes. What’s fair here?

– Oliver, Portland, Ore.

Dear Oliver: Unless you twisted your brother’s arm to get him to buy this property with you, you’re under no obligation to buy him out (though he probably can force you to sell the house if you don’t).

As for the resentment issue: If someone’s going to end up resentful, and it sounds as if that’s the case here, better it be the person who’s being unreasonable – namely, your brother – than the person who has done nothing wrong (you).

We know: You established a precedent by buying out your other brother at an above-market price. But that doesn’t mean you’re required to make the same mistake twice. And now you know two things: A substantial cash payment to one relative rarely goes unnoticed or unremembered by others. And appeasement always comes at a price.