Do the Right Thing
(MONEY Magazine) – Was I Right to Make My Kids Save Part of a Cash Gift?
Q. My favorite aunt sent our twin boys $100 each for their 10th birthday, along with a note encouraging them to buy themselves something they would really enjoy. Since my husband and I are trying to teach our sons to save, we directed both boys to spend half of the money and save the rest. When my aunt heard about our instructions, she was angry. She said she had made it clear that she wanted the boys to spend the money and that we had no right to override her wishes. I think that parents do have the right to decide what gifts are appropriate for their kids and that we did nothing wrong. What do you think?
ANSWER Of course parents must oversee the gifts their children receive. And had your aunt given each twin $1,000--or a pit bull puppy--there would have been good reason for you to become involved in the disposition of the present. But a gift of $100, while certainly substantial, does not rise to a level that makes parental intervention imperative.
Had you encouraged your boys to spend more of their birthday money on books and less of it on candy, rather than forcing them to save, your behavior would have been in bounds. But unless your aunt has been slipping them a Franklin every full moon, you were wrong to insist that they save half.
Your aunt's gift to your children was spending money. If she had wanted to be part of an object lesson in saving, she would have said so. And if you wanted her to be part of that lesson, you should have spoken to her about it instead of unilaterally overriding her wishes. The point: When a gift comes with strings attached--especially when the gift is money--you cannot simply keep the gift and disregard the strings, no matter how worthy your motive.
Do I Owe My Friend a Referral?
Q. A good friend whom I'll call Mark recently fired his accountant. Remembering that I've spoken well of my accountant in the past, Mark has asked me for his name. Mark is a good guy but tends to be a demanding customer who challenges bills, threatens to withhold payment and renegotiates prices. I want to help him, but I don't want my excellent relationship with my accountant to be soured by the way in which Mark is likely to treat him. Am I ethically obligated to pass along my accountant's name?
ANSWER Ethics don't require that you help every person who needs a hand. A lost child or a flu-stricken neighbor? Sure, you should help. But a friend who needs an accountant? There you have some slack, especially if that friend's behavior might poison a relationship you value. So no, you are under no obligation to give Mark your accountant's name.
The tougher question is, How do you say no? The answer is that you should tell your friend the truth, in the nicest way possible. You won't enjoy the conversation and neither will he. But it will probably discourage him from asking for your lawyer's name next.