Five Money Etiquette Questions

Answers to Life’s Tricky Situations


Here, five thorny scenarios and their solutions from Lizzie Post, etiquette expert (and Emily Post's granddaughter) and author of How Do You Work This Life Thing?

1. Is it ever okay to ask a coworker what she makes?

Never. "That's information that should only ever be volunteered," Post says. "How much you make and how you choose to spend your money is nobody else's business." If someone asks you, try brushing it off with humor: "Not enough for that yacht I've been saving for!"

2. If a friend buys you an expensive birthday gift, do you have to reciprocate in kind?

Absolutely not. It's your friend's choice to buy it, and it's also your choice to accept it or not. "You're allowed to spend exactly what's in your budget, whether that means homemade cookies or diamond earrings," Post says. "It needs to come from you."

3. How do I say no to all my acquaintances running charity 5Ks and wanting a contribution?

Tell people that you've already made your charitable donations for the year. And don't feel bad about offering a smaller amount, such as $10, if that's all you can afford. If you're the one doing the asking, make sure you aren't pressuring people to contribute. In other words, don't bring your daughter to work with her catalog full of holiday candles and lead her from cubicle to cubicle. Post order forms for Girl Scout cookies in a public place, or send out an email and let people know where to find you.

4. A friend of mine is a horrible tipper. Do I say something? Slip a few more dollars into the bill when she isn't looking?

If you can get away with sliding more money onto the stack, maybe. But it's risky. "You don't want to embarrass your friend," Post says. If you're splitting the bill, it's okay for you to say, "I really appreciated X, Y, or Z, I'm going to leave a little extra." If you're feeling really guilty, grab the name of the server and make it up to him later. "I've heard of people sending money in an envelope to the restaurant," Post says.

5. My friend broke my digital camera and offered to replace it. Weeks later, nothing. Do I say something?

It's acceptable for you to contact your friend, but do it soon afterward. "Say, ‘I'd like to take you up on that offer, do you want me to send you a link to the camera I had?'" Post says. Give him a week to respond, and if you don't hear anything, try once more. Then move on. "If you've contacted him two to three times, you've done all you can," Post says. "After that, it gets awkward." If you're the one who did the breaking, never offer to replace something if you can't afford it. Instead, apologize and offer to pitch in as much money as you can.

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