Answer Lady: September 2011
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Answer Lady: September 2011

This month our wise and witty expert takes on a stingy brother, school volunteering etiquette, and navigating friendship after divorce.

Q. My brother is just plain cheap. It makes every dinner out or social event a drag. Can I call him on it?

A. Sure, but you can't just tell him he's stingy -- you have to be specific and time it right. Address things as they come up in conversation: "I know you think it's crazy to spend more than $50 on Rebecca's prom dress, but they simply cost more than that." Before your next dinner out, have a gentle talk. "Luigi's usually runs about $40 a couple with dessert, and we're going to split the check evenly this time since it's less stressful." If he's a stingy tipper, explain the current standard to him -- and that waiters depend on tips. Hopefully you can chip away at Mr. Cheap and get him to splurge a little, at least when the family gets together.

Q. I was asked to run the book sale at my kids' school for the third year in a row and I feel as though I can't say no. Help!

A. Good news! You should say no. I asked my friend Beth, who ran the PTA at our elementary school for three years, and she advises you to quit before full-scale burnout sets in. "Say that you're honored but it's time for you to turn the reins over to someone new," she says. "Offer to give advice but make it clear that you can't get sucked back in." And don't feel guilty: Moms whose kids are just starting school often have fresh stores of volunteer energy, so one of them will surely be game.

Q. Our best "couple friends" are splitting up and my husband and I can't figure out the new rules of which partner to invite to what. How can we avoid hurt feelings?

A. This is a tricky situation -- especially if the breakup is hostile. It's a no-brainer that these two won't want to attend small gatherings together, but if it's a major event (like a bar mitzvah or wedding) you should invite them both and let each know that the other person was also asked. On more intimate occasions, be judicious with your invites so that each partner is equally included -- just not together. So if you ask Rick to your upcoming barbecue, invite Denise to dinner the following weekend. Despite your best efforts, you may find that one or both of them drift away, at least for a while. Because you were so close to them, you may be among the last people they want to see (for now) because you remind them of old times.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, September 2011.