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My flaky sister-in-law backed out of our expensive group gift Add to ...

Every day this week, David Eddie will be solving your holiday dilemmas. Read Monday's, Tuesday's and Thursday's questions.

The question

My partner’s siblings agreed to get a group gift for their mom and dad. After months of back-and-forth, we all decided to book them on a French cycling trip. My boyfriend paid for it in advance. Now, his highly flaky sister has backed out, saying she can’t afford it and doesn’t think the gift will be appreciated anyway. The rest of us don’t want to be on the hook for the full bill. How do we make her pay?

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The answer

Ugh, how annoying.

Here’s a little history lesson, kids: In ye olden days, you would shame her into coughing up her share. Once upon a time (so I’ve read in dusty old tomes, anyway), shame was a powerful tool, and people would do almost anything to avoid it.

But then, some time between 2007 (when Keeping Up With the Kardashians went on the air) and 2009 (the premiere of Jersey Shore), Homo sapiens became Homo shameless and social censure was rendered largely useless as a way of manipulating human behaviour.

So: How about trying another good, old-fashioned technique – browbeating?

Sit her down – maybe all of you at once, as a form of financial intervention – over, say, brunch, and remind her that she promised to kick in her share.

Explain to her that your boyfriend, her brother, in effect lent her the money. Not to pay it back is to stiff him. It’s dishonourable.

And don’t let her red-herring you. She “doesn’t think the gift would be appreciated”? What’s that got to do with it? Tell her you’d “appreciate” it if she coughed up the cash.

She “can’t afford it?” Unless she recently lost her job or bet her life savings on the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup, the time to figure that out was when she promised it. What time is it now? (Glance at your watch here for effect, if you like). Time to cough up the cash!

Make it uncomfortable. Turn the heat up under her, like the flame under a pot of egg-poaching liquid.

If she still says no, let her know it will be on her permanent record. I guess it’s all you can do. But make it clear you do not approve. You might threaten not to let her sign the card unless she ponies up at least part of her share in a good-faith down payment.

Sorry if I sound like a hardened loan shark. Stuff like this bugs me. The only thing I like less than being owed money is being owed money and not being repaid.

And I don’t accept your characterization of her behaviour as “flaky.”

Putting an envelope full of money in a jacket pocket, then bringing the jacket to the dry cleaners: That’s flaky.

Saying you’ll chip in for an expensive gift, then bowing out after it’s been bought? That just flat-out sucks, and she shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

And when the brunch bill comes, don’t let her wiggle out of paying for her eggs bennie, either.





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