The Moneyist: My wealthy in-laws pay for us to attend family vacations and big events. Should we pay them back? How much is too much?

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Dear Quentin,

My husband is the youngest of four siblings who all live in the same state as their parents — which is far from where we live. His parents and all of his siblings are wealthy. We are in our early 30s and are still renting a place and paying off debt, student loans, etc.

Whenever there is a family vacation or a big party for a family member, my husband’s siblings or parents generously offer to cover our travel costs so we can also attend, and they never ask us to pay them back.

We have accepted their offer a few times over the years, but I wonder, should we stop? How much is too much? Should we offer to pay them back? Is sending a thank-you card afterwards too much? Any advice is welcome. 

The Less Wealthy Relatives

Dear LWR,

You are part of the family, and they want you to be part of their memories.

I can’t think of any gift that could be more valuable. Sometimes, in-laws help their kids with a down payment on a house, which can cause complications if the parents feel they deserve to have a say over what happens to the house. Some parental gifts, of course, often have the potential to create complications.

A man wrote last year to say a gift from his father was causing a family feud. His dad offered his three kids gifts of equal value, either in cash or in shares. Two siblings took cash, while the letter writer took shares. The stock later soared in value — and the siblings cried foul. But it was their choice to take the cash.

The gifts you describe are different. They a warm embrace disguised as an airplane ticket. There is no quid pro quo required and no unwanted interference in how you run your lives. The only thing you have to do is say thank you, offer to help out while you are there and send a card or a gift when you get back home. 

‘These gifts are a warm embrace disguised as an airplane ticket.’

A thank-you gift does not have to be expensive. It can be something simple yet thoughtful. Here’s an example: I recently entertained houseguests for four nights. They were delightful company, and we created a lot of fun memories. I was sad to see them go.

While they were visiting, they noticed something: my wonky coffee machine. There was a coffee slick edging its way menacingly across my counter top. “Oh, yes,” I said, “it leaks!” And it would have continued to leak for another five years, except that a couple of days later, a new coffee machine landed on my doorstep. That’s the kind of thoughtfulness that never fails to bowl me over.

There will come a time when you have enough money to take these trips on your own dime, and you will be grateful for all the memories and time you have spent together. You can then treat your husband’s family in some other way. Your in-laws won’t be around forever, and the children in the family will grow up faster than anyone expects. 

It’s never too much to send a thank-you card. In the era of texting, it means a lot to actually write a card, put a stamp on it and take it to the post office. Call me old-fashioned, but there’s something special about opening up an envelope to find a card with a nice message that you can put on your mantelpiece. Accept these gifts as acts of love.

Happy New Year!

Don’t miss: ‘I’m left with a $100 Bûche de Noël for 10 people — and no place to go’: My friends canceled Christmas dinner. Should I end the 30-year friendship?

Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com.

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More from Quentin Fottrell:

‘We can practically finish each other’s sentences’: I’m getting married in 2023. I want a prenup. She wants to merge our finances. What’s my next move?

‘I want to meet someone rich. Is that so wrong?’ I’m 46, earn $210,000, and own a $700,000 home. I’m tired of dating ‘losers.’

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This article was originally published by Marketwatch.com. Read the original article here.

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