Dear Penny: Am I a Cheapskate for Not Giving $500 for My Aunt’s Funeral?
My aunt passed away. Her only daughter, Beth, could not afford the full cost of the funeral. She is 61 and working two jobs and sometimes three jobs to make ends meet. She has children who are in their 30s, but they struggle to make ends meet as well.
My cousin, Mary, and her siblings were thinking about helping her with the cost of the funeral. They are close to Beth and have had contact with her throughout the years. My brother, Tom, sent a message to me and my other two brothers saying Beth might not be able to pay for the funeral. Both of my brothers chimed in that they would be happy to help in any way they can.
This whole conversation made me feel uncomfortable since I had not had contact with Beth or my aunt in over 30 years. However, my aunt was my dad’s sister, so I understood why my brothers wanted to help. I remained silent and didn’t reply until I had a chance to think about it.
Three days later I had not heard from my brother regarding the funeral arrangements so I went online and found out the details of the funeral. I decided to send Beth a Mass card, knowing she and my aunt were very religious. I felt the gift was appropriate for my relationship with her.
The following day, I heard from Tom saying that Mary and her siblings decided to chip in $500 apiece to help out with the cost of the funeral. The full cost of the funeral was now covered.
My brother went on to say that Beth would no longer have my aunt’s Social Security checks. (My aunt was living with Beth at the time of her death.) Tom was wondering if we would all like to contribute and send something. He said he was willing to match the $500 that my cousins were giving to Beth and asked if we would like to contribute $500 each. All my brothers agreed to do so.
I told him I already sent something to Beth. I haven’t heard from my brothers since that email. I have always been frugal and it bothers Tom. It’s not a question of being able to afford it. To me, $500 is a lot to give to Beth considering we are not close and have had no contact in decades.
This situation has kept me up for nights on end. I’m not sure if I did the right thing by not contributing the $500. Do you have any advice?
It was a nice gesture of your brothers to send $500 to Beth, but you certainly did nothing wrong by not contributing. Most of us have finite resources. If you hadn’t seen Beth or your aunt in 30 years, it’s understandable that sending $500 wasn’t a high priority for you.
You don’t say how long it’s been since your email exchange with your brothers. If it’s only been a couple of weeks or you aren’t particularly close, I wouldn’t automatically jump to the conclusion that they’re angry.
Try calling, emailing or texting whichever brother you’re closest to just to say hi. There’s no need to bring up your aunt’s death or Beth’s hardship. But if the brother you reach out to calls you out for not contributing, don’t apologize. Just reiterate what you’ve already said, which is that you hadn’t seen either of them in 30 years and you’d already sent something on your own. Then, try to change the subject to what’s going on in your own lives.
If your brothers choose to stew about what you do with your money, they’re the ones with the problem, not you. Your brothers may not approve of your frugality. But they really don’t have to. You’re siblings, not spouses.
I suspect that you’re overthinking things a bit. It happens. You refused to do what everyone else was doing, which can cause you to second-guess yourself. Even if your brothers are annoyed with you, I’m guessing it will pass with a little time.
Should you ever face a similar situation, my question for you is: Would you rather be frugal? Or would you rather not be awake for nights on end worrying that everyone is mad at you?
There’s no right or wrong answer here. If your frugality is important to you, hold your ground in the future. But if such requests are relatively rare in your family, it might be worth it to go with the herd just to avoid those sleepless nights.
It isn’t about what’s wrong or right. It’s about what’s most comfortable for you. But that’s up to you, not your brothers, to decide.
Editor’s note: Dear Penny is on vacation this week. This column was originally published July 4, 2021.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].