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I have 8 nieces and nephews. What is the appropriate age to stop giving envelopes full of money during the holidays?

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Dear Moneyist,

I have three children ages 16, 18 and 20 and also eight nieces and nephews ranging in age from 12 to 32. My sticky situation involves the holidays, namely Christmas. We don’t exchange gifts for the kids anymore, but still give them cards and money. I don’t believe this should continue forever, but one of my sister’s disagrees.

The Moneyist:I got a promotion and a raise, but my colleagues undermine me. How do I balance work and my happiness?

Is there an appropriate age or milestone that we should stop doing this: 18, 21, or when the kids graduate college? And how do I approach the subject with my other brothers and sisters? Sometimes, we don’t even see the kids for the holidays and we’re just pushing around cards and envelopes.

Stressed Out in New York

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com. Want to read more?Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here.

Dear Stressed Out,

You have a few options, but you will need the cooperation of your siblings to make it happen. You discuss it with your siblings, and present it as a fait accompli to the younger members of the family.

No. 1: Present a Secret Santa where you all pick names to choose one person to give an actual gift to. You could collectively agree to have a cutoff point for envelopes with money at 18 or 21, at which point they are grand-fathered into the Secret Santa pool. I favor 21. If you’re old enough to vote at 21, you’re old enough to participate. Present it as a positive: It creates a more personalized, fun Christmas full of surprises! It allows family members to really think about what they will give their chosen giftee, and explain why when it’s unwrapped. If money is an issue, be honest about that too. You are certainly not alone, especially this year.

No. 2: You all agree to give the same amount of money: $50 or $100.

The Moneyist:‘I watch our finances like a hawk’: My husband owes $12,000 in unpaid tax — and he never told me. Should I file separately?

No. 3: You give gifts instead of money, but need to stick to a $20 minimum. It will force you to use your imaginations, and come up with something novel.

No. 4: You do a Yankee Swap. It’s similar to a Kris Kringle in that you buy one gift, but you buy a gift for a set amount of money with no one person in mind, and then you all put them in a box and draw straws. For those who are absent, you could draw straws in advance and send them the gift to be opened on Christmas Day, and they can join via FaceTime.

No. 5. Hot potato gift exchange where you pass the gifts and the person who is left holding the gift when the music stops, opens it. You could also try this with musical chairs, but that may not be appropriate for every member of the family, depending on their physical fitness and/or abilities. Given that the world is still in the middle of a pandemic, and cases are on the rise, neither of these options may be available to you this year, so you could simply pick numbers remotely and deliver the gifts by Dec. 25.

The No. 1 priority this year will be to ensure that older members of the family, and those with preexisting conditions are safe. That will be the greatest gift of all.

The Moneyist:I filed for bankruptcy after rehabbing my husband’s home. Now he wants an open marriage and says I own nothing. I feel trapped and bamboozled

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‘I could live on my Social Security and still save money’: This 66-year-old left Chicago for ‘calming’ Costa Rica — where he now plans to live indefinitely

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Editor’s note: This article was first published in September 2019.

A school break changed 66-year-old Martin Farber’s life forever.

In 2007, his daughter — who at the time was attending Illinois State University — decided she wanted to spend a college holiday volunteering in Costa Rica and staying with a local family, he explains. She came home raving about the experience, so, in 2008, Farber — who at the time was living in Evanston, Ill., just outside Chicago, and selling cars — took his first trip there.

“It was a big surprise to me — bumpy roads, dogs barking in the streets,” he says. “I wasn’t enamored at first.”

But as his daughter began traveling there more and eventually moved there for a year, he took additional trips to Costa Rica. It quickly grew on him — in particular, the people. “The Costa Rican people are warm, open and friendly. I felt less invisible in a strange country in a strange town where I didn’t speak the language than I did in Evanston.”

And the more time he spent there, the more it impacted him: “On one of my trips there, I thought: My daughter’s life makes more sense than mine,” he says. “There was nothing wrong with my life, but I felt that my life was out of context with who I’d become. … I would have bills and make money to pay them, but that had ceased to be satisfying,” he recalls. “I knew I needed to change my life — there was no more joy in what I was doing.”

What’s more, when he’d return from his Costa Rica trips, people noticed. “I would come back, and my friends and therapist would say: You seem better after you go,” he says with a laugh.

A view from the hot springs near Martin Farber’s home in Costa Rica.


Martin Farber

So in 2014, he packed up and moved to Orosi — a picturesque, lush small town with waterfalls and hot springs a little over an hour’s drive from San Jose — promising himself he’d stay for two years. It’s been five, and he now plans to stay in Costa Rica indefinitely. (Though Farber notes that, to him, “it’s not a retirement; it’s a chance to lead a new and different life.”)

Here’s what his life is like, from costs to health care to residency to everyday life:

The cost: While many expats spend way more living in Costa Rica, Farber says: “I could live on my Social Security and still save money.” He says “a person can live on $1,200 per month, two people on $2,000.” The key, he says, is to live more like he does and as the Costa Ricans do — in a modest home, eating local food and purchasing local goods.

Indeed, Farber himself spends just $300 a month for rent (he rents a home from a friend who moved recently and gave him a good deal), roughly $225 a month on groceries and just $50 a month total on water and electricity (the temperate climate in Orosi means you rarely need heat or air conditioning). The veteran Volkswagen
VOW,
+0.96%

 
VLKAF,
+0.98%

salesman saves money by not owning a car (those over 65 ride municipal buses for free), which can be a significant expense in Costa Rica; for his cellphone, “I pay as I go … roughly $10 may last me a couple weeks or more,” he says, adding that “many people handle there their cellphones this way. You can get them recharged anywhere.”

His major expense is travel: He goes back to the U.S. to visit his mother in Florida several times a year and lately has spent part of the summer in Chicago helping out a friend with a dealership there. He also spends a good amount of money on health care. He says that while flights can be had for as little as $350 roundtrip during offseasons, the cost can be much higher the rest of the year.

In the saddle.


Martin Farber

Health care: Farber, who has permanent resident status in Costa Rica, says he pays about $90 per month to participate in the country’s health-care system — adding that the health care he’s received has been very good. (A 2018 study of health-care quality and access in more than 190 nations ranked Costa Rica No. 62.)

When he developed a detached retina, though, he paid for the procedure out of pocket so that he didn’t have to wait for the required surgery, he says — adding that the entire procedure cost him about $5,000. “I would have had to have waited four days,” he says, if he had not paid to expedite matters. “That might have been fine, but it might not.” And he adds that the quality of care depends on where you get it in the country.

Lifestyle: Though Farber says that he “moved here with no goals and no agenda,” he’s found plenty to do. “I take Spanish lessons two days a week for two hours a day. It’s been great. I never thought I would acquire a usable language in my 60s,” he says. He also rides his bike all around the area, does some writing and belongs to a community group that undertakes projects to improve the area.

And he often simply takes in nature, which he says has been an essential part of why he feels calmer and more relaxed in Costa Rica than in the U.S. “I live at 3,000 feet but in a valley surrounded by coffee fields and lime trees and water. At night, if I open the windows, I can hear the river rushing by,” he says. “It is very calming … hundreds of trees everywhere … you know the Earth is alive.”

The historic Iglesia de San José de Orosi.


iStock

Cons: “I don’t want to overglorify. It’s not without its problems,” Farber says of Costa Rica. “There are social problems and downsides.” He notes that crime and petty theft can be a problem (“I am cautious,” he says of his approach) and seem to have increased since he moved there, and adds that he misses out on some cultural things because of where he lives. And, he says with a laugh, “I can’t order Thai food at 9 at night.” But, he adds: “These are trade-offs — in the afternoon, I get to walk in the coffee fields and see flocks of parrots.”

Residency: To qualify for Costa Rica’s pensionado visa, expats must prove that they have a pension of at least $1,000 coming in each month. (Here are the details of that program.) Once you have lived in Costa Rica for three years, you can apply for permanent residency. Farber used a lawyer to help him figure out the ins and outs of residency options; his entire path to permanent residency took about a year, he says.

The bottom line: “After five years I am still amazed and surprised that I made the decision to lead a life I never thought I would,” he says. And while he may not stay in Orosi forever — “the town doesn’t have an ambulance, [and] I don’t know what it will be like to be 80 there,” he says — he does plan to stay in Costa Rica in no small part because of the people and sense of community. “I have the feeling that life is good here,” he says. “It’s hard sometimes, but we are all in it together.”



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