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Our building is tipping our doormen and super 25% extra due to COVID-19. My husband wants to stick with this amount next year. I disagree. What do you say?

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I am an Upper East Side wife and mother with two children. The residents of our building have agreed to tip our doormen, super and two gardeners who tend to our common areas 25% more this holiday season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We usually give $200 to our favorite doorman, $200 to our super who never complains and always has a smile on his face even though he deals with everyone else’s complaints, and $100 to the other two full-time staff, and $100 to the two gardeners.

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My husband says we should continue to give 25% more in 2021. I disagree. We have been giving the same amount to the people who work in the building for the past five years because it doesn’t create increased expectations year after year. It’s simpler that way.

We have been working from home this year, and have not had any pay cuts. We live in a privileged world, and we are fortunate to be able to work remotely when millions of people have lost their jobs, sure, but New York City is an expensive place to live and these “holiday envelopes” are not cheap.

What do you say?

Upper East Side Wife and Mother

Dear Wife & Mother,

If you are giving 25% extra this year, give the same dollar amount or even a little more next year. Your tips haven’t gone up in five years, even to keep pace with inflation, so this is the year to make a grand gesture, and stick with it.

If anyone understands what it’s like to have to budget to make ends meet, it’s your doormen, super and other staff who work tirelessly behind the scenes. The average pay for a doorman is around $16 per hour — although that’s probably higher in New York, especially in Manhattan — and they clearly rely on tips at the end of the year to buy gifts for their loved ones and enjoy the holidays, just like the residents of the buildings they tend.

See also:Meet the most generous tipper in America

Also, people who work in buildings already know everyone’s business. They know who comes home late at night smelling of gin, stumbling in the doorway, and require help getting to their apartments. They know the couples who bring home an overnight guest every time their partner is away on business (or not). They know whether you’re stressed out, whether your kids are well behaved and if you’re having marital problems. You may never see the night-shift doorman, but he sees all.


Money talks, especially in a year when so many people have had to do without.

Supers, gardeners and doormen — unlike neighbors — are paid to smile and say “good morning” even when if they got out of bed on the wrong side, are going through a messy divorce or need a kidney. They are there to cater to your needs and be as pleasant as humanly possible. For every neighbor that gives you a biannual “hello” in the elevator, you can usually rely on the staff’s good manners once you leave your apartment.

They see and hear everything, so they know if your daily routines have changed, and a holiday envelope with a sum of money that’s more than what you normal give will come as a welcome surprise to them. Monetary gifts help, especially when they’re given to people who provide a service all year long and don’t get enough appreciation. But so too do handwritten notes, detailing all the little things they did for you during the year.

Numerous studies show that positive recognition and affirmation are appreciated more than money in the workplace. One such study said that over 80% of people said they value recognition of their hard work over a monetary increase. Well, I don’t buy it. Money talks, especially in a year when so many people have had to do without. Your finances have been largely untouched by the coronavirus pandemic, so it’s time to pass on some of that goodwill.

Read also: How much to tip everyone

I also generally advise against leaving one envelope with a lump sum. That will only give them more work to do and could possibly cause ill will among the staff. A tip is a ‘thank you,’ and should have the person’s name on the envelope. Don’t forget other people who come to your home this time of year: Dog-walker, piano teacher, babysitter, nanny, housekeeper or personal trainer. A general rule of thumb — there are no hard-and-fast rules — is one week’s pay.

Give 25% more to your building staff, and thank them for all the hard work. Make each note individual. (They may compare them.) Unemployment is difficult and challenging enough, and they may have family members who are struggling. Job insecurity and job loss create stress, fear, loathing, arguments among households over budgets, but it can bring with it a sense of shame. We put so much of our own worth in our jobs, when that job is taken away, what’s left? Character.

People want to feel valued. And they want to be seen.

You agree to your emailed letter to the Moneyist will be published here anonymously. It may be edited for style and space.

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My fiancée’s mother asked us to raise her 2 kids, as we live in a good school district and she has a gambling addiction — then she claimed their stimulus checks

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Dear Quentin,

Last year, in February, my fiancée’s stepfather passed away. After his passing, my fiancée’s mother asked both her and me to raise her younger sons, as we had recently purchased a new home, have degrees and will be able to provide a great area for their education, such as help with homework and the ability to communicate with their schools or doctors. My fiancée’s mother cannot read, write or speak English, and she has an addiction to gambling at casinos.

COVID-19 hit soon afterward. We both were let go from our jobs, and are making it by with unemployment and savings.

With that said, in March of this year, we filed taxes and my fiancée claimed both of her brothers since they had lived with us for almost nine months of last year. We received both of their stimulus payments a few days later. About three weeks later, we found out that my fiancée’s mother had also received the stimulus payments, even though she is adamant that she did not claim her children this year.

Upon seeing the money, I advised her to leave the money as the Internal Revenue Service may eventually ask for it back. Her new boyfriend then quickly told her to withdraw it anyway. They’ll deal with it later if the IRS asks for it, he said.

My question is: Will this situation hurt my fiancée and me in any way? I fear that the IRS may find out sooner or later about the error and seek the money from us, as her mother may have already gambled away that stimulus money, and make us pay for it even though we are using it as it was intended: for bills and necessities.

Fiancé

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

Dear Fiancé,

You are correct. The IRS will eventually ask for that money back, and it will likely do so by deducting the money from a future tax refund. You are also correct that your de facto mother-in-law should not spend the money. I take my hat off to you for raising these two children, and giving them a stable home and the head start in life that they deserve.

Many people in such a situation would write complaining about how they did X, Y and Z, and their in-laws were ungrateful. But you have taken the high road, knowing that these shenanigans are between you two and your fiancée’s mother, and do not involve your girlfriend’s two younger siblings. I am glad that you have not involved them in this somewhat messy situation.

You, of course, have done the right thing. The Moneyist column has dealt with dependents who claimed the stimulus, and parents who are not guardians of their children collecting it. The $1,400 economic stimulus payment, as you are aware, is not a loan. This third stimulus check is an advance tax credit on your 2021 taxes, and calculated based on your 2020 taxes.

If the IRS does not know who is telling the truth here, it will audit both parties. The truth will come to light eventually, and your fiancée’s mother and her boyfriend should be made aware that you are not in a position to help bail them out of this situation. They have knowingly walked into it, and there should be a clear boundary between helping her children and being a facilitator to this malfeasance.

The IRS has extensive guidance on what to do when someone fraudulently claims your dependent. “If you determine the other person was not eligible to claim your dependent, you’ll need to take steps to protect your right to claim the dependent and ensure an accurate filing,” it says. You have everything you need to know in order to take proactive steps here.

I leave that for you to decide.

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I’m on track to retire at 58. My fiancée is in debt and drives my old car, and I support her family. How do I ensure my son inherits my wealth after I die?

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Dear Quentin,

I have dated my fiancée for just over three years. Within those three years, I have been severed from a job and spent two years unemployed looking for a new job. I have a new job, making roughly 75% of what I previously made, but it is a more than livable salary. My fiancée makes a modest salary in comparison to my own.

Financially, I had spent a lot of years going without in order to pay for my son’s college education and to stockpile savings in order to retire early. According to my financial planner, I am well ahead of my goal to retire at 58 (I’m 51 currently) with an IRA of around $2 million, plus savings and other liquid assets.

Currently, my fiancée is trying to get herself out of debt. She drives my old car and shares no utility bills or mortgage payments, but she does buy groceries, as the household is made up of her, her children and me. By supporting her family, I have very little I can do for my own son.

It has always been tradition in my family to leave an inheritance. I had planned on leaving my only son a rather large inheritance so that he may better himself and his family. My fiancée has children, and my concern is that if I am married (I live in Texas), the savings I have would go to her and subsequently her children, bypassing my son.

Since I am 10 years older than my fiancée, I suspect she may outlive me. How do I protect my assets so that they can be split as part of my wishes?

Nervous Fiancé and Father

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 F & F,

Texas is a community-property state, so what you bring into the marriage, you also take out of the marriage. Assets accrued during the marriage, with the exception of inheritance, are deemed marital or community property.

You have several options, including setting up a living trust to allow you to transfer your wealth to your son during your lifetime, and thereby avoiding going through probate, which can be an unpredictable, cumbersome and public process.

You have two choices of trust: revocable or irrevocable. The first can be changed. You could retitle financial accounts in your son’s name. The latter cannot be changed, and also serves to save on estate taxes. It’s typically used to leave assets to children and grandchildren.

Other routes: a prenuptial agreement, a will (obviously) and naming your son as your beneficiary on your life-insurance policy. With the help of an estate planner, you can devise ways to ensure your son is taken care of after you’re gone, and your future wife is not left out.

In the meantime, ensure you keep separate property separate. If you deposit an inheritance in a joint bank account, for instance, it becomes marital property. If your fiancée contributes to the renovation of a home in your name, it again becomes community property.

Speak to your fiancée about your concerns and goals. It’s important to be transparent and ensure that you and she are on the same page, and share the same financial expectations. You may also want to wait until your wife pays her debts before marrying.

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook
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 group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.





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