Dear Dr. Tightwad: My granddaughter is graduating from high school this spring and I'm at a loss as to what kind of gift to buy her. When my son graduated we bought him a good wristwatch, but nowadays I guess that's not big enough or expensive enough.
Answer: Nothing says a graduation gift has to be big or expensive; small and practical will do nicely.
On that score a watch is just fine. So is a gift certificate at a clothing or music store.
It's probably better not to trust your own taste when choosing clothes or CDs. One study of gift-giving shows that grandparents, aunts and uncles are less successful than parents, siblings and friends at choosing gifts that young people like.
If your budget allows, college-bound grads would appreciate a personal computer, or an offer to pick up the tab for textbooks or airfare home for the holidays.
And don't write off the most practical gift of all - money. Giving cash isn't crass. Whatever her plans, your granddaughter will appreciate financial aid from any source (and so will her parents).
Dear Dr. Tightwad: My 13-year-old daughter is on a school trip to Paris. Three days into it, she called to tell me she had a problem. She had checked with the front desk and was told she had run up a 2,200-franc phone bill (about $440) for long-distance calls to friends back home.
Obviously she'll have to repay the bill. But simply taking the money out of her savings account doesn't seem satisfactory. What should I do?
Answer: It's tempting to say that you could have saved a bundle by not sending a 13-year-old to Paris in the first place, but that's water under the Seine bridge.
As to your immediate problem, you're right. Taking the money from a savings account that's probably out of sight and mind won't inflict much in the way of financial pain or bring home the consequences of your daughter's behavior.
To hit her where it hurts you should take the money from her current income, either by deducting it from her allowance or, if you pay her for doing chores around the house, making her work for free until her debt to you has been repaid.
It's a little out of Dr. T's line, but the doctor can't help observing that finances aren't the only problem here. Besides being parted from her money, your daughter should also be cut off from the telephone for at least a month.