When a sibling doesn’t pay what he promised

This online feature may include questions adapted from my weekly live chat. It’s also an opportunity for me to answer questions I couldn’t get to during the discussion. I may also respond to questions you send by e-mail to colorofmoney@washpost.com, Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary.com).

Q: I am single and live locally; sibling, spouse and family live away. My sibling’s spouse is educated but chooses not to work at this time. Sibling laments about having no money to do anything but does and spends a lot. I have recent renovation expenses that were greater than planned, so I’m living pretty lean right now and paying down debt.

Recently, we planned a vacation at a resort to celebrate a milestone in sib’s family. Last time we went there, we split the cost of our parents’ portion and agreed to do this again. I paid for my part, which included my parents’ portion. This time, sibling said he would cover only his own room, leaving me responsible for the lion’s share of the bill. My parents begged me not to create a scene and offered me money, which I didn’t want to take because they took us on many wonderful trips over the years.

This is not the first time this issue has surfaced, but I want it to be the last. Next time, when it is decided that we’re doing a trip together, should I book my room and say, “I’m guessing you’ll be covering Mom and Dad since I got them last time?” Or should I just not go? But that means I miss out on everything with my family. We are a close family, but I can’t keep overextending myself. Parent thinks the answer is for us to not do any more trips at all. What do you recommend?

A. Having received some additional background information, I agree with your parents. There is a lot of family financial drama going on that isn’t being addressed. Drama happens even in close families.

But, really, your brother isn’t acting honorable. If he promises to pay and backs out, that’s a huge breach of trust. You did what you felt you had to do during the vacation to keep the peace. I get that. Making an issue of your having to pay more than was agreed might have ruined the fun times during your stay. However, I wouldn’t have dropped the issue. It needed to be discussed at a later time and resolved, especially if this has been a pattern. If your parents were part of the decision to cover their expenses, they needed to speak up on your behalf and confront your brother for breaking his word. He gets away with this particular bad behavior because your family allows it in the name of keeping peace. Sometimes peace has to be disrupted. Even if you can’t affect change, at least you get a chance to voice your concerns and maybe get rid of hard feelings.

I love taking trips with my family. But before we go or do any outing that costs money, if I’m making the booking on behalf of everyone, I collect their share of the costs upfront.

Because past behavior is often predictive of future behavior, I wouldn’t enter into any future financial agreements with your sibling. If he can’t or won’t stick to his word and contribute to helping pay for your parents you shouldn’t put yourself in a situation of having to come up with the money or risk looking like the bad guy.

If you do discuss taking another family trip make it clear that all have to pay their own way — sibling, parents, etc., or you can’t do the trip. Period. If you can’t afford to or are reluctant to put yourself in the financial position of carrying extra people, don’t’ do it. Your decision may mean an end to family trips, but that’s okay. That’s life. Your family can find other affordable ways to get together and enjoy one another’s company.

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Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to postbusiness.com.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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