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Carolyn Hax: Can a couple cut strings on a monetary gift from parents?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Dear Carolyn: My wife and I are at odds. My parents are proposing a gift of a sum of money to help complete a project for our daughter’s bedroom. My wife feels we could use a credit card for that amount and use the gift elsewhere. I am of the mind that we should use the gift for what my parents intended and use the credit card for the other projects. Please provide your opinion as this is causing issues between us.

— M.

M.: You’re wasting a perfectly good fight because it’s all just spending.

What you’re spending is either cash gift in hand or borrowed, but it’s spending regardless, whether you charge the project and pay cash for the “elsewhere” or charge the “elsewhere” and pay cash for the project. That’s especially apt if the “other projects” are as you say, projects, and not travel or debt repayment or whatever else. Whether you use gift or credit on the bathroom or bedroom is some microscopic hairsplitting.

And if the “elsewhere” involves more urgent things that require cash, then please don’t pressure your wife to decline a chance at better financial health just to retain gratitudinal purity with your folks. “Thanks, Mom and Dad, for helping us finish the bedroom. You’re the best,” would be true no matter what type of money you spent where and in what order. Assuming they are in fact the best.

If your parents are attaching tight strings to their gift money and that’s why you’re now dug in against your wife, making their pressure her problem, then they aren’t in fact the best. And you’re picking the wrong side. You need to back your wife instead, and stand up to your parents for your right to run your household finances as you see fit, and assure them, for appeasement’s sake if you’d like, that while you have other priorities for the money, their generous gift will push the daughter’s bedroom to next in line, which, again: Huge help. Thanks so much. And you need to decline the gift outright if they get huffy on you for your candor.

Unless your priorities stink, and your daughter is in a plywood bedroom while you divert funds to retile the Jacuzzi. In that case, please have your parents write in, thankssomuch. If there’s financial duress here and the whole “gift this” and “credit that” is an anxious shell game and your parents are genuinely trying to help and maybe their help is a little wide of the mark, then just talk to them about what you need and intend to do and see if they’re open to that. Better to keep your emotional investment in your marriage as low-risk as possible and gamble a bit with the ’rents.

What you can’t do, decently, is accept the money under the pretense of finishing the bedroom when you have no intention of finishing the bedroom in the near to middle future. A gift is yours, always and fully, to use as you wish, but false pretenses are a coward’s flex.

Finally: Credit cards are costlier, riskier money, so charge “projects” only if you have to or have plans and the means to do so strategically, to repay promptly and with little to no interest. Otherwise, wait, if you can. Michelle Singletary did not make me write that. If I missed an “if,” well, damn. But please let me know.

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