DEAR HARRIETTE: I was on vacation with my family recently, and we ended up going out to eat with a few other families over the course of the two weeks we were away. Somehow, my family ended up footing the bill more than the others. It wasn't the plan, but it happened. I just looked at my credit card bill and was astonished to see the hefty amount we had charged. I know there's nothing we can do about it now. It would be crazy to call around asking people to cough up extra dough, but I am curious -- how can I avoid this situation in the future? -- Broke, Washington, D.C.
DEAR BROKE: It is true that in the frenzy of the moment, your generosity can get the best of you. I recommend making a budget before you head out on your vacation. You can map it out per day if you like, so that you know exactly what you intend to spend. It is also wise to use cash. If you pay cash for your meals, you can avoid putting down a card for the group. You can review the bill and contribute your family's portion plus tip or divide it equally, whichever your group decides.
It is unlikely that your other friends meant to have you assume the lion's share of the meal expenses. For most people, these things just happen, and it is only later that they realize that the sharing was not equitable.
DEAR HARRIETTE: When we started packing for our summer vacation, I noticed that my 10-year-old was packing 10 stuffed animals. I thought that was excessive -- we were flying and had limited room for extra items. When I told her no, she began crying and told me she really wanted to bring them. At first I put my foot down and wouldn't budge, but then I realized that my normally confident daughter seemed really attached to these things. So I let her bring them. How do you know when to remain firm and when to give in to your child's odd requests? -- Confused, Staten Island, N.Y.
DEAR CONFUSED: That is a great question that has no simple answer other than that you should always pay close attention to your child. Instead of the kneejerk "no" that comes out of many parents' mouths when a child wants to do something that they consider unreasonable, listen instead. Survey the moment. Ask yourself why, as in this case, the stuffed animals are so important. Perhaps there is some trepidation about going away, and the toys provide a comfort connection.
One way I have discovered that you can avoid the showdown is to believe that your child has a good reason for whatever quirky request she or he may have. If you approach your child with respect and ask why this thing is so important, you may receive a rational, unemotional answer. Then you can respond evenly and decide whether to allow whatever the request is without argument.