Dear Prudence

Cash Problems

Please send your questions for publication to

Dear Prudence,

Help! I’m torn and would love to hear your take on my dilemma. I received a sweater from a sibling for the holidays but decided to return it because it didn’t fit. I looked around the store (a major national retailer) for a possible exchange but came up empty-handed, so I simply asked for a refund. Today, I received a check for about $550 more than the amount in question. Because I could definitely use the cash, my first thought was to rush out and deposit it before the store recognized its error. But I know the money isn’t really mine. Now I’m faced with the choice of benefiting from someone else’s mistake or returning a tidy little windfall that would certainly come in handy. Some friends have urged me to take the money and run, others have suggested I take the high road by writing the company to explain what happened and hope that maybe my honesty would be rewarded with a gift certificate or a similar show of gratitude. Prudence, what would you do in my situation?


Dear Tempt,

It is a temptation because it’s easy to think, well, it’s a big company, it won’t matter, nobody will know. But alas, you will know, and Prudie thinks you had made your decision even before you wrote. Anybody who grapples with this problem is obviously inclined toward doing the right thing. As for “a show of gratitude,” do not get your hopes up, cupcake. “Major national retailers” are not individuals to whom you return negotiable bonds found in the back seat of a taxicab.

—Prudie, affirmingly

Dear Prudence,

FYI, and for “Cramped,” stores such as Crate & Barrel and Filenes will actually give you cash (or a check, actually) for returned wedding presents. So if “Cramped” really wants cash instead of gifts but doesn’t want to appear so tacky as to provide a direct deposit account number with her invitations, I would suggest that she register for food processors and the like at C&B. (I know this only because we did get two food processors for our wedding this year, and were pleasantly surprised at the availability of the cash refund.)


Dear Den,

Thank you on behalf of “Cramped” and others with the same problem. Prudie feels certain the stores you mention will make lots of friends with this policy.

—Prudie, smoothly

Hello, Prudie,

I have recently been given a bottle of a very bad pinot noir by a friend who prides himself on his wine connoisseurship. It ended up down the sink. Wine happens to be a seasonal offering from him—birthdays, get-togethers, etc. I can’t recycle the wine as a gift knowing full well how awful it’s bound to be (and thus reflect badly on me). Is there a way of making one’s preference known without stepping on toes?

—Need Advice on Bad Wine

Dear Need,

Prudie can think of no way to tell a gift-giver that his choices are unspeakably bad, and the usual path of the rotgut is donor to recipient to drain. It is interesting that you say this person fancies himself a connoisseur. There is a disconnect here somewhere. (Could one bottle have turned?) In any case, Prudie suggests you make this your little private joke. Receive the gifts in good grace, thank him profusely, then proceed directly to the sink. (Or maybe try whipping together a boeuf bourguignon. The cooking process is quite forgiving of bad wine.) You could, Prudie supposes, announce that you’ve joined AA, but this seems a rather extreme measure to try to get a gift other than wine.

—Prudie, appropriately


When I was growing up, my next-door neighbors had a son who was 4 years older than I was. We never played together very much (as a preteen, the age difference was just too great to become really close), but we were on friendly terms and I always looked up to him as an “older brother” figure. His father and mine were partners in a few real-estate deals and helped to develop our neighborhood. I completely lost touch with the entire family after I graduated from high school and moved away. That’s been just over 10 years now. (My parents haven’t kept in touch with them either.) Now I’ve learned that the son died of hepatitis about two years ago. I find that this news really hit me hard, and I’d like to send my condolences to his parents. My question is: Have I learned of their loss too late to extend my sympathy? Should I offer my condolences or would I run the risk of reopening a wound that may only now be starting to heal?

—Mournful in Austin

Dear Mourn,

It is never too late to do something kind and thoughtful. Do not worry about interfering with the family’s healing. They may even be in stronger shape, now, to hear of your loving remembrances than they might have been at the time a blizzard of condolence notes was coming in. Prudie feels certain they will be touched to learn of your feelings.

—Prudie, encouragingly

Dear Prudence,

Thank you for calling me “an addled dinner partner” and noting that my “elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top” simply because I believe in witches.

Granted, it may not have been me personally you were talking about, but it could have been: I believe that goodness and evil exist, and that both can be manifested in people—hence saints and witches. Believe me, I have caught my share of grief for voicing this opinion.

My problem with you (and my brother-in-law’s friend who grilled me over dinner recently) is the pure bigotry behind the attitude that if you’re out of the mainstream, you’re out of your mind.

My dinnertime interrogator, in point of fact, hires a Gentile to turn the lights on for him on Saturday; he throws bread crumbs into the Hudson River to absolve his sins; and he will eat an ice cream cone followed by a hamburger but not the other way around. All of these habits put him in the center of his Upper West Side neighborhood. No talk about elevators not reaching the top, but I assure you that to my (Christian) eyes, these actions are a might more strange than a desire to spare my daughter a bad book or two.

I ask you to please reconsider your point. This country is based on the freedom of religion, including the freedom to have some wacky ideas. (If none of the ideas in the religions of others were seemingly wacky, we would not need explicit protection for them.) I do not begrudge “Dan” his forays into the cult of Yaweh; please do not begrudge me my idiosyncrasies.

Finally—and most importantly—please do not confuse a parent’s supervision of her daughter’s reading material with book burning. I will defend to the end your right to read what you choose. Evidently, though, it does not include much about tolerance.

—Sign me,


Dear Add,

You make some good and valid points. You also prove the old adage about there being two ways to look at most things.

—Prudie, appreciatively