Family life

Is politeness pushing you into the red?

Sandra reflects on the times being nice came back and bit her in the budget.

By Sandra E. Martin
Is politeness pushing you into the red?

Photo by kadmy/

Maybe it's a Canadian thing, or a female thing, or an "I was raised to be polite thing" — but it took me a lot of years to get over feeling that when a store employee helped me out by bringing a bunch of different sizes to a change room, or searching the stock room for 16 different styles of prom shoe, that I sort of owed it to him or her to buy something. It just seemed rude to let good service, a rare thing as it is, go completely unrewarded.

Sometimes we purchase out of embarrassment. For instance: About eight years ago, when Matt was moving into a more serious office-based job (he's a health and safety specialist), we went shopping for upwardly-mobile-looking office clothes. After finding a very snazzy white shirt with pink windowpane plaid (Matt is not afraid of wearing pink) on sale for $24 at the Gap, Matt mused that he needed a tie to go with it.

"Let's look in here," I suggested, pointing to Harry Rosen, a menswear store just a few doors over in the mall. Now, I was well aware that we didn't have a Harry Rosen budget, but I had found the occasional deal there. And as our then-18-month-old daughter had started to fidget, I figured the staff's expertise would be a bonus, helping Matt find a power tie to match his new shirt quickly.

We'd been in the store for a few minutes, and Matt was already mulling over ties with a most accommodating sales associate when Bronwyn started tugging at my arm. "I'm going to take her to look at the fountain," I offered. "Meet us there?" Matt nodded.

About 10 minutes later, he connected with us. "Did you get a tie?" I asked. He nodded, looking a bit shaken.

It wasn't until later that Matt admitted he'd paid rather more than he expected to for the tie. It was a perfect match, the sales guy had been so helpful and nice that he couldn't bring himself to back out of the purchase when the number came up on the register.

Now, just today, I've read a column in the Globe and Mail admonishing dinner-party hosts who don't serve dessert. Really? So does that mean you have to either a) blow your food budget for the month if you plan to have friends over for a meal; or b) come off as gauche if you don't serve dessert? With all due respect, I heartily disagree with the Globe's columnist. It is possible to be a gracious host without rolling out the barrel. I think it's all about the friends you keep! We have a semi-regular dinner gathering with two other families, and it's always a given that we'll manage it as something of a potluck. Generally, the host provides the main course, and the guests bring an appetizer or a side dish or a dessert. And if any one of those three elements doesn't happen — no one is offended.

What's your take: Is it better to speak up, if it's a matter of spending within your means, or stay mute and blow your budget from time to time in the name of "politeness"? Share your thoughts here.

This article was originally published on Jun 12, 2012

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