John D. Spooner is an investment adviser, author and novelist. His most recent book is No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons for Young Adults. Here, he responds to queries from advice seekers of all ages. Send your conundrums to

My family and I are planning a spring vacation, but there seems to be a difference of opinion on where to go. I like the sun, my wife likes the culture of Europe, and the kids like the mountains and winter sports. Do you know of a place that can satisfy everyone? I suppose we could draw straws for a choice, but someone is bound to be disappointed. I certainly understand everybody having an independent vote, and all the choices are fine, but if your children are below the age of 20, you run the risk of them being bored by the sights in Europe. If they’re bored on an expensive vacation, then you and your wife are going to be annoyed to furious. And I’m guessing that not everyone loves to ski, or snowboard, or snowmobile, so someone in your family will be unhappy at some point on a trip to the slopes.

I would suggest—even if you waited until school was over in June and before summer jobs started—to take the family to a dude ranch. There are many to choose from, and at lots of price points. But I would concentrate on Montana or Wyoming. The settings are so spectacular, and everyone in your party will enjoy different activities from karaoke or line dancing to movies after dinner. I took all of my children and grandchildren to The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana late last spring, and everyone threw themselves into being cowgirls and cowboys for a week. It was the best family vacation any of us have ever taken together. All of us rode trails and meadows on horseback, shot pistols, rifles and shotguns, fly-fished, sketched the scenery—and even panned for gold. Plus, being out all day made us starved at mealtime and allowed us to enjoy deep sleep as well. It was a lifetime adventure, and I would urge any family to give it a whirl. Oh, we even learned how to lasso.

No one will be bored and no one will be annoyed when your children don’t appreciate the Mona Lisa.

The other night while eating out with friends, my boyfriend asked for the check and his card was declined. This is the second time it’s happened. I am getting worried that he may have financial problems he hasn’t told me about, and I think he should be totally open about his finances before we get engaged. I don’t want any surprises! He has a good job and drives a nice car, but you never know. Am I out of line to ask for full disclosure? If he’s not open with me, I am thinking of snooping on his computer to peek at his bank statements. Well, since you’ve had this experience twice, it does raise a red flag.
If this is a long-term relationship that is headed for marriage, this could be a real trouble sign. By all means, do ask for full disclosure if this remains a recurring theme. You are entitled to get a peek into what might be your future. But do not snoop around—or next month I’ll get a question from a young man asking if it’s OK for his girlfriend to check his various accounts.

Marriage can often be an accumulation of grievances on both sides, but it is certainly wise to get advance knowledge of what those grievances are going to be.

As a young guy in my mid-20s , I’m not really sure how to approach women. Is there a road map these days? I don’t think there’s ever been a road map, even in the Garden of Eden. But in our lives, there are always snakes to ruin our paradise. One big thing about relationships is that forcing it is never going to work. You have to be yourself, not putting on an act, to make a romance really work. Approach others with humor and discuss the passions in your life: hobbies, music, movies and sports. Tell stories when you start conversations. We’re all suckers for stories, of childhood, of screw-ups, of adventures. Your person of interest will respond with a personal story, and common threads will ever be. The joy killers—male and female—looking for affront under every rock are never going to be your loving mate. So be honest and respectful. Be yourself. ◆


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