Pay Dirt is Slate’s new money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
I am a single mom to a 4-year-old boy, and while we aren’t exactly struggling, finances are always pretty tight. We live in a city with a very high cost of living, and rent especially eats up a lot of my salary. My grandfather, who is quite well-off, has helped me out with preschool tuition payments once or twice when I’ve been in a pinch. He has no other grandchildren other than my older brother and me and has been struggling with health problems for several years. He always made it clear that when he died, everything would be split equally, including his brownstone.
Recently, he and my brother had a big argument about my brother refusing to ask his fiancée to get a prenup, and he ended up disowning him. My grandfather has since reached out to me, saying that he misses me and my son and is having a hard time living alone at his age. He wants us to move in with him, supposedly to keep him company and be there if he gets sick again, but he has hinted that it’s because we’ll be living there someday.
I think it’s all just to get back at my brother and show him that he’s no longer getting the place or his money. I know that if I took him up on his offer, I’d hurt my relationship with my brother, but I also know how much of a difference this would make in my son’s life. He adores his great-grandpa, and if I didn’t have to worry so much about rent, I could focus on saving more money for his college—not to mention that my grandfather lives in an area of the city with excellent public schools, while the schools in my area are less than great. Do you think I should take my grandfather up on his offer, or would it be a greedy thing to do? Is there any way I can do this without ruining my relationship with my brother?
—Feuding Relatives, Free House
Dear Feuding Relatives, Free House,
Grandpas are supposed to provide affection without parental baggage, but it sounds like yours has some control issues. That being said, I’m wondering if your “gift” is going to have some strings attached, and what you should do next.
Let Grandpa know that while you are flattered and grateful, you would like to know what the terms and conditions are if you accept this gift. If you want to proceed, ask to have an agreement drawn up that gives you tenant rights. While this is good to have if some tension or dispute happens between you two, it’s also good to have in case something happens to your grandfather and other relatives pop out of the woodwork unannounced. I would also like you to set aside an emergency fund in case you need to find a new place if the situation arises. By planning for the worst, you can enjoy the perks of this arrangement, like getting your son into a really good school and setting money aside for his future (and also letting him bond with your granddad).
When it comes to your desire to avoid upsetting your brother, I’d say select honesty is the best policy. Let him hear from you that you have decided to help grandpa out in more of a caretaking role. Express that you know things are bad right now, but you still love him and wanted him to know that your relationship with him will not be influenced by this decision. I would also keep out the whole part that you may be inheriting everything, because you never know, and you don’t need that drama any more than he does.
Dear Pay Dirt
I’m not sure what I should do with savings. I think I sock away a healthy amount annually in my retirement and kid’s college accounts. I put some extra toward my mortgage. The rest I put in an online bank account that earns about 1 percent interest (sometimes better or worse, depending on interest rates). But I’ve had over $100,000 in savings for three years now. I have zero idea how to do anything with stocks, and I’m also very risk-averse and don’t want to stress about losing my savings if the stock market crashes. But at the same time, it seems like I probably could have more in savings if I’d figured out how to invest it over the past years. Am I doing something wrong?
—What’s a Stock?
Dear What’s a Stock,
I wouldn’t say you are doing something wrong as you’ve developed quite the nest egg! Some risk aversion is good, so feel proud about what you’ve done right so far and get busy with the following steps.
First, because of your comfort level and because you are just starting out, I would recommend a fee-based financial planner. A financial planner can explain different investment opportunities to you, and you can pick someone you feel comfortable with. I recommend fee-based financial planners, who are generally able to prioritize your best interests, over traditional financial planners who make money when you open an account at their firm.
When you invest, it does not mean you are putting all your money in the stock market. That’s actually a bad tactic; you want your money spread across multiple accounts, making you money in different ways. Diversification can be your friend when things go south, like when the market crashes. Look into less risky options, such as bonds, money market accounts, and preferred stock.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My boyfriend is extremely well-compensated for his comically corporate job. (I say “comically” because he works for the type of entity considered immoral by some.) I am very poorly compensated for my do-gooder job. I am also at the beginning of my career, given extra schooling I had, and make one-sixth of what he does.
I am so freaked out by this pay disparity. We are still living with his roommate, but eventually we plan to move out and get our own place. Except he is in a position to buy a place, and I am eating a lot of PB&J so as not to spend too much. I know other couples must have figured this out. But I also secretly feel doomed. Complicating things is that I am from a wealthy family and grew up pretty rich. To put it frankly, I am unfamiliar with being the person with less money in a dynamic.
I love him! I want this to work! But I’m not sure what the game plan is here. Will I always have less of a say in where we live or how we decorate? Should I dump him because I’m so in my own head about this?
You do not get less of a say in where you live or how you decorate because your income just happens to be less. You may only make one-sixth of his income, but you are still in a relationship, which means you’re 50/50, baby! So let’s work on getting out of your head so you don’t drive yourself crazy.
Maybe he is aware of your background and thinks you have some type of trust fund put away, so let’s clear the financial air to ensure you’re both on the same page and know what the other person can and can’t commit to financially. Be clear with him about your worries regarding the pay disparity. Chances are 1) He already knows how much you make, and 2) isn’t fazed by it. I recommend discussing exactly how you’ll split bills and other living expenses so that it feels fair based on your respective incomes and so you don’t feel like you aren’t contributing enough. Good luck, do-gooder!
Dear Pay Dirt,
I’m a really thorough budgeter. I went through a scary period of low income a few years ago, so being precise about my money is important to me. My partner, on the other hand, doesn’t budget (if he has plenty of money in the bank, he’s not worried).
Now, we’re talking about getting married and getting a joint account, and the idea of sharing a budget with him absolutely panics me. He’s asked if I would do our joint budgeting (which I happily would), but we both know he won’t remember to log every little $10 grocery transaction while he’s out and things like that. (We’d keep our separate accounts for individual spending, but small household expenses come up all the time.) I don’t want to be a control freak about it, especially since I know I’m weirdly uptight about my finances, and in the big picture he’s responsible with money. But on the other hand, budget inconsistencies bother me a heck of a lot! Are there good ways to reconcile our different financial strategies as a couple?
—I Do Not Know How to Budget With You
Dear I Do Not Know How To Budget With You,
If you don’t know how to budget with someone, you will eventually go crazy. So thanks for writing, and I’m here to help!
I have three words for you: joint checking account. You should each put a chunk of cash in there, and keep the rest of your money in your respective personal accounts for spending money or any other financial goals you may be working on, like debt repayment. A joint checking account will make it easier for you to itemize your household purchases—like the $10 in groceries here and there you keep fantasizing about, as well as bigger bills, like rent and utilities. You can both contribute a certain dollar amount toward your joint household expenses every month, and you can keep an eye out for overspending instead of hunting him down for a receipt. A best practice is to take utilities and all household bills, then divide them by 50 percent, so you each know how much money you need to individually contribute to the fund.
When my brother went to college across the country, I added him onto my Netflix and gave him all the info. At the time it was still cheap and allowed four people to use it at time. I also sent him money, gift cards, bought him nice meals and pizza remotely, and listened to him complain about how much he hated the beautiful, tropical destination vacation spot his college was located in. Our parents supported him fully; rent, phone, car, insurance, grocery money, etc. This was not something offered to me, as I am the “black sheep” of the family, but I digress. After three years away, my brother came home and immediately landed his dream job. He is back home living at my parents’ and has no bills other than his still-deferred student loans. He brags about having cash on Facebook and suddenly can afford a loan for a brand-new truck and a motorcycle. When he asked me for the Netflix info again, I explained they raised the price and only allowed two screens at a time. I have a husband and a child. We can’t afford cable. We have bills and rent to pay for, and I have a lot of medical bills. No one has ever given me any financial assistance. Rather than paying for additional screens for him, I told my brother he was a big boy now and could afford his own Netflix or just use the free internet and cable at my parents’. He now won’t speak to me and my parents have flipped out on me because I don’t understand “his” struggles. I think they’re babying him but everyone is so angry I keep wondering if I’m actually wrong. Thoughts?