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 grew up in a unique financial situation. My parents divorced when I was young, and I mostly lived with my mom, with occasional weekends at my dad’s house. My mom has a lot of health problems, and as a result we were pretty broke a lot of the time, and my basic needs were often unmet. On the other hand, my dad’s family is extremely wealthy. I got used to watching my cousins enjoy expensive clothes, gadgets, and vacations, and as we’ve gotten older, most of them have also been gifted cars, down payments on their homes, and so on. I tried my best not to be bitter about it and comforted myself that my grandparents had always promised to pay my university fees. My dad also made vague promises that I’d “never have to worry about money” while I was in school (or ever).
I’m in my early 20s now, with one year left of my professional degree, and I never really experienced the level of financial support I’d been promised. It’s starting to make me feel bitter. My dad remarried and had more kids, who are all enrolled in a private elementary school, where tuition is higher than my own! I suffered an injury that left me unable to work two summers ago, and now I’m struggling to find work as my part of the world is in lockdown again. I have tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, and I’m so stressed about money. I’ve had to reach out to my dad for help a few times when I’ve been unable to pay rent or bills, and each time he’s sent over significantly less than what I’d need, about a week after I asked for it. I’ve ended up borrowing money from my partner or mom in those situations, which isn’t ideal.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for me came the other day when I was on the phone with my dad. My grandparents never offered to pay my tuition this year, which has been an unexpected burden. I asked him if he had any idea what was up with that, and he explained that they recently gifted him several million dollars to buy one of the family businesses, on top of the sizable investment portfolio he already has. I understand that counting on your family to help you out financially is a privilege, but I can’t help but feel a bit cast aside when I know a few extra thousand dollars would make a huge difference in my life and my dad wouldn’t even notice it was gone. There’s also the sort of emotional sting of feeling overlooked, when my brothers seemingly have everything and I’ve had to struggle so much. Am I right to feel this way, or am I being too entitled here? How do I move forward without resentment?
Dear Broke Heiress,
I think it’s completely reasonable that you expected your grandparents and your dad to follow through on their promises and you’re disappointed that they didn’t. I also think it’s worth being more direct with your dad about exactly what your financial situation is and how it makes you feel that you’re struggling and that no one seems to want to follow through on their promises. Maybe he will be helpful if he better understands how you really feel about it. And maybe talk to your grandparents, too, while you’re at it. You mention that they never offered to pay your tuition this year, but it sounds like you didn’t have a conversation with them about it, either. You need to tell them that you’re disappointed that they promised you help and haven’t provided it, and it is damaging your relationship. It may be entitlement to expect subsidization as an adult, but it’s not entitlement to be disappointed over broken promises. Prioritize the relationships, not the money. And that includes the relationships you have with your half-siblings and cousins. You don’t want to be in a position where your understandable envy of their good fortune sours any future interactions with them.
But for your own sake, you should proceed as if you expect nothing from your dad or your grandparents. (I generally think people should do that even when they expect financial support to materialize, because you never know when that kind of security can disappear or someone can change their mind about providing it.) What would you do, going forward, if the money your dad and grandparents have didn’t exist at all and this alluring promise of a problem-solving check wasn’t a possibility? That’s the situation most people are in, anyway, and it is stressful! So you need to find ways to manage your stress (and budget), along with working on a Plan B that will allow you to move on without any help from your family.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My husband took out a personal loan of about $1,200 to buy an item that no one else is able to benefit from except himself. He already has several loans that could’ve been paid off by now, but chooses to pay the bare minimum. He makes plenty at his job and has a firm reasoning of “it’s my money, so I will spend how I please.” How can I talk some sense into him about how it’s our finances and the importance of discussing loans that affect both of us in regard of repayment?
—At a Loss
Dear At a Loss,
It’s not totally clear from your letter whether these loans are being taken out by both of you jointly or just your husband. Do you have separate finances? If you have some kind of agreement that you each manage your own money and contribute to your joint expenses, I think you have to concede that it is your husband’s money and anything beyond what you’ve agreed to pay for together is his discretionary spending.
But since you mention repayment affecting both you, I’m guessing that’s not the case. If you’re as liable for those loans as he is, you need to emphasize to him that he’s not taking out a loan; you both are. And it’s not reasonable for him to saddle you with debt you didn’t agree to. Tell him you’re not going to litigate the previous loans, but it’s his responsibility to pay them off, and going forward, it’s not OK for him to acquire any more debt you might be liable for without your consent. It’s also great that he has a well-paying job, but it also wouldn’t hurt to remind him that job loss can happen for any number of reasons, and for the security of your household, you don’t want to be in a position where you might have debt that needs to be paid off and no income.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I come from a very tightknit family of three—my mother, my brother, and me. I am on disability and have been caring for my 91-year-old mother as a live-in caretaker. My brother makes a good corporate living and has done so for many years. My mother has decided that, since I have multiple sclerosis, may need care in the future, and have practically given up my life over the past few years to care for her, she wants to leave all of her money to me.
I am grateful for future medical care and am also aware that her money is hers to leave as she pleases, but I feel dismay at my brother finding out the news after her death. I have asked her to talk to him now, but she does not want to. I feel uncomfortable knowing something that he doesn’t know, and I dread being left with the “reveal.” Can you please advise me?
—Grateful but Guilty
Dear Grateful but Guilty,
I think you have to respect your mother’s wishes here, but surely she knows that a last-minute reveal could cause resentment between you and your brother. If she refuses to talk to him about it, I’d guess that she’s trying to avoid any confrontation, but it’s not fair to dump that on you after she’s gone.
If you can’t persuade her to tell your brother while she’s still around, I think it would be reasonable for her to leave behind something for your brother explaining her reasoning and noting that she explicitly asked you to keep it to yourself. If nothing else, asking her to do this will make her more aware of the burden she’s putting on you, even if she says no.
Dear Pay Dirt,
We have a local organization that recycles toxic household items that shouldn’t be thrown in the garbage. Some of these items are put into their “store,” and people can take them for free. I tend to get paint because I like to mix my own colors until I get something I like. That means that I get a lot of different paints from the store.
I recently found out that I am technically not supposed to return these colors to the recycling center attached to the store. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but it is what it is. I have several boxes of paint cans that I need to get rid of. I’m thinking about selling them. I wouldn’t sell for much, but these are high-quality paints. It takes some time and effort to arrange these sales locally, so I think my time is at least worth something. I’m also really struggling financially. I feel a little bit bad that I got these items for free and am trying to sell them. Is it morally wrong for me to sell these leftover paints?
Dear Paint Problems,
I don’t think there’s anything unethical about reselling something you got for free because the organization wants people to use them instead of throwing them away. I’m sure no one in the organization would object that you’re being entrepreneurially creative in your usage. The paint isn’t being wasted, which is presumably what the recycling organization is specifically trying to avoid. If you can generate some income this way, too, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
My father is 65 years old and in outstanding health. He has a small real estate empire of 30 or so multifamily residential homes. He built the business himself and runs it as a one-man band. The legal structure of my dad’s business is a jumble. Some homes are owned by him and my stepmother, others are held by an LLC he formed. He also has unwritten deals with half a dozen friends and family members. My mother lives in another state in a house owned by my father and possibly his wife. My father is a generous and caring person, but is disorganized and his “office” is a bunch of piles of paper in his basement. Recently, my sister and brother-in-law quit their jobs and sold their house to relocate with their two small children to work in and maybe take over this business. My father has no will or succession plan and if he were to die or become incapacitated he would leave behind a complicated legal mess. My sister and I would have to work with our stepmom, with whom neither of us are close. I find it cruel, irresponsible, and selfish for my dad not to create an estate plan. I am well-off financially, have no direct interest in his estate, and live far away, although I speak to my father regularly. My dad keeps promising me that he will take care of this but he never does. I’ve brought this up so much that he’s tuning me out. What’s the most effective way to persuade him to address the issue?