Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
My parents had three children: my sister, “Valerie,” then my brother, “Jack,” then I came along as a surprise when Valerie was 15 and Jack was 12. We all turned into very progressive liberals, which was a constant disappointment to our very conservative parents. Jack, whom they could never accept as bisexual, got the worst of it. They were fine as long as he dated women, but when he married a man, they cut him off and refused to even speak of him. Valerie and I have remained in close touch with Jack, his husband, and their adopted son.
Our parents both passed away a few weeks apart in 2020, and their estate is in the process of being settled. They cut Jack out entirely and left everything 50/50 to Valerie and me. Jack has not said a word about this. But Valerie, who is the executrix, has been putting increasing pressure on me to gift a third of my share to Jack. She plans to do the same, so that each of us would end up with a third of the estate. Jack and his husband get by financially, but his husband has chronic health problems and their son, who is now 14, has autism. While semi-high functioning, he is unlikely to be able to hold down a job that will fully support him.
I fully agree that it was wrong of our parents to cut Jack out because of who he is. But they did what they did, and giving up a large chunk of her inheritance is much easier for Valerie, who has both a high-paying career and a similarly high-earning husband, and has never wanted kids. My fiancé and I, on the other hand, also just get by, and we plan to have two or three kids ourselves. Valerie has flat-out told me that if I choose not to divide my share with Jack, I am lending my support to our parents’ bigotry and don’t deserve to call myself a progressive. Do you agree, or do I have a moral (in addition to a legal) right to keep my full inheritance?
I believe you have a legal right to keep all of the money, but I agree with your sister that you’re perpetuating your parents’ bigotry if you choose to go that route, which was pretty clearly a mechanism by which they intended to punish your brother for being bisexual. You and your sister are capable of rectifying that wrong, and the choice to do it—or not—is entirely yours. I think if this situation didn’t potentially benefit you or wasn’t about money, the morality of it would be clearer, and I doubt you would hesitate.
Also, consider your relationship with your brother. He may not say anything, but I think you’d be naïve to assume he doesn’t notice or mind. You know his financial situation is similar to yours, and unlike you, he already has a dependent to support. Consider what it says, not just about your progressivism, but your sense of overall fairness toward your brother if you decide to keep the entirety of the inheritance. Your bigoted parents probably wanted you to sever your relationship with your brother, and you are allowing them to posthumously create a situation that might facilitate it. Don’t let them succeed.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I am a single woman in my mid-30s with three best friends from high school who are all married and have two kids each. We go on a “family vacation” each summer, which is lovely and great. To date, we have been splitting our rental costs “by family,” which for me means I pay the same as two adults and two children. This has generally worked fine while the kids were small and bunking together or sharing a room with their parents, but as time goes on and we find ourselves in need of more rooms and bigger homes to accommodate the brood, I wonder your opinion on how to split costs fairly. I can afford to pay a quarter of the share, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m getting the short end of the stick. I’m thinking of proposing a “per bedroom” split, but again, I probably have the most disposable income (read: childless) so don’t want to be the asshole either. What say you?
—Family of One
Dear Family of One,
I think it’s reasonable to request a rethinking of the split when the next vacation rolls around. If you were in a block of hotel rooms instead of a rental, everyone likely would expect to pay a per-room share. If you’re worried about being perceived as an asshole, it’s really a matter of framing. Tell your friends, way ahead of time, that you’re making an effort to try to manage your money better and the rental costs keep going up because everyone is happily expanding their families, and you all need more space. Since you will only need one room, you’d like to figure out a split that’s more equitable, so that your costs don’t go beyond what’s reasonable for a single person. Then put the question to them: What do they think is reasonable? I doubt that any of them are going to make the argument that you should be subsidizing their kids. But if they do, you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the cost for you to continue these vacations.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My parents have been very good with their money for as long as I can remember, possibly to a fault. Paired with wise financial investments, coming into money from other family, and land purchases, I was set up for success in life. I was also raised that money is a private and taboo subject like politics and religion. While my husband and I are on the same page, his family does not hold those values. My perception is that they operate under the impression that a person is measured by their wealth. My husband and I want to be in my parents’ position one day financially, and we’re constantly working on our finances and saving.
The issue is that my husband has developed a superiority complex with money and his parents. We’ve achieved more in the few years we’ve been married than they have in their lives. His parents have been notoriously, and admittedly, not wise with their money. He gets angry seeing how their money has gone out the window. I agree it is their money and they can do with it whatever they please, but their declining health and their late ages aren’t being considered. Any large purchase questioned by him is met with hostility from his parents. They’ve accused us of being concerned that they are spending our inheritance and even brought my parents into their arguments by saying they are treated differently because they don’t have as much money as mine. Both of those statements have never been true! His comments about their spending and saving habits are always well-intended, but are met with hostility and aggression from his parents. There’s no way to preface the conversation without being accused of doing it out of morbid intentions. Do we have any right to guide or question them financially when they aren’t considering health complications or long-term care?
—Not Out for an Inheritance
Dear Not Out,
I disagree with your parents that money should be a private subject, and if we all talked about it more, I probably wouldn’t need to write this column. That said, it sounds like you and your parents have healthy boundaries regarding interference in each other’s financial decision-making and don’t suffer from the lack of trust your husband and his parents obviously have. If your husband’s parents genuinely believe he’s obsessed with his inheritance at their expense, despite the fact that you’re both self-sufficient and financially successful, there’s a bigger problem than the money.
And unfortunately, they really do have the right to make even bad financial decisions as long as they’re capable of having the agency to do so. Your husband needs to respect that. That doesn’t mean that he can’t ever talk to them about money, but he needs to focus on encouragement and not critiquing them. No one has ever corrected a bad habit because a family member routinely suggested they lacked good judgment.
As far as the comparison with your parents goes, your husband can always point out that your parents are fully set up for retirement and long-term care financially, so you don’t worry about them, and note that he’d like them to have the same sense of security about the future. They need to understand that the stakes are not about whether you’ll inherit anything, but whether you’ll end up having to support them financially if they experience health complications or other crises they haven’t prepared for. It’s fair for your husband to note that their lack of planning is causing him stress because he believes that he will bear the cost (both literally and figuratively) if something happens.
But questioning individual purchases is counterproductive: It probably makes your in-laws feel like they’re being policed or treated like children, and that’s where the hostility is coming from. You need to focus on the high-level conversation with them, which is that you want them to be secure if the worst happens.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I know that I should tip 20 percent at a standard table-service restaurant. And I should tip something—maybe a bit less? 10 percent? 15 percent?—for takeout. As we’re emerging from the pandemic, I went, for the first time, to a table-service restaurant where I ordered via my smartphone from the table. The server then brought the order to the table. I wanted to order dessert, so instead of waiting for the server, I just opened the app and added my dessert order. And then when I was done, I didn’t have to wait for the server to bring the check and run my credit card—all that happened on the app, too.
All that was pretty great—I didn’t have to flag anyone down, or feel forgotten—but what to do about the tip? A standard 20 percent seems like it’s a bit much, considering how much less the server actually did in this case. What’s the etiquette here? The internet isn’t helping me out much on this one.
—I Need a Tip
Dear I Need a Tip,
There is no standard etiquette for this, but ordering from a table-service restaurant via mobile is far more akin to ordering normally via table service than takeout. The server still has to respond to additional requests like bringing you extra silverware or a refill of water. They still have to clear your plates and be exposed to you in-person during a pandemic that is still raging. The only things a server is not doing are listening to you recite your order directly into their ears or physically running your card through a point-of-service system, which are not the hard parts of the job. If you don’t like your food, you’re still going to complain to the waiter, who did not personally cook it, and not the mobile ordering system. It’s close enough to regular table service that I think 20 percent still applies.
Personally, I believe our tipping system allows the hospitality industry to suppress worker wages and should be abolished in favor of reasonable rates. I don’t believe the ability of a server to make a living wage should be dependent on whether you or I are feeling generous on a particular day. But given that this is the way the system works, and it’s not changing anytime soon, I think we all have an obligation to err on the side of generosity. Restaurant workers are on the front lines during a dangerous and precarious time, and many people don’t have benefits and health insurance.
And invariably some people will be jerks and undertip. If you can, strive to the be the person on the other side of that equation who adds a little more than necessary. Your server will notice and appreciate it. You’re not obligated to do it, of course, but we’re still experiencing extraordinary circumstances—which is why you’re ordering via your phone in the first place—and if you’re in a position to eat at a restaurant at all, it’s worth thinking about how to make it sustainable for the people who bring you your food.
After seeing several friends go through bitter and prolonged divorces, my husband has decided that he wants us to have a postnuptial agreement. He explains that our marriage is a “limited liability partnership” with no “out clause” and that he wants to put a “stop loss” in place, as if our marriage is one of his stock market trades. He says he doesn’t want to go on in this “contract”—meaning our marriage—unless I sign a postnup. We have been married four years and have a toddler son. My husband says if I don’t sign, he will serve me with divorce papers.