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 office has set up a small chess tournament. While not directly part of the competition, a lot of the people involved have been laying down wagers for their individual scheduled games. I’ve been made quite a few offers myself, but I have not initiated any. I don’t have any objections to gambling, at least in theory, but in this particular case there’s an issue.
I’m a FIDE International Master. If you don’t play chess, consider my chess playing ability on par with a good minor league player of the sport of your choice: not good enough to compete in a top-tier professional setting, but still orders of magnitude better than casual players. Quite simply, accepting a bet from my co-workers is just taking their money. I’ve tried to mention this a few times, and each time it’s been shrugged off as me simply trying to intimidate and undermine confidence. Is it all right to agree to a bet for cash when you know with about as perfect certainty that you can that you’re going to win?
—Not Wanting “GM” to Stand for “Gauche Master”
Before you go swimming in money, check first to see if this tournament would be breaking the law. Laying down wagers is considered gambling and illegal at work in most states. If it is illegal but you don’t want to seem like a party pooper, keep your stance on not participating. If someone were to report this, you want to be as far away as possible.
If you are in the clear, it’s totally OK to take people’s money. Like Liam Neeson in Taken, you warned them that you had a very particular set of skills, so joke’s on them. If you feel super guilty, you can always put the money toward an office treat, like lunch or doughnuts, one day. Go get ’em, tiger.
Dear Pay Dirt,
Stay-at-home mom here. My partner is a very hard worker and earns a good wage. He has made it clear once the kids showed up, I wasn’t expected to work. (We live overseas, so finding a job in a place where I don’t speak the language is tough.) My boys are 4 and 7 now. However, I have no overview on our finances. I have a credit card with a limit but get given very little cash. How do I make this area more of a partnership than a one-way street when I don’t bring any money in myself?
It’s important for you to be involved in your family’s finances, so kudos for reaching out for advice to address it. Should your partner be away for a long period of time—or, God forbid, something happens to him—you should be able to cover any financial situation that may arise. That includes knowing about your cash flow, having access to bank accounts, and tracking any and all bills that need to be paid. Along with knowing about these financial matters, you should always have your name on any checking accounts your family uses regularly, as well as having your own individual account.
Find a time to talk to your partner about sharing this information. One way could be to ask him to have a money date with you one night after the boys are put to bed. Open up a bottle of wine, settle in, share that you are thankful for all of his hard work, and tell him you would like to have more insight into the family budgeting and spending. You may not be contributing financially at the moment, but you do contribute to the household and have put in considerable sweat equity to make sure things have been running smoothly.
If your partner chooses to not discuss the family finances with you, see if you’re able to figure out why he’s hesitating or refusing to do so. It may take a different approach, a series of conversations, or even a discussion with a couple’s therapist, but it’s important for your relationship to have access to this information.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I am self-employed, chronically ill, disabled, and stressed. I have insurance through the ACA, and I am not afraid I will become homeless (a fear in the past). But I am 30 years old, living in a one-bedroom apartment in a low-cost-of-living town where I grew up. I am sick maybe seven to 10 weeks out of a given year, though not all at once. When sick, I am often hospitalized. Sometimes I can work anyway, sometimes I can’t. Despite insurance and making decent money, my savings are obliterated almost every year with medical bills, copays on medications, and transportation costs.
I’m so frustrated. I really want to buy a house. I want to know I will never be evicted. Barring that, I want to live somewhere bigger, or more interesting, with better public transportation—somewhere more expensive. Is there something I am missing? How do I save enough for a down payment or moving costs? I will never gain conventional employment due to my chronic absences, no matter how hard I work or how useful my skills are during the 80 percent of the time I am essentially well. Yet, I have hit a wall in my self-employment as a copywriter, and I’ve been stymied trying to pivot to writing that makes better money. I’m honestly not great at a lot of business things; I only started my own business as a last resort. I make too much money to qualify for welfare, which is overall a good thing. But are there options I’m not seeing?
—Frustrated Small Business Owner
Your feelings are completely valid. You are frequently one medical emergency from wiping out your finances, so you are in a perpetual state of stress. This feeds into a nasty cycle, since stress can make you sick, and then you’re back in the hospital where you started. I myself have several chronic illnesses that I battle on a daily basis. It’s exhausting, especially when you want more for yourself than your body allows.
There are two different types of income: active and passive. Active income is an income stream you regularly seek and work for, such as your copywriting career. For your situation, I would look into sources of passive income, which is an income stream that does not require a lot of effort. Some ideas may take a bit more effort at first but will tinker down as you progress. Try to stash away any income you receive from these sources to build up your reserves—whether for a down payment, a move, or for a deeper emergency fund.
I also want to make sure you are covering yourself as a small business owner. You can qualify for a ton of tax breaks and may be able to move the needle more financially if you take advantage of them. Don’t be afraid to hand things over to a professional accountant to help you out even further.
Dear Pay Dirt,
How much should a fee-only financial adviser cost for basic advice? My partner and I are recently married and we want to talk with someone about retirement, diversifying investments beyond stocks, and saving for kids. I’ve been looking at advisors at feeonlynetwork.com, and they seem really geared toward rich people looking for detailed investment advice. We actually have a fair amount of money, but our needs are pretty simple.
I read online that rich people pay a lot more for the same services from financial advisors and that typical fees might end up being around $2,500. I definitely don’t want to pay that much! Plus, I have an irrational fear of an adviser who caters to rich people who want to spend that much being annoyed that we’re looking for something simple and cheap. How do I find someone who wants to work with normal people?
—I’ll Give You Money, Just Not That Much
Dear Give Me Your Money,
Rich people tend to pay more in financial adviser fees because of the type of advisers they choose. If you have a significant portfolio of assets that need to be managed, you’re willing to pay for an expert to invest their time in managing your money for you. All financial advisers should want the best for you, but those working on commission tend to be more aggressive about their strategies. They can earn commission from regular management—usually about 1 percent of your entire portfolio, or $2,500 for a $250,000 account—or can make money off of financial products they sell you.
Fee-only financial advisers are interested in assisting you to the best of their abilities and have a reduced chance of conflict of interest. It also makes sense to use one if you do not require extensive help. These planners charge for their services in a few different ways and depend on location, experience, and other factors, but generally you can expect to pay pay $150 to $400 per hour. Like finding a doctor who takes your concerns seriously, picking a financial adviser can be a crapshoot, so I recommend asking around your own network for names of planners they like. I’d also suggest checking out the Garrett Planning Network, a one-stop shop in finding a fee-only financial adviser. You can sort those listed by certifications, area of expertise, and location, so you are sure to find the one that best suits you and your family’s needs.
More Advice From Slate
My 5-year-old daughter does dance lessons with a teacher she adores, Miss Emma. Her Christmas concert was this week, and Emma asked each parent to pay $50 for the concert costume. I’ve just picked up the costume, and it has a price tag for $25 still attached. Emma is a very kind teacher, and my daughter very much wants to continue classes with her, but I feel a bit annoyed. Should I say something to her?