Pay Dirt

My Daughter Says I’m “Bad With Money”—but She’s Spending All of It

I’m not sure how to cut her off.

A girl with a hand full of money and a big smile.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus and Spoon Graphics.

Dear Pay Dirt,

I have three great kids, ages 22, 20, and 18. I am basically a single dad, with support from my fiancée, who pays me rent (I own the house), splits expenses like groceries and utilities, and pitches in to buy the kids new shoes and clothes, etc. She probably pays more than her “fair share,” but seems happy to do so. After my divorce in 2015, the kids’ mom moved across the country and has never paid child support. I am not interested in forcing money from my ex, and the question is moot now that the kids are all over 18. Nevertheless, I built up about $20,000 in debt in the transition, which I paid off in June. I am now trying to rebuild my savings.

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The issue is my 22-year-old daughter, “Carly.” Carly frequently complains about paying to replace a tire or not being able to afford the gym, and eventually those complaints turn into an ask for financial support. I can see her bank accounts, and between checking and savings, she has over $13,000—10 times what I have on a good week. Her grandparents bought her a car and cover her college costs, including books; I cover her phone, car insurance, medical bills and insurance, and pay for her meals whenever we are together. (My parents and I cover the same exact expenses for all three of my kids.) Carly is responsible for a small portion of rent that she splits with her boyfriend and their roommate, as well as their gas and groceries.

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Since May, Carly has been working at an internship part-time that pays $25 an hour and has already earned her a guaranteed job offer upon completion of her degree. Her entry-level pay is expected to be on par with my current pay, and I couldn’t be prouder. Carly’s siblings have told me that Carly won’t take my financial advice because I’m “bad with money.” I imagine that’s the reason she gets heated with me every time I ask questions to determine how best to support her, whether that is by helping with expenses or identifying ways to save/spend differently. The truth is, I’m feeling less comfortable supporting Carly with expenses when she appears in every aspect to be more able to afford it currently than I am. I was particularly confused when exactly one day after I agreed to pay for her monthly gym membership, she bought a brand-new iPad for her art hobby (she has a laptop for schoolwork, that I purchased).

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I am wondering how best to broach with Carly that I am not her ATM; she has a more flexible cash flow than I do; and if she doesn’t want my financial advice, I don’t feel obligated to serve as her cushion. I will always step in to support Carly in cases of emergency, but this really seems to be a case of not wanting to pay for certain things, cloaked as not being able to. I am starting to feel the strain. It certainly didn’t help when I asked Carly what she might like as a graduation gift and she said she wanted help with a down payment for a house. Somehow, she seems to believe I’m bad with money and flush with cash all at once!

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—Destined to Be Dad Bank

Dear Destined to Be Dad Bank,

I have to confess, I don’t understand why you’re giving Carly money at all, except for insurance, which she likely can’t get on her own. Her college costs and essentials are paid for, and she has an internship with an hourly pay rate that many full-time experienced adults would be happy to have.

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Your daughter has an inflated sense of entitlement and the only person who can deflate it is you. At 22, she’s not a child. Many people her age have been supporting themselves since they were 18, and while it’s not unreasonable for a college student to get some financial support from parents while they can’t work full time, it seems like the things your daughter would need in that vein (tuition money, money for books, phone, insurance) are already provided. A gym membership is not a necessity. At this point, you’re not serving as a cushion; you’re providing her with extra amenities.

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So you need to set some boundaries with her. A down payment for a house is a mind-bogglingly over-the-top graduation gift request, and if she honestly doesn’t understand that, especially given your financial situation and what she’s getting from you already, you need to explain it to her. Right now the only way in which you’re being “bad with money” is that you’re giving it to your daughter when she doesn’t, strictly speaking, need it. So the next time she accuses you of that, I’d suggest you agree, and tell her you plan to remedy it by declining to write any more unnecessary checks for non-emergency expenses. She sounds capable, and she’s en route to a well-paying career. She may not like your decision, but she will be fine in terms of having what she needs.

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And while you’re at it, you should also probably tell her she owes a thank you to your fiancée, who (it sounds like) has subsidized some things as well, which is incredibly generous considering your children are essentially adults. You also seem like a generous person, and that’s a wonderful thing. But your daughter shouldn’t be taking advantage of it, and it seems that she is.

Dear Pay Dirt,

Recently, I went back to my childhood home to visit my parents. They are in their 70s and living in one of the highest-taxed states. My father designed and built their beautiful home, but after 40 years with no remodels and my mother not being a very clean person, it is falling apart: The kitchen floors and hardwood are coming up, the cabinets are collapsing, the water pressure is nonexistent, and the deck is starting to separate from the house. My father cannot make the repairs anymore and has wanted to leave the state. He is tired of paying high taxes for a school district we no longer use. They live on the East Coast on the border of the state, so they can move 20 minutes away and make their retirement much nicer by not pinching pennies to pay taxes. My mother refuses. She screams at me, says I am making things worse for her and my father, and claims I am selfish.

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I am completely terrified she will stay in the house forever. My father will not leave her, as my parents are very die-hard Catholics and divorce or separation is a no. This has caused me to be angry with my mother, to the point where I barely speak to her. I feel like she does not care about the financial stress of high taxes on my father, about the fact that it is hard for him to get around, or about the reality that my sibling and I will be left with a devaluating asset. I wanted her to sell while the market is hot and people would be willing to overlook the massive amount of money they will need to put in to the home to make it nice again, but my mother just yells at me. I am especially distraught because if it keeps going like this, by the time my mother passes, I will probably have to condemn the house and have it torn down, therefore destroying something my father worked so hard for. I have tried so many times to bring it up calmly with my mother, but there is no way for her to be civil about it. I have mentioned the fact that my sibling wants children and it might be nice to have some money left to give to their future grandchild, just like my grandmother did, which allowed me and my sibling to go to college without loans. She does not care.

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My mother suggests I move back home and help with the repairs, since I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity for many years. However, after years of my mother’s selfish behavior, and tons of therapy bills to help me be a functioning adult after living under her narcissism for many years, I cannot uproot my life just to keep my eye on things and preserve my father’s hard work. My mother says I am a selfish person because of this, but really, I think she is being selfish. How do I help my mother see a different perspective, and realize she is making the entire family miserable with her “my way or no way” attitude about this?

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—Mommy Dearest

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Dear Mommy Dearest,

Presumably your father has some say in this, too. What does he want to do? You say he wants to leave the state, but you also say your mother claims you’re making things worse for them both. If your father indeed agrees with you, then you both need to be doing the persuading here. If he doesn’t, or he’s ambivalent, I think you need to recognize this is more about your needs and wants than theirs. (You need to also be sensitive to a scenario where he might agree with you that moving might make more sense, but doesn’t personally want to do that.)

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Another thing: You seem very concerned about preserving your father’s hard work, but also state that whoever buys the house will need to put a massive amount of money into the home to make it viable for living. It’s unlikely a new owner would care about preserving what your father did, while doing all these renovations. And it doesn’t really make sense to say that you care about preservation when you prefer to sell. If your dad wants to leave the state anyway, as you suggest, it seems as if he doesn’t care much about preserving it, either.

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Your concerns that the house might be worth less, or have to be torn down, by the time your parents are gone are reasonable, but if that’s the issue, you shouldn’t tell yourself or your parents that this is really about maintaining your dad’s hard work. And it’s not unreasonable for your mother to want to stay in the house she’s lived in for 40 years—it’s the only place she’s known as home for four decades.

So if you’re sure your dad agrees with you, then I think it’s worth continuing to try to persuade her, but it sounds like he’s not lobbying her to leave; you are. And if you really do care about preserving your father’s work, and protecting an asset you stand to inherit, there’s also a third way: subsidize the repairs yourself, and consider it in an investment.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

I’m a product manager and business analyst at a large company, making decent money. I had a baby a year ago and am currently pregnant with my second. While I don’t love my current job, I do want to keep working, but the realities of working 40 hours a week and missing the most crucial and fleeting moments of my children’s lives is crushing me. For office drones like me, are there any alternatives to the 40-hour workweek? It feels like the vast majority of part-time work is either in childcare or retail, and both are woefully underpaid and often without benefits like health care (to be clear, I think that both should be paid a lot more and have benefits). Are there careers where I can use the skills I’ve built up that pay similar hourly rates to full-time office work and have benefits, but don’t require 40 (which is always closer to 60) hours a week?

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—Work-less Mom

Dear Work-less Mom,

There are definitely part-time jobs out there that utilize your skill set. Large companies are often looking for people to do project management work or analysis on a temporary basis, for the duration of a project, or to back up existing teams that get overextended. The downside is that the work can be a little unpredictable and, as a result, so can your income.

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But if you’re interested in taking that route, you may want to begin by talking to recruiters who specialize in your field. They can give you a better sense of what the market looks like for what you do, and, depending on the industry, may have clients who are asking them to help find part-time specialists. In some industries, there are even agencies that represent specialists and consultants and help them find work, for a cut of their fees.

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The pandemic has underscored the need for flexible work arrangements at a lot of large companies, and your situation isn’t uncommon. And remote work is here to stay, to some extent. Both of those factors mean part time arrangements are becoming more ubiquitous. So I certainly wouldn’t assume your only alternatives are part-time jobs in entirely different fields.

Dear Pay Dirt,

I work at a bank in document control. We sort and review and make sure all the back-end paperwork that says to move money from point A to point B actually happens. Towards the beginning of the year, we hired several new people. I don’t manage anyone, but being one of the more experienced processors, I was tasked with training and mentoring a few of the new hires. Enter “Brad,” one of the new guys. Brad is quite frankly amazing at his work. In a department of 40 people, he’s the top daily processor about one in four days, and he’s always in the top three.

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He’s also cold and standoffish. The workplace culture is fairly casual and friendly. Brad never starts a conversation, and getting him to participate in anything that isn’t directly related to bank business is like pulling teeth. Because appraising him is part of my job, I eventually cornered him at lunch and flat-out told him that I needed to have more of a personal sense of him to finish my evaluations. That wasn’t strictly true, but again, casting it in a business light is the only way to get him to say more than 10 words at a time. He told me that while everyone has been friendly, pleasant, and helpful, there are too many “horror stories” about how innocuous remarks get taken out of context, and that people might deliberately take offense. He said it simply wasn’t worth the risk of socializing with anyone, or acting in anything but the most unbendingly professional fashion at all times, and that people like him needed to keep their heads down.

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I’ve been in this industry for close to 15 years, and I’ve never seen anything like that. The people who get sacked or pilloried are all creeps who did abuse people, and it often took years for it to be noticed. I simply do not and cannot believe that anyone, let alone someone as clearly sharp as Brad, would believe nonsense like that. It’s making me think there is something wrong with him, and that maybe he was fired from a previous job for something along the lines of racial/sexual harassment. But I have no proof and no real official means to start digging. Should I mention my concerns about this guy to HR? The whole conversation gave off a seriously creepy vibe.

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—When There’s Smoke, There’s Fire

Dear When There’s Smoke, There’s Fire,

I think you may be assuming too much about your co-worker. People opt out of socializing with co-workers for all kinds of reasons, and sometimes it just boils down to wanting boundaries between work and their personal lives. It can also be a function of social anxiety or introversion. Unless Brad is doing something to antagonize his coworkers or being unprofessional, it sounds like he’s doing his job—and quite well.

It’s also possible that Brad is neurodivergent in some way, and his “horror stories” remark may be a function of anxieties he may have about that. Or it could be that he’s had a traumatic experience at another company that wasn’t his fault. It’s also possible that he just doesn’t like his coworkers very much, but likes the job. There are a lot of potential explanations for why he’s not socializing with his colleagues the way you think he should.

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But unless that kind of thing is part of his job—and perhaps in a sales or client-facing job, it might be—consider that you’re just evaluating Brad’s personality and trying to mold him into a person he’s not. That said, if you’re supposed to be mentoring him, it probably behooves you to better understand why he feels the way he does and it’s probably worth having some more conversations with him to explore it further. In a mentor role, it’s your job, at least informally, to help him learn how to do his job better. That may mean figuring out why he’s so uncomfortable socially, if you think his failure to participate is going to hurt his career.

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But I don’t think it’s appropriate to go to HR and express your concerns, because your concerns essentially boil down to the fact that you find Brad a little weird. And weirdness is not exactly a fire-able offense. You admit that he’s performing well, and his work is impressive. He shouldn’t be penalized because he’s not enthusiastic about socializing at work.

That said, if you notice that Brad is making his coworkers uncomfortable by acting inappropriately, that’s a different story. Then, by all means, talk to HR. But in the absence of that, just accept that Brad is not the guy you’re gonna grab a happy hour beer with, and stop expecting him to turn into that guy.

More Advice from Slate

My husband has three brothers. We rarely see his brothers because they all live far away. This Christmas, one of them is flying in from out of the country, and my husband now wants to invite the other two as well. The problem is that over the years, the oldest brother has had a number of incidents involving verbal abuse with family members, including one with me in which he threatened me with physical violence. The most concerning of his issues has been several accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior toward girls in their early teens. How can I convince my husband to agree that this brother should not visit our house?

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