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 husband and I both have full-time jobs. He has an “important” job and tends to work 60-plus-hour weeks and travel at least twice a month. My 9-to-5 job is often interrupted or truncated by family needs—think doing school drop-off while my husband is traveling, responding to school nurse phone calls, bringing kids to doctor appointments, planning social calendars, and coordinating/delivering kids to all of their activities. I also, like most women, do the majority of the housework. I’m making dinner while eating my lunch, folding laundry during meetings, and grabbing activity slots while working. My work is getting a raw deal, as I’m skimping on hours that I have to document. (My husband says that I shouldn’t be so uptight about working my stated hours.) Traveling for my job is a whole other thing, which usually involves asking my out-of-town parents to come and watch the kids.
I think all of this is bad for the family. My kids only get home around 6 every day, and they’re only 5 and 7! They have nightly tantrums, wet the bed, and have little time to just “play” at home. I think everyone’s quality of life would significantly improve if I just quit my job, but my spouse does not support this.
To be clear, we could easily survive on his paycheck; if we couldn’t, I would keep my job and just struggle through the thick of it all. But because we don’t need my income, this all seems like unnecessary torture. He also doesn’t seem to appreciate all the work parenting takes and thinks we can just pay someone else to do it, or that I can just do less. I feel like I’m doing the bare minimum—cavities don’t fill themselves, clothes don’t magically remove pee and mud, and someone needs to sign the reading logs after listening for 20 minutes.
I think I’m wearing too many hats and it’s obvious to me which one to take off. Help! Am I just looking for excuses to quit my job?
—Sure Feels Like It Would Solve Everything
Dear Sure Feels,
Your spouse shouldn’t be able to force you to continue to work if it’s not financially necessary and he’s not willing to pitch in with regard to child care and home maintenance. Why is he so insistent that you work? If it’s because he doesn’t want to be the sole breadwinner, then he needs to work with you to relieve some of this pressure, because under the current arrangement, it seems like you have two jobs and he has one.
To some extent, you can pay people to relieve some of the burden—especially with regard to things like house cleaning. But that’s not really the point. This should not be a unilateral decision your husband makes for you. You should decide together and come up with something that works for both of you. Most of the time, these arrangements are discussed before you have kids. But in this case, it may be that your feelings about it have changed.
You also need to ask yourself whether you’d be happy in your job if the pressure was reduced on the home front, and you and your husband were splitting responsibilities equally. If the answer is no, then it’s not just about your feeling that you’re overextended; you’d rather be a stay-at-home parent than work.
Keep in mind that there are in-between options, like working part time, and that might be a compromise that works for both of you. But fundamentally, you both need to be clear about why you feel the way you do. Why does your husband think you need to work full time? And why do you feel like the only solution is to quit? Because there are many other ways to split the difference. The fact that you have been approaching the question from such starkly opposing points of view leads me to wonder if there are deeper issues with your marriage that need to be aired out.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My mother passed away unexpectedly a few months ago, leaving behind my 84-year-old father. For pretty much their entire 60-year marriage, my mom made most of the money, paid all the bills, and made all the decisions related to mortgages, credit cards, retirement planning, budgeting, etc., while Dad had a monthly cash allowance. He has no idea how much money they have (not much) or how much they owe (a lot), he can’t navigate their bank accounts, and I’m not sure he even knows how to write a check.
With Mom gone, responsibilities for all of my dad’s finances has fallen on me. So I’ve been handling the bills, taxes, bank accounts, yard care service, and so on, while also dealing with all of the insurance issues and hospital bills related to Mom’s passing. To make things worse, I live halfway across the country, so I’m doing all of this remotely. I’ve had to make in-person visits that have cost thousands of dollars in travel expenses. Dad constantly calls me because something he doesn’t understand came in the mail, and he has recently taken to dumping all of his mail in a big envelope every week and sending it to me to sort out.
I already have my own finances to deal with, as well as a full-time job and family. Also, I’ve never had a great relationship with my dad, and am not really that interested in being his caretaker, but everyone in my family would consider me a heartless jerk if I left him to his own devices. I’ve raised the issue of some kind of assisted living situation, but he flatly refuses to even consider it and insists on staying in the house where he’s living.
My question is, is there someone who I could hire to take over all this stuff? Is there some kind of company that offers this type of service? What would I look for in hiring someone?
—I Need a Financial Doula
Dear I Need a Doula,
You don’t need to do all of this by yourself. There are professionals you can hire to help. There are elder law attorneys who can handle insurance issues and estate planning, and financial professionals who can handle your dad’s finances.
Specifically, you may want to hire a daily money manager for your father. They will take care of bills, budgeting, and general financial management. The American Association of Daily Money Managers has a membership list that might be a good starting place for you. As with any professional service provider, you want to look for relevant professional certification (AADMM offers professional accreditation for its members), experience, and positive references.
The issue of in-person caretaking is another one entirely. An assisted living facility is not going to manage his finances. I do think it’s important to get his finances straight now, because if he ends up needing full-time care, you want to be prepared for that and prepare him for the possibility. This includes setting clear expectations about what you personally can and can’t do.
Everything else can be outsourced to some extent, if you’re willing to pay for it. That should take a lot of the pressure off, if you find that you’re getting bogged down in the day-to-day complications of his finances.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I own a profitable business and have accumulated $5 million in cash and investments. I plan to retire early. My husband owns a company, but it’s not profitable. He contributes to our expenses, but not anywhere close to what I do, and his situation is unpredictable. My income has allowed him to pursue his dream business that hasn’t shown success. We have a large mortgage that needs paying down, which will play a role in my retirement. We’ve never shared a bank account, since we married when I was making peanuts and he had a cushy executive job. I’d guess he has at most 20 percent of what I have, and likely liabilities, given his business. That gap will continue to grow immensely.
His father will soon leave him a large sum of money. I’d guess about $1.5 million, but I’m in the dark. We live in California and are both acutely aware that means his inheritance is his (they just redid an ironclad trust to ensure this) and my money is ours.
How do I approach this? I feel completely unprotected and this feels unfair. It’s clear he’s all about protecting this money. No one knows what the future holds. Do I ask him to make it community property? Do I have any recourse?
—This Isn’t Right
Dear Not Right,
If you have separate accounts, I’m unclear about why your money is “ours.” Do you mean legally? Do you jointly own your business? Or do you just mean that your husband treats it as if it’s his, too?
If the latter, it’s up to you to set boundaries if that makes you uncomfortable. If he’s set to inherit a nice chunk of money, you’re not exactly leaving him high and dry, and you can continue your program of splitting expenses.
Another question is, who owns his business? You suggest that you’re subsidizing it, but does that mean you have equity? If not, and the business fails, I don’t think that presents liabilities for you if he owns it outright.
There’s also the question of who is paying the mortgage and who owns the house. I don’t know if you have children, but these new developments may mean you need to do some joint estate planning, so you know who owns what and where it goes once you’re gone. This might be an opportunity to get more transparency into the situation for you.
Regardless, you both need to decide whether your assets are really separate, both for the health of your relationship and for legal reasons. If your husband is insistent that his inheritance is his alone, I think you have the right to insist that your money is treated the same way.
Dear Pay Dirt,
In 2020, my 44-year-old son paid the down payment for a home he lives in. The loan is in my name. He was to make the mortgage payments. I had no reason at the time to believe there would be any problems with this.
Unfortunately, that arrangement lasted four months, and I’ve been making the mortgage payments since then. Obviously, since the loan is in my name, I will make the payments to avoid financial repercussions. He has had, and is having, personal issues, and when I bring up the mortgage and other bill payments, he becomes verbally abusive.
Still, I gave him several months’ notice that December 2021 will be the last mortgage payment I will make, and I let him know I have a real estate agent ready to put the house on the market in January if he doesn’t make that payment. I plan to return his down payment to him if there is money left after paying off the mortgage because it isn’t my plan to make his personal issues worse than they are. Do you think I’m doing the right thing?
You are going above and beyond “doing the right thing.” You were not obligated to help your son get the mortgage for the house, and even if he’s having personal issues, you don’t deserve abuse when you bring up the perfectly reasonable issue of payment. I don’t think you’re obligated to return his down payment, but if you think it will smooth the process of potentially having to sell the house, and reduce tension between you, it’s not unreasonable, either.
I think you’re being generous in this situation, and I’m sorry your son is struggling and taking it out on you. Ultimately, you’re responsible for the mortgage, though, and you are the one who can choose what to do going forward. I’m not sure you have much of a choice here, and you should sell—unless your intentions to help have escalated to intentions to buy your son a house.
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