Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
I’m feeling like I have lost all respect for my husband since the pandemic sent him working remotely from home. He is a creative professional and I have discovered that it means he works a total of two hours a day and feels he can meander through the home for the rest of the time.
I have two small children (ages 2 and 5) and I am worried that they see him doing such little work through the day—he often is lounging and sleeping at moments when I am toiling and I never seem to get time to even sit through the day. I’m worried that my children are forming unhealthy ideas of what it means to work (and how gender is involved) and my husband refuses to follow our household routines and is not able to help with the kids functionally. We have had advice from professionals for my husband to make at least 15 minutes a day for each child’s “special time” to help improve his relationship with them, but that doesn’t seem to be something he is willing to accomplish.
—Stay-at-Home Mom Taking Care of Everyone at Home
Dear Stay-at-Home Mom,
I think it matters less that your husband doesn’t work that much (as long as you’re financially OK) than that he doesn’t do anything else to help and isn’t making time for the kids. Your kids will have plenty of models for what work looks like as they get older. The gendered division of labor is more of a problem.
You mention that you’re getting advice from professionals; I’m not sure if you mean a marriage counselor, but if not, this is the sort of thing that counseling can help with. Your husband needs to understand that his behavior is affecting your marriage and making you feel like you’re the only adult in the house. That could escalate into feelings of contempt, which are dangerous for any relationship. A counselor can help him understand what the stakes are for you, especially if you’ve been telling him and he’s not listening.
He may be accustomed to doing whatever he wants during the workday because that was what he was doing before the pandemic. I doubt getting him to change his behavior would happen overnight, but it sounds like he doesn’t understand the seriousness of the problem or how it’s affecting your feelings toward him. I think you need to be as direct as possible about how it affects you and tell him you need more participation from him with domestic duties and your children.
Dear Pay Dirt,
How do you decide which charity/cause/person to donate to? I feel as if I’m constantly bombarded by requests for help from organizations, individuals, etc. I get so overwhelmed that I end up not donating anything at all. I don’t make a lot of money but I do have savings. The world and country are so terrible now that I wonder if it is ethical to hold on to them when so many are suffering, homeless, sick, and starving to death. I also have a progressive disease that will require me to get more care when I’m older, so need to take that into account.
In my local social media feeds people are asking for money for rent, bills, and food. When I drive anywhere people at intersections want money for their kids. Ukraine needs money, Somalia is having a huge famine that nobody seems to be talking about, and we need to fight against the people who repealed Roe and get people to places where they can have safe abortions.
What good does my $100-200 even do? Should I spread it out, give once a year, give whenever I feel like it? I am not an extravagant person so I can’t cut out a coffee and donate the savings when I don’t buy it anyway, and my disease prevents me from volunteering or showing up at protests much.
—The Entire World Is Having a Rainy Day
Dear Rainy Day,
I think you’re putting too much pressure on yourself to help everyone. First of all, you definitely need to have a considerable amount of savings for emergencies and funds to account for retirement/health care.
Your $100 can do a lot of good, but there are other ways to help, too. Not all volunteering requires in-person participation. A lot of organizations recruit volunteers to do remote work—letter writing, Zoom interviews, etc.
It sounds like your biggest challenge is figuring out where to put your time and money. If it’s overwhelming you, it helps to narrow your focus. There are several ways you can do this. One is to pick one or two issues you care about and commit to working primarily on those. You know you can’t solve all of the world’s problems, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference at all. Going deep into an issue you care about is a way to connect with the people you’re serving and often a more meaningful experience than just writing a check.
Another is to plan out your volunteer work for the year. From there you can sequence issues and problems you’d like to work on. Maybe you spend the first half of the year working on reproductive rights and the other half helping the unhoused. That would allow you to work on a variety of things, without becoming overwhelmed. Anything you choose to do will be helpful to someone, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do everything.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My husband and I come from different financial circumstances and are stuck over how to write our wills. I am fortunate to have inherited some family money. My father worked very hard and will leave more to me. With careful management, I will have more than I ever need.
My husband comes from a very different background. Everything that he has, he earned himself. He has a cushion, but not a large one. Most of his assets are tied up in his business. He also has an IRA. My husband has two grown children whom he still helps out. We also have a child between us.
The issue is my father’s perspective. (And yes, I should tell him to butt out, and I’m having trouble doing that.) My father strongly wants to keep the money he earned in the family. He does not want me to leave anything to my stepkids, and to leave all my money to my kid. I respect his wishes, but this puts my husband in a tough position.
My husband needs to take care of his kids. If I am leaving them nothing, he feels that there is not enough to spare on his side of things to leave our joint child anything. But he also doesn’t want our kid to feel rejected or unloved. So that’s where we are. We need to write our wills and can’t get over this hump. I would really welcome any advice.
—I Wish There Was an Easy Solution
Dear Easy Solution,
You already know the answer to this question because you alluded to it: You need to tell your father to butt out. He doesn’t have a relationship with your stepkids, but you do, and you and your husband should find an arrangement that reflects your relationships with all of your children. He needs to accept that your husband and stepkids are your family even if he doesn’t feel the same way. You, ultimately, don’t have to share the details of what you decide with him, too.
That said, if you choose not to leave your stepkids anything but your joint child is taken care of, I don’t think your child will feel rejected or unloved if your husband doesn’t also leave them something. The financial situation is easy enough to explain, and it sounds as if what your joint child would inherit would be significantly more than what your stepkids are getting, so I can’t imagine your child would be resentful.
Whether your kid feels love is not a matter of what they inherit; it’s a matter of what they experience every day from both of you. But again, if you’re in agreement that you want all three children to benefit equitably in the long run, you should be able to both leave them all something. Explain to your father that these relationships are important to you and you should be the one to decide how to account for that in your will.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My sister-in-law is going through a breakup and wants to borrow money from my wife and I. She and her ex-fiancée own a house together and have both their names on the title and mortgage. The plan, as I understand it, is for her to pay her ex $10,000 and in return her ex will remove their name from the title but keep it on the mortgage. This way my sister-in-law will not have to refinance which could prove problematic (and rates have risen significantly since they locked in the current mortgage).
I want to help my sister-in-law, but I have some questions and concerns. First, we “loaned” her $5,000, interest-free, about 12 years ago to help bridge her on a cross-country move. After making the first few payments she stopped because she was in the throes of a divorce. I internally reframed that money as a gift and said goodbye to it. Second, she claims that when she sells the engagement rings she got back from her ex she should have nearly enough to pay us back. If that’s the case then why can’t she simply sell them to pay for this? Third, why come to us and not her parents (their dad is very good with money and they are securely retired) or a bank?
My wife and I are fortunate to be in good financial shape, but much of our assets are in investments that have lost significant value in the last months. Is this the best way to help my sister-in-law? If we do this should I just call it a gift, at least in my own mind? If we do a loan then how should we structure it and what conditions should we require, if any? How do I approach these conversations with her in a productive way?
—Family Financial Boundaries are Hard
Dear Family Financial Boundaries,
I think it’s wise to always view loans to friends and family as potential gifts because, as you’ve already learned, they often end up that way. So, your real dilemma is whether you want to gift your sister-in-law $10,000, especially since she’s already demonstrated that she feels comfortable not repaying her debt (which may be why she’s coming to you and not her father). You could loan her the money and formalize the structure, but you should think about what you are going to do if she doesn’t pay you back. Would you be willing to sue her if she defaults? It’s important to think about the worst-case scenario.
If you do choose to make a loan—even at zero interest—formalizing it is a good idea because you can set up a payment system ahead of time. Sometimes just being on a schedule makes people more accountable, and a signed promissory note is something you can remind her of if she starts missing payments. It’s evidence that she intended to pay you back and understands that the loan is not a gift.
That said, it seems suspicious that she hasn’t already tried to sell her rings if she thinks they would largely cover the cost. At the very least, you should require her to do that before you give her any of your own money. Then, if you choose to help on top of that, the size of your “gift” would be substantially smaller. If she’s resistant to doing it, that’s a big red flag and would give me pause. Good luck.
More Advice From Slate
The other day my new male roommate left a pair of his underwear on the bathroom floor. I’m also a guy. I have no idea why I did it, but I picked them up and smelled them. Then, I think I took it too far… I’m horrified with myself.