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 am 22 and live with my disabled fiancé (who cannot work) and support him with the help of my wealthy parents who send us $750 a month to put toward our living expenses. I recently got a new job and went from making $25,000 to $45,000, which means I’m suddenly able to cover our bills without help.
Here’s my question: What are the ethics around continuing to accept this monthly allowance? My fiancé is concerned about our long-term stability without it (given his unpredictable medical expenses) and it’s a trivial expense for my parents. So, he thinks we shouldn’t bring up our changed financial situation for at least a few months so we can build up a savings buffer. I feel gross about accepting money under false pretenses (that we’re broke). What do you think?
—Probably Financially Independent At Last
Dear Probably Financially Independent At Last,
I think it’s unethical to intimate to your parents that you’re broke if you’re not, but not unethical to accept their money if they still want to help after knowing about your raise. It’s reasonable to want to build up savings in case of an emergency and your parents probably would not mind helping you achieve some stability on that front if what they’re giving you right now is trivial for them. But you should talk to them about it. A $20,000 raise is a big deal, but a $45,000 salary could end up being inadequate if some unexpected expenses come up.
I’m not sure if your fiancé qualifies for disability benefits or programs but if so, he may have access to free or low-cost services that help with financial planning when work is not a possibility. If you’re getting married, you need a long-term plan anyway that accounts for you as the sole breadwinner (assuming your fiancé anticipates that he will not be able to enter the workforce at any point). But none of these things necessitate lying to your parents, and doing so would burden you with guilt and potentially erode trust between you if they were to find out. You can probably allay some of your fiancé’s anxiety about expenses by going through the financial planning process with a professional so you’re both clear about what needs to be done and what options are available to you.
Then when you’re ready to let go, you can tell your parents you’re grateful for their help, but you don’t need it anymore.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My husband and I are moving into my family’s home next year. My mom died of COVID in February and I am being added on to the deed. Grandma is irritated because she’s the life tenant and doesn’t seem to appreciate the fact that I will have a say in things. However, this is my dad’s wish and I’m backing him on it. I decided that if I own a home, we may as well live in it. Husband backs me fully, which means the world.
This wasn’t entirely expected but with the combination of rising rents and not having a chance in this market, it made sense. It’s also going to help me be closer to my dad, grandma, and brother as I step up to some of the roles that mom used to fill. Most people our age, if they’re lucky to buy a house, might throw a housewarming party or take a picture with a sign celebrating this milestone. At first, I didn’t want to do any of that because it felt like I was dancing on my mother’s grave. Now, I’ve come to understand that this is her gift and she would be happy to have her future grandchildren raised in the family home. Would it be wrong or weird if I did end up doing something to mark this milestone? In the end, my husband and I have wanted to be homeowners for quite a while and here it is. It may not have been the way we planned it, and I trade this house for my mom in an instant. Suggestions on how to honor her?
Dear New Homeowners,
There’s nothing wrong with being happy that you own a home. My suggestion is that you find a way to memorialize it quietly with your husband and friends for now. Other people in the household (your dad and grandmother) may still be grieving your mother’s death—much like you are—but might not be ready to move on in a way that a big celebration would force them to. You want to allow your loved ones to be able to process your mother’s death at their own pace.
Also: You have a house now! There will be plenty of opportunities for big celebrations in the future and you could always tie a housewarming to something like a renovation if an event is important for you to feel like a real homeowner.
The best way you can honor your mom is by respecting the way you imagine she wanted you all to live in the house after she was gone, which probably includes integrating yourself into the household in a way that doesn’t disrupt your family or create unnecessary conflict, and opens up the potential for happy memories for all of you. At some point, you may be in her position and thinking about how to leave the house for your own children, and how you would like them, as adults, to behave in a similar situation.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I am a bartender. My hourly pay is almost twice the federal minimum wage. My co-workers make a few dollars less per hour than I do. We tip pool. My boss, who I once considered a close friend and who helped me tremendously during a very difficult period of my life (before I worked for her), is always on hand but is mostly there to cook and observe. She also takes a cut of the tips. Recently one of my co-workers quit his day job, and moved onto the property, to bartend full time. He took a considerable pay cut when he moved here. She promised him 40 hours a week. I have no issues with this, he’s a great teammate and pulls his weight.
My problem is that he often works a few hours in the morning and occasionally pops back in at closing time to help with end-of-shift work. Our boss decides how the tip pool is split every night and will usually give him, and herself, an equal share of the days taken. I do not mind giving everyone their cut, however, he ends up with tips earned during the eight or nine hours he wasn’t present. He does a great job and is a welcome addition to our tiny crew but I feel like I am subsidizing his wage. I have never once had a shift where the total tips were less than 20 percent of the day’s total sales but I usually end up taking home half or a third of those tips. I have no idea how to broach this with my boss or my coworker. She is very defensive and micromanages everything already. Any help?
—Burned Out on Tipping
Dear Burned Out,
First, I’m not sure what your boss’s actual role or title is, but she and you should be aware that federal law prohibits managers, owners, and supervisors from taking a cut of a tip pool. If she truly is the manager of the bar, she shouldn’t be taking a cut, and doing so is considered wage theft.
If this is not the case, somehow, I think asking management (which would not be her, in this case) to consider alternatives to pooled tipping is a reasonable conversation to have, and there are ways to broach it that won’t put people on the defensive. Start by acknowledging that you appreciate your co-workers and want everyone to be compensated fairly and well. You may want to frame this as an issue of revisiting the tip pool system generally, and note that you’re taking home less despite serving more customers because it works out that way structurally—it’s no one’s fault—and you’d like them to consider coming up with something that doesn’t shortchange you.
But it sounds to me like you’re not subsidizing your co-worker’s wages so much as you’re subsidizing your boss’s.
Dear Pay Dirt,
Five years ago, I bought a duplex and rented out the smaller unit to a work colleague “Anne.”
Anne is a friend. When she got the cancer diagnosis, I reduced her rent which covers the bills and property taxes and I often drive her to her treatments. In the current market, the unit could get triple what Anne pays. I am engaged and looking to relocate out of the country.
My company will let me transfer, but I am terrified for Anne. I can sell the duplex easily enough but not with Anne there. And definitely not at her current rate. I love Anne. I have known her for over a decade, but I can’t deal with being a landlord while overseas. Anne puts on a brave face, but I can hear her crying through the walls when she puts her kids on speaker. Anne has no savings because of them. I love her to death but her kids are leeches. Anne can bail them out of jail but they aren’t going to help house her now. My fiancé tells me to just cut Anne a check, but what I can afford will cover six months in a shoebox studio apartment for her. I am stuck.
—At a Cross Roads
Dear At a Cross Roads,
I think you’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty with regard to helping Anne, but I also understand why you’re worried about her and don’t want to leave her alone. You are under no obligation to do this, but I think helping her find another place and covering the cost for a while is very generous, and if it makes you feel that she’s more secure, it may be worth the money for peace of mind.
However, it sounds like Anne’s larger problem is that she doesn’t have enough of a support system outside of you. I don’t know what your timeline is for moving, but while you’re still in town, you can help her connect with support groups and other cancer patients who are going through a similar situation. I assume she has also some friends who are not you, and it might make sense to bring them into the conversation, too. Anne would need this support anyway, even if you were staying, because you might not always be in a position to help. (Or, to put it bluntly, you could get hit by a bus. Then what would Anne do?)
At any rate, you can’t be Anne’s only source of support, and it would be good for both of you to talk through options that are not dependent on you being her sole aid or her kids suddenly becoming people they’re not.
Recently, a local center focused on LGBT issues posted my dream job. I was not able to apply due to timing. My partner applied and got the job. I know she’ll be incredible at it. But I feel very envious knowing that my dream job exists and I missed out. I know this isn’t my partner’s problem and feel awful that my envy affects her.