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 have been arguing about housework (shocker). He and I both have decent jobs that allow us plenty of at-home time. We also have two kids who are old enough to help out around the house. The problem is that I’m the only one doing any cleaning. He will not do laundry, dishes, or anything. Once a week he takes all the garbage out to the curb, and each night after dinner he carries his plate (and only his) to the sink. That’s it.
The kids have been watching him and learning. When I ask them to help, they complain and say “dad doesn’t have to.” My husband’s position is that he works hard, we earn enough money, and he does not want to spend his free time doing housework. Ever. Period. He says that I should hire somebody to do his share of the housework. I think this is a waste. It’s expensive in our area and we have four able-bodied people at home with plenty of leisure time on their hands. Plus, even if we did hire a cleaning service they are not here 24/7 to pick up socks, load the dishes into the dishwasher, or fold a basket of laundry on a Tuesday night. The kicker is that my husband feels that if I want help, it is my job to find and hire somebody, and he has made it clear that I am the one who will be paying them because household expenses are my responsibility (he pays for bills and rent, and I take care of an ever-expanding and ever-costlier list of “everything else”).
I do understand his point, to some extent. Plenty of people hire cleaners so they can enjoy the things they like to do on weekends. But I’m tired of being alone in this for the day-to-day, and I feel like hiring somebody just puts the seal of approval on his attitude. Having the pleasure of paying for it myself just makes it that much more galling. I’m also worried about the example it sets for our kids. Do I hire a cleaner and suck it up, or is this a good hill to die on? Please don’t tell me to sit down and have a discussion with him. We’ve been going around and around about this for 15 years and no, he will not compromise.
—Paying for Peace (And a Cleaner House)
Dear Paying for Peace,
If you have the money to do so and your husband hates cleaning, you will both be happier if you get some household help. I would say the same thing if you hated cleaning and your husband didn’t (and in fact have, in this column). However, I think if you’re hiring someone specifically to do his share of the housework, he should pay for it, not you. You’re not more responsible for keeping the house clean than he is. It’s reasonable for him to want to hire someone—if it’s not a financial burden—because he wants to preserve the time he’d otherwise spend cleaning. But he needs to contribute to keeping the house clean somehow.
This is partly because your conflict is not really about the cleaning itself, or you’d just pick a plan that gets it done one way or another and it wouldn’t really matter who was doing the tidying. It’s about your husband refusing to acknowledge that the responsibility for cleaning your home is his, too. It doesn’t mean he has to do it himself, personally, but he needs to contribute or it absolutely puts the burden entirely on you. And if he’s just assuming that you will fix this on your own, then maybe you need to go on a cleaning strike for a bit so he fully understands how much you’re doing. No one will die if the house is dirty for a week.
As for the kids, assign them chores, and when they complain that “dad doesn’t have to,” note that dad pays the rent. Mention that if they would like to get after-school jobs to help pay the rent rather than doing chores, they are welcome to do so. Or they can pay for a house cleaning service! I am convinced, however, that no kid in the history of the world has ever voluntarily put dirty laundry in the clothes hamper, so if your expectation is that seeing dad clean would be enough to make them not behave like kids, I think you need to lower your expectations. If your kids are much older, you might get them to help more out of a sense of duty, but for the most part, getting kids to do things they actively don’t want to do is a matter of giving them rewards and consequences. In their case, I would try not to take their failure to clean personally because it’s not a reflection of how they feel about your or their family obligations.
But seriously, hire a cleaner. (And have your husband pay for it.)
Dear Pay Dirt,
I am set to get married next May which is so exciting! My parents are much more well-off than my soon-to-be husband’s family and we always just assumed that my parents would pay for it because that’s what they explicitly said. My parents are so excited about the wedding and started mentioning things (i.e., a fancy car to drive us away post ceremony) for the wedding that are a lot more needlessly extravagant than I had in mind. It’s no secret that weddings are expensive but now my family is passive-aggressively sending me emails from the Knot detailing who between the groom and bride’s family should be paying for what. This stresses me out to no end because it is a complete switch from what my dad had told me and my future husband. I simply can’t ask his family to pitch in the same as my family because they don’t have the money. I feel like these money issues that I’m being asked to navigate are taking all the joy out of any wedding planning. Is there any polite way to tell my parents to ease up on the stress and back off my case a bit?
— Can’t Take the Stress
Dear Can’t Take the Stress,
You have to be very direct with your parents. Tell them you’re excited about the wedding and appreciate their enthusiasm, but that your fiancé’s family is in no position to pay for a lot of the things they’re suggesting. Let them know you were under the impression they would pay because they explicitly told you that. They’re not obligated to pay, of course, but they cannot expect your fiancé’s family to spend copious amounts on extravagant items when they don’t have the money, or when spending would create undue pressure for them financially.
If your soon-to-be husband’s family is paying for any of the wedding, you should also just ask him directly what they’re planning to contribute. Use that number to figure out an overall budget with your parents’ expected contributions and then make decisions based on what you can afford that stays under that number. It does not matter what the Knot says about etiquette (no offense, the Knot), you need to plan a wedding that you can afford and the expense should not be stressing anyone out. If it is, you’re spending too much money.
I’m sure other people will tell you this, but there are many details that people spend a lot of money on and then barely remember later. The highlight of the day will not be the car you drive away in. Think about what details are likely to matter to you—maybe it’s the food, the music, your dress—and prioritize them.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I’m a 70-something mother of two adult sons and an adult daughter and I have health issues. My will was set it up with each of my three kids getting one-third. Over time I began to question leaving anything to my two sons who live far away NEVER call to see how I am, which hurts me.
Recently, my grandson (16) made a perfectly rational decision that disagreed with his father, my eldest son. My son then told his son he could not live with him anymore causing this child to have to leave school and all his friends in his senior year to move five hours away to live with his mother. My grandson went from being a happy kid and gifted student to being an academically troubled, depressed young man. I let my son know I disagreed with his decision and he stopped talking to me. Ignored all means of communication. Would I be right or wrong to cut him out of my will and give his share to his son instead?
—Cut It Out
Dear Cut It Out,
I generally think it’s manipulative to use an inheritance to try to change your children’s behavior or retaliate for behavior you don’t like. They are still your children, and you’re opting to hurt them when you’re not around to deal with the consequences, which forces other people in their lives to pick up the pieces.
That said, I understand your frustration. I also need to point out that the phone works both ways. Do you call your children to see how they are?
If you want to support your grandson via your will, that seems reasonable, but know that supporting him at the expense of his dad could potentially ensure that their relationship never gets repaired and I doubt that’s what you want. You could also support your grandson now when it sounds like he needs it.
As for your son, he may come around. I would leave the door open to that possibility. It is, of course, your money, and you have every right to leave it to whoever you want, however you want. But I think it’s a bad idea to use your will to settle scores. It won’t make you feel better, and it could end up unintentionally hurting your grandson, too.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My husband has zero financial accountability whatsoever and it’s driving us apart, what do I do? For a little context, my husband is 30 and we both make around $40,000 a year. We live well enough and have what we need for the most part, but this doesn’t come without sacrifices or really tight times money-wise. But he’s constantly using his credit cards (he has three small ones) to maintain a lifestyle we just can’t afford. I’ve mentioned this to him countless times and he downright denies it, stating he’s only used them in times when absolutely needed, etc., and hasn’t been able to pay them off.
We are financially separate, minus a joint account for our common bills, but his spending affects me still because whenever we have nights out or some sort of recreational expense, it usually comes from my pocket. How can I, for lack of a better word, force him to be more financially mature?
—Hubby Needs Accountability
Dear Hubby Needs Accountability,
There are ways to achieve accountability without policing each other’s spending, which is a recipe for conflict. One is that you can establish a budget for yourself and tell him what it is. When you have a recreational expense, he should know that you are staying under budget, and you should split the costs. If he cannot pay for half, then tell him you’ll have to have fewer nights out. If you’ve been paying for all of the extras, he likely thinks you’re OK with the disparity on some fundamental level, even if you’ve been telling him otherwise. Set an expectation that you’re not going to pick up the tab all by yourself anymore. Things like nights out need to be a joint expense. You can use Venmo or a similar app to split bills.
He’ll have to make some decisions without you subsidizing the extras, and that should force some fiscal discipline if he values your recreational time.
About five years ago, a dear friend of ours announced that he was tired of the 9-to-5 and opened a bar after doing some fundraising among friends and family. The bar was a lot of fun, and great for local musicians, but a total financial disaster, mostly because my friend has no head for business. After a few years of running on fumes, he ran out of money and had to close down last fall. His friends and family were all relieved. The stress of running that bar nearly killed him, and he became a very mean person with a short temper. All seemed well until recently, when some of his musician buddies convinced him that after the pandemic subsides, he could resurrect the bar by starting a GoFundMe or similar crowdsourcing app.