Pay Dirt

I’m About to Become the Rich Friend Everyone Dreams About Having

Most of them have been poor their whole lives.

Man looking overjoyed with money floating around him.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus and Spoon Graphics.

Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Lillian, Athena, and Elizabeth here(It’s anonymous!)

Dear Pay Dirt,

I have been different degrees of poor for my entire life (I’m 40 years old.) However, my grandfather recently died and left my wife and me with an absolutely absurd, life-changing amount of money and assets. As far as I understand it, the interest on the investments alone would be enough to live on for the rest of our lives.

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We want to use some (maybe a lot) of this money to help out our friends, most of whom have also been poor for their whole lives. Most of them have some sort of debt, rent, medical needs, and mortgages that eat up most of their paychecks. We would like to offer financial help to them, but I’m worried about it being awkward. I think the reason that most people don’t talk about money is because of weird classist and capitalist values that none of us live by, but I’m worried about coming across as bragging about our change of financial circumstance. How do we go about sharing with our close friends without making things weird?

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—What’s Mine Is Yours

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Dear What’s Mine Is Yours,

I can easily see why you feel that offering financial help might make things awkward. Not only is money weird to talk about in general, but you also don’t want your loved ones to think that you assume they can’t take care of their finances on their own. Some people are more prideful than others, and you don’t want to overstep. I think the key is starting small and working your way up.

First, you can purchase gift cards and send them their way with a note, such as “Thinking of you.” Make sure the gift cards are something they can use and would make a difference in their cash flow, like a gift card for groceries or household supplies. You mention medical needs, so maybe gift cards to any stores they frequent that also house pharmacies would work, too. People have an easier time accepting gift certificates than they do cash.

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Speaking of cash, you can start giving them some for their birthdays and holidays. It doesn’t have to be a large amount, but $100 here and there would probably be appreciated. If you feel close to them enough to talk finances, share that you came into a windfall and wanted to share it with those you love. You don’t have to say how much you inherited, but you can ask them if it’s OK to give them a certain amount. If they share a recent hardship that popped up, ask how you can help fund it. I recently shared my book bonus with my assistant because I love her and appreciate her help in my life. When you love someone, you want to take care of them, so always ensure it comes from a place of love. People can tell when you are genuine, and it will make it easier to receive.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

My husband and I live in a very expensive area, and our lifestyle is subsided in part by my great aunt, who raised me and allows us to live in one of her properties in exchange for a low-for-our-area rent and our maintaining and improving the property. We make good money, but we’d never be able to live this way without my aunt’s generosity. My aunt is wealthy but she raised me to be pretty frugal and I’ve always worn thrift store or hand-me-down clothes, driven used cars, etc. My husband grew up poor and now spends money more lavishly than I do, although (thanks to our subsidized housing) he still saves about half his take-home salary.

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As a result, my husband tends to have nicer things than I do, purely because he wants those things and I don’t; I can tell this disparity makes him uncomfortable but I’m not willing to waste money on things I don’t need. Recently, my husband has told me that he wants to buy me a new car for our anniversary. There’s nothing wrong with my car, but it’s an old second-hand entry-level sedan and doesn’t have all the safety and comfort features the new car will have. Furthermore, I’m pregnant and my husband has expressed concern about my driving our baby around in my small car. Even though I understand where my husband’s coming from, I’m super uncomfortable with spending money on luxuries when my lifestyle is partially subsided by a relative. Is this something I need to get over, or is my husband being frivolous?

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—Frugal

Dear Frugal,

I wonder if you have an issue with spending money because your aunt raised you. Our parents are usually our immediate caregivers, and when they can’t fulfill that responsibility for whatever reason, it can be difficult for us to come to terms with it, even if we have someone else who fulfills that role. We may feel guilty because it wasn’t originally supposed to be our caretaker’s responsibility, and they made sacrifices to raise us. This might why you choose to spend as little as possible. Money might seem like something you can control instead. And it seems like you’ve really internalized your aunt’s frugal lifestyle.

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I also wonder if you feel that your aunt might cut you off at any time. Is that a fear? Do you have a game plan for what you and your husband would do if this did happen? Thinking through some of these scenarios and theorizing what steps you’d take might lessen your anxiety.

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As for your husband buying you a car for you and your unborn child, I would let him do it. It sounds like one of his main goals is to make sure you and the baby are safe with reliable transportation that has the features you need in case of an emergency. Heaven forbid, but in case you were in an accident, features like On Star can notify emergency services immediately. You’ll also be less restricted in which car seat you can purchase since you’ll have more room to spread out.

Accepting this gift may make you anxious, but we find strength when facing our anxieties head-on. Ask if you can both pick out the car together. Go to dealerships and test drive, read reviews online, and ask yourself what is important in a car. All of these answers can help you feel like you’re making a more informed decision, which leaves more head space to enjoy your baby while safely on the road.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

My mother, 88, lives in a California group home and has worsening Alzheimer’s. The trust I have for her is running out of money. From a Medicare look-back perspective, she is poor. Her Social Security is barely above the cutoff for much aid (it’s at $1,606/month after the Medicare A/B deduction). She can’t live alone (can barely use a walker), but she’s not “sick” or otherwise “bad” enough to be hospitalized.

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She didn’t work much, she has no other savings or assets. Divorced (ex-husband remarried, and he served in the army in the 1950s.) Wondering if she’s still eligible for any benefits. Is there any way to get her measured income to be below the cutoff so she’s eligible for all possible aid? (For example, are there health plans we can sign her up for that would cost “more” so she falls below the limitation (I think it’s like $1,580/month or similar)? How do we find her the maximum possible support, given that we have no money to give her?

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—Sandwich Son Supporting Sweet Sedentary Mother

Dear Sandwich Son,

You sound like you are in a tough spot and I wholeheartedly feel for you. Being a caregiver of an elderly parent is tough, but it’s harder when you lack the additional resources you need.

For your mom to be eligible for any of her ex-husband’s military benefits, she most likely will have to fall under what’s called the 20-20-20 rule. Under this rule, she would have to meet all of the following criteria: Married for at least 20 years, her ex-husband did 20 years of service, and there had to be at least 20 years of overlap between the marriage and his serving. (There are some other benefits she could qualify for under the 20-20-15 rule, which requires only 15 years of overlap.) However, even if she falls under the 20-20-20 rule, it’s mentioned here that her benefits would be suspended if she ever remarried. One resource I found that may help is an organization called Ex-Partners of Service Members for Equality (EX-POSE). This is a national non-profit that helps those divorced from a military spouse find out what benefits they are entitled to, if any.

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For your other concerns, I would make an appointment at the nearest Area Agencies on Aging to find the answers to your social security questions and more housing information. The Elder-Care Locator will help you find one. This online database is part of the U.S. Administration on Aging and can also help point you in the right direction. Good luck.

Dear Pay Dirt,

When my father passed away three years ago my mother got everything, including the home my father’s parents had built. She now wants to move to an apartment. My (only sibling) sister and I are on the same page that my family and I will live in the house, selling my current home to do so. My husband and I will be paying my mother’s rent as she is “giving” us the house. My question is, how do I compensate my sister? We received nothing when my father died and my mother spent almost all of the inherited money and even started cashing in life insurance policies. There is basically no money left and will definitely not be any inheritance in time. Do I keep track of the rent I pay for my mother as a total I’ve “paid” for the family home and pay my sister the same, or do I give her half of what I sell my current home for? Is there a different option?

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—Sisters Keeper

Dear Sisters Keeper,

It doesn’t sound like your mom is gifting you the house if you pay her rent. A gift is free, and this doesn’t sound like it is. Since you’re exchanging money anyways, I would have her sell the house to you and split the proceeds with your sister.

This way, your sister is fairly compensated for what the house is worth, and you own the house outright without worrying about anything going into probate. Inheriting a home with siblings can go sideways quickly. Grief has the ability to bring out the worst in us, and that can play out in the division of assets. Go ahead and take care of it now while your mother is still alive. You all can still divvy everything up fairly. This way, when the time comes, there are no questions. Instead, you’ll have space to heal.

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—Athena

Classic Prudie

I make a good living and spend pretty frugally. I bought two homes by the time I was 30 (I rent one out) and drive the same car I had in college. Four years ago, my stepfather had a heart attack while my stepsister was engaged. I paid for half of her wedding and her honeymoon (around $10,000). It was a gift, and I didn’t want my parents stressing out over anything more than my stepfather getting better. I am also close to my stepsister. My half-brother is much younger than me and getting married to a girl he knew from high school. I don’t know either of them well. At a welcome brunch, his fiancée wanted to know how much I was going to give them for the wedding…

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