Pay Dirt

My Mom Makes Her Shopping Addiction Everyone Else’s Problem

She doesn’t think she’s doing anything wrong.

Person holding a can of food.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Pablo Echazarreta/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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,

My elderly mother has always had hoarding tendencies, just like her father. She overbuys when she shops and half the time lets things like vitamins/supplements get old and expire. We grew up eating the same food item for weeks and months at a time so she definitely has some sort of OCD. (Think store-bought tuna sandwiches for lunch, weeks at a time because she had it once and thought it was delicious.)

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She stays with us for a few months every year, visiting from overseas so cue the overbuying of food, gifts, etc. She used to toss food from our fridge to fit things she brought, deeming them more valuable. In recent years, I’ve drawn harder boundaries but she persists by agreeing not to bring X thing and still ends up bringing it. I abhor food waste and end up caving.

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Upon her departure, the stuff we didn’t want in the first place remains and she leaves instructions to distribute the food amongst my brothers and their significant others, claiming they love the items. I tell her they’re just being polite but she says they’re being courteous and not wanting to seem greedy. (They’ve said to me AND HER they don’t like it. She doesn’t believe them.) So when I offer the items, they either always outright refuse the food or just trash it.

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Got any advice? She refuses counseling, doesn’t think she’s doing anything wrong (ever, actually), and thinks everyone is stupid and she knows best. We are already in low contact outside of her visits.

—Mamma Mia

Dear Mamma Mia,

Your relationship with your mother sounds frustrating, no doubt. Not only does she ignore the boundaries you are trying to set while she is in your home, but she’s also disregarding you when you bring your concerns up to her. You say you already have limited contact with her when she’s not visiting, but I’m wondering what unintentionally happens when she is in town. It’s easier for us to have boundaries when family members aren’t around versus when they are. Are you bending on other boundaries you’ve set with her when she’s around?

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I think it’s important to think through what-if situations so you can be as prepared as possible for her next visit. You know she will keep doing this. It’s good to have a plan so when the time comes, you’re ready. Will she insist she can only eat particular meals? Offer to buy her food as needed. If she brings her own food anyway, find a way to get it out of the home as soon as possible. Perhaps you can take the items to a local food pantry or soup kitchen to minimize food waste. Make sure she knows ahead of time what you’ll do if she attempts to bring it, so she knows what your boundary is and what will happen if she doesn’t respect it.

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It may also be a good idea to see a therapist, if you haven’t already, to talk through your relationship with your mother. You can dive deeper to see how it’s affected you. A therapist can also recommend strategies to deal with this kind of situation and then do exercises with you to prepare.

Dear Pay Dirt,

Years ago, I got my first credit card through Macy’s, which was fine for my needs and when I did make the occasional purchase every few months with it I paid it off on time. However, their customer service has been terrible recently after I had to deal with some fraudulent charges and I’m tired of it. I’m ready to move on to a different card, especially since the Macy’s card doesn’t accumulate points or rewards or anything worthwhile outside of the store itself.

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Where do I start to look? My credit score is fine so I’m not limited in that respect. But all the online lists of options are just overwhelming. What are both green flags and red flags for different cards/providers? What kinds of benefits are more useful than others, like cash back versus travel rewards? And will closing the one and opening a new one impact my credit score?

—Credit Card Conundrum

Dear Credit Conundrum,

If your credit score isn’t a prohibiting factor in what credit cards you can apply for, the sky is the limit. You’ll want to consider a few factors when selecting a credit card. First, what will its primary purpose be? Is this for everyday spending or big purchases you plan to pay off over time? You’ll want to ensure the interest rate is as low as possible—higher interest rates will add up over time on big purchases rather than everyday spending you plan to pay off immediately.

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Look to see if there if the credit card has any annual fees, too. There are also fees if you pay late and if you would like to do what’s known as a balance transfer—when you transfer another credit card’s debt onto the new card. I prefer credit cards with no annual fees, but I also know that sometimes cards with really good perks require them. And you’ll want to take those perks into consideration.

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Many credit cards offer different types of rewards when you use them. Rewards can include, but aren’t limited to, points that can be cashed in for free hotel rooms and flights. Some cards offer cashback and gift cards to your favorite retailer. Other credit cards like Capital One even have immediate discounts for shopping through their portal. Consider what you value right now.

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You’ll also want to see what amount of available credit you’ll have. Part of your credit score is your credit utilization rate, or the amount of available credit you use. For example, if you have $1,000 available and are currently using $900 of it, your credit utilization rate would be 90 percent. The more credit you have available, the lower your credit utilization rate can be when used properly. With all that said, I would hesitate to open a credit card with a company I’ve never heard of or any financial institution that is not backed by the FDIC.

Dear Pay Dirt,

I bought a house in Oct 2020, just before turning 31, benefiting from the bottoming out interest rates and the student loan pause. That was essentially all of my savings, but I snagged an affordable two-bedroom in a nice neighborhood with nearly everything on my checklist. I’ll probably be here for at least 10 years. Since then, I’ve been rebuilding my savings slowly while also entirely paying off my credit card and car. Now with the student loan forgiveness, I’m looking at $16,000 of my remaining $29,000 disappearing. The remaining $12,000+ is a private loan and not eligible. I’d like to refinance that one as it’s at an atrocious 11.5 percent and naturally I’m in a different financial position than I was at 17.

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Given the outlook for the next year or so, is it better to do that now, or wait until the federal student loans are wiped off my credit? Is it possible I’ll be in a worse position then credit-wise, with those recently closed accounts? I can continue to make the payments as it stands, either way, just trying to minimize the money leaving my pocket long-term.

—Now or Later

Dear Now or Later,

This is a great question! Kudos to you for making the student loan payment pause work for you and your finances. You are right to want to refinance your private student loan and you should do it before your other student loans are wiped out. Having a portion of your student loans canceled will lower your overall debt total and debt-to-income ratio, which is great for your credit score. However, if this account is one of your oldest lines of credit, it can also hurt your score. While your score may drop, it’s only temporary. But you’ll want to refinance when you have a higher credit score to help lock in the best interest rate possible.

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You’ll want to go with a reputable company like SoFi or Earnest when refinancing but remember to shop around. Everyone offers a different rate, and sometimes, they will give discounts dependent on how you pay. For example, if you set up your payments as an auto-debit, you can usually take .25 percent off your loan payment. It might not sound like a lot, but I firmly believe every little bit adds up.

Dear Pay Dirt,

I’m a 40-year-old woman who’s been a lifelong worker and saver. I’ve amassed over $600,000 net worth between a condo, retirement accounts, brokerage, and savings accounts with no debts other than a mortgage that’s less than $90,000, which is no small feat given that I’ve mainly worked in the non-profit sector. I’ve always felt it’s important for me to build my own wealth and started investing when I was in high school.

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My 49-year-old fiancé, whom I love dearly, is divorced with a 9-year-old with whom he has 50/50 custody. His net worth, mainly through retirement, is less than a third of mine and he makes a third of the amount of money I do. He rents his place and to his credit has no debt.

We’d like to buy a home together. From the sale of my property, plus some savings, I’d be able to put down $150,000. He’d be able to put down $25,000. My question is two-fold: 1) How do I protect my investment? I love my fiancé, but it’s important to me to protect the money that I’ve worked hard for. 2) How do we divide household expenses? I make $110,000 and he makes $80,000 but has a son 50 percent of the time. Is it fair to split bills two-thirds me and one-third him based on our salaries or 50/50 since he has a son (and dog!) who has his own room and household needs?

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—Fair and Independent?

Dear Fair and Independent,

There is nothing wrong with wanting to protect the wealth you’ve accumulated before marrying your fiancé. I highly recommend adding a prenup to your list if you haven’t already. A prenuptial agreement can help protect the assets you bring into the marriage, including your retirement. Some people may say that this is assuming the worst of your partner but guess what? Grief during a divorce can also bring out the worst in someone and by having a prenup in place, you can avoid a lot of headaches during a tumultuous time. (And of course, having a prenup doesn’t mean you’ll get divorced!)

In regards to purchasing a new home together, a way to protect your investment is to file a tenant in common deed. A tenancy in common allows you to own the home in unequal shares to reflect the difference in your down payments. So, for example, if you were to put down the $150,000 and he puts down $25,000, you’ll together be putting down $175,000. Since $25,000 is a little over 14 percent of the $175,000, you can say he owns 14 percent of the property while you own the remaining 86 percent. Every state is different, so you’ll want to ensure everything is documented to reflect the homeownership percentages legally.

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Splitting household expenses month to month can be trickier since those fluctuate. If you combine your income total, you make about 60 percent, and he makes about 40 percent. You could split the bills based on this percentage, and anything kid or dog related can be on him. But before you move in together, I’d ask what he considers fair when paying for expenses related to his child. I have friends who pay for items their stepchildren need because, to them, they came as a package deal. I also have friends that are hands-off financially when it comes to their stepkids. Make sure you have this discussion because you’ll want to be on the same page.

—Athena

Classic Prudie

I am a relatively young, male, and not-yet-tenured professor at a university. My department is overwhelmingly older (55-plus), white, and male. Several of the senior professors in my department, including the chair, have attitudes toward women that are downright sexist. On a number of occasions, I have heard these faculty members make comments about the physical appearance of young women that are inappropriate and creepy. However, recently a female student confessed to me something that truly disturbs me. She said that two of the senior faculty, one of whom is the chair of my department, pay her for sex.

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