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 own a significant amount of property, one is a very popular location for weddings. The pandemic killed my business and I got very ill. My income would have been in the red if not for the passive income I got for my properties. Things are still very shaky. My wedding location has been booked solid until next summer.
My adult daughter announced her engagement. I am very happy for her, but she came out and told me I owed her a dream wedding. I wasn’t around much when she was young and after the divorce, my kids didn’t want much to do with me. I was brought up that the best possible thing for a father to do was provide for his family.
I realized my mistake later on but the damage was done. I paid for private school, private lessons, and private colleges—but paid for it by losing the private time I could have had with my kids. I have tried to repair my relationship with my kids and I thought I had succeeded until now. My daughter is almost 30, has a good job, and has no debt. I explained that between losing my business and my health, I couldn’t afford to pay for anything. I was sorry.
She told me she would compromise if I would let her use the wedding venue at cost. I told her she would have to have her wedding in the middle of the week then. Every weekend is booked solid and there is a waiting list for cancellations. She blew up at me. This was unacceptable and I was just making excuses about not being able to afford it. At this point, I got angry and asked her if she wanted to sit down with my accountant and see how the money was going. I would be happy to give her a dream wedding if I could, but I can’t. She isn’t talking to me. My sons call their sister a bridezilla. My ex told me I should have handled it better. I don’t know how. I tried to be truthful and compromising. I can’t change the past. I acknowledged my faults as a father, but that doesn’t change what is in my wallet. What should I do?
—Daddy No Bucks
Dear Daddy No Bucks,
You don’t owe your daughter a fairytale wedding—not in compensation for your emotional unavailability or any other reason. Her childhood taught her that financial support was how you showed your love. Your refusal to bankroll her wedding probably feels as though you are telling her you don’t care about her.
But you’re likely going at this conversation the wrong way. You went straight for the business angle: negotiating a compromise with her as if it were a business deal, offering to bring in your accountant. You can’t solve the problem by using the same kind of emotional distance that created it. Overcoming this will require an emotionally vulnerable conversation with her that doesn’t focus on the financial side. You can tell her how much you love her and how happy you are about the wedding. You can offer all sorts of support for the event as much as your health and finances will allow—including a fantastic deal on a midweek venue or simply just sharing your expertise in the industry.
But you don’t owe your daughter a dream wedding, and spending money won’t make the hurt of a distant father go away. When you’ve both cooled down, reach out to her again. Apologize for getting angry. Tell her you love her. Reiterate that it’s been a hard few years with your health and the business but that you are pleased about her engagement. Offer help that is within your means. But don’t believe you have any obligation to pay for her wedding. You owe her love, not a blank check.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I am a young adult who has been recommended for inpatient treatment at a mental health facility across the state from where I currently live and have decided I should go. I’m most likely going to get an admittance date in the next couple of weeks, and from there will have to move very quickly to meet it. Logistically speaking, how should I handle this? I do not meet the 12-month employment minimum for medical leave, unpaid or otherwise, but also I don’t know my company’s exact policy on something like this. I will likely be gone for a month or more.
Who do I bring this up to first? HR, my direct supervisor, or someone above them, in case they don’t approve of me taking leave down the line? I work an hourly position, and won’t have enough paid time off to cover all of this, but I do have some and can provide a doctor’s note once I get an admissions date to use sick leave as well. I also want to provide as much notice as possible, but also worry there might be repercussions for telling them too early.
I have some savings, enough to cover my rent basically while away (after my next paycheck), is there anything else I could do to set up for success when I come back? I have five months left on my lease (I live alone and don’t want to sublet, as I have no idea when I’ll be back). Should I tell my landlord I’ll be gone for this time, or just lock my door and walk away? If I give my keys to a family member to “house sit” for me, does that change the need to let my landlord know? I know there are grants and loans and such to pay off medical bills themself, but is there anything that could help with the cost of living stuff that I fear might pile up, especially if this takes too long? I most likely don’t meet the requirements for low income, as I make quite a bit, but live in a pretty high COL area. I know I need help, and that this is probably the best choice I could make for myself, but even just the logistics of planning are making everything feel too big for me to handle. My family is very supportive emotionally, but not in a place that allows them to be financially, with my parents helping me sort through what insurance wants from me (some of which can be paid through an HSA account of my dads, and some of which I will be covering).
—Getting It Together to Get Better
Dear Getting It Together,
I’m glad you have a support network during this time. Unfortunately, it’s hard to give a definitive answer about your rights as a worker without knowing what state you live in. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prevents you from being discriminated against by an employer due to a disability (note that while substance use disorders are considered a disability, you need to meet certain requirements to be protected by the ADA). Unfortunately, if you haven’t worked at your company for at least 12 months, your job and insurance are not protected while you undergo treatment by the Family and Medical Leave Act in most states.
If you have an Employee Assistance Program or union steward, they are a great place to start when looking for resources. If you don’t have access to those programs, approach HR about your options for extended hospitalizations, including short-term disability, leave of absence, employee emergency fund, and leave donation programs. You don’t need to be explicit about what kind of treatment you are receiving, but you need to know what kind of resources you have available before talking to your direct supervisor. Once you have an admission date, that is the time to let your work know (not any sooner) that you will be out. Many treatment programs will send needed documentation to your employer once you’re already there. Getting short-term disability insurance, if possible, before admittance might help defray your living expenses if treatment takes a long time. Also, don’t assume you won’t qualify for grants or charity care based on income without looking—because medical costs are so outrageous in this country, the program income limits are often higher than expected.
There’s no need to tell your landlord you will be away, but having a family member or friend with keys come by to check in on the apartment is smart. Make sure to put your rent and utilities on autopay before going into treatment, but ensure that your family member has your landlord’s contact information. It would be best if you also put a hold on your mail with USPS. Good luck with treatment, and congrats on taking a big step toward getting better.
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Dear Pay Dirt,
I bought a house in mid-March with my wife whom I filed for divorce from in early March. I only went through with the purchase because I didn’t want to lose $50,000 earnest money and I thought we were going to instantly put it back on market to try to break even. Instead, she moved in and refused to put it on the market until mid-August. now the market has dried up and even after lowering the price to $60,000 less than we just bought it for we can’t get offers on it. Divorce likely won’t be finalized until at least December. What now? Keep paying mortgage payments and hope things rebound or keep lowering the price and lose $80,000 to $100,000 or more?
Dear Bad Decisions,
Sorry that you’re stuck in this situation. Going through with a sale because you didn’t want to lose the earnest money is a perfect example of sunk cost fallacy. As humans, we tend to want to see through an effort if we’ve already invested in it, even if it is no longer the best decision. If your wife hadn’t moved in, immediately selling would still have been at a loss because of all the non-recoverable transaction costs and tax implications. Your aversion to losing your sunk cost of $50,000 means you now have a hard-to-move asset with a debt attached.
Your decision has more to do with divorce negotiations than your purchase price alone. If your wife is still interested in living in the house, she can buy your portion of the equity out with other marital assets as part of the settlement agreement. A buyout can also be done over time, rather than all at once.
If neither of you wants to live in the house, lowering the sale price until you find a buyer is the most expeditious way to split the asset. You risk a short sale, which is when you sell the house for less than what you owe on the mortgage note, depending on how much you put down and how much prices have dropped. With this kind of sale, you lose all equity in the property and take a hit on your credit. If you’re at serious risk of a short sale and the market is still challenging, consider other options, such as renting the house out for a few years. Any such creative solution would have to be part of your divorce agreement but will be a better option while you wait out the market.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I’m looking for advice for my dad. He’s still struggling with grief one year after my mom passed away from cancer—only months after he retired in the hopes of spending their golden years together. Now, on top of that, he’s struggling with a different kind of burden because of my brother, who is in his early 40s.
My brother has always been irresponsible and unreliable and had always leaned heavily on my parents to guide and support him, especially financially. My dad used to manage his bills for him entirely, and though he’s stepped back from that for the most part now, his name is still on the house my brother lives in with his two boys. My brother’s name is also on the house.
The problem is that my brother rarely pays his mortgage on time, forcing my dad to pay it himself to avoid harming his own credit. My brother owes him over $10,000 in unpaid mortgage bills that he swears he will pay back, but he also got laid off from his construction job two weeks ago and doesn’t seem to be looking for different work. Most recently, my dad told my brother he really needed him to cover his latest mortgage bill because my dad didn’t have enough money in his checking account to cover it, and he’s got the bills on automatic payment to avoid late payments. My brother assured him he’d definitely pay this time, but of course, he didn’t, and my dad’s account overdrafted.
The whole situation has my dad at a loss and so stressed out and distraught. He is spending all his retirement savings (without withdrawing from his 401(k)) on my brother’s bills with no definite hope of ever getting them back, but he doesn’t know what else to do. No one wants to see my brother and nephews made homeless. At the same time, my dad is going through a really emotional time of year: The one-year anniversary of my mom’s death is followed closely by my parent’s wedding anniversary, which is on Thanksgiving, and then there’s Christmas, which was always my mom’s favorite holiday. I want my dad to be able to focus on his own still very fresh grief and healing. In this situation though, is there anything at all that can be done to put the fate of my brother’s house in his own hands and take my dad out of the equation, financially and otherwise?
—Silently Anguishing Daughter
Dear Silently Anguishing,
I’m sorry your family has been through such a rough year. Your brother’s grief may have compounded his already irresponsible financial habits. Unfortunately, your dad agreed to the mortgage just as much as your brother. They both hold equal responsibility for making sure the mortgage gets paid. Your dad can’t get out of the loan simply because your brother isn’t holding up his end. Neither party’s responsibility ends until the mortgage is paid off (refinancing, paying it off, or selling the property). Your father’s choice to manage your brother’s finances well into adulthood hasn’t stopped yet: As long as his name is on the mortgage, he’s still going to bare that burden.
The easiest way to get your dad off this mortgage is to convince your brother to refinance the mortgage in his name only. Of course, with interest rates rising and your brother currently unemployed, refinancing is not very prudent. The other options involve getting rid of the house: either convincing your brother to sell (especially if he can’t afford the mortgage alone) or, failing that, your dad could consider escalating to a partition lawsuit.
If your parents have always helped your brother manage his money, perhaps he has the money to pay the mortgage but is deadline-challenged. If you suspect that is the case, try to get your dad and your brother to work together to set your brother’s account up as the autopay account for the mortgage instead.
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My husband and I both work full time and have two children under 5. My parents strongly disagree with me (a mom) working full time outside of the house. They are both passive-aggressive and full-on aggressive about their disapproval. When they visit and insist on watching the kiddos, they point to normal toddler behavior and dissect it as ways in which my kids are suffering because I—but not my husband, ahem—am not staying home with them.