This column is part of Advice Week, Slate’s celebration of all things advice.
Sometimes, all you need is a different perspective. So this week, our columnists have swapped fields of expertise. In this edition, Doyin Richards, a Care and Feeding columnist, handles your personal finance questions.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My daughter has been dating the same guy for three years and they now have a child who will be 2 in a couple of months. All that time he’s lived here and has only had a job twice at the same company, which he got fired from. He hasn’t worked since October but tells me he’s looking for a job. She goes to work a couple of days a week and they pay no rent. They pay for their own food and car insurance. My daughter does not make a lot of money. She’s a hostess at a restaurant, but I am tired of supporting two grown adults and a baby beside myself. I forgot to mention that I’m on a pension. How do I get out of this?
—Tired of It All
Dear Tired of It All,
The best way to get out of this situation is with a strong dosage of tough love. I’m not saying you need to cut off your daughter and her partner immediately, but they need to be put on notice right away.
You should give them three months’ notice to find stable employment and a place to live (or start paying rent to you) or else they will need to move out. Yes, I know that’s harsh—but they are grown adults, not children, and you shouldn’t enable them to be free-loaders. The other alternative is for them to drain your pension while you deal with a boatload of resentment, and I know you don’t want that.
You may feel guilty for being heavy-handed, but I promise that you’re doing them a favor in the long run. Don’t waiver on this decision, no matter how bad you feel. Three months is a generous amount of time to get the ball rolling.
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 80-year-old mother met a man five years ago, who promptly moved in with her. He has no money and few assets. His adult kids despise him and only stick around because he showers them with favors and gifts. Last week, he gave his car to his son, burdening my mother by making her drive him around. Her love for him is clearly eroding, but she doesn’t want to be alone. How might I persuade her to demand he considers her actual needs, rather than continue his futile quest to “buy” his children’s love?
—Can’t Buy Love
Dear Can’t Buy Love,
This is confusing to me. You said this guy has no money or assets, yet he showers his adult kids with gifts? Where is the money coming from? Credit cards? Loans? Honestly, it doesn’t really matter because the end result is the same: Your mom is unhappy.
I completely understand why an elderly woman doesn’t want to live alone, but does that mean she should choose to live in bad company? If his adult kids hate him, there must be a good reason for it—not to mention, you note that you can tell how unhappy she is with the situation. The common denominator in this equation is him, and I’m wondering if he has character flaws that cannot be remedied.
In terms of advocating for her needs, it’s pretty simple. She needs to tell the man what she desires, and if he doesn’t fall in line, then the relationship will have to end. Your role in this is to ensure you’re there to help her if she decides to end things with him. Can she live with you? Would you think of placing her in an assisted living community where she will be around other peers? These are the things you need to think about. And you should make it clear to her, that even without him around she’ll have you—so she’ll never truly be alone.
No matter what, though, don’t allow your mom to live the remaining years of her life in a situation where she’s clearly unhappy just because she’s afraid of the alternative.
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Dear Pay Dirt,
How do you set up an even loose framework for budgeting when the whole thing is overwhelming? Every time I’ve tried to start I just get bogged down and too many things don’t fit in the categories correctly or fit in more than one that I give up. Or I just panic seeing the amount of money that’s going toward what (which technically is a fine amount of money, I don’t have any debt and have a fine-paying job). I feel like I should be doing more but I can’t without freaking myself out. How does one budget?
—Panic at the Bank App
The first thing to do is push back against that panic. Budgeting can be challenging, but this isn’t a life-or-death ordeal. You will survive this with some deep breaths and logical thinking.
The next step is to determine what your “main things” are. It might be rent/mortgage, health care, vacations, etc. I have no idea what yours are, but I know that you have them, because we all do. These are the parts of your life that you’ll put a sizable chunk of your money and resources into no matter what happens. Budgeting for your main things first is essential because you know you’ll have the requisite amount of funds each month to address them.
From there, list all of your expenses, activities, etc., and place them into specific categories that you could list on a spreadsheet or in a notebook by your bedside table. I know it’s easier said than done but don’t fret over something not fitting perfectly into a specific category, because like I said earlier—nothing truly egregious will happen if you put your Netflix subscription into the recreation category instead of the cable/utilities category.
If you’re noticing that you’re spending too much money in one area, or you have too little money for another area, it will serve you to reconsider what’s really important. Maybe you’ll decide to cut back on a few luxuries each month or eliminate them completely. All in all, budgeting can be a really useful and enlightening experience if you remove the dread from the equation.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My son and his fiancée recently announced their elopement. It took everyone in the family by surprise because they had been planning the wedding for a while. They said they just wanted to get it done and over with. The problem is they still expected to be given wedding gifts! They set up a website for people to “donate” to a down payment on a new house for them.
My daughters think it is tacky and tasteless. They just want to give a nominal amount and send them a card. My parents had several thousand dollars set aside to cover the rehearsal dinner and other wedding costs. They did this for all their grandchildren. They are extremely hurt by my son’s actions and tell me he isn’t getting the money.
I wish I could convince my son to take down the site and ask his grandparents to throw a nice dinner for him and his wife. It would go a long way to calming down the fuss. I don’t know how to approach the situation though. It hurts that I didn’t get to see my son get married, but I am happy for him and his wife. If they had a virtual wedding, the pandemic made that familiar enough to most of our family. Someone is going to say something to my son. Should I and what?
Dear No Wedding,
I don’t know all of the reasons behind the decision made by your son and fiancée, but I also tend to agree that it’s pretty tacky to ask for gifts under these circumstances. Clearly, there are some significantly hurt feelings your family needs to address quickly.
You need to do everything in your power to get the family in a room (or Zoom call) and hash this out like adults instead of playing the “telephone game” where words can be misconstrued. Maybe there’s something missing from this equation you’re not aware of that contributed to the elopement. If you determine in the meeting that your son’s reasons for doing this are weak and selfish (or if your son refuses the meeting altogether), then you and your parents have every right to not give them a dime. However, if you’re able to talk this out, I feel that many of the hard feelings you’re experiencing now will dissipate. Your son and his wife were well within their rights to elope. All you can do is express how you feel about it and ask if there’s a different way for family members to celebrate them—I think your idea for an intimate family dinner could go a long way.
I wouldn’t spend too much mental energy fretting over the gifting website, though. As tasteless as it may seem, they have the right to keep it up and promote it if they want to. The most important thing here is to get all of your feelings on the table, because they may not have an idea of how hurt everyone is by their actions. Hopefully, they will show some contrition and everyone will be able to move on accordingly.
More Advice From Slate
My father walked out on me when I was 10, because I didn’t treat his mistress the way he wanted me to. I wanted my mom and dad together, and she very obviously was the reason why I didn’t have that anymore. Mom had to go to court over child support. My father and his new wife immediately started having kids and my dad didn’t think he owed what the state told him because of that. I’m now 22 and I didn’t hear from him until this year—and his request was ridiculous.