When Money and Love Don’t Mix

I read a lot about healthcare for my job and one thing that keeps coming up is that we’re terrible at making rational decisions about our loved ones. It’s easy to have a discussion about end-of-life care and how trying everything, no matter how expensive, is ridiculous for someone in her eighties. I don’t want to live or die like that. But when it’s your own mother, the story changes. If you’re the one that has to make the choice about pulling the plug on the breathing tube, everything changes. Understandably!

Relationships are something that make us human. We love and cherish those around us and we want what’s best for them. But that love is the very thing that sabotages those relationships sometimes. In finances, we see stories over and over about people making dumb money choices to “help” their loved ones:

  • People keep debt or large purchases secret from their spouses – This one continues to irk me. “Protecting” your spouse from your financial problems will not help in the long run. Eventually, the problems will need to be solved. And until you start riding in the same direction, you’ll never get anywhere.
  • Spouses Become Enablers – We all have our financial weaknesses. And learning to balance what you care about vs. what your spouse cares about is tricky. Mr. T and I have different things as well. But instead of trying to stop each other completely, we just make sure we keep each other in check. “What purpose would these shoes fill that your current ones don’t?” “Do you really need another Sharpie even if it is only twenty-five cents?” You are married. That means you are a team. Work together. Don’t let each other be dumb because you love each other. That’s a dumb excuse!
  • Parents Do The Work For Their Children – Disallowing children to participate in the household work strips them of power. And not allowing them to earn money teaches them that money comes magically when it’s needed, work is something to be avoided, and money isn’t something that needs to be earned or learned.
  • Parents Don’t Teach Their Children About Basic Finances – Perhaps part of the problem is that parents don’t have a clue about finances themselves. Mr. T and I met tons of people in college that had no clue about credit cards. Friends of ours were telling us how close they were to paying off their credit card debt. We celebrated. Then, the next week, they invited us over to see their new couch and flatscreen TV. “So, did you pay off your credit card?” The response: “Oh, we were going to, but we really needed a new couch and this one was SUCH a good deal!” WHAT?! If we don’t teach our children the simple concept of spending less than you earn or the basics behind how credit cards really work, we’re not doing them any favors!
  • Parents Continue to Let Their Adult Children Freeload – The lady on the airplane told me that her adult son had just moved in with her. “I told him I am happy to have him live with me to get back on his feet, but he has three months to do it. He’s not going to be on my payroll. He’s got to learn to find his own way out of his problems and I’ll help him do it, but I’m not going to let him slide.” I was so amazed at her strength! Well done lady on the airplane! I realize I’m a bit of a hypocrite here. Mr. T and I were unemployed with a baby right out of college and spend ten months living in my parents’ beach house. They didn’t charge us rent, but they also didn’t pay for anything for us. Because they didn’t live in the house, this was an easier line to draw. We paid for everything but housing. And we were prepared to leave the beach house and move to Cambodia if we needed to at the end of the year because being so stagnant for so long was frustrating. If anyone gets comfortable in that stagnant position, it will be hard to ever get them motivated again!
  • Parents Don’t Discuss Retirement Plans With Their Children – Several years ago, when I first started reading finance books, I noticed a theme: Baby Boomers are the beginning of the Retirement Crisis and their kids have no idea. Everything I read said that the first step in financial planning for my generation was: “Talk to your parents about their retirement plans.” Many parents have little or no money for retirement and their children will end up footing much more of the bill than they anticipate. I’ve talked to people that are aware of this: “Oh, I know we’ll have to support my dad when he gets older. There’s no way he’s saved anything!” Having that discussion is useful. Mr. T and I are very lucky to have the parents that we do. My dad has talked openly about his retirement with me for years. I’ve seen his accounts. We won’t have to pay for him unless he lives well past 100. Mr. T’s dad loves his business and never plans to retire and his mom still works as well. We know their finances are in order. We may be in the minority among our generation having two sets of parents that probably won’t need financial help unless they live to be very, very old.

Sometimes we make horrible choices in the name of love. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use your heart in finances. There needs to be a healthy balance between both heart and mind in even financial choices. Next time you are dealing with money and a relationship, think about what would help the person help themselves.

What poor financial choices have you seen in the name of Love?


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  1. Your point on “Adult Children Who Freeload” is topical in our family right now. On Friday, the same day I early retired (@age 49), my older brother (age 52) moved back into my parents basement. He has done this several times over the last 5 years. He claims he has the money for his own place, but can’t quite find a place to his liking. Bull sh*t. He does it because it’s easy for him and means he doesn’t need to grow up.

    • MaggieBanks

      There’s some ridiculous percentage of my generation that keep boomeranging back. It’s great for parents to lend a helping hand, but only if that helps their own children help themselves!

  2. Do you follow Pete the Planner at all? He’s had a series of news articles lately about how parents need to stop supporting their adult children. He caught quite some slack for it. Luckily my S.O. and I are already on top of transparency when it comes to money and other things. I don’t see that being a problem in the future which I’m very excited about. I’m also happy my parents are starting to take a greater interest in their finances, probably since they’re within 7ish years of retirement now.

    • MaggieBanks

      No, I Haven’t seen those – but thanks for the heads up. I’m off to check them out…

  3. Mr. Smith keep warning that my mom is going to become our financial problem in the future. I understand why he’s concerned, but we really need to get our own ducks in a row first. I try to help her. I keep telling her to stop buying crap for our kids and giving her other advice. But, recently, I tried to get her to do a no-spend challenge for just one week. She wasn’t even willing to try. What am I supposed to do? We shouldn’t have to pay for her irresponsible ways with money.

    • MaggieBanks

      I know! That is so tough! I would probably ask to sit down with her to look at her retirement plan – have a real discussion about your own financial picture and how you’re in no position to be able to help her significantly monetarily, but you can create a plan so she can retire comfortably. It’s worth it to you to have an open discussion about it with her. Otherwise you’re stuck with the bill and you’ll have no idea the size of it!

  4. I’m so glad I came into the personal finance world if not just for this reason alone: Parents Don’t Discuss Retirement Plans With Their Children

    I have asked my parents for many details about their planned retirement, and otherwise would never know whether they are going to be comfortable. It’s important to have those discussions (happy or not).

    • MaggieBanks

      I completely agree! Too many just think/hope the problem will go away not fully realizing they will be passing the problem onto their own children!

  5. Mrs. SSC’s parent’s are quite well off and have been retired since we’ve been together. At first they were naysayers of our “early retirement” plans, but then as they’ve come to know more about what we spend, what we actually have saved and the like, they’re way more supportive. Plus, unless something goes horribly wrong, there’s no need in thinking that we’d ever have to support them.
    My family however… I know for certain my mom has nothing saved for retirement, and is still not even really interested in discussing it. She is 63 now, and signed up for the early SS distributions as her “retirement” funding source. She does art and sells that, but that’s about it really. My stepdad used to joke to Mrs. SSC and I that they were just going to move in with us when they “retired” and we’d have to take care of them. I let him know pretty clearly that wasn’t an option, so they should work on Plan A, because we’re not even a Plan B, lol.
    With our kids, I am with airplane lady – I’ll help the kids out, but there are time limits, rent, and I’m not going to let them just keep coming back to us because it’s easy or they’re lazy. I really don’t want a 52 yr old living in my basement like Brian described up above. No thank-you, even if you are my kid. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      I completely agree. Someone commented on my new plan updates that we should probably prepare financially to take care of our grandchildren. And I thought: “While that’s a great sentiment, it’s not happening.” Harsh? Maybe. But there’s a reason they have the choice to have children – if they have them, it’s up to them to figure out how to take care of them, since that’s the job.

      • I totally agree to that too. 🙂 If our kids want kids, they need to be prepared to take care of them, because the Bank of Grandpa and Grandma will be closed. hahaha Maybe if we’re doing well and still alive when the grandkids get to college, maybe help some if we can, but I’m sure not planning for it. It will be spontaneous and nothing they should count on. 🙂

  6. Here’s the thing – she hasn’t worked for years. She lives on SSD. There are no savings, no 401K, nada. I want to focus on protecting myself from becoming liable for her debts. I might need to do a post about this. Although, I caught her looking over my shoulder while on the blog the other day, and she knows I have a blog. While I’m a little nervous about my mom reading a post about herself, maybe that would be a wake-up call for her.

    • MaggieBanks

      There’s never a good answer. You don’t want to ruin relationships, but you also have to watch out for your own future. Good luck!

  7. I’ve seen the freeloading happen more often that I’d like to admit. I’ve seen family member borrow money from other family members that was to be repaid and it never was. It just cause the relationships to breakdown. The lender need to stop the behavior, they are just enabling the borrowers to take advantage.

  8. The adult children freeloading is the tough problem in my house right now. It’s so difficult to be a parent and watch your child struggle, and no one wants to see their child homeless and/or hungry. So you try to find a balance between helping and enabling. It’s hard to be strong but the adult child needs to take responsibility for themselves.

    • MaggieBanks

      I agree with you. That is why it is so hard to make tough choices with family. It’s easy to say what to do when it’s not your own family!

  9. Tawcan

    Parents don’t discuss retirement plans with children is a big one I guess. Glad my parents talked to me about it when I was younger.

    • MaggieBanks

      I’m always so grateful that our parents are financially sound and that they taught Mr. T and I basics growing up so we weren’t stupid. That alone gives us a big legup over many, many people.

  10. I’m lucky as my parents taught me about money and gave me an allowance at age 12 when I had to buy all my clothes and entertainment. That taught me the budgeting skills I still use today.
    I have seen first hand a situation where one partner had waited till they received a large inheritance before divorcing, and another where a mother in her 90s is still enabling her 65 year old son who hasn’t worked for 30 years.
    It is all very sad.

    • MaggieBanks

      I’ve seen similar situations. We’ve stigmatized money discussions within the family even and it’s leading to really unhealthy behavior!

  11. I’ve seen a lot of the adult children freeloading. I can see why this happens, and yet I agree with you that it doesn’t ultimately do the children any favors. Keeping spending secret from your spouse is also a common one–but such a bad idea! You are on the same team, so that is just shooting yourself in the foot. Of course spouses may need some separate “fun money” to use as they wish, but it really should be planned for to keep everyone unified.

    • MaggieBanks

      I totally agree with you. But it’s so hard when it’s your own spouse or your own children! (Though I really don’t get the secrets from the spouse thing AT ALL!)

  12. I’m glad you mentioned the kids, because I’ve been reading a book that talks a lot about my mom’s parents and grandparents, who were Dutch immigrants and everyone worked hard. My mom’s generation had little kids working in the fields and the dairy from age 4 or 5. That’s a far cry from how I was raised, and even further from the way I raise my own child.

    I was thinking about this as I was cleaning up my kid’s room yesterday because I don’t make her do it. She doesn’t have regular chores. She tells me “I can’t” when I ask her to do basic things like help carry in groceries or bring her dishes to the sink.

    I am trying to address the issue. Little Bit spilled some glitter today right before school and started crying because she thought she was going to get in trouble. (not that spilling stuff gets her in trouble). I told her “stop crying and fix it. It just takes 2 minutes with the handvac.” Her dad hustled her out the door to school before she could vacuum and I had to stop him from cleaning it up when he got back, because she needs to do it herself.

    • MaggieBanks

      It’s so much easier to let them off the hook. My five year old still throws a minor fit nearly every morning when I ask her to do the same things she does every day: clean your room, empty the silverware from the dishwasher, and put your clothes away if there is a laundry basket full of clean clothes delivered to your room. But eventually (hopefully), they get it. And my kids are glad there is a system in place where they know the expectations, they are a part of the functioning household, and there is a specific path they can take to earn money if they so choose (fits=no opportunity for monetized chores).

  13. The one about spouses not sharing is totally true. My parents file their taxes jointly and my mother got into $500,000 of debt with a family business avoiding her business taxes, but she ended up draining my dad’s retirement fund and they’re never going to see a refund again. Huge mess. Being open is much better.

    • MaggieBanks

      That’s so sad! I’m so sorry! I really can’t imagine a single situation where not being honest up front about the problem would be useful in a marriage.

  14. So many great points here! The thing on our minds, since we don’t have kids, is our parents and their retirement. My dad has been retired for years and has a VA pension. That gives me huge peace of mind. Mr. ONL’s parents have a military pension. Awesome. The big concern is my mom. Almost no savings. And she’ll be totally reliant on Social Security. Fortunately, we have had the talk with her, and she’s willing to come live near us and live in a small apartment… hopefully way off in the future. So hooray! But it still such an important reminder for all of us, that we should look beyond our own little spheres when thinking about the future and everything we might need to be prepared to pay for — or maybe, to your point, to be more rational about. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      I have no problem with families helping each other out. That’s what families are for! But consistently bailing out is another story. I’m glad you have future plans with your mother. It’s a prime example of what I think everyone should do: have an open and honest discussion with their parents about their savings and how much they will need to be involved and figure out a reasonable plan that works for everyone. Yours is obviously awesome!

      • This stuff is never easy. But I’ve gotten good at looking for little openings. Ordinarily my mom and I would never talk money or that icky kind of future stuff (nobody wants to think about when they’re older and can’t support themselves), but having moved my dad closer to us a few years ago gave the perfect opening — and I seized it! I actually think having the conversation was a relief to her! So we should all try to adjust our mindsets around these talks and instead of seeing them as awkward, seeing them as a potential relief to our older loved ones!

  15. arakelian

    my mom finally understood that her early retirement ask to reduce her expenses and it is not normal to use cabs and tv and coffee and smoke and then to ask money from me but I have no money for cabs and tv. It is a mater of choice, she (I hope!! ) understood to assume her priorities.
    But discussion with parents in low about this is tricky: first they refuse to discuss with their children; with me they almost start to argue and to accuse the government and laws but they didn’t stop to buy craps for our child and to keep a high level of expenses.

    It is funny, my grandma is more trustful and she was only at school only for 6 years (second world war was tough…). More trustful than 2 people that graduated an economic university!

    Thanks for your opinions. thanks for all the comments. I will learn and improve financial education of my daughter.

    • MaggieBanks

      Finances are such a taboo topic… especially in families. It’s so sad! Money is something that everyone has to deal with. If we all talked about it openly, honestly, and in healthy ways, there would be a lot less heartache and frustration.

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