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?