I'm worried about having to support my mom financially, indefinitely.
March 25, 2010 1:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm worried about having to support my mom financially, indefinitely.

My mom only recently rejoined the workforce, following an extended hiatus. My dad died when I was little, and as a result of his savings, life insurance, and a lawsuit following his death, my mom was able to live to a comfortable standard for several years before starting her new career as a real estate agent a few years ago.

However, the money seems to have run out, and for the last year or two, my mom has been asking me and my sister for money at regular intervals. I was fortunate enough to find a job right after I graduated from college last year, but my sister is in a graduate program. Thus, it has mostly fallen to me to supplant my mom's income (which has dwindled with the housing crisis, despite her hard work) roughly every two months. Between the two of us, we have loaned her or given her almost $8,000.

If this seemed to be a temporary situation, I wouldn't mind helping her out, although I would prefer to be saving more money at this point in my life in case I decide to go back to school or buy a house in the future. But I'm afraid that sooner or later her finances will collapse entirely. She is not the type of person to talk openly about her life or her finances, so she shuts down when we try to ask her questions. And since she obviously hasn't saved any money for retirement, I worry that my sister and I will both have to support her financially from here on out. The galling bit is that despite her obvious financial trouble, her spending habits and lifestyle don't seem to have changed. I think if she made a noticeable effort to reduce her expenses, this would all be easier to swallow. Her unemployed boyfriend has also recently moved in, so I'm basically supporting both of them.

I guess my question is where I should go from here. I want to help her, but I'm not sure that continuing to give her bimonthly loans will really help her in the long term. So what should I do?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (39 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Stop giving her money. As long as she knows she can come to you for handouts, she won't stand on her own two feet.

If she's in actual dire straits as in malnutrition, sleeping in a cardboard box, then help her. But until she gets to that point, quit helping her out. If she's not even trying, well....
posted by Solomon at 1:15 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Perhaps a future "loan" should come with the stipulation of attending personal finance classes? Community Colleges offer them just about everywhere.
posted by fontophilic at 1:21 PM on March 25, 2010


I would suggest telling her that the next request for money will not be granted until she provides the last 6 months worth of bank statements so that you can accurately assess her financial situation to see if it is stable, improving or detiorating.
posted by de void at 1:22 PM on March 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm worried about having to support my mom financially, indefinitely.

Then don't support her. Let her land on her own two feet and figure her life out. You bear no responsibility for her. Sorry if that sounds harsh but there's no reason that your life should be constrained because of your mother's inability to manager hers.
posted by dfriedman at 1:22 PM on March 25, 2010


The economy has hit everyone hard and it's pretty standard for families to have to pull together right now. Social Security can begin after 62 years of age (with reduction: see: http://www.ssa.gov/retire2/agereduction.htm). While it seems odd in the USA for typical some families to not support each other and grow apart, this is actually par for the course in the rest of the world and across American ethnicities. Was your parents there to help pay for your education?

$4,000 a year over the last two years actually sounds a bit small to be claiming you're supporting your mother. In her age grouping (assuming she's over 50 years of age), long term careers are much more difficult to obtain and she just might need a bit more time and understanding than folks 20 years her junior. I happen to know many 25-35 year olds who have been job hunting well in excess of 2 years and try to make due with temp work or minimum wage. Encourage your mother, try to be understanding as somewhere along the lines of 1 in 10 adults is unemployed and a great percentage of Americans are having issues making ends meet. Just because she's your mom and you don't like seeing her vulnerable, doesn't mean she's in the same situation as many, many people in this day and age. If tables were turned, it's very likely she would offer you support without thinking twice about it.
posted by eatdonuts at 1:22 PM on March 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


I have no idea whether this is a good idea, but what if you told her that the loans were going to end at some particular date but offered to pay for some sort of financial counseling/ meeting with a financial planner who could help her come up with a plan? That way you're not abandoning her, but you're also making it clear that she's going to have to stand on her own two feet.
posted by craichead at 1:23 PM on March 25, 2010


*While it seems odd in the USA for some families to not grow apart and independent with time, this is actually par for the course in the rest of the world and across American ethnicities.
posted by eatdonuts at 1:24 PM on March 25, 2010


Hey mom. I don't mind doing this, but not forever - I know you don't like talking about it, but if I'm going to give you money, you're going to have to tell me where you're at financially. Things are tight for me too, right now. Maybe together we can work out ways to stretch what we've got a bit further.
posted by handee at 1:28 PM on March 25, 2010 [16 favorites]


No-strings-attached money is really attractive, and I agree with you that your mother might get too attached to it.

My suggestion is, attach some strings. Don't just give cash, exercise some fiscal discipline. Pay for specific items, and refuse to pay for things you think are extravagant. This requires you to be aggressive, and maybe mean, but I think it could work in weaning your mother off your teat. If you make the money come at a cost in dignity and freedom, your mom will be less eager to depend on you.

Think of the way parents support their kids growing up -- the parents may spend a whole lot of money on a child, but the child does not feel like the money is theirs. They don't get the control and the freedom. They want to grow up and be financially independent. You should encourage the same desire in your mom.
posted by grobstein at 1:28 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hmm, on reflection, the amounts involved seem relatively small. I still stand by my suggestion, but would wait until the duration or amount become less tolerable.
posted by grobstein at 1:29 PM on March 25, 2010


The boyfriend too? Forget him. Tell him to get a j.o.b! He's got a lot of nerve mooching. She needs to downsize and sell her stuff that isn't necessary. You and her should go to a certified finanical planner and get a budget set up accordingly. Those are tools that will serve her well (and hey you can learn things too).

For the long therm down the road, she needs to figure this out asap or at least a silent plan for yourself IF it happens and what rules you need to lay down such as she needs to contribute SOMETHING now.

But again, for the boyfriend? You owe him NOTHING.
posted by stormpooper at 1:34 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The galling bit is that despite her obvious financial trouble, her spending habits and lifestyle don't seem to have changed. I think if she made a noticeable effort to reduce her expenses, this would all be easier to swallow. Her unemployed boyfriend has also recently moved in, so I'm basically supporting both of them.

This is the kicker, for sure. As a daughter that bailed my mom out through a succession of terrible relationships with drunks/drug addicts while she was in her 50s, I think this is something that you need to speak to her about. Is there substance abuse involved? Is the guy getting any unemployment/disability? Can your mom move into a smaller/cheaper place?

While I do believe that families should help each other out, there are limits to what one should have to subsidize. Tell her flat out that you will not be helping to support her freeloading boyfriend. Rather than give her cash, offer to take on a couple of monthly bills for her until her job picks up. Tell her exactly what you are willing to pay and don't respond to additional appeals for money. When you're paying the power bill instead of paying for nights out, mr. boyfriend may just wander off.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:37 PM on March 25, 2010


If your mom is 60 or over and you are in the US she is entitled to Social Security as a widow.

You should not be subsidizing the loser boyfriend!

Has your mother considered going back to school to train for something that will give her a more secure income than real estate? Do you have aunts and uncles you might turn to?

Good luck.
posted by mareli at 1:37 PM on March 25, 2010


...and another thing - be sure to stay in communication with your sister about what your mom is telling/getting from her. Make sure the stories match up and that you BOTH aren't paying for the same things. I don't know enough about your mom to make any assumptions about whether or not she's lying to you - but I've had family members try to double tap helpful folks with a sad and very overblown story.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:40 PM on March 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


Only give what you can give with a light heart.

Tell her that it really bothers you that she keeps spending money and asking you for it at the same time. This is true, right? Tell her as gently as possible that it makes you upset and that you need to be able to save money for your future--and her future. If you go broke, you won't be able to help her either. See what she says. Go from there. Maybe she will think about it and come up with a solution or give you information that will make you feel better. Maybe she is eating out a lot less, but needs to keep her professional contacts so she can't stop eating out altogether. Maybe the boyfriend brings in money from unemployment insurance or has savings that are contributing to the household. There are a lot of things that might be happening that you won't know about until you ask.

Any time you try to attach strings, tell her you need to see her statements, you are rubbing her nose in the fact that there is a power differential. This is not conducive to good loving relationships, to act like her boss or like a banker. If you can't give her the money without taking away some of her freedom or her dignity, consider simply telling her that you do not have the money to give, but will be happy to do what you can in other ways.

As for the future--you might, indeed, have to support her. That might not be ideal. On the other hand, there are different ways in which she can contribute to your life and possibly your future household, without contributing cash. Maybe at some point she can provide childcare, cook, do grocery shopping, help maintain the house, help you network. Who knows?
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:43 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think next time she asks, you should be absolutely firm: "I can't give you any more money. I love you, and I'd be more than happy to work with you and your boyfriend to find good resources for advice and help as the two of you work out your financial future together, but I cannot provide any more money, as a loan or as a gift."

Grown children don't owe their unemployed or financially irresponsible parents money any more than a parent owes an unemployed, financially irresponsible 20-something money. It is none of her business how much you have in the bank or what you choose to do with your money. You are under no obligation to subsidize her irresponsible spending habits--and it helps no one for you to do so.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:48 PM on March 25, 2010


Much depends on how old your mother is and whether she's in good health. If age or poor health make it impossible for her to earn a living (including whatever it would take to learn new skills if necessary), then you may need to have a serious talk with her about changing her spending habits and living arrangement in exchange for continued support. If, however, age and health aren't a problem... I'd quit the loans. Or, instead of giving her money, have her send you her actual bills and pay the mortgage company or utility companies directly. (Or pay her tuition to learn new skills directly to the school.)
posted by rhartong at 1:55 PM on March 25, 2010


Seconding that $8000 isn't a lot of money for two people to give their mother over two years, especially if it's mostly coming from you rather than your sister who's still in grad school. Obviously, though, I don't have any knowledge of your financies. You're the only one who knows enough to decide whether it's unsustainable.

grobstein: "If you make the money come at a cost in dignity and freedom, your mom will be less eager to depend on you. "

I don't know of any polite way to say this, so I have to apologize for being so crude: please don't trot out this Machiavellian rubbish with your own mother.

My sense is that what bothers you is not the money itself but the fact that your mother refuses to discuss her finances with you and hasn't adjusted her spending to match her now less fortunate circumstances. I don't think it would be disrespectful of you at this point to insist that she sit down with you and work out a budget for both your households. It's not a matter of you putting your mother on an allowance like a parent might dole out pocket money to a child, but rather finding a way for both of you to live within the income available and put away a defined sum of money every month for the future.

Meg_Murry: "Grown children don't owe their unemployed or financially irresponsible parents money any more than a parent owes an unemployed, financially irresponsible 20-something money."

I take it you mean that there's no obligation in either case? I don't agree with that, but I guess we'll let the OP decide where he stands on this question.
posted by d. z. wang at 1:59 PM on March 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


Agreed DZ. The responses seem rather Machiavellian and angry as opposed to one who might address their own mother (who isn't a crazy/angry/abusive/drug addict/murderer/liar/thief) for such a trivial sum over a long period. I think it sounds like Anon has some soul searching to do about this.
posted by eatdonuts at 2:07 PM on March 25, 2010


She is not the type of person to talk openly about her life or her finances, so she shuts down when we try to ask her questions.

If she's spending your money, you're asking questions about your finances. Having the discussion and establishing the boundaries should be a condition of you helping her.
posted by domnit at 2:08 PM on March 25, 2010


It sounds like your problem is more with what you perceive to be happening in her life style and that disparity than with the money. You talk a lot about not knowing how she's spending the money or how her finances are. Tell her that you love her and you want to help her, but you really have to have the full picture in order to do it with a light heart. $8k isn't all that much money, but it certainly feels that way if it looks like it's all going to luxuries you can't afford for yourself. You really must have an honest discussion with her about money. Good luck!
posted by stoneweaver at 2:17 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am curious as to your mom's overall situation, OP-- is there a history of mental illness that might lead to poor personal judgment and lax financial discipline? Do you have reason to suspect there might be something wrong in her personal life that affects her reasoning with regards to money?

You need more data from her, and from people who interact with her regularly, before you can really get to the bottom of the money problem. If she won't give that data, and you can't procure it from her near ones, then you'll have to set harder boundaries.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:19 PM on March 25, 2010


I realize that $8000 may be trivial to a lot of people, but can we at least acknowledge that for many people who are one year out of college, it's not trivial at all?
posted by craichead at 2:19 PM on March 25, 2010 [25 favorites]


Real estate as a career has been really sucky lately. Add to that the necessity of being well groomed, driving a decent car and keeping gas in it, and realtor dues and expenses (to include access to the MLS which is a necessity) and oh yes, a really mega cell phone plan...do have a bit of mercy on her.

She needs to do things like maybe add a paper route, or other side jobs, or see if she can manage some rentals for pay....lots of realtors do things like that to keep afloat during lean times. You are not obligated to pay for her lifestyle but if you want to help her with specifics like dues that would be a blessing for her. But you are not obligated to hurt yourself to do so, and I think a condition would be for her to open up about where she is financially plus the boyfriend needs to contribute.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:21 PM on March 25, 2010


I would suggest telling her that the next request for money will not be granted until she provides the last 6 months worth of bank statements so that you can accurately assess her financial situation to see if it is stable, improving or detiorating.

This is an awful idea. It's his mom! There are kinder ways of dealing with this. Just let her know you can't afford to do it.
posted by charlesv at 2:26 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


(I think station 9 is on the right track here)
posted by charlesv at 2:28 PM on March 25, 2010


Agree that $8000 is not a small amount of money. When you're making less than 6 figures, after taxes, that can amount to a sizable percentage of your income.

I also agree that the galling part is that with reduced means, your mother seems to be living beyond those means and is not willing to discuss finances.

My sister who is in her mid-30's has been in and out of work for the last few years, not due to the economy but due to a variety of other reasons which include parents who are all too generous with their support. At one point she asked to borrow money and I told her I would only use that money to pay off bills which she was to present to me to pay directly. Of course I later had to ask for the money back. Given that I am the only one in my immediate family who holds her responsible for her own life, guess whom she doesn't go to for money anymore?

Not saying your mom is anything like my sister, just that when money comes easily and with no strings attached there's less reason for a person to get their s--- together. And when there are strings attached, they may very well tap their other resources--outer/external OR inner/internal--before asking for more from you.
posted by choochoo at 2:40 PM on March 25, 2010


In response to d.z.'s question--my point was not that families have zero obligation, it's that responsible family members (whether young adults or seniors) are not obligated to subsidize the bad habits of less responsible family members.

Mom refuses to discuss her finances and future plans (ex. retirement saving), and persists in irresponsible spending. She also persists in requesting additional money. She is not someone who should be given cash on request. Love, support, encouragement to make better choices? Yes. But not money.

It is not cruel to cut off the money stream provided you make an effort to give her other resources (some type of financial planner, perhaps therapy, job leads, etc.). She's not seeking out what she needs (long-term financial planning and better spending choices) because she's getting what she wants right now (money from her kids). There's nothing wrong with acknowledging that, long-term this "help" doesn't do any real favors.
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:46 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


My dad spent his whole life--well, his mom's whole life--drawing this line with his mother, and sometimes with his sister. They both lacked job skills, had trouble keeping jobs, and had unrealistic financial habits. I can remember them doing things like calling my parents with these great plans where they would live together in this big apartment and they could make it work if my dad would only send them $500 every month! He was not willing to subsidize either of them in a lifestyle that was beyond their means, but he did help out many times over the years, I know. One thing that made it hard was that neither of them ever believed he didn't have the money, or that it would be a hardship for him to give it, so even when he helped out they would resent that it wasn't more, and if he said no, they thought he was just being petty.

I guess my take-away from that is that you should decide for yourself how much and under what circumstances you're willing and able to help your mom, and be prepared for her to maybe not understand why you're drawing the line. I eavesdropped on many hard conversations between my dad and his mother on the phone, and on his many exasperated rants to my mother when those phone calls ended. I don't know that it ever got easier. I know that it was hard for him knowing that his mom and sister were living, sometimes, in pretty unsavory places, but they both had a life-long habit of bad management and he just wasn't willing to take responsibility for it.
posted by not that girl at 2:47 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Clearly, the ideal outcome of this case would be that you and your mom have a nice rational conversation about finances, that she cuts back on her spending and and ousts the loser boyfriend, and you both go on to lead a life of thrift and financial solvency.

Unfortunately, people are mostly not rational about money. And given that your mom is older and set in her ways, and that there's however many years of established power dynamics and baggage between the two of you, that ideal conversation simply may never happen.

Only you can know whether she's likely to ever change her ways, but if you think there's some chance she might not, then the most graceful thing you can do may be to resign yourself to the situation and let go of your mom's behavior. She's a grown-up, and in the end, money or not, you have no real right to try to impose any changes on her lifestyle. I'd suggest that you dial your contributions back from emergency levels to a lesser amount that you're sure is sustainable long-term, and then think of the cash as an ongoing gift you're giving her, no-strings-attached, in gratitude for all she's done for you in the past.

What she does at that point is her business, but at least you'll be able to let go of this weird, resentful reverse-parenting dynamic you've got going on here and just accept your mom for who she is. Not ideal, sure, but given the circumstances it may be the best you can expect.
posted by Bardolph at 2:49 PM on March 25, 2010


There's a lot more "never give her money again, it's her problem" responses than I would have expected. The thing is, a lot of harm can come from that. If OP doesn't give her money, and OP's concerns about Mom's financial common sense are well-founded, then Mom will likely max out credit cards, take out payday loans, re-fi the house, etc., all at terrible interest rates, which will really hamper any efforts to get the whole thing straightened out in the future.

Yes, she's not hitting bottom yet, but by the time she gets that far, there will be large negative numbers and possible bankruptcy or loss of the house involved. Yes, OP could continue to say it's "her problem" but perhaps (s)he doesn't like the idea of taking in a homeless debt-ridden parent, or refusing to help even then, as opposed to working on solving the problem up-front.

Try to talk with her. I know it's hard. Consider, though (and present this argument to her, perhaps): If it's uncomfortable and unladylike to talk about her finances now, just think how uncomfortable and unladylike it will be if there's a real problem and she's losing the house or going bankrupt (yes, there may be a real problem now, but presenting this argument can lure her into sharing because things aren't nearly as bad as you seem to think they are).
posted by aimedwander at 2:53 PM on March 25, 2010


If this is really about her lifestyle and not the actual monetary amount, pay individual bills for her directly instead of just carte-blanche giving her money or demanding she hand over financial statements. Write a check directly to the landlord/mortgage co/car financing company or take her grocery shopping so she can't possibly spend it frivolously.
posted by desjardins at 3:08 PM on March 25, 2010


I'm going to guess that I'm about your mom's age. If what you've said is accurate -- that she's spending the same despite the need to spend less, then she's way out of line to ask you for money. She's not a doddering old lady eating cat food, right? It's more likely that she's an otherwise capable person with, perhaps, bad budgeting skills.

The suggestion that you go over her finances is the only one that is fair to you. And since you're the one ponying up, you get to make that a condition. You can't make her get rid of the boyfriend, you can't make her spend only what you want her to spend if you just give her cash. You do have control over what, when and how much you give her. Don't let her pout or guilt you into giving that up.
posted by sageleaf at 3:17 PM on March 25, 2010


I realize that $8000 may be trivial to a lot of people, but can we at least acknowledge that for many people who are one year out of college, it's not trivial at all?

I've been out of college for two decades, and $8K is a lot of money to me. No trivia.

...starting her new career as a real estate agent a few years ago.

Yeah, that's when my wife chucked her 25 year cooking career to follow her dream of becoming a real estate agent. It ain't gonna get better any time soon, my wife and I fight about this constantly. The turn-around is not right around the corner. I suggest an intervention.
posted by fixedgear at 3:41 PM on March 25, 2010


I would prefer to be saving more money at this point in my life in case I decide to go back to school or buy a house in the future.

Pay yourself first -- put a certain amount in savings when the paycheck arrives. Then, if you have money left over that you feel like you can share with her, great, and if not, you can have the conversation handee suggests, "Things are tight for me too, right now. Can we work together to figure out ways to stretch what we've got a bit further?"
posted by salvia at 4:42 PM on March 25, 2010


I also think that bardolph and internet fraud detective squad are right on. Set aside savings for your important goals first, determine what you can freely give without resentment, and then either offer to work with her on budgeting and planning, or not.
posted by salvia at 4:46 PM on March 25, 2010


The rule I've settled on with my brother is that there can only be one loan outstanding at a time. Pay back the last one and I'll loan you money again next time.

I've found it's a limit that works well for both of us. It means that I'm there for him in a pinch, but things don't get out of control.

Also while 8k is probably a lot for you, it's a small fraction of what it takes to support two people for two years. This is actually good news: it means your mother still has some savings/income coming in from somewhere, just not enough. Adopting the loan strategy above may force her to shepherd it more carefully.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:12 PM on March 25, 2010


'Look, Mom, I really can't afford to keep loaning you money on an ad hoc basis like this. It's really messing up my finances and finacial planning. I can afford to give you $100 every month for the next two years, but that's it. I really can't give you any more. If you're worried about your finances, I'd be happy to sit down with you and maybe we could find ways to make this easier for you. I really appreciate how hard you've been working at your job. It'd be great if we could talk with a financial advisor about how to make this work for you in the long term.'
posted by brambory at 3:52 AM on March 26, 2010


I'd go quite far for my mother and father, as parental units they probably invested around 300kilodollars in bringing me into the working masses. Ten dollars a day doesn't seem like a lot as a miniature thank-you if they needed it (along with the occasional phonecall!).

Of course, if you're uncomfortable because that $300 a month does make a painful impact on you, or you feel that it's not really 'helping' your mother then you should do what makes you feel better about the situation.

Perhaps if the idea of just withdrawing the offer is too harsh for you. you could instead offer to just pay one particular bill, perhaps the mortgage once every 6 months (if required), or the electricity bill.

I think the bigger issue is her long-term survival, if as you say, she likely doesn't have a plan for retirement, then that's something really big that you need to sit down with her and talk about. The short term pain that she'll feel from having the conversation (and potentially realising for the first time her situation) will be nothing compared to having a plan and knowing that there are options.

I think it's always a strange feeling when the child has to sit down with the parent and educate them on finances, but they bought you up and largely made you the successful person you are, and if you can payback some of the wisdom they dripped into your head, I think you need to, for her sake and yours.
posted by Static Vagabond at 6:38 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


« Older How can I get a form in an Access database to let...   |   Help me plan a 2-day trip to New York with my wife... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.