Mo' Money Mo' Problems
October 15, 2010 8:31 AM   Subscribe

I have inherited a substantial amount, at least to me. How do I get over the guilt of not having worked for it?

TL;DR below.

Growing up, my own and my friends' parents were all sweat-of-their-brow sort of people. We were immigrants coming to New York City with, almost literally, nothing, and everyone aspired and eventually made it to the middle class.

Now, I'm in my mid-20s, my parents are dead, my two remaining grandparents are pretty close to it, and I really don't have an extended family. Many of my close friends, have also, at this point, built themselves up. There wasn't a lot of privilege-in-action outside of the fact that we were white immigrants coming from a culture which encouraged education above all else, and we grew up in areas with decent public schools and everyone's parents cosigned on their college loans. The point I'm trying to make is that all these people got to where they are with hard work and determination.

Me? I was always a slacker who got by on just plain being smart. Eventually, by dropping out of college and forcing myself to go into the workforce, I got enough discipline to get by. Not a lot, but enough. And then, just recently, I inherited a bunch of money and some nearly-paid-off property. It's not millions and a mansion; it's in the low six figures and a 2-bedroom apartment. Still. I've never made more than $20K a year. When I went back to school at 23, my mom paid my rent (and only my rent, I had a part-time job.)

I don't know what to do now. Growing up under an immigrant single mother, I'm a very frugal person almost by nature. I never developed the connection between buying things and pleasure. Hell, most of the time, buying things for myself, unless they are things to replace totally worn-out other things, makes me feel guilty. Being unemployed is a horrible thing for me, so I'm not just going to quit my job and hang out. Travelling (at least to foreign exotic places) is also out of the picture due to a lot of health problems. That and I've been all over the world and I don't enjoy the actual act of travelling. I plan on getting a financial adviser.


I have a lot of completely-broke and horribly-in-debt friends and feel like even complaining about this is absolutely ridiculous. How do I reconcile the guilt over suddenyl becoming a trust-fund kid and having much more money and property than my most hard-working friends and not having had to do anything for it? Do I continue living as I did, which involved spending very, very little money? Do I start buying things I've always wanted and see if the guilt goes away?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (36 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would suggest putting the money away somewhere safe (asking a financial adviser would be a good step toward responsible stewardship of what you've received), continue living in the way that is most comfortable for you, and give it some time and thought. Perhaps with the help of a therapist.
posted by Ouisch at 8:36 AM on October 15, 2010 [7 favorites]

Would you be open to volunteering and/or donating to charities once a month?
posted by dragonplayer at 8:39 AM on October 15, 2010

Sorry for the lame cliche, but "pay it forward". Put some of that money to good use via charities. Also treat yourself to something nice that you've always wanted, because hell, why not? But if you go changing your entire lifestyle, eventually you're going to run through that money and have to learn how to live on $20k again.
posted by tetralix at 8:42 AM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

You could put it into an annuity trust, where it only gives you X% of the total fund per year. That way, you aren't actually dealing with a huge sum of money, but, rather, the $5,000 that came under your control this quarter.
posted by Alt F4 at 8:44 AM on October 15, 2010

How about you think about this in terms of a gift? Someone wanted you to have some financial stability - possibly stability that they themselves didn't have. There is nothing shameful about that.

How about you think in terms of your future and how you can honor the long standing tradition of attaining things through hard work and use your inheritance to do that? low 6 figures and a 2 bedroom apartment are a great start, but not anywhere near set for life material. This is an opportunity to work hard in a field you love, rather than taking work that is less meaningful to you just to pay the bills. You aren't a trust fund kid - you are someone who has a few more options available to them than you did before you had this windfall.

finanical advisor is a great idea, by the way.
posted by domino at 8:45 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do I start buying things I've always wanted and see if the guilt goes away?

On the contrary: if you are feeling unworthy, then surrounding yourself with physical manifestations of your guilt and unease is going to bum you right the hell out.
posted by hermitosis at 8:48 AM on October 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

(A) It sounds like part of your concern here is your own work ethic or level of responsibility. Why not address that separately, by working and contributing at a level you're proud of?

(B) Consider the need to responsibly steward and protect this money part of how you become worthy of it over the years.

(C) Yes, continue spending at the level you normally did. Given your historical record, and particularly if you're not careful about (B), this may just be a temporary blip in your financial fortunes.

(D) After you get (B) well underway, consider donating its interest earnings (or 75% of them or something) to charity. Using the money to make a difference in the world, and figuring out what that means to you, could be another way to come to feel worthy of it.
posted by salvia at 8:50 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

How do I reconcile the guilt over suddenly becoming a trust-fund kid and having much more money and property than my most hard-working friends and not having had to do anything for it?

You didn't work for it, per se, but things happened in your life that made that money available to you- your lost your family. My paternal grandparents died (one long before my birth, one when I was in elementary school) and left us money to go to college. I had money, but I didn't have those grandparents and my father didn't have his parents. You seem worried that you're more privileged than those around you, but I don't envy you- I wouldn't want all the money and real estate in the world to lose my parents. I can't tell if you care more about what other people think, or what you yourself think about this money and your relationship to it, but I encourage you to focus on yourself and make peace with how you decide to handle this money. Your friends don't get to do that. And if they really thought through your situation, they'd probably be glad about that.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:51 AM on October 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm going to combine some of the suggestions above. First, if you don't have a financial planner, get one, and tell them that you want to put the money in something low-risk (and therefore probably low yield) for a year or so. Or if the money is already being managed decently, leave it there for now and work on getting a financial planner of your own.

Then, over the next year or so, consider what you want to do with the property and money. It could involve a little paying it forward, it could involve a little therapy to look into whether you want to change things about your life and if the money could help you do that (education, travel, investing in something that's important to you, etc.), it could mean leaving it right where it is for another 10 years.

Definitely don't make any big changes in your life right now based around the money. It's a lot of money to you right now, but it's not the kind of money that could support you for more than a few years, so keep doing what you're doing. Eventually you'll see that it's not a matter of being "worth" that money, or whether you "earned" it. It's just money.
posted by ldthomps at 8:53 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about get over your guilt by using the money to improve yourself? Maybe consider going back to college, this time with the real intention of working hard and making the most of it?
posted by shivohum at 9:03 AM on October 15, 2010

How to get over the guilt? Be as responsible with that money as your parents were. They got that money guilt-free by working and responsibly not spending it. You will keep that money guilt-free by working (so you don't have to spend it) and storing it away. That's how you honor this gift your relatives gave you.

So: store it away somewhere safe (no half-baked business ventures or stock investments; I'm talking savings account and maybe some bonds.). Continue working so you don't have to touch that money. Your talk of being a "slacker" strikes me as an unrealistic guilty self-concept. You're working, right? You earn your keep and live frugally? I'd say you're living up to your parents' responsible legacy.

So what do you do with that money? Ideally, you don't touch if for years, and if you have children it becomes their college funds. To me, that's the best way of paying it forward: taking care of your family's business so others don't have to do it for you. For now it's your emergency, never-touch-this-to-buy-stuff money until you have a family (or forever, if you don't plan on having one). If your health goes south, then you have a cushion. That's not a trust fund, that's responsible savings.

In some ways, I'm like you: I have money that I didn't earn that I could be wasting. But I don't spend it, I don't look at statements beyond what's necessary, and I don't count it when deciding if I can afford something. If I go to graduate school I might use it, but more likely I'll use that money to pay it forward to the next generation by buying a house to raise my kids in, or starting their college funds with it. That's not being a trust fund baby - trust fundies spend it on bohemian artistic experiences and lattes. That's being responsible and honoring this gift.

Editorializing: sometimes we overemphasize the bootstrap experience. We should honor people who start with nothing and end with something that they pass on. But the point isn't for every generation to start with nothing. The point is to support the next generation so they can do more. That's how we build a well-educated society full of people who can do more than minimum-wage jobs.
posted by Tehhund at 9:10 AM on October 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

You didn't say how much you got. I wouldn't give you the same advice if you got a million dollars versus an extra year's worth of money- say 20k.

I can tell you, though, pay off all your debt. First and foremost, pay off all credit cards, tuition, cars, etc- if you have any.
posted by TheBones at 9:12 AM on October 15, 2010

Well, for one thing, you may not have earned it, but it wasn't exactly free, since it came to you as the result of a loss.

As for what to do with it, do not force yourself to spend it. Spend the effort to make sure that the cash is well but safely invested. From there, just let it be while you get used to the shift in your financial circumstances over the next few years, or more.

Who knows how your outlook will change, but you should really take the time to find out. You might start to feel comfortable with the idea of starting a family. Your attitude about work/career might change, you might go from resenting the necessity (or however you feel) to seeing it as a challenge where you can afford to take a few risks. You may decide to see if there is some way to better address your health issues.

As to material goods, there is a wide gap between buying things for pleasure, and buying things to avoid stress and strain. You might replace some things before they are totally worn out. You might buy things of higher quality that will last longer.

Oh, and don't set up an annuity trust as someone suggested. It sounds like you aren't likely to blow the whole wad in short order, so you don't need to create hard limits on what you can do with the money.
posted by Good Brain at 9:15 AM on October 15, 2010

You didn't say how much you got. I wouldn't give you the same advice if you got a million dollars versus an extra year's worth of money- say 20k.

Low six figures + nearly paid off 2 br apartment is what is says in the post.
posted by atrazine at 9:18 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's just intergenerational wealth transfer. A lot of people are seeing this these days.

You can feel guilty if it makes you feel better, but that little tautology speaks for itself, no? Guilt not only does nothing for you, it is self-indulgent.

Perhaps you could recast 'guilt' as 'unexpectedly fortunate', which is not only closer to the truth, it's the actual frigging truth.

Tell us, would you feel guilty because of something evil your grandfather did? If so, you are probably hopeless or Catholic, (which may be redundant). You are you. I don't know who that is, but I do know it's not your grandfather.

Your first job in life is to get through it without starving, preferably as long from now as possible. You don't need permission to do that. Think of yourself as some poor African fellow a few million years ago... trailed by a hungry lion..... suddenly finding a big stick with which you defend yourself. Poor lion. Job 1 is survival!

Job 2 might be training your fellow aborigines to use a big stick. That's a different question.

Congratulations. I can tell you, there are lots of other people whose wealth arose from much worse circumstances. Lighten up on you, already!
posted by FauxScot at 9:25 AM on October 15, 2010

How do I reconcile the guilt over suddenyl becoming a trust-fund kid and having much more money and property than my most hard-working friends and not having had to do anything for it?

You are not a trust fund kid. In the long run, $100k and a 2 bedroom apartment is not a huge advantage over most people. $20k a year is less than the median income for individuals over 18, so if you make that amount over 10 years, this is really just like you having made $30k (still not a lot) over those years and saving a third of it.

Do I continue living as I did, which involved spending very, very little money?

It's generally a good idea to live within your means and not blow a large windfall all at once. It's a personal decision though. I would say you should save a significant amount of it for retirement, because who knows if Social Security or any similar kind of safety net is going to be available to you by the time you are that age.

Do I start buying things I've always wanted and see if the guilt goes away?

You can obviously use the money however you want, but spending large amounts of money buying things probably won't make you feel good in the long run. You could be on the opposite side of the spectrum where buying anything makes you feel bad when it shouldn't, and you might want to work on that, but buying stuff is probably not the way to do that. And hey, you don't have the excuse that you can't afford to pay for therapy, so maybe give that a shot.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:36 AM on October 15, 2010

You've got two issues at hand here, and it sounds like they're both bugging you - but it may help to consider them separately.

One has come up in a few different forms here on the green, and boils down to "how can I have more money than my [friends, relatives, girlfriend, brother, roommate, etc] and preserve the peace in that relationship?" Think about how you can be gracious, thoughtful, and generous, and helpful rather than being condescending, stingy, wasteful, irresponsible, or a total sucker. Becoming a wage-earner who can hold up my end of the financial stick in social interactions was a transition I had to work at; I enjoy using my financial stability to help my friends enjoy life, when possible, and find it's a lot of fun to have the option of doing things for people. It's also some responsibility (I've been on both sides of this) to avoid setting up situations where people have to either spend money or accept favors to spend time with you. For example, no matter who pays, it causes trouble to invite friends to this awesome restaurant you just tried, at a price level which you no longer think of as being expensive. But over time, it causes trouble to never buy dinner (stingy?), never go out (ashamed of us?), or only go to the old places (slumming it?). It's a delicate balance.

The second aspect is your feelings about where your financial stability came from - your guilt over "unearned" income. I think The Pink Superhero has it right on; this is just the way it went, and accepting the money is not equivalent to stating that having the inheritance is preferable to having the family. I would expect that the more you can be proud of how you spend your money (not buying "stuff" just because you hear that cool kids have a new iSomething every year), the less guilt you'll feel about where it came from. In parallel to that, the more you can be proud of how you spend your time, the less guilt you'll feel about why you have that freedom. i.e. if you continue thinking of youself as a "slacker", it will be hard to avoid the guilt, but if you can use this extra to support something awesome (charity, art, self-improvement, etc) there's way less to be embarassed about.
posted by aimedwander at 9:40 AM on October 15, 2010

On the other hand, my personal suspicion is that after talking with a financial planner, you will not feel rich enough to be embarassed. Live your $25k livestyle on your $25k income. If you have $300k in the bank on your 25th birthday whcih you never touch, and never contribute to a retirement fund again, you might have a comparable nest egg at age 65 to someone who maxed out an IRA every year from age 25 on. This doesn't mean you're rich, this means you don't have to worry about your old age - something which you almost certainly were already not worrying about. Thus, nothing's changed.
posted by aimedwander at 9:41 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

- Buying stuff will help, but only slightly. It's distracting and a rush, which is nice, but not helpful long-term.
- stay frugal. it will feel like a personality transplant if you start spending more.
- Find someone who has been there and talk with them about it, just to keep your sanity. It won't fix anything but you will feel a little better.
- Your friends won't understand. Having the "mo' money = mo' problems" conversation with people just doesn't work. I'd say the same about internet forums too. ;)
- it's disruptive to get money. Lottery winners do go nuts sometimes. People feel differently about you and behave differently. You life has changed a lot in a short amount of time, and in a weird way. As you say, you didn't have decades to get used to it, like the wealth creators did.

I realize you posted anonymously, but MeFi mail me if you like.
posted by acheekymonkey at 9:45 AM on October 15, 2010

Don't turn this money into a stick you beat yourself with as punishment for not living up to you high standards. Every suggestion in this thread it better than that. Good things happen to people who haven't "earned" or "deserved" them, but so do bad things.
posted by prefpara at 9:46 AM on October 15, 2010

Well, the self-destructive thing to do would be to decide that you're comfortable being poor and just getting by and actually kind of like it and realize that the best path back there is to squander all your money and mortgage the 2-bedroom apartment until you can't keep up with the payments anymore and are forced to sell it. Then you'll be back where you started from, and it will be familiar and what you're comfortable with.

If you want to avoid guilt, I think you have to do what people who have money from family trusts and the like do: never touch it. Never dip into capital, at all. Treat it like it's really not that much money at all, because, honestly, it kind of isn't: set up some kind of fund with the money that allows you to pay the maintenance expenses on the apartment/condo. Consider the rest an untouchable retirement fund, because, honestly, at your income level, you're never going to have any significant retirement savings to speak of. So keep doing what you're doing, invest your inheritance in ways to ensure that the capital is maintained, and keep up with the maintenance costs and every 20-years-or-so renovations of the apartment using the income from your inheritance, not the capital: think of it like maintaining your family legacy. If you want to do something else professionally in the future, do that, but leave considerations of that inheritance out of it. Keep all of that up and you'll be ok.
posted by deanc at 9:55 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Personally, I got over my own guilt at receiving an inheritance by talking to a financial adviser, and then spending it on what I knew my grandmother would have wanted for me: graduate school and extensive dental work.

Your family has worked hard to leave you with that kind of inheritance. Live in the condo, they want you to live comfortably. If they didn't, they would have specified the sale of the condo. Talk to the financial adviser about how to invest the cash in order to be able to make payments on the condo with the dividends of your investment. If it works out well, you'll have little-to-no living expenses, courtesy of someone who loved you and wanted you to be able to relax and not worry about things like they did.

You received this gift because you are loved and cherished and trusted to use it to improve your life. Imagine what the giver would have wanted for you.
posted by juniperesque at 10:23 AM on October 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

A lot of people have to work full time and pay their entire tuitions and also pay their rent. No matter what, you're luckier than someone else and you haven't had to work as hard as someone else. I think once you recognize that, you'll realize that nothing has solely been earned through just your own hard work, even if that's what you want to believe. Most of it comes from being supported by someone with some money.
posted by anniecat at 10:24 AM on October 15, 2010

Your doubts and unease are normal and natural. Money is very complicated in all kinds of ways, including socially and psychologically. And you really can't feel comfortable talking about your financial concerns with friends -- it can be confusing, intimidating and isolating, and can raise important questions about values and identity.

A number of people close to me came into a lot of money all at once near the end of the dot com era -- for example, retiring at age 40 with a net worth of 8 million. They all had to adjust mentally, and it wasn't quick or easy for any of them. All were raised in very modest circumstances, and had friends and family members in the lower-middle and mid-middle class. They all asked themselves the same questions.

Years later, I see that each of them handled it differently, and in keeping with their personalities and preferences. One problem for some was that at the time of their sudden wealth, they didn't really know what they wanted, what was important to them, what they found satisfying. They hadn't really had a chance to find out.

You may feel weird knowing that how you use your money will be an outward sign of the kind of person you are. Other people will have opinions about it, and that can give rise to a lot of anxiety. You'll gradually learn to deal with it.

You need time. You don't have to do anything at all, other than safeguard your assets. You don't have to change anything till you're ready. Don't berate yourself for feeling guilty or for not feeling guilty. Don't fall into self-criticism over your very normal feelings of discomfort. Your windfall is a big change, and so it introduces a lot of stress, and that's unavoidable.

I do have one suggestion. Look back and find moments when you felt satisfaction, enjoyment, fascination, happiness, pride, etc. Those experiences can give you clues to interests and values you haven't had a chance to develop. Use them as clues to things you might enjoy now. If you're inclined to help others, ask yourself what would have benefited you or someone close to you when you were a kid or a student. And can you use something you love doing while helping someone else?

Feel free to MeMail me.
posted by wryly at 10:30 AM on October 15, 2010

Keep living as you are. The money is there for two reasons, neither of which involve spending it now or giving it away:

1) You parents are providing you with a safety net, now that they can no-longer provide one in person. Don't blow the money, keep it safe. Like your parents once did, it can help protect you if the worst comes to the worst.

2) If you successfully earn your way through life, and the emergency never comes, then the money can become a safety net for your loved ones, once you are no-longer able to be there to provide one in person. Let their legacy live on.

If you're going to spend some of it, perhaps spend it on something your parents would approve of, perhaps something that you can think of them giving you.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:55 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Did the person who left you the money work hard for it? Were they entitled to decide what became of the money after their passing? It was their wish that you have the money/property, clearly. Just because it comes from the sweat of their brow and not yours does not mean it's not honest money.
posted by willpie at 11:18 AM on October 15, 2010

I inherited a nice but not huge amount of money a couple years ago. I sat down and laid out a plan for what I wanted to do with it -- replace the car, buy a house, give 10% of it to charities I believed in.

This year, we bought a house with the money. A couple months after closing, a family member ran out of money, lost their business, moved in with their son, and is in the process of selling their old house before they are foreclosed on.

At that point, I felt a lot of guilt, because had I known about the situation, I could have stepped in and used some of the money that went towards my down payment to cushion their fall, maybe help them reorganize their life.

The point is, you will probably always feel some guilt. The best thing you can do is manage your money wisely, give freely to charities that help people in need, and live within your means. If you feel like you've been a good steward of your resources while freely giving to people in need, you will be less likely to feel guilty.

If you do want to help your friends, I'd suggest setting aside a percentage of your wealth as a "help my friends" fund. I'd recommend using it primarily for loans and making sure your friends try to pay you back. You can always forgive the loans at any point, but at least they will make the attempt to replenish the fund. And you can tell them that -- you're loaning this money with the hope that when they're stable again they'll put the money back for others to use.

Guilt about wealth is actually pretty common. We poo-poo it in the wealthy, but you see a lot of anxiety among those suddenly gaining a windfall. Money and happiness don't directly coorelate.
posted by dw at 12:00 PM on October 15, 2010

This essentially happened to a friend of mine, except he was a little older (in his mid-30's). He definitely fits the "I was a slacker and now I have all this money," i.e. he got laid off from his job about the same time the money came through and never bothered to get another one.

From what I can tell, he:
1. Paid off his house and any other outstanding debts
2. Smart, safe investments so he essentially has a annual "salary" from his inheritance
3. Still does part time work/freelance gigs/handyman stuff that brings in a little extra dough
4. Lives pretty frugally
5. Travels quite a bit, but does it on the cheap (cheap hotels, camping, staying with friends/family)

Are we all insanely jealous that he's been "retired" for 5 years at the age of 40? Yes. But he also isn't squandering his wealth, and he does help friends and family with various home projects without compensation, and he hosts some killer parties on occasion.
posted by sararah at 12:20 PM on October 15, 2010

How do I reconcile the guilt over suddenly becoming a trust-fund kid

You might first stop thinking of yourself as a part of a monolithic group who are all (I'm guessing from the tenor of your question, apologies if I've extrapolated too far) lazy people who don't understand what the real world is like and who don't value anything that you value. There are enough people in the world with trust funds that I'm pretty sure you can find all sorts of people in that group.

Money is money. It's not inherently good or evil. I think its only real intrinsic value is that it's useful. And your inheritance means that your physical circumstances have changed, but that doesn't mean that you are a substantially different person today than you were before you inherited it. The decisions you make about it going forward don't have to be made by some other imaginary, more glamorous version of yourself. You should use it based on your own real priorities. Of course, figuring out what those actually are is a bitch sometimes, but that's something you'd have to do eventually with or without the money, so there you go.

I think it's a good idea to not start making huge purchases right off the bat while you're still processing what you want to do with it. Once you've gotten set up with a financial advisor, sit on it for a while and in the meantime, just use it in smaller ways to take better care of yourself. If you haven't before, you can keep up with doctors' appointments, and eat more healthily, fix things that you've just been sort of putting up with until now (do you have a microwave that always breaks, a desk chair that hits you in the wrong place in the back?), and replace things before they become completely worn out (towels, pillows, shoes, etc).

Also, talking to a financial planner might help you calm down about this too, because part of your freak-out (again, I'm guessing) may be that it's simply overwhelming to suddenly have to deal with a large chunk of change. What if you waste it or lose it all and all of your parents' hard work goes for nought? And who the hell really understands the markets as a complete layman anyway, especially in this economic climate? It's like the part of the fairytale where the prince gets shoved into the dark wood with only a magic sword he doesn't know how to use and a hunk of bread, and as soon as he looks up he can see evil yellow eyes blinking at him from behind every bush. When you talk to a good financial planner, you'll see that you've now got someone who knows a lot more about the system than you do, and will therefore help you to not screw everything up by accidentally feeding yourself to a wolf.
posted by colfax at 12:27 PM on October 15, 2010

Don't gloat, don't invite people to expensive things and expect them to pay their share, don't lend anyone money, don't flaunt it, and don't tell people about it.

That should keep everyone else happy. The pay off your debts, put away the bulk and go wild with the rest. Have fun and enjoy life and don't feel guilty about it. Next you'll be feeling guilty about having too much sex or fun, and that's crazy talk!

99.9% of people would trade their problem for your problem in a split second!
posted by meepmeow at 12:33 PM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Give it away.

That will make you feel a lot less guilty.

A good thing is a scholarship in your name so that someone who IS hard-working and deserves a hand up can benefit on a long-term basis.

Conversely, if you have any special skills, quit your job and take up full-time volunteerism while living very frugally on only the interest.

Buying things is silly and will not make you happy. Neither will being broke, but hey. Life is hard like that.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:39 PM on October 15, 2010

You inherited a place to live and enough money to maintain it, pay the taxes, insurance, etc, at least for a while. Pretend it's a house instead of an apartment; your immigrant parents worked very hard to build this house and own it outright, so that they could leave something material behind when they died.

Get a financial advisor. Pay off whatever debts you have. Keep living frugally. Consider yourself still broke, don't buy a bunch of new toys. Put the money away as a fund to keep up the apartment. Now you can have less anxiety than most because you're never going to be homeless.

If you just spend the money, and it's not enough money to live on for the rest of your life, then you're going to end up as an immature 40 year old with no life and no skills and no money. STAY AWAY FROM DRUGS AND ALCOHOL.

If you want to feel guilty, feel guilty that you're at whatever age you are and you feel you haven't done anything with your life, are still a slacker, etc. Put your energy into changing that. (New Yorkers are always going to have real estate envy; fuck 'em.)

You have an advantage in that you don't have to worry about where to live or how to pay for it while you figure that out. You have a lot of choices open to you now that you don't have to worry about paying the rent, and don't have to make the compromises that a lot of people have to make because of that necessity.

Wanna do something awesome with your privelege? Have a spare bedroom in that apartment? Offer it to someone you know who really deserves to stay in NYC but can't afford to, or has to give up on their 'dream' in order to afford to live there. Let them stay with you for a low but reasonable amount of rent, which you secretly put aside for them. When they really need the money, or it's time for them to get their own place, give all their rent money back to them as a gift. Maybe do that for several people, for a year each.

Oh, and watch out when you have kids of your own. The classic US immigrant model is that the 1st generation builds wealth, the 2nd generation maintains it, and the 3rd generation wastes it, often leaving the 4th generation worse off than their great-grandparents.
posted by bartleby at 2:07 PM on October 15, 2010

Consider this: this is the sort of thing that enables people to become middle class or more securely thereof. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for individuals or families to get a toe hold in the middle class without an assist from others like an inheritance now and again. When lower class people scratch and claw their way into the lower rungs of the middle classes, all it takes is one injury, illness or run of bad luck to put them right back where they started -- or worse: that's how life works when flying without a net. So contemplate your great good fortune and get over whatever you need to get over to become comfortable with it.

That having been said, you might consider that you have an obligation to put these assets to good use for the benefit of yourself, any children you might have, and anyone else with whom you might eventually saddle up a horse. As unfashionable as it may be in this narcissistic culture to consider that one has obligations to others and future generations, you might consider this angle as you contemplate what to do with your windfall. Do your homework and give yourself a crash course on investing if you need it, and aim your assets toward the future. If nothing else, you never know how or when the wheel of fortune will turn, and for this uncertainty a little rainy day fund is always a good thing. (And as to this last point, I speak from experience.)
posted by SuzB at 3:56 PM on October 15, 2010


Don't give it away. You can probably do more good by keeping it.

Something very similar happened to my partner. We were also in our twenties and it was boggling. Sharing the joy with our friends and families resulted in our re-reckoning who really cared about us. There was a bunch of guilt until we figured out that feeling lucky was the better attitude.

It's time to hit pause and get used to your new circumstances. Continue to live as you do and do not lust after stoves and cars. You will still lose some friends. Don't loan money to the ones that remain. Put the money where you can't touch it for a few years while you think things out.

Buy a job you love. Watch the business listings. Buy something that excites you. Don't hire your friends. Treat your employees and customers well. You'll feel pretty good at the end of most days, and that is something ethereal that you really can buy and never regret.

I've plenty to share if you go that route.

Be careful and take the time to think this out. Imagine yourself at 18. You don't have much in common with the way 18 year old you looked at the world any more. This will continue.

Best wishes.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 5:31 PM on October 15, 2010

I agree that you should save this money - talk to a financial adviser.

BUT the big advantage of having a nest egg is psychological. You don't have to panic about losing your job, or about a future big medical bill, or about children who might need orthodontist treatment. That is where you are now better off than your friends. So one thing you can maybe do is occasionally step in to help them out where you wouldn't have been able to before. I don't mean large sums of money: I mean if someone needs you to help them move house, or take their kids while they are at a medical appointment, or something where you would have to take a day off work. In the past you might have worried about possible (unlikely) consequences of a day's absence leading to losing your job - now you don't have to be so concerned. That's just a random example, but there are all sorts of occasions where you can now feel a little freer to help out.

If you know a friend is going through a hard time, you can buy them some groceries, or take them out for a meal, or something else that you probably would have been able to afford before too, but might have been too scared to spend the money on in case you needed it yourself in an emergency. Now you don't have to worry about that so much.

Finally, there are some ways in which people with money in the bank can actually live more cheaply than people without. For example, you can self-insure for certain things. If you drive a cheap car, you can get the minimum legal insurance on it and know that you could replace it if something unlikely happens and it gets written off. You can have emergency-only health insurance if you like, so that you are covered for large expenses, but not small things. You can choose not to insure your home contents, if, like me, you have cheap-ass second hand furniture and could replace everything in your house without even spending your whole nest egg. (These insurance things depend on your own comfort-level with risk, of course - insurance is sometimes worth it just for peace of mind, even if it isn't cost-effective.)

You can buy things in bulk. If you find the perfect shoes, you can buy three or four pairs at once, and never have to buy shoes again for decades. You can buy better quality clothes that last longer (I don't mean pricey labels: I mean buy wool instead of synthetics, or well-sewn clothes instead of sweat-shop produced items that are already falling apart after the first wash). If you need home repairs done, you can use good quality materials and have skilled tradespeople do it, rather than the bare minimum you can afford. At the dentist, you can afford slightly pricier fillings that will last longer. When you are going on holiday, you can buy your tickets well in advance, when prices are lower. You can pay cash for large purchases and get a discount. You can buy a car outright instead of using finance that will cost you more in interest over the long term. All of these things require more money at the outset, so people without savings can't do them, but they save you money in the long run.
posted by lollusc at 5:43 PM on October 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Well, I can see that I'm pretty late to the party here, so to speak, but since my experience has been vaguely similar to yours, I thought that I'd chip in my two cents.

First, don't get a financial advisor/planner. They are predators. When someone sees that you don't understand how to handle your finances, that you have a sudden windfall and that you'd like them to do it for you, please, they will take advantage of you. Instead, you must educate yourself on these matters with a good amount of reading (books and internet) and asking the right questions of knowledgeable, disinterested third parties (that is, people who do not have a financial interest in guiding you one way or the other in a decision). I picked up all of this when I was unemployed for a long stretch after graduating college and had a lot of free time on my hands. I can offer you what I used to get up to speed on the topic: The Bogleheads Forum, A Random Walk Down Wall Street, Unconventional Success, The Bogleheads' Guide to Investing. I guess nowadays, the Bogleheads Wiki merits its own link, too.

Second, once you've educated yourself, if you find all of this terribly dull and would rather have someone else handle these matters for you, then do go find a financial planner. This would seem to contradict my statement above, but I feel that once you have educated yourself, you are equipped to tell a good deal from a bad one, to know when someone is trying to take advantage of you, and thus you will have the skills to find an honest professional to handle the mundane details for you while you get on with your life. Given your new education, you will always be able to double-check their work to ensure that they are working with your interests in mind.

This all assumes that you want to keep this money and manage it as savings (as opposed to, say, giving it away to charity, establishing an endowment for scholarships, starting your own business or what have you). I can't really speak to the moral or happiness aspects as I don't believe that I've yet discovered what fulfills me in life, but for now, I've decided that the means that were gifted to me represent freedom and security. That is, I do not live ostentatiously, I have a regular job, but should the need arise, I can quit that job and find another without having to scramble to make sure that I still have a roof over my head. Should I ever start a family, I will know that we shall not want for food or the basic amenities of life, that we shall never be enslaved with debt to gain an education or shelter. This is not an endorsement of my philosophy, simply a short explanation of the thinking I've developed thus far in my life.

I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors. If you have any questions for me, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by indubitable at 11:06 AM on October 16, 2010

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