Reliable sources of corrective financial advice in South Carolina?
December 5, 2013 6:45 AM   Subscribe

My in-laws in South Carolina, who don't have a stellar history with money, are facing some challenges that are really restricting their circumstances. They're not against cleaning up their act in terms of budgeting and being smarter about money, but don't really have a head for it. What's the best way to help from a distance?

My wife and I live in Quebec; she's currently down in South Carolina on a visit and we've had a few private phone calls about how they don't seem to be handling money especially well. Her dad is quite ill, her mom is on disability, and they're currently living rent-free thanks to my sister-in-law and her husband, but not making super great choices in terms of how they're spending what little they have. Lots of "treat yourself!" impulses, paying with cheques and credit cards instead of cash, etc.

As far as I can tell, they're living hand-to-mouth from pension/disability cheques. Again, not having to pay for lodging is very helpful, and there isn't a feeling of imminent crisis, but a lot of warning signs.

They're in a space where they're open to the idea that they need to make some changes, but lack the kind of "money sense" to make those changes without help. More help than my wife can provide by showing them our budget spreadsheet and trying to explain how it works while she's down there for a couple of days, anyway.

One of the issues is that until a few years ago, house finances were really handled by my wife's dad, but he's been taking less and less of a role as his illness has progressed, and her mom has never really been in a position where she's had to call the financial shots before.

My wife wants to sit down with her mom before she comes home this weekend and have a little talk (we've noticed these things, it's a little worrisome, we've discussed this before and you've said you could use some help with financial stuff, so here's a plan, what do you think?). But we kind of need a plan to propose or it'll just be more vague talk that results in good intentions and very little action. This doesn't have to be person hired, scheduled, and locked in, but at least being able to say "we want to help you out with X type of person that will perform Y sort of task for you" would be super helpful.

I feel they're a little too proud to use free government counseling (and may not be in dire enough straits to qualify for it), but open to a kind of "this professional will help you get your budget plan in order" sort of approach. So we feel like the best move might be if we could help them out by hiring and paying for some sort of credit/budget advisor to sit down with them -- kind of a "budget coach" idea -- for a while.

But I know little to nothing about this. Trying to search about it results in a lot of stuff that feels like it's for people who are in far more dire straits than them, and a lot of it seems super shady and parasitic (we'll consolidate all your credit card payments for a low monthly fee!). I don't know what kind of service to look for, and the idea that we will probably be vetting and hiring somebody at a distance is very daunting. I'm looking for advice and recommendations on approaches to this.
posted by Shepherd to Work & Money (6 answers total)
The last entry on this page might help. I am a librarian employed by the state of SC in another part of the state. Feel free to contact me with questions.
posted by mareli at 6:52 AM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm going to recommend Financial Peace University.

It's not a government deal, and it's typically offered through churches. I find Dave Ramsey off-putting, but the advice is solid. Perhaps you can give it to them as Holiday present this year.

It provides an actionalble plan for changing how one handles money.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:56 AM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

The reference desk at the local public library would also be a good place to look for help.
posted by mareli at 6:58 AM on December 5, 2013

Here's the Federal Trade Commission's advice on finding a legitimate credit counselor, which offers guidance on finding and selecting a reputable agency.
posted by notyou at 7:55 AM on December 5, 2013

I think you should look at the links on the page mareli linked to. Your question is about financial coaching, but if you read between the lines, it sounds more like you need someone to coach your mom through the transition of the old way (having her husband manage everything) to the new way of becoming more on her own as he gets sicker.

That sounds like it work better coming from people who have dealt with problems related to Aging, rather than Finance. If you approach it this way, you'll notice that there may be other issues related to Aging that also need to be addressed.
posted by CathyG at 11:27 AM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: OP, you sound like a wonderful SIL to these folks. Have they asked you and your wife for financial help? When you write "They're not against cleaning up their act" it sure doesn't sound like it. Sounds like they're just humoring you (especially if they're Southerners) and don't actually want to change.

I'm going to disagree with everyone else here: you and your wife laying out your own cash to hire some investment professional you don't know from Adam to help your in-laws budget better is as misguided as buying the person who has no interest in dieting and exercising some sessions with a personal trainer, who will then sell them a gym membership, and lots of exercise equipment that of course he profits from, and his own nutrition books and supplements, ad infinitum. At the outset, it seems like a "responsible" choice you're making for them, but there are risks you don't seem to be considering - the cold hard truth is we really cannot trust anyone but ourselves to manage our own financial lives, and ironically, you could be leaving your MIL worse off by inviting the wrong person in. (See Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry by Helaine Olen.)

If you truly want to help, by making sure she doesn't get taken by some guy selling shady mcshaderson whole life insurance and loaded mutual fund products and/or creating assets her future creditors can take away from her, then YOU two should be the ones doing the helping. Go read Personal Finance for Dummies by Eric Tyson, and I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi, which lays out a simple 6-week program (targeted to the 20-35 y.o. set but addresses your IL's situation of 1) overspending concerns, 2) having debt but not a lot of assets, and 3) how to automate - better than any other guide).

Then you and your wife:

1) Sit down with your MIL and make their budget.
2) Calculate their net worth.
3) Automate their bill paying and bank accounts.
4) Cancel the credit cards.
5) Follow the advice in this Mefi post about talking to parents about end-of-life planning.

"Lots of "treat yourself!" impulses, paying with cheques and credit cards instead of cash, etc."

He's sick and they're disabled/older? Then this is not necessary irrational spending behavior. Maybe they think these are the final years of his life. Why deny him a $4 milkshake? People mistakenly assume overspending on small luxuries is what bankrupts people.

It sounds like your MIL's housing will still be taken care of by her daughter when her husband dies, and she'll still have some government money coming in that creditors can't touch. Honestly, it does not sound like she's going to be in dire financial straits, well, anymore than the average American is anyway. Bonus points if she really is judgment proof. On these facts, I would try not to worry so much about their finances, as they seem to have little to lose by maintaining the status quo.
posted by hush at 5:37 AM on December 6, 2013

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