Penny foolish and Pound foolish
November 6, 2007 7:24 AM   Subscribe

How to tell inlaws to buck up and be frugal?

Recently at dinner my father inlaw told my wife and I that they would like to sit down with us at some point and discuss what might happen in the future re: their retirement, if one of them dies what happens to the other one, etc. He assured us that nothing is out of the ordinary and they just want to be prudent, etc, etc. I thought, well good! I like when people are pragmatic about stuff like that. But then the kicker....he said something about how it would be nice to know that whoever is the widower has support. Then he went on to say that how when he was sick (approx. 8 years ago, he was out of work for 1 year) he wiped out his half of the retirement equation so they really just have hers. So I am guessing that this conversation will be about money, and namely, how much they can count on us for. FYI - they are 55ish, don't make too much but live in a very small town and living expenses are pretty low.

This annoys me for several reasons.
1. He was sick 8 years ago. More or less a full recovery. A guy could save a lot of money in 8 years if they had the gumption. Even $50/month would be ~$5000.
2. They go on like 3-4 mini-vacations every year. Stupid little weekend trips here and there. Nothing extravagant, but still kinda stupid when you supposedly have no money.
3. We've just finally come into a time of relative stability and financial security. We scratched and clawed our way there. I finally finished school and we both have good jobs but we are in no way rich. I am insulted that they all of the sudden want to have this discussion. I feel like they are seeing dollar signs on us.
4. My wife tells me that when she was growing up her parents would be borrowing money from her grandfather for downpayments on houses and stuff like that. That is fine and I think its great that they were able to have that sort of help. Now they are more than likely going to be seeing what they can get out of us. That angers me in a way I can't really understand. Like they are a double drain in the generational chain. They have never helped us and we never asked, except for once. Our child was just born and my wife was on leave and money was tight. A few hundred dollars would have been a lifesaver. They couldn't help. There was just no way. But sure enough, in practically the same breath m-inlaw talked about some upcoming trip to some weekend lame-fest.

I get that it is noble to help your elders. I would certainly hope that our child would help us out of a jam if we really needed it in our golden age. But is it too much to ask that they help themselves first?

So how do we tell them that of course we will help them if need be, but that I need them to do what they can now? IRS allows catch up contributions of up to like $12k or so. THey have 10 years or so to get this sorted out. How do I tell them, stop taking stupid vacations and start saving money fools! - without getting 2 very angry and indignant inlaws.

They are going to have 2 main excuses as to why they can't control this situation at all. One is that FIL was sick as mentioned above. The other is that they don't make much money. So, there is kind of a pity party factor there. And somehow the republicans figure into this, republicans are keeping them down.

I kinda want to be a jerk and say....hey, you had your help, you got downpayments and stuff when you were starting out. Now you want help on the tail end too? Nope. Sorry. We want to be sure that we save money and make reasonable decisions so that we can help our child out the same way that your father helped you.

I guess I don't have a specific practical question other than -
How do I present my viewpoint without it turning into a huge blowout? Am I being a jerkhole for thinking like this? Anyone go through something similar? How did you handle it? How do you ask inlaws about their personal finances and what they are doing about it?
posted by ian1977 to Human Relations (41 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would wait. Just wait, and take a breath. See what it is they are actually asking for without assuming anything.

Support can mean many things and least amoung them is money. At least they have a retirement, many don't. You can help them look into social security or other options when the time comes. That time hasn't come yet.

Right now they are living. People that are living their lives but perhaps are not working do stuff like take vacations. Its good for keeping a sane mind. It would be cruel and silly to tell them to give up their 3-4 "mini vacations" a year.

Above all remember, they are her parents. They spent untold money and resources raising her. Karmaically, these are not people that you should resent caring for.
posted by stormygrey at 7:33 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Honestly? You do kind of come off as a jerkhole here.

Your judgments about how they spend their money now seem especially harsh -- 3 to 4 mini-vacations a year does not seem to me like a heinous waste of money, even for people who need to be setting some aside.
posted by ottereroticist at 7:36 AM on November 6, 2007

Stormygrey's right.

I understand the resentment, I really do - my inlaws are not financially well-off, but I love my husband and he loves his family.

This is something that you need to discuss with your wife - what kind of commitment you guys would be willing to make. For example, we both decided that we draw the line at having a parent live with us - if we are put in a position where we need to support a parent financially, we'll likely do it by paying some or all of the rent for a small apartment somewhere close by.

This is one of those things that you don't have to do, but that you should do. They raised your wife, dude. How does she feel about it? I'm pretty sure that she doesn't want to see her parent destitute.

This is where compromise comes into it. Maybe talk to them about long term care insurance, and offer to pick up a certain amount of the premiums if they can't afford the whole thing. Talk about what you feel is reasonable for your family without telling them to fuck off and die (literally).

Yes, you're being a jerkhole. Unless you have the great fortune to marry an orphan, you're going to have to deal with this. I bet you would feel differently if it were your parents in this situation - try to think of it from that perspective.
posted by mckenney at 7:39 AM on November 6, 2007

Agree that you could hold back and not react until they're more explicit about what they're asking for. If they make it clearer that they're asking for reassurance that you'll support them financially, explain that you're in no position to make such commitments. You don't know what your financial situation will be in 10 or 15 years, so you can't make promises. IOW, decline to be their financial anxiety relief valve.
posted by jon1270 at 7:42 AM on November 6, 2007

What is their definition of "support?" There's a lot of wiggle room between "Don't let us starve to death" and "We'll move our stuff in Tuesday." You and your wife should decide together on a level of support and make your in-laws aware of it. That way if they're expecting more than you're prepared to offer, at least they'll know up front that it's not going to happen. I think it's fine to offer limited support, with an emphasis on limited, and then quickly turn the topic of conversation to their own finances and what they can do in the next 10 years to increase their retirement fund. Print off some articles about what people in their 50s can do now to increase their savings. Offer to accompany them to a financial planner who can look at their budget and income and make some suggestions. There's a lot you can do to help that doesn't involve spending your own money.

Also I notice that nowhere in your post do you mention how your wife feels about all this. They are her parents, after all. Does she agree with you, disagree with you, or is she merely going along with you because you're so irate about it?
posted by boomchicka at 7:49 AM on November 6, 2007

You're expressing a lot of outrage here as indicated by your repeated use of the words "insult" and "anger" - this coupled with the fact that you "kinda want to be a jerk" doesn't bode well for your inlaws I'm afraid.

Look, these people aren't welfare queens. They are your family. You need to accept that first before you approach them otherwise all this misplaced outrage (you're really making yourself out to be both greedy and a false-victim) will spill out into the discussion and be counterproductive.

If you're serious about helping them (and you should be, because you know, they are your family after all) then you and your wife should hire (yes, spend YOUR precious money) a financial consultant for them. The consultant can work with them to build a plan that insures that they will enjoy financial independence into the future.

The reason I say that you and your wife should hire the consultant is three-fold. 1.) The consultant will be working for you as well, figuring out a way so that your in laws don't become an unreasonable burden on you and your wife. 2.) Telling people they should seek out a financial consultant is like telling them they need therapy. They may agree, but the motivation may not exist to seek one out on their own. 3.) A good consultant will SAVE you and your wife money in the long run.

A few other thoughts:

- Don't forget that these are the parents of your wife. How will it affect the stability of your marriage if you don't handle this situation intelligently?

- Do you really want your kids growing up and wondering why grandma and granddad have all that cat food in their kitchen, but no cat? Maybe you should tighten your belt if it means that the grandparents of your children can live above the poverty line?

- And please work on all these feelings of anger and outrage. There is no excuse for such negative feelings when there are plenty of opportunities left for your family.

And despite your feelings to the contrary many formerly middle class Americans have been irrevocably hurt by Republican policies...
posted by wfrgms at 7:50 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I also understand the resentment.

When you meet, let them present their case. Let them lay out their financial situation, both as it is now, and as they see it in five, ten, fifteen years. Don't offer counterproposals, don't say "But what about [blahblah]?", just listen, and take notes. Thank them for thinking about this and wanting to start planning, and then say that you (and your wife) want to think about what they've said, and can you all get together in a couple of weeks (or whatever) to continue the discussion?

Then go home and rant or vent or whatever. Set up a meeting with a financial planner (you might already have one), or a friend who's savvy about financial planning, and work out worst- and best-case scenarios. Once you've gotten some actual numbers and advice from someone who knows what they're doing (and your temper's calmed down), meet again with the inlaws and present what you've learned. Offer to set up a meeting for them with the planner, and maybe even offer to pay for a session for them with the planner.

Ideally, you'll end up with a plan that everyone can live with, with a minimum of financial and emotional distress. Good luck.
posted by rtha at 7:51 AM on November 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

I am in a similar situation - helping out family members but it really isn't a burden. When you get married you become a joint economic unit, and that implies some in-laws with their hands out or brothers living in the basement smoking pot when they are 38.

My only advise is that if they ask for a loan, make a gift for about 1/2 the amount. You will never get the money back anyway and there is a better chance to stay friendly.
posted by shothotbot at 7:52 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Re: outrage, reaction, etc.

Sorry for the harsh words in the original post. I am definitely in reaction mode right now. There is a lot of backstory that is not in the post. Family drama blablabla.

If I could filter out the harsh words out of my original post it would say something more like...

Is it wrong to expect them to be working towards their own future before we commit to helping them out? Especially considering they have 10+ years to be working on this.

Bottom line is that of course we would help. But I don't want that to be the reason they choose not to tighten their own belts a little. After all, they are both working adults.

With regards to the harsh judgements of the weekend trips and such: I can see how the words look harsh and they are, but we are just ourselves getting out of a hard time by forgoing things like weekend trips and such.
posted by ian1977 at 7:56 AM on November 6, 2007

you're begrudging them their 3-4 mini vacations per year? seriously? these people raised your wife - you can't dictate to them how they spend their money. it sucks that they were unable to help you when you needed it, but that is somewhat of a separate issue. There's no way you can tell them how to spend their money without it causing a huge amount of drama. Just wait to see what they're asking of you and then decide if you can accommodate them.
posted by sid at 7:56 AM on November 6, 2007

I, for one, don't think that the OP is being a jerkhole. I think he is faced with that most difficult of situations: the intersection of family and money, and ad hominem attacks are not particularly helpful.

My suggestion is that you:

(1) Sit down with your wife and find out exactly how she feels about this. They are her parents, after all, and her feelings should guide (but not necessarily determine) your actions.

(2) In said discussion, you and your wife should decide roughly how much support you are willing to lend your in-laws, including such things as direct financial support, moving in with you, etc.

(3) If you determine that you simply cannot or will not provide direct financial aid to your in-laws, you might try something like this: "____ and I have talked this over, and we feel that our financial situation is precarious enough that we cannot guarantee that we will be able to financially support you in your retirement. You can of course count on us for emotional support, help with specific tasks, and anything else that we can do. If you are worried about retirement savings, perhaps we could sit down and draw up a savings plan for the next ten years that would help provide more of a cushion." As a bonus gesture, you might even offer to "match" their contributions to this savings plan up to a certain limit.
posted by googly at 7:56 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

You are not just marrying your spouse you are marrying her/his family. This was told to me early on in the process and there is no better advice I can give anyone thinking of taking the plunge. I have the same issue with a somewhat selfish/carefree inlaw - surprise surprise - right around the same age a your inlaws (I have my issues with that generation)- but I knew going into my marriage that at some point down the line we were going to have to deal with her irresponsible ways. I came to terms with it before the marriage and whenever my wife wants to make some extravagant capital purchase or vacation I casually mention to her that it's her choice - buy a new car and have your mother live on the streets when she's old or get the used car and take care of her. Obviously it's not said in so many words but hey when you enter into this bond you essentially become their children. I've seen families break up more than one marriage out there and if you love your wife and child I suggest you figure out a way to deal with it. I know my mother adores my father for taking in her mother and her sister at separate times at the end of their lives when they had nowhere to turn. We all have to confront this issue at one time or another .
posted by any major dude at 7:57 AM on November 6, 2007

I don't think you're being a jerkhole at all here. I would feel the same way you do.

When you have the talk they want to have, offer to sit down with them to plan their finances and talk about the long term care insurance, and building up some retirement. They are asking you to be their insurance for the future. It very well is your business to ensure that they are managing their money well.
posted by Melsky at 7:57 AM on November 6, 2007

I dont think you're being a jerkhole at all here but as stormygrey says - you should wait to see what they actually say before jumping to conclusions.

They spent his entire retirement fund in just 1 year?! He obviously didn't have an adequete fund to start with then.

3 to 4 mini-vacations a year does not seem to me like a heinous waste of money, even for people who need to be setting some aside.
It is if they're expecting someone else to cover them because they've enjoyed their money rather than saving it.

If the conversation basically comes down to how much can we count on you for financial support in our old age - I'd pretty much say that you *might* be able to help them out if they're in a real jam but you're just not in a position to be reliable financial support for them and they should try to make other arrangements in the time they've got left (before retirement I mean). You could even offer to help them budget. A polite person would leave it at that, but if they get into how you spend your money, that opens you up to comment on the ways they should be saving money rather than going on holidays and how in 8 years theres been plenty of time to top up a years worth of pension spending.

I don't think theres any way this whole situation is not going to be unpleasant or uncomfortable, if you agree to assist them financially when you really don't think you should be doing so, that will only cause resentment. If you refuse to fund their retirement then they will be resentful of your lifestyle.

Above all remember, they are her parents. They spent untold money and resources raising her.
Yes, and they will be doing the same for their own child. Her parents got assistance from their parents whilst raising her, but they cannot do the same for the grandchild, instead they want help from the other side too.

I'm not saying you should just let them suffer, but make it clear they can't rely on you having the cash to support them - you have no idea what is going to happen in your life in the next 10 years. You should be saving for your future emergencies, not theirs.
posted by missmagenta at 8:00 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

"Sit down with your wife and find out exactly how she feels about this."

We are pretty much on the same page as to how we feel, we just don't know what to do.
posted by ian1977 at 8:01 AM on November 6, 2007

Maybe you could offer to pay for them to see a financial advisor so that they could get professional help in planning for their retirement. I think it would be prudent for them to see the advisor and truly understand the situation before asking for your help.
posted by kamikazegopher at 8:06 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Question: Did they actually ask you and your wife for financial support if it was needed?

You're implying they did, or will be, but it's not clear from the post.

As for what they do with their money and how they spend it - that's none of your business. They earned it so they can spend it how they want.

But the same goes for you and your wife - you decide how you want to spend the money you earn. If you want to help out her parents then you can, but you're not obliged to.

Personally, I wouldn't mind. My future in-laws have helped us out immensely and I'd have no problem giving something back when we could afford it. But I'd be taking advice on where it went from a financial advisor.
posted by Nugget at 8:08 AM on November 6, 2007

I'm not saying you should just let them suffer, but make it clear they can't rely on you having the cash to support them - you have no idea what is going to happen in your life in the next 10 years. You should be saving for your future emergencies, not theirs.

This is SO spot on. Your responsibilities are to your own family first, not them. They can come second, and you can help in many ways, but promises of support or regular cash should not be part of the plan.

Please update us if you can when you speak to them to let us know how it went. Good luck to you!
posted by agregoli at 8:16 AM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

As shothotbot alludes -- whatever you do -- do not "lend" money to a family member. Give it to them as you see fit, but NEVER consider it a loan. If they default then resentment will follow. If one is forced to take collection measures no one will be happy.

Give to them like you know they would to you if you were in need and they had the ability. Golden rule, dude.

That said, you could trump their pity party by playing the same game with them. If they come asking for money, discuss *your* budget with them and let them know how it will impact you. Discuss your own frugality and describe "scratch[ing] and claw[ing] your way" to financial stability. I'd avoid laying a guilt trip, but an honest discussion about how your own "lame-ass weekend trip" will have to be postponed if you do what they suggest.

Nthing the suggestion you go into the conversation with an open mind. Maybe they just want to discuss their burial arrangements or a move closer to their daughter?
posted by GPF at 8:27 AM on November 6, 2007

I don't think you're being a jerkhole. There's a big difference between helping out in an emergency, and putting her parents on a payroll. The people in this thread excuse their vacations, and you do sound a little harsh on that front, but if they're taking vacations and that means they can't afford health insurance (or whatever), it's not your job to cover it. When people start asking for your help financially, you DO get to assess how your money will be spent before forking it over, and if you're not comfortable financing their vacations, then don't.

Let them know that you'll be happy to help them in non-financial ways (you're always welcome for dinner, etc), and in the meantime, start up an emergency fund so you have something put away when they REALLY need it. They need to learn to get by on their own, even if that means adjusting their lifestyle. I do think you need to figure out what will happen if one of them were to pass away--there are many more aspects than money to consider, in that situation. You shouldn't use the fact that money will come up as an excuse to avoid discussing these things.
posted by almostmanda at 8:35 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

How do I present my viewpoint without it turning into a huge blowout? Am I being a jerkhole for thinking like this?

Yes, you are being a jerkhole for thinking like this.

You haven't really mentioned how your wife feels about all of this and it is important to remember that they are her parents. You may not agree with they way they live their lives, and on one hand, you shouldn't have to absorb the financial burden. On the other hand, your wife shouldn't have to feel like she needs to scold and possibly turn her back on her parents in their time of need, or face your wrath. You've made a lot of accusations and judgments about the way they live their life. Do not share these with them. That would be cruel and insulting to your wife. Focus on what is practical and possible, and leave your personal feelings out of it.

Go to the sit-down armed with information about trustworthy financial planners in their area. Better yet, maybe you should suggest that you have the sit-down WITH the financial planner and kill two birds with one stone. Yes, you are going to have to cough up the money, but it is a good deed to help her parents figure out how they can prepare for the future. The benefit of sitting down with them and the financial planner is that - I hope- practical solutions will be discussed and the conversation won't get to the "so, we're thinking, in the worst case scenario, we'll move in with you" point.

A guy could save a lot of money in 8 years if they had the gumption. Even $50/month would be ~$5000.

Why don't you and your wife plan to put $50 aside each month, without telling your inlaws, and think of it as a way to minimize the impact on your own situation if they come to you in their time of need. Hopefully, the financial planner will help make sure that things work out in a way that guarantees that your assistance won't be needed. You may just end up using it to help out one of your relatives. Wouldn't that be ironic?
posted by necessitas at 8:39 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think that rtha is spot on. Don't react right away, take notes, see a financial planner, and then deal with it. You don't want to rush into this and make foolish decisions or get into a huge feud before evaluating everything.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 8:39 AM on November 6, 2007

Another perspective: my grandparents (members of "The Greatest Generation") were the most profligate, financially irresponsible people I've ever known. Grandma was a compulsive packrat shopoholic, Grandpa cashed every "free money" loan check that showed up in the mail. When they moved into a nursing home in 2002, my dad discovered that they had been paying some antiquated $10/month telephone rental charge to the phone company -- when they owned their own phone! In 2002! For decades!

So first, it could be worse. MUCH worse.

Second, and this is the part that you don't want to hear, there's no way you can convince them to change their ways. Maybe someday they'll find the will to change on their own, but getting a lecture from their high and mighty son-in-law isn't going to do it. My grandparents never changed; they died and left behind a mountain of debt.

So you and your wife need to accept that this is HOW THINGS ARE, and make decisions based on that. When my grandparents went into a care facility, my fiscally-prudent father took over their bills and finances -- and by doing that, never had to resort to contributing his own money to their care. Maybe that becomes a condition for help -- you agree to do X or Y for them, if they need it, but only if you get power of attorney to manage their finances. Don't try to change them, and be firm about your boundaries.
posted by junkbox at 8:49 AM on November 6, 2007

You haven't really mentioned how your wife feels about all of this

Well, yes he did. She feels the same.
posted by agregoli at 8:50 AM on November 6, 2007

Sorry, I really should preview before posting when I leave a half-finished reply on the screen for two hours.

Your follow-up comment is more reasonable, and my reply was to your original post.

I do think it would be productive for all of you to see a financial planner before/instead of having a conversation alone with them, hopefully avoiding the opportunity for the conversation to go down a personal path. Since you two already agree that you will help them if they need it, starting a little fund now will help you and your wife more than it will help them. Finally, let your wife take the reins when it comes to discussing whatever limits you two have when it comes to helping them.
posted by necessitas at 8:52 AM on November 6, 2007

You have immediate & long-term responsibility for your direct family unit; yourself, your wife and any children.

Anything after that is a judgement call based on your income, ability, savings and comfort.

Do I sound harsh? Probably - but I'm not trying to be:

My mother-in-law lives with us ;-)

She helped us financially when we first started, we help her now. There are many positives - we never have to worry about finding an emergency babysitter and she never has to worry about rent/mortgage (or an increase on a fixed government pension).

So - we form an extended, cohesive economic unit - to the benefit of all. It is doubtful we could provide the same level of assistance from a distance.

Frankly - I do think you are jumping the gun, until you hear what they need.
posted by jkaczor at 8:52 AM on November 6, 2007

Seeing a financial planner, as a family, is a great idea.

Also - does your wife have siblings? How do they feel about this? If there are siblings, and your in-laws wind up needing financial support after all, it shouldn't all fall on your wife and you.

Bottom line is yes, you do want to do the right thing and not begrudge her family needed support, yet at the same time you must NOT stint your own family and especially your child. You don't want to be telling Junior that he can't go to science camp, or have music lessons, or attend the college he wants to because you have to send the money to the grandparents instead. Nor do you want to be in the same position when YOU get old because you could never put aside any savings because it all got spent on the grandparents...etc. This is why a financial planner is such a good idea.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:55 AM on November 6, 2007

I agree with rtha. Let them lay out the situation for you. Do not react, do not respond. Take copious notes. Let them know that you need time to process, and agree to meet back in a week or two. Then go home and talk with your wife.

If they ask you for money, that's the time to set conditions, and I disagree with everyone who says you don't have the right to pry into their spending habits. If they're going to be a burden on you, you have every right to demand that they mitigate that burden by being more responsible. And that means no more vacations, a strict budget, and very high savings. At your second meeting, you can tell them all of that. If they don't like your conditions, they don't get to count on your support.

I absolutely would not provide free money to people who were living a better lifestyle than I was, even if they were family. That's the sort of thing that breeds resentment that leads to divorce. If they claim to need your help, they have to work with you to stick to a plan where they help themselves first, and that means giving up the luxuries and cutting their spending to the bone. Compromising on this will harm your marriage, and you shouldn't do it.
posted by decathecting at 9:23 AM on November 6, 2007

Thank you to everyone for the thoughtful replies. Apologies again for tone of the initial rant and jerkholery!

Here is what I am taking away from this, FWIW:

I am way jumping the gun on all of this, but in a sense, maybe its better to parse this out with you fine folks than in the heat of the moment.

Financial planner is a good idea. Saving $XX/month and setting it aside for extended family emergencies is a good idea as well.


While their finances are none of my business, my finances are, and it is prudent for me to ensure that we, and them, are making the best decisions for all involved.

My opinions on mini-vacations and spending habits may be valid, but only serve to position myself as a nosy budinski. Exception: Prior to any major financial decisions it is acceptable to mention spending habits and budgets.

...but, spending habits are unlikely to change because I would like them to, so best not to beat my head against that wall. Better to accept things as they are and go from there.

(Note to self, in the future, ask whether or not I am being a 'poohead' or 'boogerface' instead of 'jerkhole.')
posted by ian1977 at 9:54 AM on November 6, 2007

I hereby retract my "jerkhole" comment. You sound like a reasonable guy who had a big emotional reaction to a stressful and trying family situation, and who has the maturity and good judgment to vent to strangers on the Internet before getting all up in the in-laws' grill with it. Good on you for listening and drawing good conclusions from the advice you've received!
posted by ottereroticist at 10:32 AM on November 6, 2007

They haven't asked you anything yet, so don't get worked up. If they do ask, just say that you don't know what resources you'll have available at that undetermined point in the future, but you certainly won't let them starve or go homeless. That should be understood without asking, but it might be the only reassurance they are looking for right now.

If they are talking about some sort of guaranteed stipend, then you have bigger problems. Losing their financial independence also means giving up some of their life decisions, as it has throughout history. If they rely on you for money, then they no longer get to independently choose where they live, where they go on vacation, what they buy, etc. They made financial decisions for your wife when they were supporting her, and they have to accept that the two of you will be making some financial decisions for them if the roles are reversed. You should absolutely promise support, but they need to understand that they do not get to choose the form in which that support comes.

In whatever discussions you have with them about this, remember that they are scared. Losing a loved one that you have spent your whole life with, and not being able to provide for yourself is a terrifying thought. Your attitude should be all about reassurance - leave any resentful feelings out of it.
posted by chundo at 10:32 AM on November 6, 2007

All the negative feelings aside..
IF they come now asking for help later why not just say...
"We'll do what we can when the time comes. Our kids and their needs come first, of course, but we'll help as we can."

That lets you leave the conversation committed to helping them, but how much is dependant on your life situation when they need it.
posted by Jandasmo at 11:00 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I am in a similar situation right now. My advice: with every thing they say, listen. Then reply: "What do you suggest?" Then, no matter what they say, you reply, "okay, let me think about that for a few days."

This will keep you (as it has keep me) from freaking out and screaming.
posted by Ollie at 11:05 AM on November 6, 2007

You need to tell them "mom, dad, we will be there for you. You don't need to worry about that." They need to hear these words. I would give absolutely anything to have my parents around to burden me (mother dead, father estranged from me by evil wife). You don't know how blessed you are. (and yes I know they are "her" parents. Same thing man, you cleave unto your wife and she comes with the whole package.)

Now, this statement does not commit you to supporting them in the lap of luxury for the rest of their natural lives, which as you point out is a good number of years.

Urge them to get financial counseling if it does turn out they are looking for a specific monetary commitment. Tell them of course you'll help, but you just can't know your own financial needs that far into the future (and stick to that). Or you could just set aside money for future needs, without telling them, and then it will be there if they *do* need it.

Then you need to make good on that if, god forbid, the time ever comes. If they end up in dire poverty, yeah, you need to rescue them. If someone needs to move in with you, you do that. These are your parents for god's sake. Promising them future help is not the same thing as denying your kids a college education or taking out a second mortgage on your house.
posted by nax at 11:06 AM on November 6, 2007

It costs you nothing to be sympathetic.

They are at least thinking about retirement. More than a few of my 50-something peers have not even begun to plan.

You could give them the help you have available to give; offer to pay for a financial planner to work with them on retirement planning, saving and budgeting. If it gets them better prepared, it's a darn good investment.

If they are worried about 1 of them dying or being disabled, they should absolutely get more, better term life insurance.
posted by theora55 at 11:14 AM on November 6, 2007

SEP ... Somebody Else's Problem ... not yours ... Lather, Rinse, Repeat
posted by jannw at 12:36 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Your level of support (that is, the level provided by you and your wife) is absolutely a matter for you and your wife to decide, and can in no way be dictated by the supported relatives. If that means you fully support them financially, great; if that means you won't give them a dime, great; it's up to you, not them.
posted by davejay at 1:48 PM on November 6, 2007

I am way jumping the gun on all of this, but in a sense, maybe its better to parse this out with you fine folks than in the heat of the moment.

You sound like you have a bad case of the same disease I have, which is happily in remission but always hanging around the corners of my brain waiting for me to stop being mindful of it.

There's nothing wrong with looking at all the angles, being prepared for what might come up in this conversation, and having some idea how you'll handle it. There's absolutely something wrong with having the entire conversation by yourself, in your head, before they get to contribute.

Sometimes it's a challenge, but I think if nothing else there's one thing we owe to the people in our lives who we care about: when they are talking, we are listening, not thinking about what we're going to say next. You're filling in way too many of the blanks here even if you're 100% on target.

And Ollie gives great advice. This is long-term planning they are talking about, so keep that in mind when you have the conversation. There doesn't have to be any 'head of the moment' - they want to talk with you about stuff that's years or decades into the future, so you're perfectly within your rights to respond to almost anything they say with "well, I don't know off the top of my head," and "I'll have to look into that," and "well, I don't know but thankfully we have plenty of time to figure that out."
posted by phearlez at 2:11 PM on November 6, 2007

Just want to emphasize that your obligation to help is not an obligation to help to the degree they request. If you guys didn't exist, they would probably find some way to survive. You may be able to improve their lives, and you probably should to some degree, but you decide how much. Also agree with the advice to help them get advice from a financial planner. That will definitely send the right message that you'll help but they can't rely on you for unlimited handouts.
posted by underwater at 3:57 PM on November 6, 2007

he said something about how it would be nice to know that whoever is the widower has support.

"Yes, that would be nice, wouldn't it? I agree! It would be very nice.

"Oh, what, you meant us? Ha-ha. Oh no sir, I'm preparing for my *own* retirement. I couldn't possibly commit to that."
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:46 PM on November 6, 2007

I've got to say that I don't believe the magic of the financial planner in this case. If a few weekends away is breaking the bank, and $5k in ten years would make any sort of difference then finances are considerably tighter than you are allowing.
This has positives, of course, in that it may mean the odd $50 here and there may make a big difference if they are on a very low income, and is unlikely to damage your own finances too much.
From the conversation you relayed I would have to say my first thought would be they are going to talk about moving closer or making sure the remaining parent will not be left lonely - not that they are on the look out for money.
I would guess that your FIL is just trying to make sure his wife has somebody looking out for her if he dies.
posted by bystander at 10:25 PM on November 6, 2007

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