My mother-in-law thinks we're cheap!
December 17, 2007 1:38 PM   Subscribe

My mother-in-law is under the impression that my wife and I are far wealthier than we actually are, and it's threatening to drive a wedge between us and the rest of her family. Help!

My mother-in-law has been on some form of welfare for most of her adult life. She currently lives in a government-subsidized urban housing project, and has for at least the last 20 years. She's had substance abuse problems in the past, although I don't believe she's used for many years now. She currently lives off a monthly disability check.

On the other hand, my wife and I are thoroughly middle-class. We live in a relatively modest home in a suburbs of a large city in another region of the country. We're not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, however, from the perspective of someone (like my MIL) who has lived their entire life in urban poverty, we are quite wealthy. For example, after the first time my MIL saw our home, she went home and told all her friends and relatives that we live in a mansion, and that my wife and I both drive big fancy cars. To put it in perspective, the "mansion" is well below the median for our area both in terms of market value and square footage, and the "big fancy cars" are both 8 years old, each with over 120,000 miles on the odometer. I earn in the high five figures, and my wife is a stay-at-home mom, so we're not exactly swimming in cash.

My MIL, in the past, has used us as a "safety net" of sorts - coming to us when there's something she really needs but her very limited income doesn't permit her to get for herself. This hasn't really been a problem, and we've been happy to help out.

However, over the last few months, this has started to mushroom: First, my MIL has been asking for a lot more, and it's slowly been creeping from "asking" to "demanding". The latest example was for a winter coat. My MIL told my wife that she didn't have one, and that she was going to have to spend $300 for a new one. My wife immediately went out, bought a warm winter coat (about $70) in her size and overnighted it to her. However, my MIL had her heart set on the $300 winter coat (one she saw in a notoriously overpriced catalog), and wasn't shy about expressing her great disappointment with the one that my wife bought for her. We've not heard the end of it since, including "it's not like you two can't afford it." She's been bringing up how "rich" we are in nearly every conversation, and also starting to badmouth us to her other relatives, all of whom now share her opinion that we're just a couple of tightwads out to have her freeze to death for our own pleasure. Or something like that.

Now, she's asking for a new computer (I gave her my old one when I upgraded last year). As it turns out, she doesn't intend to keep it, however - we found out that she plans to sell it and use the money for the $300 winter coat. This morning, it really came to a head when my MIL called to nag about the computer, and oh, was she getting anything for Christmas besides? My wife had had enough, and blew up at her. Of course, this resulted in a massive guilt trip about how rich we were, and how we could afford it, and how we "have so much and she has nothing", leaving my wife a complete mess.

Complicating matters is the fact that last year, my wife's childhood best friend, in a nearly identical wealth-disparity situation, ended up being completely ostracized by her family.

So, Mefites - how do my wife and I salvage her relationship with her mother, and her extended family as a whole? Do we just cave and buy my MIL whatever she wants, and chalk it up to "the family tax", or is there a way to put our collective foot down without making the situation even worse?

Questions to:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (66 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
If her family are the type of people who would believe this sort of smearing against you are they the kind of people you or your wife really want or need in your lives?
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:48 PM on December 17, 2007

To salvage this relationship, you're going to have to hurt it, I think. You're both going to have to put your foot down. You MIL won't like it, but she's using the both of you for material wants... not for a family connection. You have to cut off her "gimme" supply to make her see you two for what you really are - her daughter and son-in-law. Not her benefactors. And I bet anything that if she realizes she can't get what she wants from you guys, she'll start going to other family members who will come to the same point you have and realize they've been had.
posted by katillathehun at 1:56 PM on December 17, 2007

I'm sorry that you're in such a difficult situation. I think the only possible way to salvage the relationship is to speak openly about the issue. Perhaps starting with the coat is the best issue. Clearly, you provided her with a coat, so she's twisting stories to bad-mouth you to other people. Can you speak to her about the computer, particularly the issue that she wants a gift merely so that she can sell it? That's really disrespectful. Perhaps part of her knows that, which is why she is slandering you to other family members. Or perhaps she can't see straight about this issue and doesn't realize that she's twisting things in her mind. Maybe a talk would help clarify that?

Another option is to give her an allowance to supplement her monthly check, rather than being at the whim of her latest desire. If you gave her $X per month, she then won't "have" to sell any gifts you choose to give her, and she won't have to ask - which may lend itself to escalating asks. Then she is in charge of managing her money, but she'll have a bit extra to play with. Place the responsibility on her while maintaining your generosity.
posted by bassjump at 1:57 PM on December 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

I earn in the high five figures...
Just for perspective, if we assume "high five figures" means at least 75k or above, you are actually within the top 25% of all incomes in the US. Relatively speaking, you ARE wealthy.

Your MIL is way out of line with the $300 coat gold-digging and needs a serious talking-to, preferably from her daughter (your wife) Perhaps your MIL comes from a background/culture where children, especially successful children, are expected to care for the parents later in life and she simply feels she is due that consideration?
posted by Thorzdad at 1:58 PM on December 17, 2007 [3 favorites]

"family tax"? fuck that.

i think buying her a winter coat (the $70 one) is completely appropriate and what you should do for a family member who truly does not have the money.

but a computer and a $300 coat are luxury items and should not be demanded.

can you explain to her that you're not rich and that the money you make barely keeps you afloat because of things like the mortgage, car payments, baby formula, etc?
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:59 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

With a mother-in-law, you can probably afford (no pun intended) to be completely honest. By this I mean: show her how much you have left at the end of the month, after all necessary expenses. Show her the facts. If you're brave, show her the budget. You folks sound nice enough to be able to show her the numbers and still assure her that you want to help.

Numbers don't lie, and it may be just the message she needs.
posted by Avenger50 at 2:02 PM on December 17, 2007

I think your mother in law has finally come to the depressing realization that her life will never really improve. Some people skate by on the least amount of effort possible and some try and never can really manage to get out of the hole. If she has lived her whole life in poverty, she probably has some really mixed feelings about how her daughter was able to launch herself out of that poverty while she can't. Imagine 40-50 years of this and the compounded years of never really making it and what that would do to the psyche. I don't think this is about a $300 winter coat, it is about the poverty mentality that has probably led her to live that marginal existence her whole life. Honestly, I think you should get her the coat as a Christmas gift and do what you can for her without allowing her to be a total leech. Poverty sucks. When is the last time you had to count your pennies to buy toilet paper? She probably does. You aren't a cash machine but clearly you have some comforts in your life that she can't take for granted. Maybe you are tightwads and certainly you aren't obligated to help, but ask yourself how you'd feel if she died tomorrow and this was the last thing that transpired between you.
posted by 45moore45 at 2:02 PM on December 17, 2007 [10 favorites]

This won't change. Help your wife if she gets frustrated with her mother, continue to send the essentials your MIL needs to get by, and don't let it ruin your lives (financially or emotionally). I think the "allowance" recommendation above is also a good one, if she truly needs the money. Or offer to take care of one bill of roughly that amount (utilities, phone, etc) - but make sure its not one she can rack up to a ridiculous amount out of spite.
posted by shinynewnick at 2:03 PM on December 17, 2007

I'd make sure she hasn't started using again. The fact that this is a fairly recent behavior change is a bit of a red flag to me.
posted by konolia at 2:05 PM on December 17, 2007 [3 favorites]

but ask yourself how you'd feel if she died tomorrow and this was the last thing that transpired between you.

Does this really help their situation? I imagine they're probably hearing enough of this from his wife's family already. It's possible they can't afford to give her a $300 winter coat. They're taking care of her as best they can, and she's asking for things she doesn't need. That's the issue here.
posted by katillathehun at 2:08 PM on December 17, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'd make sure she hasn't started using again. The fact that this is a fairly recent behavior change is a bit of a red flag to me.

I can't believe I'm agreeing with konolia, but she is indeed right to raise this point, something which you may or may not need to raise more tactfully with the in-law.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:11 PM on December 17, 2007

you are not obligated to spend more money than you are comfortable spending and certainly not on $300 coats or computers to be resold. you're her family—not her bank. you need to put your foot down and explain to her that while you certainly don't mind providing her with things that she needs and helping her out when she needs it, it is unreasonable for her to demand that you spend hundreds of dollars on things that she does not need and that to keep guilt-tripping you and your wife and/or smearing you to relatives is going to damage your relationship with her and that would be on her. this kind of emotional/financial blackmail tends not to end once you allow it to begin.
posted by violetk at 2:13 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding the "showing her the numbers," idea. (I have a foster kid who has been in the system his whole life, and he has no concept of what things cost, or how much it costs to pay for everything at market (without subsidies). Granted, he's 18, most teens have no idea.)

Or maybe show numbers for specific items -- such as the sales price of the last coat you bought and the last coat your wife bought. I'm sure they were nowhere near $300.

I like the allowance idea. Could you afford $75 a month?
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 2:15 PM on December 17, 2007

Just a "No, Sorry, we can't help with that."
posted by HuronBob at 2:16 PM on December 17, 2007

If MIL got whatever she asked for then her demands would only grow further until an eventual breaking point leading back to the situation you've arrived at now. So caving to her demands is not an option.

So what's the worst that could happen if you say "No" to MIL? She and her family are dissappointed and I think you live with that. Additionally your wife will feel guilty so you need to help your wife understand that her mother is an adult that has made her own decisions in life and there is no guilt in refusing to meet MIL's endless demands.

Now it's unlikely your wife will agree to $0 for MIL she will inevitably want to help her mother so agree to an annual budget, and do not tell MIL what the budget is or that is a budget. When the budget is exceeded your wife must tell her mother "No, we already bought X for you and we can't afford to buy Y this year. We can't afford it."
posted by StarForce5 at 2:16 PM on December 17, 2007

ask yourself how you'd feel if she died tomorrow and this was the last thing that transpired between you.

That mentality + guilt and manipulation = poorhouse.

You're right that this isn't about a $300 coat. Because if the OP were to cave and get the coat, I have a feeling more demands would come down the pipe.

The MIL is being manipulative, ungrateful, and worst, blatantly lying to her child. Buying the expensive coat, or the computer, or whatever other unreasonable luxury she demands, rewards that behavior and gives her the impression she can do it again. This kind of behavior is wrong and not the way you act towards people you love.

OP, Don't give in to this sort of emotional blackmail. Things will only escalate. You worry about things "making the situation worse" by saying no; I'd argue going along with it will result in the same.
posted by almostmanda at 2:18 PM on December 17, 2007 [7 favorites]

DO NOT SHOW MIL your personal income and expenses! Recipe for disaster! MIL has no personal finance discipline and throwing numbers at her is like showing a box of candy to a baby and trying to explain that they can only have 1 piece of candy -- the baby wants the whole box of candy now and cries until it gets it.
posted by StarForce5 at 2:24 PM on December 17, 2007 [24 favorites]

I make around $18k/yr but I am a super-saver, and I consider myself very rich. By "any stretch of the imagination" you are wealthy bordering on obscenity if you're in the high 5-digits. I wonder if what you mean by wealthy equates to "we are not that smart at managing our own money and are paying out the wazoo for poor financial choices."

Even still, I think you need to maintain the upper hand and sever the connection yourself just for a while, to wean MIL off the teat of perception. After she shows evidence of realizing where exactly which hand feeds which mouth, consider resuming communication.
posted by Quarter Pincher at 2:26 PM on December 17, 2007

I really sympathise with this question, having some similar elements in my own life, although fortunately without the guilt-tripping; and having suffered through several years of poverty myself at a younger age I understand the horrible, soul-corroding resentment of people who seem to have spare money for things like unplanned cups of coffee, or magazines, or new books, or trips to the dentist. It's a horrible feeling. Somewhere deep down she probably feels deeply ashamed, and angry at herself for feeling this way.

I think there are a couple of options here. If I were your wife, I'd ask her what was wrong with the coat she bought. Was it the wrong colour? Not soft enough? Lapels too big? Asking her to distinguish what exactly is not right about the coat she was sent might help her understand that to you, it's about the fact that she needed a coat and you provided her with one. The $300 coat is probably actually more about the fact that she can't afford the things she really wants, no matter how long she waits, and it eats her up. This might help her articulate that a bit more, or at least realise that she's being unreasonable over that particular issue.

You could also decide on a regular sum that you'll provide her with every month. Explain to her that you can't afford to keep providing unplanned gifts, but you're happy to make her some kind of allowance so that she can afford the little luxuries, but she has to stick to it. Show her your budget for the month and tell her you're going to allocate part of that to her. Seeing it laid out in black and white might be quite humiliating - or it might be empowering because she has a bit more control over her "luxuries" budget instead of having to ask every time.

I don't think you're being unreasonable, by the way. I earn just over the average wage, but even I wouldn't buy myself a $300 coat. Or expect anyone else to buy it for me.
posted by andraste at 2:26 PM on December 17, 2007 [4 favorites]

I'd make sure she hasn't started using again. The fact that this is a fairly recent behavior change is a bit of a red flag to me.

Agreed. You've found out that she wants to sell the computer to get the coat, but what if the coat is a smokescreen for the substance she wants to purchase, or money she owes to someone? Best to dig a bit deeper, albeit tactfully. On the other hand, don't worry TOO much yet, as it's also possible she dug herself into a pit about the whole "my kids are rich" thing, and her social circle is giving her a hard time about being a liar.

As far as everything else goes; the best defense on this with the extended family is likely a good offense. Get your personal connections with your extended family up and running again, if they're not already; it's a lot harder for a family to ostracize someone if they're talking to 'em regularly, because you'll be in a position to ask why they've suddenly cut you off (versus family members you don't talk to much anyway, so you can't really be sure if they're cutting you off or just business-as-usual, and you won't be in a position to ask without raising issues, so it's easier for them to cut you off without repercussions.)

Oh, and next time she needs a new coat, etc., do provide it to her -- but don't be shy about second-hand stuff. Hell, I make very low six-figures, but my toddlers still get second-hand clothes when we buy it, because it makes financial sense -- and nobody's going to argue that I'm abusing my kids by doing it when "(I) can afford more", are they?

I guess the important takeaway is that your relationships with your extended family are yours to maintain, not hers to destroy, and if someone complains about how much you spent instead of the need you fulfilled, then they didn't really need it in the first place.
posted by davejay at 2:27 PM on December 17, 2007

Uggh, I've seen this happen before, to be honest I think part of the problem is that you gave her anything beyond absolute emergencies, i.e. the heat is about to be turned off. She's acting like a child throwing a temper tantrum, she'll stop doing it, once she knows it isn't going to work anymore. This is nothing short of emotional blackmail. My dad comes from a family not unlike this. Various aunts and uncles were addicts/con artists (there were several) who would constantly call my grandfather (who was a "rich" high school teacher in middle america) to bail them out. They even started calling my dad wanting money when he was in college (living in the dorms on loans) asking him to pay their electric bills. This went on their entire life and even after my grandparents died, these grieving relatives, tried to raid their house for whatever they could find and started claiming that my grandparents had really wanted them to have their big screen tv and boat.

Next time she calls asking for anything, say no and if it's a necessity, demand to see all her finances. Then force her to come up with a strict budget so that this doesn't happen again. Then write her a check for the exact amount, down to the penny, for whatever she needs and then demand to see the receipt for whatever it's for. Then when she does it again, start micro managing her, it'll probably be the negative re-enforcement that she needs. If she ever actually starts acting like an adult, you can slowly start giving her more. But you need to make it real clear, that you are not her safety net (even though this is just a bluff), that she is an adult that must be self sufficient, and that any demands on her part will only be met with silence.

If a relative calls you to guilt you about your "poor mil" state that you keep a close eye on all of her finances and that you know for absolute fact that all her bills are paid for the month and that she has $X amount of money left over to live on.

This may sound really harsh, but you have more than done your part to help her and be there for you and she has met you with escalating demands and the threat to turn your whole family against you. Do not let her manipulate you. As her kid, you are responsible to make sure her needs are met, not her wants.
posted by whoaali at 2:28 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, and as andraste said: $300 for a winter coat? Not for me. And I drive a 13-year-old car myself.
posted by davejay at 2:28 PM on December 17, 2007

No, it's not guilt or manipulation. It's simply a question they should ask themselves. Poverty is relative --in this case, literally. She feels poor, so do they making "high 5 figures". There was a question posted last week from someone (not this OP) making over $100,000 but in debt for much more than that. People never feel like they have enough no matter what they have.
posted by 45moore45 at 2:28 PM on December 17, 2007

I'm a white trash country boy from Western New York that grew up to be a banker living in London.

I don't think myself better than others, especially those that don't have my blessings nor luck, and I've always tried to help others but on the other hand I've never hesitated to turn my back on family or friends when they've acted unreasonable like you're describing. And as my fortunes in life get better and better - I work two jobs, and at the age of 51 I'm still studying at University - it seems like I've been on the receiving end of more and more demands and expectations. For the fruit of my labours.

She wanted a coat. You bought her a coat. Your gift - the coat - wasn't good enough. When does it end?

Cut your losses and cut her lose. FWIW, I'm in the low middle six figures, I budget my life so I can save >85% of every paycheque and I certainly don't feel obliged to cater to every whim that someone else thinks I should finance.
posted by Mutant at 2:29 PM on December 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

Been there, done that. The demands will escalate rapidly if you cave in. Unfortunately, you are going to have to treat MIL like an impolite stranger in this matter. It was very generous of your wife to send (and overnight, yet) the coat to her mother. It was rude and tacky for her mother to complain instead of just saying "thank you". You know this, and your wife knows this.

Is your financial health worth keeping this woman happy? Because that's what will happen. You need to remember that your wife is acting out of love, but MIL is acting out of greed. Greed never ends - it just gets bigger. Your wife is going to need to set firm limits now. She can do this kindly and with love. Your MIL will not respond kindly, or with love.

In this case, I think that it's a good thing that you live far from this woman.
posted by Flakypastry at 2:32 PM on December 17, 2007

This seems to happen all the time in families. I've known numerous families where there are the responsible relatives, who are doing okay for themselves, and the ones who have totally screwed up their own lives and are bitter and resentful about it. And they always feel like they have something coming to them, like they are entitled somehow. I can name at least three people I know, three different families, where this situation is being rehashed right now.

Sending your MIL a nice coat overnight was the right response to "I don't have a winter coat." Responding with, "but I really wanted the $300 one" is just the way a child would react to not getting what she wants.

You can respond in two ways.

One: don't give into the pressure. This is the one that will keep your ahead above water, let you continue to live your life the way you have been, probably cause your wife some stress, and, yes, this may lead to some estrangement with the MIL.

The second way is to give into her demands until you can't afford to any more, in which case you will become resentful of your MIL, your wife will still be stressed, the two of you will fight about it all the time, the MIL will still continue to make demands, and yes, this may lead to some estrangement with the MIL.

I think you can see where I am going with this. Your wife loves her mother and wants to do the right thing, but right now, you two are in the position of parents to your MIL's childish behavior, and parents have to do the right thing for the child, including denying her things she wants but doesn't need, for her own good. It won't be easy. Good luck.
posted by misha at 2:33 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I totally disagree with the idea of showing her the numbers. It invites argument over the validity of the poster's expenditures. And, as MIL has demonstrated, she is nasty, manipulative, selfish, and prone to being argumentative. Don't go there.

An adult parent has no say on an adult child's budget. Period. It is none of MIL's fucking business how these people spend their money. If I had to guess, basically all of this poster's money is spent on basic living, the kid(s), and some savings. And that's how it should be.

The question is not whether or not you can afford item X, it's whether it's in your budget. Don't let MIL guilt you. Tell your MIL flat out that those items aren't in your budget. Explain to her that it's not a matter of whether or not you can afford an item. It's a matter of spending priorities, and she has no input on that. Tell her that your number one priority is making sure that her grandchildren have the best start in life possible. If you're feeling petty, guilting MIL for taking money from the grandkids, because that's exactly what she is doing.
posted by crazycanuck at 2:42 PM on December 17, 2007 [5 favorites]

how do my wife and I salvage her relationship with...her extended family as a whole?

The obnoxiously rude mother-in-law seems like a lost cause, at least for the moment, and just needs to be ignored, but if you care about the rest of the family, and have any connection there, you should probably bring this up with some of the other relatives. There's no reason your wife's extended family should only be hearing one side of the story, and the ridiculous coat/computer story is a good entry point, as is noting you've been happy to help out on more than one occasion. Expressing it in terms of worry about this strange behavior sounds good, although you may want to feel out the other relatives before directly airing the possibility of drug abuse (konolia's dead-on about that possibility).

you are wealthy bordering on obscenity if you're in the high 5-digits

What a horribly inappropriate thing to say to this poster. Get a grip.
posted by mediareport at 2:43 PM on December 17, 2007 [17 favorites]

i completely disagree with the people telling you to show her your household budget. your finances and your budget are none of her business if she does not contribute to it and you are not obligated to provide her with that information.

my boyfriend comes from southern poverty—to the point where there were days when they had nothing on the table to eat. his dad has—and still is—a coke addict and is still pretty poor. but when he came out to visit my boyfriend and his brother's family, he still insisted on paying for us when we went out even though we make far more money than he does—so we chose cheaper venues like farmer's markets and such to accommodate him. i can certainly understand the OP's MIL's desire for more (coming from blue collar roots myself) but her manipulative and demanding behaviour is disrespectful and out of line.

No, it's not guilt or manipulation.
it is guilt and manipulation, 45moore45. the MIL is an adult. she has made her decisions which have affected her quality of life as have the OP and his wife. why should the OP be penalized with this kind of emotional blackmailing because of his MIL's decisions? it's not as tho they refuse to help her out at all: they help her when she needs assistance, they buy her a coat when she asks for one—it certainly doesn't sound like they are tightwads or are neglectful. it just crosses the line when the recipient of such help begins to feel that she can dictate to them how much to spend, particularly when it's hundreds of dollars for a coat rather than be thankful her daughter even bought her a coat. it's ungrateful and she's not really in a position to be ungrateful for the assistance they provide her.
posted by violetk at 2:45 PM on December 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

DO NOT share your finances with this woman! That's crazy advice. It's none of her business and I'm astonished that anyone could believe it is.

You need to cut her off. It's hard that she's your wife's mother, but she's using you.
posted by winna at 2:45 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

She sounds like someone with a dependant personality. Nothing you do will change that. Find a coping mechanism, meaning, distance yourself from her, cut her out of your life.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:50 PM on December 17, 2007

Relatively speaking, you ARE wealthy.

Unless you have insider knowledge of where the asker lives, you can't even be mostly sure that you're correct.

I make around $18k/yr but I am a super-saver, and I consider myself very rich. By "any stretch of the imagination" you are wealthy bordering on obscenity if you're in the high 5-digits. I wonder if what you mean by wealthy equates to "we are not that smart at managing our own money and are paying out the wazoo for poor financial choices."

You're either out of touch or you live in South Texas. If the asker earned $18,000 per year, his household would be less than $1000 above the poverty line.
posted by oaf at 2:50 PM on December 17, 2007

Do not do not do not show her your finances. She's not being rational, she will only see that her numbers are bigger than your numbers and resent you more, without taking into account that you may have other obligations. (For those folks who think that $75K is obscenely wealthy, a lot depends on where you live: the California Budget Project calculated that the basic budget for a family of four in the San Francisco Bay area is over $77,000.)

Reassure her that you will not let throw her to the wolves: you won't let her starve, be evicted, or go without heat or other necessities. But beyond that, what you choose to give her is your choice, not hers.
posted by ambrosia at 2:52 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

It sounds an awful lot like you're considering buying her things so she'll stop talking smack about you behind your back. You could do this, of course, but if you threw money at a problem to make it go away, I'd think you were rich, too.

The way you present your MIL and extended family sounds like the extended family gets all their information about you through your MIL. Under those circumstances, I imagine you can't be that close to your extended family, so why do their opinions even matter to you? But, since you're asking this question, I assume their opinions do matter, so it might be worth the time and energy to go make friends with the extended family. This can actually help with your situation, since if you say, "I'm not cheap," then no one believes you, but if someone your MIL trusts and will listen to says, "He's not cheap, and he's got his own bills" maybe then she'll actually get it.

Or she won't, but that's really not up to you.

But economic barriers are some of the strongest social barriers in the world, so don't be surprised if you find them hard to knock down. Good luck.
posted by reebear at 2:56 PM on December 17, 2007

Now, she's asking for a new computer (I gave her my old one when I upgraded last year). As it turns out, she doesn't intend to keep it, however - we found out that she plans to sell it and use the money for the $300 winter coat.

You can't reason with people like the mother-in-law, whose thinking and behavior is infantile. Someone who is begging for money from a family member is not in a position to be choosy about what coat she gets. Someone who is begging for money from a family member is not in a position to be choosy about a computer.

There is no way of salvaging your relationship with her, unless she changes her perspective and suddenly becomes reasonable. Until she changes, you'll have to deal with her just like you would deal with a junkie trying to con you out of cash --- by just saying no, and not worrying very much about whether she likes hearing that.
posted by jayder at 3:09 PM on December 17, 2007

Now is the time of year when many families send out their family newsletter, telling the friends and family what they've been up to. If you haven't done that in past years, this would be the perfect time to start, as a way to maintain lines of communication with other family members apart from MIL. Encourage them to call or write. Don't refer to the unpleasantness with the MIL.

Speaking of which, the poster has a child (or children). I wonder how often the MIL sees her grandkid. Most grandparents dote on their grandkids. Would MIL risk being on the outs with the parents of her grandchild for a few hundred bucks? Am I hinting at emotional blackmail myself? Yes. And the poster (or his wife) can bring this up the next time there's an argument with MIL—"do you really want to alienate yourself from your daughter and grandchild over this?"
posted by adamrice at 3:17 PM on December 17, 2007

don't show her your budget. you do not have to justify your financial choices to her. you will NEVER convince her that you don't have enough money to share with her. i would put my foot down with her: tell her that you are happy to be as generous as you can with her, but that you need to set aside money for your children's future, too. do not vary this argument. just repeat, repeat, repeat. she will eventually get the message that you aren't going to be her gravy train.

in the meantime, i would get some counseling to deal with the guilt. i suspect your feelings are not unlike those of parents of drug addicts and wayward kids. at some point, you have to let go.

you might read jeanette walls's glass castle", which is her memoir of a) growing up with crazy homeless parents, and b) becoming a successful middle-class person and still having crazy homeless parents.

good luck. i don't envy you this.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:20 PM on December 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

Most grandparents dote on their grandkids.

I doubt this one does.
posted by jayder at 3:20 PM on December 17, 2007

Yeah, don't go showing her your budget. She's certain to start making suggestions for adjustments that would leave more room for financing her. And if you resist these demands, she'll turn it into further 'evidence' of your 'greed.'

The allowance idea could work, if established with firm conditions - Agree, in writing if you must, to a static amount paid monthly, bimonthly or whatever. Like many have said, don't show her your budget, but a look at her's would be good if you choose the allowance route and need to decide on a 'subsidy level'. Because I think the trick to really making it work would be establishing a sum that's affordable to you and covers her budget shortfalls with just a little bit left over - thus leaving open the possibility of her saving a little each month for these luxury items that she wants.

Also, it must be made clear that if the rancor continues while you're paying her a regular stipend, those funds will be cut off.

This might get her off your back, improve your standing in the eyes of those she bitches too, and give you two ready-made responses to an escalated demands -

1) we provide you with enough to save for what you need
2) if this isn't working for you, then we must put your funding back in your hands. We've tried to work with you, but you refuse to work with us.
posted by EatTheWeak at 3:32 PM on December 17, 2007

Oh, and yeah, double-check as best you can about that drug thing. konolia's right. Such a drastic change in behavior is seldom a sign of continued temperance.
posted by EatTheWeak at 3:34 PM on December 17, 2007

You mentioned the difference in your perspectives, but I'm not sure you grok how hard it is for people to bridge those - especially people like your MIL, who have only ever known one side. People in different financial situations really have no idea how the other half lives - we don't know the price of a loaf of bread, or what's appropriate to spend on a winter coat, or how much money - if any - is left over after all the necessary bills are paid. Your MIL's lying and guilt-tripping are inexcusable, but try to understand that she might have absolutely no clue that you are also making sacrifices and hard choices about where your money goes.

She looks around and sees you in a house you own, with two cars, and, probably the most unimaginable luxury to someone in her situation, you can afford to have one parent stay at home. To her, you are rich, and from her perspective, she's right. You look around and see your below-average house and your serviceable, unglamorous cars among those of your neighbors, and you peg yourselves as middle-class - and from your perspective, you're right.

I don't know if this problem is solvable without generating a lot of hard feelings. I'm pessimistic about your MIL ever understanding your perspective on your own financial situation. Even if you show her your budget, which is probably too weird and boundary-free anyway. The fact that a friend went through the same thing and ended up ostracized is worrisome.

Finances are hard. Family is hard. Financial dealings between parents and their adult children? Extra-double-special hard. I hope things work out well.
posted by expialidocious at 3:39 PM on December 17, 2007 [4 favorites]

This thread is a mix of good advice and bad advice. Unfortunately its hard to make rational decisions when slander is being thrown into the equation.

I would really not recommend giving her an allowance. While that may seem like an acceptable short-term solution to the problem of sporadic gift requests, if you look at it in terms of the larger picture, thats really the second step in an escalation of the situation.

Step 1: MIL is asking for the occasional necessity
Step 2: MIL is asking for the occasional gift/luxury item
Step 3: OP decides to give MIL a small ($50-100) monthly allowance in the hopes that the occasional requests will die down with this appeasement
Step 4: MIL spends the money unwisely and does 1 of 2 things: Continues to make occasional requests despite previous agreement, or uses Step 3 appeasement to as leverage to a bigger allowance. Hell, maybe she'll do both.

Even if you get her to agree that she understands that this is a huge accommodation you're making to help her stay comfortable, 6 or 8 months down the line she's going to see Something She Can't Afford But Must Have, or will squander the allowance and decide she needs more, at which point the pressure of slander is going to get raised and the whole situation is going to get revisited. Today its a $300 coat, tomorrow its a $75 monthly allowance, next week its a $250 monthly car payment.

Fact: giving a former drug user a constant, dependable source of income they didn't work for is asking for trouble. BEGGING for trouble.

You know that this woman is being unreasonable, because you provided her with an item that she needed and she was completely ungrateful for it. Somebody in true need of a winter coat or some other such necessity, who receives it from a charitable individual such as yourself, will be thankful and appreciative. This woman is suffering from the delusion that you can afford to give her whatever she wants just because you've been able to elevate your status above hers, and worse, it seems like she's developing a sense of entitlement towards what you and your wife have earned. If you give her an allowance, you're going to vindicate that.

If you really feel that giving her any sum of money is a reasonable solution to this problem, structure it better than an allowance. Offer to assist her in SAVING money, not just spending it. You'll have to figure out a good structure for this, but its going to help her out a lot more in the long run. Perhaps you could open the savings account on her behalf, and you'll match half (or a quarter) of whatever money she puts into it (up to a certain amount per year is probably a good idea). Then, if she wants to purchase something with that money, she can let you know and you can buy it on her behalf. The tricky part here is that, if you're putting the money in, you have to be in control of ALL the money going in and what its being spent on- otherwise, whats to stop her from depositing $100, getting $50 from you, and then buying something you wouldn't want your money going to with it? I think offering to match her on a percentage of her savings is the most reasonable way to get her to think ahead instead of just whatever shiny thing she desires at that exact second.

But- and here's the important part- whatever you do, keep tabs on where that money is going. You don't have to be direct about it, but if you match her savings or give her an allowance or whatever, don't just let the money disappear. If you help her buy a computer, make sure its still at her house a few months later.
posted by baphomet at 3:51 PM on December 17, 2007

Perhaps you could open the savings account on her behalf, and you'll match half (or a quarter) of whatever money she puts into it (up to a certain amount per year is probably a good idea).

You could offer to match (or even triple) the interest on the account. That way, the longer she keeps the money saved, the more money she gets from it. And really, you can't beat an 8-15% return on a savings account.
posted by oaf at 3:57 PM on December 17, 2007

Listen to konolia. Lots and lots of red flags here.
posted by scrump at 4:07 PM on December 17, 2007

Lots of great suggestions in this thread.

I think there's a huge difference between broke and poor. A lot of us have been broke at some point in our lives, but most of us have never been poor. I can't imagine what it would feel like to know you have nothing and will almost definitely have nothing 5 years from now. And 10 years from now. And 20 years from now. Or to rely on government handouts and charity to just barely get by. It must be hard to even get out of bed in the morning.

Having said, I also can't imagine being in that situation and trying to leach off my daughter's family. It's the total lack of appreciation that would bother me. I wouldn't mind sending some cash to my MIL every month if she spent it wisely and appreciated it.

I would tell your MIL that you both love her and will continue to help her out when she genuinely needs it, but she's not getting the coat or computer. How about a gift card to a local grocery store or Wal-Mart? Send her a large supply of some expensive items she would use every day (I cringe every week when I drop $7-8 for a decent brick of coffee). Since you already gave her a used computer, how about paying for Internet service each month? A nice warm blanket or a nice pair of winter gloves and a hat? If you visit her over the holidays, stop by Costo and pick up a jumbo pack of toilet paper, paper towels, etc. These are the type of things my parents bought for me when I was young and broke and they were absolutely awesome gifts.

Also, I nth the comments about lots of red flags. Whatever you do, be careful to protect your own finances first and foremost.
posted by bda1972 at 4:15 PM on December 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

MIL sounds like she has little impulse control, and maybe a little bit of compulsiveness. She's fixated on a particular item that she believes will bring her happiness. Talk to your wife, decide how much you're willing to contribute to the MIL. Don't share that amount, but stick to a generous pattern of giving up to your limit, then a firm "No, we just can't do that." 300 is a lot for a coat, but maybe once in a while, you could let her decide for herself what would make her happy. A life time of poor quality and hand-me-downs would make someone long for a piece of luxury.

The best gift is to spend time with her, and bring her to spend time with your family so she knows you love her.
posted by theora55 at 4:35 PM on December 17, 2007

You have, as I see it, two options wrt the financial issue:
1) GTFO. No, I'm sorry but we can't help with that. Learn to love that phrase, just repeat it blindly whenever money comes up. Of course honest to god emergencies that involve hospitals, heating or rent are one thing, but nothing outside that. Upside is that you've removed yourself from the problem, downside there's still a problem.

2) Take control. Your MIL clearly has no financial abilities, so take control of her finances. Have her disability checks sent to your house and have a sound budget established that you stick to religiously. Setup online bill payment, automatically if possible and have a certain amount deposited in an account for her to use. Upside, you've fixed the problem. Downside, it's your problem now.

I really like oaf's idea of matching interest rates, that's something I wish I had thought of.
posted by Skorgu at 4:55 PM on December 17, 2007

However, over the last few months, this has started to mushroom: First, my MIL has been asking for a lot more, and it's slowly been creeping from "asking" to "demanding".

When was the last time your MIL saw a doctor? I'm wondering if this could be an early sign of dementia.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:03 PM on December 17, 2007

Lots of ideas here on giving money on a regular basis. This might affect the MIL's disability benefits, so check on that before you start dropping checks in the mail. As far as helping her set up a savings account, I believe the usual limit for funds that one can have available and still get disability benefits is $2000. She might be eligible for programs to pay her utility bills, and is almost certainly eligible for food stamps. If she's not taking advantage of these programs, helping her sign up for them will give her more spending money.

Stay in touch with family members without going through the MIL. You need to put your foot down in the face of these increasing demands, and express love for the MIL in ways other than buying luxury goods, although bringing a bounty of ordinary household goods (light bulbs, TP, laundry detergent, etc.) when you visit would be a nice gesture. If she freezes you out for not buying her expensive presents, you've got a family member that only cared for you as a source of expensive presents. Life will go on.
posted by yohko at 6:44 PM on December 17, 2007

Show her the facts. If you're brave, show her the budget.

Terrible, terrible advice.

Her: "Look at all this extra money you make every month that you just put away in the bank! Hoarding it!"

You: "But we need to start saving now for our retirement so we don't end up like you!"

Yeah, that'll go over great.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:46 PM on December 17, 2007 [5 favorites]

really the most important thing is that you support your wife in what she chooses to do. It's her mother and ultimately she has to deal with her, plus she will feel much more guilty saying no.
posted by fshgrl at 7:08 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Lot's of advice here about helping MIL manage her finances and encouraging her to save money, and I'm sorry to say but those paths will lead you to bitter dissappoinment. MIL will pretend to be cooperating with the plan but then later you discover the 3 new credit cards she ran up to the limit while you were paying her utility bills. You'd only be enabling her bad habits.

* Show MIL your finances
* Give MIL a steady income for no work
* Attempt to manage her finances
* Expect her to follow a financial plan
* Fear disappointment of your inlaws
* Fear guilt and resentment of MIL
* Allow MIL to scare you into emergency loans by claiming that she will die, starve, or become homeless

* Set boundaries
* Stay in touch with the inlaws. Let them know your side of the story.
* Set an undisclosed annual budget for the MIL charity fund
* Say "no, we can't afford it" to MIL when budget is exceeded
* Tell MIL you're saving/spending the money on her grandchildren
posted by StarForce5 at 7:36 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Great book on this issue.
posted by jpdoane at 8:18 PM on December 17, 2007

Seconding the "showing her the numbers," idea.

I'd discourage this. It isn't about numbers, it's about perceptions. When I was 18, my dad said he couldn't afford to pay for my college (I got loans & a job instead), and that he could only send me a certain amount of money to help with living expenses. I knew he disapproved of a lot of choices I was making at the time, and I didn't believe he couldn't afford it - he had a huge house, a new car, a brand new TV, fancy crystal from italy and all kinds of other shit that seemed clear evidence to me that he sure could afford it if he wanted to. He said he was making a high 5-figure salary (he was a professor) and had a lot of expenses, yadda yadda. Most of my peers were getting more help from their parents than I was, so I felt like he owed it to me. Eventually he gave me the numbers, according to which he was actually in debt, but really, it didn't make much difference to me. He still made choices about where that money went: he might not have extra money as it was, but he could have chosen to buy less fancy european furniture and provide me with more rent money.

You can say a parent has more obligation to a kid than a kid does to a parent, but that's kind of cultural - I was 18, and able to fend for myself, whereas an aging parent with no career might feel even more helpless. But my point is just, if she thinks she is owed something, giving her numbers probably won't change that feeling. She will just think you should have a smaller house or something.

Basically, I would try to figure out how much you are okay spending on her, and make your own budget. What it comes down to is that you have a different lifestyle than she does, and she envies what you have, and feels like she should somehow get a share of it. In some cultures, the parents can expect to be pretty directly supported by their kids - is she from a different culture?

You're either out of touch...

"out of touch" just means not agreeing to other people's standards. It's ok to set your own standards.
posted by mdn at 8:34 PM on December 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

You probably should have bought her the $300 coat for Christmas and called it a day. This could've put you in the free and clear for quite a while. You're simply under some wrong notions here: you don't ever buy stuff "for" relatives, you give them gifts. And it's not right to skimp on gifts. Purchasing the $70 coat was simply a mistake. You don't get mixed up in the finances of your friends and family unless it's an emergency. Period. This sort of busy-bee managing of other people's affairs never leads to good things. In the future when your MIL needs something give her cash and let her buy it for herself. If you can't afford to do so then tell her so.

(Also all the advice above about getting even more involved in your MIL's finances is just terrible. Unless you want this sort of petty haggling over money to become a permanent fixture of your relationship with her it's really best to stick to the tried-and-true "here's some cash mom, just in case you need it." I can't imagine what sort of person thinks it's a good idea to treat your mom like a teenager and give her allowance.)

But at this point though you simply must tell her that no, you're not going to buy her a computer under any circumstances. She needs to hear a loud, clear 'no' otherwise this will never end. Also tell her that if she yells at your wife again then she won't be receiving a Christmas gift either. This has the small advantage of setting clear boundaries while extending a bit of a threat/olive branch. But she may still decide to stop speaking to you completely anyways. In that case that's just the way the cookie crumbles. You've done nothing especially wrong here and money has already poisoned the relationship. Unless you're both willing to forget this entire episode and move on there's not much to do but accept your fate.
posted by nixerman at 8:39 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I should probably clarify my advice. I'm not telling you to be nit picky about her finances because I think in any way shape or form that she will change, I think you should do it because she'll quickly learn that asking to money brings with it her having to explain and justify her financial situation over and over, it will likely show she has been irresponsible with her money or in fact does not need, but wants the money. She'll learn it's just not worth it.

Also, I think this would be hugely different, if she had come to you and said I'm having trouble getting by on what I have, could you pitch in $X amount a month, I would really appreciate it. But that isn't what is going on here.
posted by whoaali at 9:26 PM on December 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

Just popping in to say baphomet's idea is much better than mine, should you try the allowance route. Matched deposits do a far better job of cracking her savings & security troubles, and puts a good deal more responsibility in her hands.

Really though, best of luck.
posted by EatTheWeak at 2:36 AM on December 18, 2007

You probably should have bought her the $300 coat for Christmas and called it a day.

No, this would simply give positive reinforcement to her behavior, just as the likely coming subprime mortgage bailout will positively reinforce people's poor decisions to buy more house than they can afford and borrow more than they can pay back.

And it's not right to skimp on gifts. Purchasing the $70 coat was simply a mistake.

Huh? Where did you get the right to make the poster's budgetary decisions for him?

This sort of busy-bee managing of other people's affairs never leads to good things.

OK, so you shouldn't be making the poster's budgetary decisions for him.
posted by oaf at 6:06 AM on December 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yeah, nixerman's advice is the worst in the thread by far. Buying the $70 coat was the right thing to do- it sends a clear message that you're willing to help her occasionally but within reason. The OP and his wife were right not to exceed their budget to accede to her demands. Why should they put themselves at financial risk because the MIL wants to use them to live the cognac life on a champagne crackers budget? Caving is the one thing pretty much everybody else agrees you should not do. All that sends is the message that its OK to be demanding, it gets you what you want.
posted by baphomet at 7:25 AM on December 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

And it's not right to skimp on gifts. Purchasing the $70 coat was simply a mistake.

No, it's not right to look a gift horse in the mouth. When someone gives you something, the correct response is, "thank you."
posted by misha at 9:26 AM on December 18, 2007

Just tell her you didn't get to be at all financially successful by buying $300 luxury items where cheaper items would suffice.

But beyond the financial ramifications, I'd be concerned for her physical safety after she goes showing off something that expensive in a community full of equally desperate people. Expensive clothing gets stolen all the time; in the unfortunate instance where it may happen to her, you're going to have to deal with the fallout from that as well as her whining for another one.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 10:17 AM on December 18, 2007

Yeah, nixerman's advice is the worst in the thread by far.

My advice is wrong only if you blindly accept the version of events posted here. The OP has done a good job here painting a picture of an evil mother in law but I doubt the situation is this simple in real life. I can understand the MIL's behavior here. Simply, when somebody tends to treat you like a kid then you will tend to behave like a kid. And you shouldn't be surprised at all when they start to resent for you it.

Buying the $70 coat was the right thing to do...

Did the OP's wife even bother to ask her mother if she liked the $70 coat before she bought it and mailed it to her? You might consider that for a grown woman of a certain age a winter coat is a very big deal. A winter coat might have quite an effect on her everyday reality and significantly influence how she sees herself. So rejecting her request for a nice winter coat and then going out to buy one you like would, understandably, provoke intense feelings of resentment on her mother's part. And it reeks of the sort of petty passive-aggressive meddling that is only appropriate for a parent dealing with children (and is in very poor taste when dealing with your own parents). There are plenty of other courses of action that would have been more appropriate, from deciding to go half on the $300 coat to simply saying no, and all of them would've been far more respectful of and far less humiliating. (Having to plead for help with a winter coat is already humiliating enough but there's nothing to be done about that.) And when you consider that a good winter coat is an investment that might last 2-5 years, or even longer, then this sort of haggling over $300 is just plain silly.

But, again, this relationship strikes me as particularly unhealthy because one party is not treating the other with the respect she deserves. Unless the OP decides to simply terminate the relationship the best solution is a quick apology (smoothed over with a nice Christmas gift), forgetting the entire episode and moving on. Anything else, especially getting even more mixed up in finances after money has already poisoned the relationship, is just likely to make a bad situation worse.
posted by nixerman at 11:56 AM on December 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

So rejecting her request for a nice winter coat and then going out to buy one you like would, understandably, provoke intense feelings of resentment on her mother's part.

Understandably? What planet are you living on? The correct response to a helpful gift from your children is gratitude, not envy. The mother (from what we can tell) doesn't even know the price of the coat she received- how is what the OP's wife did disrespectful or "humiliating" in any way? The MIL asked for a winter coat and she got one. She didn't get the specific coat that she asked for- big fucking deal.

It must be nice to be so used to getting what you want that you consider getting anything else humiliating. Could you tell us what thats like?
posted by baphomet at 12:25 PM on December 18, 2007

I have certainly felt the desire for something luxurious, new, specific, and so I can understand not just wanting any old new coat, but wanting a specific and fancy new coat. If it was simply that, and I could afford to splurge on my mother (or MIL), I might have just bought it for her because it might have brought her a lot of joy. I'm not sayig your wife made a mistake by buying the $75 coat, but I can understand how your MIL might have felt as well.

But it doesn't sound like it was simply that. I am most struck by the fact that this extreme behavior is a new development. Why does she need a new coat? Was her last winter coat unusable? (I would think that would be noticeable - threadbare.) Did she lose her old winter coat? Otherwise, she doesn't need a new coat, she just wants it. And in any case, it's possible to spend a hell of a lot less than $75 on a coat - I bet on her own she could have gotten a used coat real cheap. I'd be seriously thinking that she was either using again (maybe she sold her old coat?) or that she is in initial stages of some kind of dementia, simply because of this dramatic change in behavior. Why is she obsessing over this particular coat so much?

I have subsidized people who were financially worse off than me, and I have found that inevitably leads to hard feelings between the giver and the recipient, when both are adults. It's challenging to have a good, adult, mutually-respectful relationship when one is dependent on the other's largesse.

So I would absolutely NOT give her an allowance, or pay for things the way a parent might pay for a child. I would give her what I considered to be appropriate gifts on appropriate occasions. I would NOT get into a discussion of my finances with her or try to justify my own spending. I would NOT nit pick her own finances and treat her like a child. I would probably put aside some money in a designated savings account that I had flagged for emergency money for the MIL, because there will probably come a time when she needs more substantial help because she is ill or elderly. I would communicate with the relatives to a certain extent, but I would try not to trash my MIL to them. I would constantly remind myself that I am not obligated to take care of my MIL's demands, just her genuine needs. I would try to remember that family members do give each other gifts on holidays just to make that person feel good, and that I can still do that for my MIL (or mother as the case may be) if I wish. I would try to be very supportive of my spouse, and I would do some of the dirty work if necessary. I would try to figure out if there are new mental health issues (including using) going on. (Could your wife simply ask what has prompted this dramatic change in behavior?) I would remind myself that my mother (or MIL) is being irrational and unkind, that we are both adults, and that I am doing my best.

If this whole change really is about experiencing luxury, and the coat-thing is dead and over and you won't get her the $300 coat, perhaps she would enjoy going to a salon with your wife and getting her nails done? Or something else that isn't just a necessity?
posted by Amizu at 2:40 PM on December 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sorry, but I think the idea of giving her an allowance is horrible. Here's why:

People with a poverty mentality and a history of substance abuse problems frequently have absolutely no financial intelligence. So she will still feel like she is in poverty even with this extra money. Worse, she will not be thankful for the extra money, she will grow to depend on it and "expect" it.

In this way, you won't be making her feel any better, nor will you be making an actual difference in her life. The best thing you can do is continue to do what you're doing ... buy her a winter coat if she can't afford it, give her your old computers when you upgrade. Although she might complain, I'm fairly sure she will be, in fact, wearing that $70 winter coat when it gets cold.

Whereas, if you give her an allowance, she will get used to that extra money very quickly, and simply start wasting it on crap she doesn't need, and then wondering why she can't afford even a basic winter coat. (Not to mention that she may in fact start spending that $ on drugs.)

If I were in your position, I would not alter the assistance you are already providing. But to make her feel a tiny bit better emotionally, (since this is an emotional issue for her, more than anything), I'd preempt her requests/demands and send her unsolicited gifts a few times a year. Then she can brag to her friends about receiving things she didn't even have to ask for. These gifts do not have to be expensive. Something like a care package full of luxuries she wouldn't normally be able to afford (nice food items, magazines, toiletries), perhaps a couple of items of (inexpensive) clothing.

Don't expect thanks for these small gifts. Just do it to be nice. They'll probably secretly make her feel better anyway, even if she doesn't admit it. It sounds like she wants something to complain about, and someone to blame for her financial situation. So let her do it if she needs to. Ignore it, you've got your own life and your own stuff to complain about.
posted by mjao at 5:40 PM on December 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Its a vast misconception that higher wage means more "free" money. People tend to live just under their means. So if they have more wage they have a bigger house that costs more to live in for instance.
The interesting thing, it appears your MIL, had you not, could have afforded to buy herself a $300 winter coat. If your wife had needed one herself would she have bought a $300 one?
posted by browolf at 10:13 AM on December 25, 2007

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