Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Searching for the middleground

When S and I got married, we had mandatory premarital counseling at the church. Premarital counseling may be the wrong term. We each filled out a quiz, and then we met with the family minister Robin to go over the results. Through this exercise we didn't find out much that was surprising. The area that had all sorts of warning flags on our quiz results was family background. We were raised very, very differently.

And for some reason S and I do okay despite being raised by polar opposite parents. They are opposite in every way, which causes us to lament on almost a daily basis, "Why can't they be somewhere in the middle?"

S's parents are the meddlesome, suffocating types. My mom is the extremely detached type. A compromise would be nice.

No offense to S, but his parents think he is, ummmmm, not right. Yep, he is "not right" about pretty much everything. They are the correct ones. His older brother is almost always correct. His sister is mostly correct. And poor S is misguided and not quite "with it." It's funny because everyone S works with and is friends with thinks he's super smart. His previous boss thought he was in Mensa. Well, his parents are ardent Republican who abhor dissent. Plus S is the baby of the family. Put those two together, and he's fighting a very uphill battle for one iota of respect in his family.

In contrast, my mom thinks he walks on water. And let me tell you, my mom doesn't like anyone. But she adores S. He's the son she never had. She will do whatever he says. It's freaky to see the lieutenant colonel (my mom) take orders from only one person in the world: my dear husband.

We have a very weird parental set-up to begin with. Then when you overlay money onto it, it just gets even stranger.

S's parents made good money when they were working, and they decided to retire in their early 50s. Now if you can retire in your 50s, I applaud you. The problem was that they retired on a fixed income but still spent money like they were working and making 3 times more. They've been retired almost 15 years now, and the well has pretty much dried up. They have high expenses (freaking high mortgage, home equity loans, credit cards, car expenses, etc.) and a relatively low monthly pension.

Then there's my mom. The frugal queen. She makes good money, mortgage-free, and lives like a college student. I introduced her to Craigslist a few years ago, and she literally buys everything off Craigslist or at the Grocery Outlet (remember the expired egg beaters????). She has furnished her whole house off Craigslist - except for Brown Flowers, the couch from 1976 that she still has. Let's just say that my mother does not need to work, and she could afford pretty much anything she wanted. But she chooses to live like she's one step from being homeless.

S and I wish his parents were more responsible with money, and we wish my mom enjoyed her money a little more. There's got to be some middle ground.

We're waiting for the inevitable to happen. S's parents will need help at some point. Honestly I think it will be sooner rather than later. I've picked up small bits of their conversation to each other, and what I hear makes me very nervous.

I won't let family go without food or shelter. They will have some place to live and food to eat. S and I even talked about buying them a small place nearby. I wish they were more responsible with their money. Some of their family members are very well off, so S's parents join them on all these vacations that they can't afford given how much debt they have. I guess they don't want to admit to others that they just can't pull it off.

I have a harder time giving them money to live. They seem to spend so freely now that I would have a hard time watching my money go to their vacations. That's why I'd rather pay directly for their necessities instead of just giving them money. At least if we bought them a small house, we'd get the equity in the house.

Watching your parents grow older sucks. At least we only have to worry about S's parents financially. His siblings are fine. My mom is fine.

I am glad that you can't inherit debt. That would really suck if you could.


Scrapping in Circles said...

I agree that I'd rather help someone with basics than fund their extravagances. I'll hear people talking about how they have no money and have to go into debt, yet they are going on vacations that require hotel stays and plane tickets, and paying for cable Internet and satellite TV. People of our generation don't seem to have been taught budgeting and what the basics really are it seems. You have to figure out what is really important to you and look to see if that is where your money is going. You have to put money away for your retirement and for savings before you consider spending it on anything (especially non-necessities). It's like the attitude that everyone deserves to have a house. No, some people need to rent until they have a stable enough income for a house. If you really want something, you'll save for it rather than go into debt to get it.

Our church is offering a class called, The Seven Steps to Financial Freedom. I've never taken it, but I've been told the overarching activity is to write down everything you spend money on. The purpose is to look where your money is going and compare it to what is important to you (and your spouse if you're married). It's astonishing to many people how much they spend on little things like fancy coffee drinks, movies, restaurants, etc. and how little they put into savings, IRAs, and college savings accounts. The way you spend your money should reflect what is important to you. Another example is if you say charity is important to you, maybe you shouldn't buy a book that you could check out for free at the library and donate it instead.

The beauty of budgeting is that you can make those types of choices. It can be difficult to choose the long-term goal over instant gratification, but that is what it means to mature.

Sorry, this topic is near and dear to my heart. I really wish our generation, and the next, were better prepared for the "real world". So many people just don't think about where their money goes and they don't understand the problems with creating debt and the benefits to saving. Hopefully the recession reminds people to think about it more.

Miss J's Mom said...

Oh how I agree! People are age think some things, like cable and cell phones, are some God given right.

Yet S's parents are older and still have this entitlement feeling. So I don't think it's necessarily a generational thing, per se, I think it's a mindset.

I find budgeting very fun, and it's interesting to see how verbal priorities aren't necessarily the priorities when the numbers are run. I think the truth is in the numbers.

I know you as a family take budgeting to heart, and you're definitely going to see it pay off. It helps when you and your spouse are on the same page, like you guys are.

April said...

ha! so funny! Seth's parents are the overly frugal ones, but they are the meddling ones. My parents are the irresponsible spenders, mountains of debt, but are rather detached! I hate seeing my parents being so irresponsible their money. It makes me sad that eventually we'll probably have to help them.

Scrapping in Circles said...

It is wonderful to be on the same page as my spouse. I know couples who aren't and I can see why money problems are the number one reason for divorce.

I don't mind the idea of supporting my parents (or in laws), but it is frustrating if they have been "wasting" their money. I wouldn't let my kids waste my money. Why would I let my in-laws? The problem is, it is harder to "teach" my in-laws because they are older and consider it insulting. How do you "help" them make better choices with their money now so they'll be better off later without insulting them? Ideas anyone?