Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A very good question

N posed a very thought-provoking and appropriate question. If our parents are making unwise choices with their money, how do we bring it up without insulting them? This question is so appropriate to my situation. I am stymied. I really don't know. Anyone have good suggestions?

I hope you don't have to deal with this uncomfortable subject with any of your family members.

This Christmas thing is an excellent example. S's parents said they were coming up, and now they say they can't. Why? Because the air conditioner broke. I looked at S with a puzzled expression on my face. Huh? He said that was to be taken as they couldn't afford to fly up for Christmas. So they wanted us to come down there.

First of all, their air conditioner breaking is not the reason they can't come. That's why most adults have a savings account. The reason they can't come is that they spent way too much money this year on vacations and consumer spending after they took out a bunch of home equity loans and are adjusting to a huge mortgage payment. Plus they have a ton of medical bills. The air conditioner breaking is what put them over the edge.

Second of all, it doesn't make sense to fly 7 people to Arizona. It makes more sense for us to pay for their airplane tickets to fly up here.

Which leads me to: how in the heck do we offer to pay for their flights up here without insulting them?

Which then leads me to: why can't we have an open and honest conversation?

I was raised in an environment where it was okay to say that you can't afford something. People don't look down on you. If you say it's not in the budget, people accept it and move on. So I'm free and loose with saying that, even now. I don't have any shame in it.

I know S's parents are different. They are ashamed, and thus they blame it on the air conditioner. They don't want to admit that they can't afford it even if it's true.

S's parents always harp on us about not taking vacations. Frankly, S and I don't like taking vacations. Going away is stressful dealing with travel arrangements, navigating unfamiliar territory, being away from the comforts of life. Hence, we've never really taken a "vacation" as people traditionally define it - i.e., going to Hawaii or the islands or whatnot. If we have a couple of days off from work, we putz around the house, go out to eat, and play board games. It's what we like to do. S's parents cannot fathom how we haven't been on a cruise, gone to Hawaii together, gone to the mountains to go skiing, etc. They define fun one way, and we define it another.

Neither of us are right or wrong. The funny part is how insistent they are that we need to get away. It's as if they are adamant that we need to define "fun" how they define "fun."

It really seems as if S's parents are tied to this consumer lifestyle, and I'm not looking forward to when it all comes crashing down. If at all possible, I'd like to nip it in the bud before it comes crashing down. I don't want to give them money (because that would literally be throwing money away and they wouldn't learn anything from it anyway), and they have too much pride to take it. It seems so fake to say, "Oh, we bought a house. Could you help us by living it?" Really, come on, that would be such a charade. Must we dance around the issue like that?

We've tried to have conversations with them in a benign way. They say it's none of our business, and they're fine. Gotcha, you don't want to talk about it.

Right now there's the short term money issue of paying for their flight at Christmastime. Then there's the nasty long term issue of their financial situation.

So, as N asked, any ideas on how to proceed???


Chester said...

Sorry Beth, I have the complete opposite problem. My Dad is a freak about money, and I inherited alot of that. That's why it was so unlike me to quit my job. They bought their new house with cash before selling the old one, which sold for a good chunk of change. I know they have a decent amount of money in the bank. The social security they get could easily pay their bills, which are just utilities and living expenses. I have offered to do up a budget, but no one is as smart as my Dad, in his opinion. So, he keeps "retiring" and then going back. They go to Denver to see my sisters, but nowhere else. I keep telling him to take a vacation, but he "doesn't have the money". Last week when I told him to get something(I don't remember what) he said he had to save our inheritence. I'm like, we don't need an inheritence. I rather they enjoy their retirement and not be stressed out all the time when there is no need! Since he won't listen to anyone, I don't know how to get your in laws to listen. My mother in law is worse. God only knows how much money she is sitting on. Her basement is packed with enough food to sustain the whole state of New York for at least a year!!

Chester said...

Sorry, this is Ann. I don't know why I am signed in under Chester. I didn't even know he had a google account.

Krista said...

I would explain to them how you would really like to have Christmas at home and how it would be easier/better for Miss J. You really want them to be a part of it, and would like to fly them up. Maybe tell them its their christmas present.
Or how it would be more cost effective for you because you could buy 2 plane tickets instead of 3 because Miss J won't sit in your labs for that long. And since your going to spend the money either way, how about we pay for you to come here.

Miss J's Mom said...

Ann, your parents and mother-in-law sound like my mom. Yeah, this free spending parents thing is foreign to how I grew up.

Krista, I think you're a freaking genius! Thank you! No wonder you're going to be a doctor in a year or so. I bow to you.

Scrapping in Circles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scrapping in Circles said...

Wow! I'm so honored as I believe I'm the N who inspired this post.(=

I also like Krista's idea. It is a wonderful solution to your Christmas problem.

What I needed help with was advising my in-laws on saving. They don't go on big trips very often. They just spend very freely on things and don't save at all. It's funny, they'll spend lots of money on my brother-in-law, who lives with them still, even though they complain that he doesn't work. It must be a guilt or pity thing.

(I deleted my earlier post because I went really off-topic in it). (=