The following letter is from a reader who is sharing her story anonymously. Please feel free to share your (kind) thoughts and advice in the comments below
Here is my story…
I’m Hispanic and first generation Mexican-American. My parents immigrated separately from Mexico, met here in the US and had a family. We grew up in a cross between being Mexican and American but very much American. We were given the opportunity to complete college and some of us even went on to graduate school. My parents did the best they could but supporting 4 children was expensive with their meager income. Their retirement savings was very small, less than $100K in a 401K plan and the house they bought which is about 90% paid for. In my mother’s mind, we are her retirement. She invested in us.
I grew up and married someone who is a 3rd generation Italian/German but in all sense American. We have kids now and have very successful careers. In all respect (financial & non-financial), our marriage is very much a 50/50 partnership. We tag team going home to relieve the nanny and while my husband does the laundry, lawn care, and scrubs the toilets. I clean the rest of the house, grocery shop, tend to the kids, and prepare meals (although not enough, he would say).
My father passed away a couple years back, my mom now retired, has spent all the life insurance money on the funeral expenses and updating the house. I personally didn’t think she needed to update the house. But in her mind she won’t get ‘good’ money for it when she sells it if everything is falling apart. She uses the 401K savings to pay the mortgage and has a meager social security payment to cover all other expenses. She has started to feel short on cash so has asked two of her more successful and stable daughters to contribute $300/month each. The other two daughters, one of which is a recently divorced single mom with two small children and the other is a struggling 20-something knee deep in college debt, have not been asked to contribute.
My problem, my husband does not want to contribute the full $300 because he feels (1) my mom has been spending recklessly the life insurance money and (2) I, along with my other sisters won’t demand a full accounting of her monthly expenses. He’s not saying no, but will limit the contribution to $150 as all four siblings should be equally responsible. To not expect that of the other two siblings would be enabling them not to be responsible in the future. He expects that if we contribute we should have complete transparency in all that my mother spends so she can be held accountable.
My thought on putting my mom on a budget is not that important to me. My sister and I feel that asking her for it would be more of relationship strain than its worth. We don’t do much for her on a daily basis to help her mow her lawn or clean her house, etc. and the $300 wouldn’t strain our daily finances or ability to save money for our kid’s education. To put it into perspective, she is asking for less than 1% of what we make on a yearly basis. To my sister & I, it’s not money worth straining any relationship for the sake of principles. She isn’t asking for a lot of money in our minds. But my husband feels its money we could be saving for our kids and he doesn’t want to fund wreck-less spending habits. As for my other sisters, I wouldn’t want to be in their financial situations so covering for them makes sense.
I can say no to my mom and my sisters and push a solution of using her available 401K savings to meet her shortfall but I didn’t grow up being selfish and petty about helping those I love plus making her spend her 401K saving would only delay the inevitable which is providing some support.
Which takes me to the real problem; I’m stuck between a rock and hard place. Which relationship do I strain, my mother’s or my husband’s? Both are already strained and I know that my nuclear family should come first, but turning my back on my mother goes against how I was raised and is only going to leave me with resentment towards my husband which can’t be good for the relationship either.
In many respects it’s ironic, because my success has been built on being able to fund my retirement, my kid’s education and knowing ultimately that I would have to supports my parents in old age on some level. Although I have succeeded in obtaining those means, I feel trapped.
Readers – what do you think of her situation? Do you have any advice or other thoughts to share? (Please be kind)