Friday, November 03, 2006

Mom Gets Bailed Out Again

I was talking to my mom today, and at one point she said, "Oh, I have some news that you'll be relieved to hear... my debt is all paid off!"
This was of course a relief. As I wrote some months ago, my parents have undergone a strange kind of informal separation over the last couple of years. My mom got a chunk of money to set herself up in her own apartment, plus a monthly stipend from my dad. She then proceeded to spend every penny and run up over $50,000 in credit card debt in less than a year. When I found out about it, I begged her to fess up and have my dad pay the bill, rather than running up even more interest charges. Eventually she did-- of course my father went ballistic but he somehow managed to come up with the money.
My mother then swore she had learned her lesson and was going to be better about controlling her spending. But she never managed to get much work because she was too caught up in babysitting for her grandchildren. She started to get in debt again, decided she had to cut her expenses, and moved away to live with her mom, giving away most of her belongings to family, and putting the rest in storage. At this point she was already in debt again. Then she got an apartment near her mother and of course had to buy some stuff for that, even though it came furnished, so there was another cash drain. Against my advice, she even started collecting her Social Security payments too early to get the maximum, just because she was desperate for cash. Then she came back to help my sister with her kids again, spending part of time staying with my sister, and part of the time staying with my father. This has now turned into about a 4 month stay, so far, all while her apartment has been sitting empty for longer than she even lived in it! And the debt total was up to over $12,000. Again, everyone who knew about it was telling her she had to confront it, and that my father would only think it was even worse if the interest kept building up. So she finally told him, he went ballistic again, and paid the bill again.
The whole thing just makes me feel ill, whether the bills are paid or not. My mother has no grasp on reality when it comes to personal finance. My father is (understandably) so paranoid about money that he keeps all his financial information hidden from everyone. (And just to be clear here, he is not a rich man-- he worked, and still works part-time though retired, for a salary that I'm sure never broke six figures, and his only other money came from selling my grandparents' house after they died, which was split with several siblings.) So when he pays off my mother's debts like this, it just makes things worse in a way: my mother thinks he has loads of money and is just being stingy, and it reinforces her delusion that someone else will always save the day and that she doesn't have to take any responsibility for it. She herself admits that she just "goes crazy"-- in that same phone conversation, she was telling me about all the stuff she had bought my sister's kids for Halloween: two costumes each plus assorted accessories, decorative items, pumpkins, Halloween themed napkins, plates, and god only knows what else, plus what was probably enough candy to feed an army.
I just don't know what to do about my mother. There isn't much I can do, and in some ways, it is between her and my father to work out. But at some point, I'll end up having to take care of her. Perhaps it is just selfish, given everything my mother has done to take care of me, but I can't help dreading what could happen, and thinking that my carefully planned-for financial future could be affected by someone who acts as though money grows on trees.

17 comments:

Dimes said...

You're definitely not alone with this sort of thing. I expect that my husband and I will have to eventually support his parents and at least two of our siblings, not because they don't make enough money, but because they don't plan any farther ahead than next Tuesday and haven't bothered to set up long-term or retirement savings.
My only advice would be that whenever you have to take care of her, make sure your financial information is distinctly separate, and do NOT bail her out. Maybe the threat of bankruptcy will bring her back to Earth, and if not, it will trash her credit badly enough that she won't have anything to spend.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. Unfortunately, as dimes said "you're definitely not alone...". Best of luck

Ms. MiniDucky said...

I felt sick reading this because it's so familiar. Well, it has been a familiar refrain - my brother is pretty much the same way. It literally makes me sick with dread that he won't even admit that it is HIS SPENDING that is a problem, not the fact that he doesn't make enough. Someday our parents will be gone and he won't be able to run to them to bail him out [it's not like they're wealthy, I support THEM!], he'll be running to me. I completely understand your fear that your carefully crafted and planned for future may very well be threatened by a family member.

wendy said...

My mother is/was the same way. When I was a teenager in the 70's, I used to plead with her to cut back on her spending, but she never would. She had a job so she thought she deserved anything her heart desired because, as she said, "I worked all my life". It didn't matter that she spent much more than she earned.

My father made a modest living so she would regularly berate him because he couldn't afford to buy her the things she "deserved". I was pretty miserable growing up.

Now my mother is suffering from dementia and my father takes care of her with help from me. If anything happens to my father, I think I'm going to have to stick my head in the oven.

I feel for you, Madame X.

Anonymous said...

I am right there with you. My mother spends like there's no tomorrow. She has been married twice to high-earning men, and only had to work intermittently. After she spent most of her second divorce settlement, she went back to work about ten years ago, but she spends way beyond her means. It is really hard to watch. She has no health insurance and is not getting any younger.

I think she is finally having an epiphany that says she has to sell her expensive house and buy something smaller that she can maintain more easily.

I am afraid to hope she's finally going to change but I have all the same fears about supporting her eventually because she squandered so much money.

I am a regular reader but am commenting anonymously because this is such a touchy issue.

Save Sheila said...

I can identify with your mother! I tend to think I'll always land with my feet on the ground; this time I didn't and I'm having to confront reality. I don't have money; therefore, I cannot spend it. Hope she sees the light soon!

Boston Gal said...

The whole parental financial minefield - yup, I have stepped into that one before. It is so frustrating when you can see so clearly what needs to be done (give up useless apartment), and then to know THEY KNOW also what needs to be done - but do nothing.

Ugh! I feel for you.

Anonymous said...

If she's just eligible for social security, she's not that old yet. I think it's better that it happens now, than later. It sounds like there's finally some pressure to learn how to deal with money properly.

On a weirder note, does anyone think about this kind of thing before they get married? I know it sounds bad (for a man), but I would be real wary about marrying someone who couldn't be responsible with money. Somehow, it doesn't sound nearly as bad if a woman has these concerns about a potential husband though.

Tiredbuthappy said...

Hey, Madame.

I've dealt with, and written about, a similar issue with one of my family members. Here's how I handled it.

As for the question about whether you should factor this kind of behavior in when you marry/partner with someone, I think you should. I don't know that it would be a dealbreaker for me, but I'd certainly take steps to protect myself and my assets if I decided to pair up with someone like this.

But what if your sweetie is just fine about money, and their parents are not? You have to figure out if you're on the same page about how much help to give. I can envision some nasty fights: "do you expect me to just let my mother starve?"

Luckily, my spouse and I haven't conflicted too much over how much to help my relative. He has helped me put the emotions aside and think of something that makes sense. Of course, it hasn't gotten too bad yet, so the jury's still out on how well we handle it if it gets really bad.

Scott said...

After having to deal with this "lifestyle" with my ex-wife, you can bet I will be cautious about how any future spouse would handle money. Its a shame it has to be that way, but seeing someone's actions lead to you having to work an extra (xxx) years, I can't imagine the marriage being a happy one. And if you're a man, the laws are against you at divorce time, so you have to be extra careful.

Thankfully other relatives are responsible enough with their money so I shouldn't have to deal with this issue in the future. In fact I think this is why I let it go for so long in my marriage. I couldn't imagine someone being that irresponsible - now I know better.

sz said...

Money in a marrige is a hot topic to say the least. I never thought about it with another relative though. Luckily, my spouse and I are on the same page when it comes to financial style. Who knows what we would do if someone else came knocking.

sfshopgal said...

I am new and I've always wanted to start a blog...I came across your blog and I want to say you inspire me..this particular posting touched me deeply as I am going thru this on a daily basis and I have yet to find a solution...however what I've finally learn is that I can't help anyone if I can't stand firm on my own two feet first....*many thanks*

California Money Musings said...

Glad I'm not alone in this. Unfortunately it's my dad who's spending like crazy even though he makes six figures. He's always whipping out the credit card and buying stuff for people or taking friends out to eat. It's just awful.

Im afraid I'll one day have to bail him out of his money troubles at the rate he's going. And that scares me to death ...

Anonymous said...

My mother is EXACTLY the same. She has this sense of entitlement that makes me sick. She is constantly running up huge bills, and then having panic attacks and sinking into massive depression such that I feel I have to bail her out just so that she can function again. I decided to stop being an enabler and letting her sink or swim. Now my uncle helps her but makes her fax her bank statements to him every month. It is working quite well.

Anonymous said...

same here. i fear the future when it comes to my parents. i moved away when young due to their abuse. after that, they went even more easy on my younger sibling, who is the 'favorite'. sibling moved out when about 26 yrs old (i was 18). i remember as a kid, they asked me if it would be ok if they willed all to sibling b/c they didn't think he could take care of self (personality issues they perceived, NOT retardation or anything) even in the future (they were raising him to be that way, btw). i bitterly protested saying we should each get 50/50 (duh).

now we are adults and i fear they will still do that, yet expect me to take care of them somehow. perception is i am the 'successful' one, how can that be when i barely make enough for med bills, etc? no degree? plus i am a female and would live longer with meager savings (i am saving).
my parents divorced recently (last couple yrs) and my mother is squandering her $ in my opinion. she's not as bad as your mother with $ but she does not work eventho she spent a ton on education in a field recently (health related!).
my dad remarried. i doubt anything will go to my brother & i; wife will outlive for sure.
my main concern, not only the $ in regards to my mother, but her health. she refuses to exercise or do most things that would make her more healthy. she is a recluse. she has been only gaining more and more weight over each yr (not obese yet, tho). she is also a hypochondriac, but does have some real issues. she is not even 60 yet.
if i am on the other side of the county, can't i just not get involved? is there a law saying i have to? i am not heartless, but my family always used me and still would if i didn't move far away. (i tried to work thru the abuse issues with them too but one won't talk about it and the other began to blame the other parent eventho they were carrying it out. they deny how bad it was. it was pretty bad -- technically illegal. after leaving home, my mother persists in verbal abuse at times so i almost entirely avoid her, phone calls, etc.)

anyway, best to you in your situation. at least you may have siblings to help. maybe talking to your dad would help, but i know people tend not to change, so i understand if you didn't (talk him out of bailing her out. would have to divorce in order to separate responsibility, but that varies per state i understand).

b.

Anonymous said...

wanted to just add that i don't *expect* any inheritance, i just don't see how parental care would work without it, funds set aside, etc.....
my boyfriend's parents are not rich, but they are sitting on what became valuable property. he sees it as the way to pay for their care should something occur.

what is probably sad is that i would be less concerned if i felt differently about the way i am treated by my parents (past and present). i would have far less issues with it and consider having one or both live with me if they needed care, but that is just not going to happen, not possible....

b

Anonymous said...

my parents have bailed out my brother (both of jail and financially) for years (he is about 40). They have also made some very very poor financial decisions. They are about to lose their house to foreclosure. I offerred them money for bankrutcy, they do not want to file. They will lose their house soon. Once they are in an apartent on a small pension, I may help with small amounts. THey want 30K to bail them out . I do not think so.