Friday, February 02, 2007

Moral Quandary

As I wrote not long ago, my mother told me how happy she was because my father had bailed her out of her 2nd big credit card debt. She's also nearing the end of the lease on the apartment that she has paid for for a year but barely lived in-- yet another spectacular waste of money. So this Christmas she was feeling like all her worries were over... at least the ones about being in debt. She was very generous in the gifts she gave me-- my parents tend to give me some individual gifts and some joint ones-- usually a $100 check is the joint present. This year, I got a $100 check made out by my father, but then my mother also gave me a $300 check from her own account. I felt a little weird about it, as she had given me some other things as well and it all seemed like an awful lot given her circumstances. But sometimes, I just try to shut all that out and just tell myself it's between her and my father, and since I can certainly put the $300 to good use, I decided to keep and cash the check.
However, my mother had put a post-it on the check, asking me not to cash it until Jan. 25th, which she later apologized for, saying that she just needed me to wait until after her Social Security check had been deposited. Of course that didn't make me feel great about it! But I still hung onto the check. A few days ago, I deposited it. And that same evening, I got home to find a message on my answering machine asking me not to deposit it just yet, as there was some problem with my father being able to give her the usual monthly check at the usual time. Now I REALLY feel guilty. I should have just torn the check up. I called my mother back and told her I'd deposited it, and she said something along the lines of "oh dear, well, don't worry about it, I guess I'm always over generous and I should know better by now, but don't worry, I'll work it out," etc. etc.
Ugh. I wish I didn't have to worry so much about my parents' finances. I'm getting to the age where I have to worry about their health, which is stressful enough. But when it comes to money, I just don't know where they really stand-- I know my mother can spend money like there's no tomorrow. And I know my father complains all the time about not being able to afford things-- but how much of that is his being secretive and paranoid about my mother bankrupting him? In the past, he's alluded to wanting to give me power of attorney in case something happens to him. Every time I visit, I tell myself it's time to sit down and have that difficult conversation about whether he has a will and what his wishes are. I keep cutting out articles about estate planning and health proxies. But I can't quite broach the issue yet. It's so important, but so, so difficult...

20 comments:

henry said...

There's never a good time to talk about a will X. You just need to cowgirl up and do it. And also, no more checks from your mom. Cash is okay. But from reading about her financial history on your blog, no checks. ESPECIALLY if it has a post-it stipulation attached.

Anonymous said...

My mother is the same. It has got to the point where I get so stressed every time she gives me a present that it definitely takes the shine off it.
Personally, I don't like the idea of checks as gifts. Period. Christmas seems to have just become an alternative way of obtaining consumer goods and money one would otherwise have to get from one's our resources instead of a symbol of love and thought.

Anonymous said...

Why did she do that to you? I always tell my parents to deal with their finances and give money when u are sure. You come first before your family and friends. Maybe you can just give back the cash and she can deposit it back in her account?

Stephanie said...

What a pain!! Perhaps implementing a "let's just spend time together and not exchange gifts" would help alleviate your mom from feeling like she "needs to" give you anything when obviously she can't afford to. But it sounds like she'd just spend the money on someone else.

Meanwhile, it's very important to plan for those things! I'm only 31 and one of my new year's resolutions was to get a living trust established this year. Have you set up yours?

Anonymous said...

When I did my will, the lawyer asked me about future inheritances or obligations, which was the excuse I used to ask my parents about their financial situation. That made it a much easier conversation, because it was clear to my parents that I needed the information to be financially responsible myself, instead of asking out of greediness.

iportion said...

You might want power of Attorney in case of accident but not death as well.
Debt addiction is so easy. I’ve known people who hoard ugly overpriced clothes, people who were addicted to gift giving.


To the man or woman whose parent can’t afforded gifts.
I don’t know if this will work but this might take the guilt of your family member.
Why not ask them to make you those coupon books like washing the dishes, babysit or teaching you a recipe.

Clever Dude said...

My parents, in-laws and grandma all have given me cash for my birthdays since time began (for me at least). Now I'm in my late 20's and realized that I really don't want my parents giving me anything; cash or gifts.

I have kindly sent a thank you card with the cash my in-laws and grandma have given to me, asking that they not give cash gifts any longer. My in-laws still sneak cash to my wife, but I can only get them to agree to so much.

You're in your thirties. Not to sound scolding, although I'm sure I am, but it's time to stop taking cash from your parents, whether it's a gift or not, or whether they're rich or dirt poor. They can help you in other ways than just pure cash, right?

This Little Piggy said...

I agree with with Henry. It's just something that you have to do and no time is ever going to be perfect. Just do it and get it over with. It probably won't be as bad as you think.

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like your mother wanted to be generous, and wanted to show you she was being generous. But by attaching a post-it saying to wait a month before cashing it, I think she was expecting you to not accept/cash it. As in, she very well may have expected a "Thanks mom! But I can't accept this, and besides, you already got me so many other things!" This way, she still gets to feel like she was being extra generous--without actually dishing out $300.

Perhaps you should have blogged about it *prior* to depositing it to get opinions on what to do! ;)

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm going to sound scolding. If someone is giving you a check and says not cash it til such and such a date, they can't afford to give you a check and your knowing your mother's financial history means you know she can't afford it. Yes, if she doesn't give it to you she'll blow it some other way , but that doesn't mean it's the right thing to do for you to accept it. How about say , thanks mom, but if you want to tak me out to eat, or take me to the movies, that would be great, I'd get to spend time with you and you can treat me to make herself feel good.
Also, waiting til the 25th for social security is baloney. SS checks come out on the third.

wendy said...

I have the same worries as you, Madame X, about my parents. They always lived beyond their means and now they are at an age where their health has become an issue. It's a lot of stress.

As far as accepting gifts from my parents, I finally had to just start refusing things from them. I have to say it was a very hard thing to do because it REALLY hurt their feelings. I stood firm for a long time in my refusal of gifts, but as I've gotten older, I've mellowed a little and now we give each other small things. This seems to work ok, at least for now.

You should just try to mention to your Dad about the Durable Power of Attorney (and I would definitely suggest you make it DURABLE Power of Attorney). Durable power of attorney will stay in effect if your Dad becomes incapacitated whereas regular Power of Attorney will not. There's more info about it on the web so I won't take up a bunch more space explaining it here.

Anyway, I hope you find some peace in dealing with your parents. I know from my own experience that I have worried and worried about all the terrible things that could happen with them. I think I finally just got sick of worrying and don't do it so much anymore. There's only so much you can do about the situation. Sadly, most of it is out of your hands. Good luck.

mapgirl said...

I know your background isn't Asian, but the Asian way is to give cash in red envelopes for the new year. It's good luck money. But the best part is that it's cash and cash only. Maybe the trick is to tell your mom to give you cash and that way she won't be overgenerous the next time since you'd rather not cause her a financial headache with a bounced check.

Since it's a prosecutable offense for her to go around bouncing checks with stores and stuff, so you might want to investigate if this is a chronic problem for her and get her into using cash only.

Good luck to you.

Debbie said...

I think parents like to show their love by giving generous gifts. Think if you can find some other way for her to be generous that takes advantage of her strengths, especially if they are your weaknesses. (Although people sometimes feel that doing things that are easy for them to do are not valuable, so you might really have to talk about how hard it is for you.)

Also, if her check to you hasn't bounced, maybe you can give her the same amount (sneakily? as cash in an envelope?) reassuring her somehow that you know how much she loves you and that you love her too and would be very grateful if she would let you reduce her worries a little.

Or something. I don't know what I'm talking about, but maybe some of this discussion is giving you some good ideas.

Best of luck in these tricky situations.

Madame X said...

Thanks everyone for the great comments. I'll certainly be writing more about this issue and address points that some of you brought up!

Rachella said...

I hope this doesn't sound mean, but I think your mum was being a bit narcissistic by giving you that $300 check with its not-so-subtle hint never to cash it. It makes her "look" generous without having to actually do anything. I'm glad you cashed it, just this once, but if I were you, I'd give back any future checks saying, "Thank you mum, but remember what happened last time," or something similar.

Clever Dude said...

As an added thought, this past Christmas I gave my mom a $50 Staples gift card and another $50 from Michael's Crafts, rather than giving cash. She actually cried and said it was too much. I didn't expect that.

She had also given me $50 cash (as well as gave my wife 50). I tried to give it back to her but she got angry with me. I didn't want her to be angry on Christmas, so I took it, but I'm saving it towards another gift card for her birthday.

As for my gram, she gave everyone in the family $25 (some less, depending on who you are in relation to her). I rounded up the cash from me, my wife, sister, mom and dad and gave it to my mom to apply towards my gram's debt. My gram doesn't know we did this.

A Nony Mous said...

I have to agree with those who said not to accept cash from your mom.

Also, to correct misinformation posted above, Social Security checks are deposited on different dates for everyone. Mine comes on the fourth Wednesday of the month.

fin_indie said...

Very tough one. When my parents pull out the checks as gifts, I smile and then proceed to rip them up when I get home. There is no way in hell I am going to cash a check from my struggling parents -- I just can't do it, but they don't need to know. I very much doubt that they balance their checkbook, so what they don't know won't hurt them. :)

Bart Bradshaw said...

Take the money so your mom doesn't feel badly, then invest it. If it turns out your parents need financial support later on, you'll have been a godsend. If your parents end up not needing the money, you have extra savings.

Kansas Simplicity said...

Wow...that is a lot of worry. I work with my mom every month and review what is happening as well as keep a quicken account going on all her accounts. Mom is very frugal in her Mennonite community so it helps out a lot with her expenses yet if it was the opposite, I would worry too given possible health issues and other large expenses. My best advice is having an open discussion with the 'what ifs' and that may create some focus and I suggest including siblings too. Also, to avoid issues at time of death, without a will and estate intentions documented, this could evolve into a schism in the family. Good luck and I will be sending positive thoughts your way.