I was visiting family this weekend... If you're a relative newcomer to this site, just click on the category "family" to get a tiny sampling of the kind of angst-ridden financial tizzy a family visit can get me into!
This time there were a few items of note:
1) My sister, who I thought had paid for my niece's pre-school with a credit card, turns out to have been given some money for it by my father. She has also had my mother's car on a semi-permanent loan for the last few months, and needless to say, she is not paying my father for the lease. I know it is tough to raise kids in an expensive suburb, but sometimes I can't help feeling a bit disgruntled that when she and her husband overextend themselves, the family comes to the rescue, while everyone just thinks I've got everything sorted out and can take care of myself. And I CAN take care of myself, and want to take care of myself... but if there's money to be handed out to cover non-emergency expenses, I wouldn't mind seeing a bit of it, selfish wench that I am.
2) My father spent $130 on a new shaving brush, and added a fancy new razor (also expensive though I don't know exactly how much) to his order from whatever obscure British shaving supply company he bought it from. My dad has never been so over-the-top frugal as to deny himself a few luxuries, but this one was surprising to me. He has also been allowing himself more bottles of expensive wines to supplement his usual cheap wines. His attitude in the last few years has been one of extreme penny-pinching martyrdom, because of the enormous credit card debts he's had to bail my mother out of, twice. So what does it mean that he is now giving himself more of a break? He had some papers on the floor in the living room-- I could see the edge of one and it was clear that it was a statement of his retirement account from his employer. So of course I peeked: the date was almost a year ago and the balance was under $200,000. I know he also gets a pension and social security, but I don't know what other assets he has. He's in his early 70s, and has a lot of health problems but they are less threatening to his life than to his quality of life, I think. Both his parents lived into their 90s. Is he okay financially, or not okay? I have no idea. But the fact that he seems to have loosened his standards of frugality almost alarmed me. It seemed as though he might have thrown in the towel, basically. Perhaps his health issues are worse than I thought-- he is always depressed about his illnesses, but maybe there is more to it. If he is allowing himself expensive luxuries, especially one such as wine, which he really shouldn't be consuming in more than tiny amounts, does it mean he doesn't care any more, because he thinks he won't live much longer? Is he just learning to lighten up a bit, or is this almost a sign of suicidal depression? This may sound alarmist and melodramatic on my part, but to make a long story short, if you knew my dad, you might have the same thoughts.
3) I found a photo album with pictures of my high school graduation, as well as one of the first letters I wrote home during my freshman year of college. Here's how the letter began:
I decided to write instead of call-- since my initiation to the world of debt, I've been very money conscious. I also decided today that I'm not going to buy any more food at [a campus convenience store]. Their prices are outrageous and B [my roommate] says there is a real grocery store somewhere.
I'm always a little surprised when I realize the preoccupation with financial security that I thought had hit me in my late 20s and 30s was actually well established at a much earlier age!
4) As always, I had a great time playing with my niece and nephew. We played pizza restaurant, birthday party, monster attack, knock-Auntie-X-over and a variety of other games, including a new one: shoe store. My niece sold the shoes and my nephew played my butler, who carried home my purchases for me. I also instructed him to take some of the play money (post-its scribbled on by my niece) out of my pocket and put it in the bank, and then to take some out of the bank to pay for another pair of shoes. I have to start early with these kids!