Thursday, December 04, 2008

More on the Family Finances: ZZ's TV

I can't help feeling judgmental sometimes...

When I was home for Thanksgiving, I was having dinner with my sister ZZ and her husband and they happened to mention that they were getting rid of my mother's old TV. This TV is an enormous monstrosity of a TV. She bought it 3 or 4 years ago, when she first moved into her own apartment. When she was furnishing that place, she went all out-- she believed that my father had some secret stash of wealth, so she spared no expense in buying furniture and decorating, even to the point of spending money on new appliances and refinishing the floors for her RENTAL apartment. But I digress... one of her big expenses for the apartment, which she could actually take with her when she left, was this huge Sony TV, or perhaps I should call it a media center. I think it's a 48" screen, high definition, and has all these speakers and stereo components that go with it. It cost a few thousand dollars when she bought it, I think.
When my mom had to give up her apartment, my sister and her husband got the TV. First they had it in their living room, then they moved it down to the family room in the basement. It was great for them-- they have friends over to watch sports quite often, and the kids loved watching movies on it. So why would they get rid of it? I knew they had cancelled their cable at one point to save money, but that wasn't the reason. Was it broken? No, it works perfectly and the picture is beautiful. So why? Here's what my sister said:
"We just realized it takes up so much room down there! That thing is huge, and now they have all these nice flat screen TVs that we could just mount on the wall, and they've gotten so cheap! And we're not buying it, Todd's (her husband's) parents are giving it to us for Christmas."
Now, my sister's family room is not all that cramped. And the TV takes up maybe 8-10 square feet of floor space at the most. And my sister freely acknowledges that she and her husband are in debt. My parents are paying her a couple thousand dollars a year for the kids' nursery school, and have given her the use of one of their cars, which costs them almost $300 a month.

"Can you sell the old TV?" I asked. "Well, we can try, but probably no one will want it, since it's not a flat screen and those are so cheap now. We'd only get a couple hundred dollars for it, it's probably not even worth it."

The rampaging WASTE of all this just kills me. My mother's folly might have been somewhat redeemed by the TV going to good use with my sister's family, but now they want to just chuck it. And Todd's parents could be spending their money on a gift they really need, like sharing the nursery school costs, perhaps! All to gain a few square feet of basement space and have a swanky new wall mounted TV like everyone else has.

For the most part, I have always refrained from criticizing my sister's financial choices, and I haven't said anything to her yet about this, but I may try to gently hint that she needs to start thinking about money differently.


Susy said...

Sounds like she got your mom's money skills.

Chad @ Sentient Money said...

I would have to agree with Susy. It sounds very similar. I don't envy your conversation.

I still have the old non-HD normal sized tube tv and I love sports, but I see no reason to get a new tv until this one calls it quits. I don't quite understand the current social desire to one-up everyone with your tv. The improvement you get is marginal at best. This isn't like switching from black & white to color.

Middle Class Hick said...

@chad - I disagree with you about the difference between HD and non-HD. If you get a nice, good HD and get a signal - there is a night and day difference. However, I also agree that it is not necessarily a reason to run out and get a new TV. I did since my 25 year old Tube died a few weeks ago. Otherwise, I got my free (black friday) $40 HD tuners. I had an antenna already (actually - my cable company, which I am paying for "emergency cable, $14 a month) is shipping me the local HD channels on the cable :)

As for ZZZ and Todd. Some people get things in their head, and they only can focus on that. I am guilty of that. Some people cannot stand a perceived eye sore, and it drives them nuts no matter what they do. The "want" scale becomes huge at this point, and there is nothing for it but to take the binge to alleviate the issue.

However I agree. Getting a $2k TV and entertainment system, which if it was sold in the last few years, and is in good working order, dumb as heck to ditch. If it is free, and you are having issues paying for stuff, why look a gift horse in the mouth?

Oh well, if it weren't for the mentality of "Keeping up with the Jones's" we, as a country would be no where as successful as a country as we are.

Gregg said...

now that you've moved to bigger digs, you could offer to take it off her hands!

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should suggest that your parents stop enabling your sister and BIL by providing them with tuition and a car.... once ppl have children, esp. more than 1, they should take care of their own responsibilities (In my opinion, esp. if their is not tons of extra cash laying around and every child and grandchild is receiving the same amounts). Most of the time, ppl that pay for their own things see the value of replacing things only when they are broken or selling them, even if only for a couple of hundred dollars. Isn't selling anything for a profit worth it??

Just my opinion but it would aggravate me too!

Mr. ToughMoneyLove said...

I feel your pain regarding a the money dysfunct in your family. I suggest that you ask if you can have the TV. Then you sell it on craigslist, then let her know about the money you made. Rub her nose in it just a little. She may learn something from it.

Miss M said...

I would be irritated too, other people's inability to handle money affects all of us. Your parents are burdened with helping her out cause she can't get her spending and wants under control. Good luck with trying to talk to her, she may not be ready to listen. Most people are in denial about their spending and debt problems, that or they don't care. My dad is a financial idiot and thinks it's hilarious, try to talk finance with him and he just laughs.

Optioned Unarmed said...

Oftentimes people do not value "free" stuff very much, even when it does have significant real value. Unfortunate, but true. If your sister had paid for the TV she would not be so eager to part with it.

SP said...

It would bother me as well. How can you bring it up though?

My parents (mom) wants to buy a new ("less than a year old, but not brand new" as if that isn't basically brand new) car THIS MONTH. The economy sucks, their jobs aren't all that stable, they don't have significant cash savings, the house isn't paid off, their retirement isn't fully funded, and they are cosigned for like 25k of my dead beat little sisters student loans, which they will be paying (don't get me started on her....)

Yes, they may need another car, but a brand new car is just majorly stupid move right now.

But I don't know how to say that without being a brat.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, this is a tough one. I struggle w/ my own sister's money choices as well when I know she and her family are in debt. I think one great way to break through the ice is for us as a culture to be more open about money and debt. That's one of the reasons I love your blog and other pf blogs so much is that once we open up about these issues we can really analyze the choices we make. Plus, if she knew how smart you are with your money she might decide to follow your example!

Anonymous said...

does your family read this? just wondering about their reaction if they do ....

that decision would frustrate me too.

T'Pol said...

I agree it is a waste. I would like to point out something else too. If your parents are supporting your sister, don't they think they are being unfair to you? Yes, you are financially very wise and certainly do not need any help but still...? Especially given the fact that if your parents will need financial support in the future, you are the most likely candidate to do it. When my sister was getting married, my mom calculated every single penny she spent for her and gave me the same amount of money as a gift because, I have been telling everyone I would never marry, since I was like 8 years old:) I told her, there is no need for that but she said: You are my child too and this is only fair.

MEG said...

I can't believe you didn't say anything! Granted, in my family we are all too comfortable giving our opinions and suggestions to one another (which to outsiders for some reason tends to look like "arguing"). But still I would have (politely) said something like - "Wow I can't believe you're accepting that - wouldn't you much rather such a large gift be something you really need, or at least something you don't already have?"

Then she'd likely respond with "oh but it will clear up so much space and blah blah blah and it will really be great."

And you could counter that with "yeah but it's going to cost you a lot more in monthly charges plus hundreds more on the sound system and cords and components and installation. You already freely admit that you are in debt and have trouble meeting your regular budget needs. Seems like their generosity could go to better use is all I'm saying."

And then she'd be offended but I mean seriously your parents are already subsidizing her lifestyle by paying for their car and their kids' educations and who knows what else. Not that that is a bad thing, but in light of that fact I don't think expressing your surprise (or disgust) with their wastefulness is out of line.

But like I said, my family is pretty direct. :)

Anonymous said...

Well, the security code for me is "bargy" so I guess I'll chime in. I'm pretty grossed out by your parents paying for preschool and a car. What are they thinking?Is your sister an adult? If so, she should be taking care of her own family. If not, what is she doing reproducing?

I'm admittedly bitter about this topic. I really struggled financially as a young adult while all my friends were doing just fine. Which, it turns out, is not that hard when you don't have any student loans and your parents are paying your rent. Still, I will never forget the feeling that *I* was doing something wrong because I was having a harder time than everyone else I knew. Now I know that level playing field = unicorns, and I don't think people should pretend otherwise.

Karen said...

Oh my Lordy-I hope you and you alone have POA for your father. I wouldn't let your mother or your sister around his money.

Anonymous said...

The thing is, I doubt she'd listen to you and would probably chalk your concern to jealousy or being the snobby big sis.

I have a brother who is reckless with his finances. Everybody knows if you got the latest gadget he'll buy it from you to the extent that somebody sold him a TV they had found abandoned for $100!!

Sometimes I wish I could shake my own kin until they get some money sense into them. Yes, I'm the eldest, I helped pay for some of their tuition and I take care of our mom. Life would be so much easier on me if they carried their own weight and chipped in but I've learnt that some people just dont care. And when its family, their not caring affects me the most because I care.

Anonymous said...

I will most likely be unpopular with this observation, but it is your sister's life and your parents' money.

How each chooses to live/spend/waste their money is thier decision.

There is nothing wrong in offering advice (once). If it is not followed/heeded, it is out of your hands (and your conscience should be clear). So if thier bad money decisions land them in the poor house you are not under any obligation to bail them out (which is not to say you shouldn't, just that it's up to you).

IMHO,you can/will drive yourself crazy worrying about how others you care about are running their lives.

Elizabeth said...

Your family sounds a LOT like mine. I can especially identify with your mom spending money on improvements to a rental apartment and buying the biggest and most expensive "entertainment system" money could buy. That's exactly the type of dysfunctional thing my mom would do. She's truly a spend-aholic. It's a sickness, and at 70, I doubt she'll ever change her behavior.

As for your sister and the TV, I know it's hard but you've got to let it go. Open your heart, sigh, know that you love her even though you will never understand her, and move forward.

I know you have no interest in the TV and have no way of transporting it. I understand completely that you're not driven by TV envy.

Remind yourself that your sister is an adult now, and her in-laws are adults, and they're all just going to have to make their own decisions and live with their own mistakes.

As your niece (can't remember if your sister has other children) gets older and you continue to build a relationship with her, you'll have an opportunity to have a real impact in her (their) life as an alternative example. Kids are smart and loving Aunties have an incredible amount of influence and power.

I'd recommend you continue to put your energy toward things you can control and influence and do your best to let go of the things you can't.

But as a quick PS, this latest thing with your sister should serve as a good reminder to you as you continue to make decisions about your father and his finances. You're walking a solo path. As much as you want to see your sister as an ally, her financial values are not the same as yours. You need to be honest with yourself that you will not be able to count on her to always see money issues the same way you do.

FruGal said...

gah! I can only imagine how frustrating that conversation must've been. If I were you, I would offer to sell it and then buy her holiday gift with the profit! If she doesn't have the wherewithal to make use of the old TV, you might as well!

Anonymous said... the anon with the "unpopular observation." True its her sister's life and decision, and that would be cool if her sister lived in a vacuum because her own decisions would affect only her. BUT, the thing about "selfish decisions" is that somebody else ends up suffering who had no say in the decision process. Remember, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to say nothing."

Its this same attitude of indifference and greediness that led to the economic downturn we are now experiencing. Its when people made decisions in a vacuum, selfish decisions, without regards for others.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 12/5 9:59 am

The essence of sorrow is to desire that which cannot come to pass.


While I agree with your point, I am afraid that the ability to get family members (most human beings as well unfortunately) to modify their behavior (as adults) falls squirely into Epictetus' observation.

Secondly, I think you are naive if think moral suasion would have done anything to change the greed exhibited in the last years. Regulation, and the strict enforcement of regulations, would have, but words (without punishment) would not.

Anonymous said...


Ok, we cannot modify people's behaviour, true, but I'd much prefer sorrow (when warranted) than indifference. It would be disastrous if we all lost our moral fiber just because we cannot modify others.

I was not talking about moral suasion as a preventive course of action. I was talking about the lack of moral fiber as the causation of greed. I was lamenting that the "me" attitude is what led us to this mess in the first place.

I must say though that I amused, we seem to sort of agree but are looking at the situation from different viewpoints. May be we should agree to disagree?

Anonymous said...


I guess my real point was to say that yes, I agree wholeheartedly, to try to help (through advice) others, but do not wrap your own emotions up in the outcome because the likelihood of changing anyone (in any real way) is quite low.

Hell, I cannot get myself to change my own behavior where I know I should, why should I expect greater results with others.

So I think we do agree with the try part, I am just more pessimistic than you on the likely outcome.

bugbear said...

wow, it can be really hard on you and very crazymaking when you see close family members doing nonsensical/insane things such as you have described.

It sounds like your mom and your sister are just very different from you and it might be better for your sake if you gave up the idea that they should, or will, someday start to do things the way that you are comfortable with.

sounds like sis has made her peace with not supporting her family with her family's income only, and relying on cash infusions from Mom. And mom herself is not gonna change.

In the end, the most important thing is that you have your own values straight and stick by them in your own life. There's only a very little that one can do to influence another person's decisions. Unless you want to make it your second job to look over your sister's and your mom's shoulders, I'd say just let it be. You can't really protect either one of them from their own decisions.

It is true that it could affect you in some way if their financial situation seriously deteriorates. However, you have little control over that.

You might mention that this is not necessarily a great time to be spending cash frivolously, and that if mom wants to give a gift it might be more prudent if it goes towards a reasonable and needed, instead of a luxury, expense. Or that Mom should maybe cut down on the major gift giving and look after her own finances.

However, I don't know the whole story re: your mom's money situation and your sister's, so I think I'll just stop here.

My main hope for you is that you can feel better about the situation and realize that it has very little to do with you, and feel very good about the soundness of your own behavior and values.

bugbear said...

Holy cow, I just read an earlier post of yours and got a better sense of the financial situation with your parents.

It makes my above comment largely off-base.

I really think that given the tenuous situation with your parents' finances, it might be time for you to be the responsible one, the "parent" if you will, and have a talk with your sister, her husband, and your mom and dad. The fact is, your sister should not be accepting large presents from your mom, because your mom in all likelihood can not afford them. Your mom is not being responsible to her own finances, and if she is unwilling to see that by herself, sis has to step in and say, "mom, I've been thinking about this and talking with *openwallet*, and I'm really uncomfortable accepting an HD TV from you. I'm concerned about your financial condition and I don't think it's a good idea to be spending that kind of money right now."

this is probably going to hurt your mother's feelings (she's sensitive about her financial competence, probably because she realizes she is weak there). But you guys have just got to be loving and firm with her, let her know that you care about her but if she i nsists on being financially reckless you are not going to be on board with it.

I don't know if sis is the kind of person to stand up like this, but it just may be the opportunity for her to gain full independence from Mom and experience how good it feels to be responsible for oneself and set limits where limits are appropriate.

Such a bid by you could fail, but I would say that it is your responsibility to make the attempt and be firm. and if they don't agree, be firm in saying you don't approve and that you are angry, or however you are feeling about it. Be honest about what you see and how you are feeling.

It could be a very good thing for all of you.

Good luck and blessings,


Madame X said...

Gregg-- I may have moved to bigger digs, but they are still not big enough for this TV! I think I'd have to get rid of my couch to fit it in...

Anon 2:41-- No, my family does not read this blog. Nor does anyone I know, as far as I'm aware! And I certainly hope it stays that way!