Friday, September 21, 2007

A Family Visit

My sister, her husband, and their kids are coming to stay with me tonight, before we all go to a family wedding tomorrow. Of course I've been running around like a maniac trying to remember what needs to be done to prepare for guests and how I might need to child-proof my house. After so many years of living in a tiny studio, I feel like I am kind of out of practice as a hostess!
I was asking my sister all kinds of questions, such as whether I should buy black-out shades for the room the kids will be sleeping in, and whether she planned to bring their little white noise machines since they won't be used to the sounds of city traffic. I also asked her what she'd like for dinner and explained what some of the local restaurant options are, since there is NO WAY I'm attempting to cook for them! I reminded her that it would of course be my treat, and she wrote back "well in that case, let's just go to the most expensive place! :)"

Ever since I started this blog, I've been planning to write more about my sister's family's financial life. I'm always worried about them, basically. In some ways, they could be one of these typical American families you see profiled all the time, who are having trouble making ends meet. They own a home, have two kids, and are trying to make it all work on a single income that isn't especially large. They ran up credit card debt, and then consolidated it and paid it off when they refinanced their mortgage, but now they seem to have run up debt again. My niece recently started preschool and my sister confessed that it was a lucky thing that the school accepted payment by credit cards.

I know my sister worries a lot about money. She has the same family perspective on it as I do, whereas her husband seems to be more of an optimist. He comes from a simple, relatively happy family who seemed to manage to make do comfortably on about the same kind of income that my parents were always fighting about. But my sister and her husband both want to enjoy life and have fun with their kids. They go to weddings, they share a house rental for a week or two in the summer with other friends who have kids, their garage is exploding with sports equipment, bikes, toys, and a ping pong table. Basically, they don't live extravagantly, but they don't deny themselves much either.

Meanwhile, my brother-in-law is trying to get a start-up business off the ground with a couple of partners. He's hoping it will allow him to quit his current job within the next year. If it all works out, he could make a lot of money... but of course it's risky and a lot of things could go wrong.

I just worry about them. I love spending time with the whole family and my niece and nephew are very special to me, so I can't help being concerned about their financial future. I gave each of them a $500 savings bond when they were born, and keep thinking about how much of a role I want to play in helping to pay for their education or other needs they might have. The way things are going, their parents are going to have a lot of catching up to do, so I'm sure I'll want to help. But I have to worry about taking care of my own future too, and I have to let my sister and her husband be responsible for their own family life.

Anyway, all that musing will be taking a back seat tonight. I'm looking forward to seeing how the kids react to seeing where Auntie X lives! I hope I have enough toys to amuse them, and that I can keep them from smearing peanut butter all over my light-colored furniture!


Anonymous said...

I smiled when I read this. You are obviously a kind sister who doesn't judge too much but still has concern for their well being. I can also tell you are very excited to have them visit, even if it means running around like a chicken with it's head cut off. I'm a parent and would have never thought of checking to see if they'd like the windows darkened. :)

Anonymous said...

All the best to your sister and her family. I know all about worrying about our siblings and their lives and sometimes we want to go upside their heads when they do some irrational stuff. But as you said, you have your future to worry about...and some well intentioned advice, if not sort, can rub people the wrong way. Sound to me like you started the children off on a good footage with the savings bond.

Anonymous said...

Hi Madame X,

Enjoy the visit and don't worry about running out to buy toys for the little ones. I bet you have enough around your new home to keep them endlessly entertained. An elevator in the building? Yellow taxi cabs or city buses zooming down the street? Just taking the subway with you will be better than any store bought experience.

I find giving children my attention and engaging with them in simple everyday tasks beats toys hands down (and then I don't have to store a bunch of plastic stuff in my home for future visits)!

Have fun at the wedding :)

Ms. M&P said...

I worry a lot about some of my relatives too. It's a tough situation because money is such a personal thing. Maybe there will be a natural opportunity over the weekend to talk about it lightheartedly.
Have fun over the weekend!

Anonymous said...

I read in Money magazine recently about someone who gave her kid sessions with a financial planner as a graduation gift. What a great statement! It shows faith in her kid's financial future. It says, "I know you can have a productive, secure life, and I want to give you more tools to do it." If you are very concerned, and if you want to spend that kind of money, you could ask your sister if this would be interesting to her. It needs to be clear that you are not judging their financial decisions, or their life choices, but offering help planning for the future, the kind of help even the most financially stable family might find useful. (Gee, I'm convincing myself to do it, too!) It could be an advance Christmas gift to the family if you need to justify spending that kind of money; then the next couple of years you would have to find very clever, but inexpensive, gifts!

Whatever you decide to do or not do, I'm sure you are and will be a supportive sister/aunt/inlaw. Just showing your love and care, as you are doing, probably makes the family feel great.

And by the way, I plain old ordinary fan is a great white noise generator ...

Unknown said...

I have a similar situation. Sister & husband are always in "a rough patch". They have children and DH and I want to make sure we teach the children good money habits. We're considering opening savings accounts for each child and then taking them in to deposit money for b-day's & holidays. We really want to help them with college as I think they're parents won't be able to.

We thought about opening up college funds for them, but decided it would be better for us to save for our retirement and then hopefully when they go to college we'll be able to send a little each year to help them out. It's frustrating to see family members not being responsible with their finances.

We also have DH's mom that's an alcoholic and used to call & ask for money all the time to bail herself out of debt (even though she has a job and makes decent money). She uses her disease as an excuse for not being financially responsible. And since her parents & siblings always bail her out she assumed we would take over eventually. It's so hard to deal with financial situations with families! You want to help but not be enabling them!

I think a gift of a financial planner is a great idea! We've offered to help mother-in-law set up a budget many times - but she just wants money, not help learning living within her means.

Single Ma said...

Oooweee, have fun at the wedding!

I told my mom she should have had more children so my BabyGirl could have aunties and uncles. LOL It's very sweet that you put your personal opinion of your sis/BIL aside and consider the best interest of the children. Go Auntie X!!

Anonymous said...

Hello Madame X,

You are very sweet and caring sister...and Auntie X.

I hope everything gonna be ok with your sis and brother in law ... and will be doing fine with money.


Anonymous said...

My brother and his wife don't have kids yet, but I've had the same questions about the type of financial support I'll offer them when they do, since 1) they are a one income family (even with no kids yet) and 2) I don't plan to have kids of my own. I like the idea of a financial gift when they are born. I'm still pondering whether I make annual contributions to a college fund as they grow.

Sicilian said...

X. . . it is nice that you think about your family and worry about them. Most of the time unless they want to work on their budget themselves. . . nothing you give or don't give is going to make a difference. Living on what they make is the key, not spending everything they make and then some.
I would just smile and enjoy them. You will keep a much better relationship with them because honestly. . . . they don't want to fix the problem.

Sicilian said...

X. . . it is nice that you think about your family and worry about them. Most of the time unless they want to work on their budget themselves. . . nothing you give or don't give is going to make a difference. Living on what they make is the key, not spending everything they make and then some.
I would just smile and enjoy them. You will keep a much better relationship with them because honestly. . . . they don't want to fix the problem.