Category Archives: Spending

Not Anteed Up

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I love my husband. He’s a great provider and a good father. He works
very long hours in a stressful sales job, and pulls in mid six-figures
including bonuses. We are finally living in our dream house and have
three beautiful children (2, 5, 8). The problem is that I do a lot of solo
parenting because of his crazy work schedule. And (the big AND), that
in addition to working late and entertaining clients after, he has a
weekly Friday nigh poker game that he says he needs to unwind. I
knew he bet on sports when we married but I think his gambling has
crossed some kind of line. His moods seem very variable. He’s
generous about telling me to hire housekeeping and kindercare help,
and understands I need yoga classes to stay sane. But this isn’t how I
thought things would be.

Not Anteed Up

 
Dear Not Anteed Up:

You’re describing a situation that’d sound familiar to many mothers
married to successful professionals. Certainly such dilemmas with net
positive bank accounts are better than those in the red. But yours has
the potential to go across the line without some intervention.
Gambling, like any other addition, is not self-limiting. Your husband is
trying to buy your complicity with a blank check to do what you need.
Money can be spent only once. If he loses it at poker tables or a bad
game, you’ll have bigger problems than how to pay for yoga classes.

 

If you’re hoping for a solution that doesn’t include a discussion about
gambling with your husband, you’re out of luck. You can prepare for it,
but you cannot avoid it forever. Just like there are support groups for
the families of alcoholics, there are support groups to cope with
gambling. Go online and look for local networks and meetings. Go and
ask how to have this conversation. If you have a rabbi or other
confidential counselor, do the same. Be cautious about confiding in
relatives if you hope to have control over the timing of the
conversation. Think about everything from direct deposit of his
paycheck and bonuses to who controls the checkbook. Hardworking
hubbies should have an allowance for their fun. But it shouldn’t be in
ways that could cost them the roof over their family’s head or the love
and respect of their wife and children. This is scary and you’ll want to
delay. Start by educating yourself and enlist help along the way.

Everything Changing Fast

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My wife and I bought a house in a college town five years ago. The
market never goes down, but is also not going up as quickly as the
rest of the world. We are in the beginning of a reasonably friendly and
mutually desired divorce. In order for the process to finish we need to
figure out the value of all our assets, from our retirement savings to
our 70’s rock records. She’s moving away but I have to decide if I
want to keep the house or not. It needs lots of fixing up but we’ve
been here five years without having done it, so it’s livable. I could do a
lot but have no idea what my finances will be in the new reality. Catch
22. Chicken and egg. Insert all the platitudes you want, but the
bottom line is that I don’t know what to decide. I do want the divorce
to happen. Too many decisions to make at the same time. How can I
rank my priorities, including whether or not to keep or sell the house?

Everything Changing Fast

 
Dear Changing Fast:

When life gets reorganized very quickly it sometimes makes sense to
keep your center stable. I’m not a financial expert, but if you can
afford the current payments by yourself (assuming they’d stay the
same if you don’t sell or refi) then my vote is to keep the house for
one year. That’ll give you time to get all the circumstances of the
divorce finalized, understand what your needs are for living alone, and
get used to being a single guy again. After you have lived for six
months by yourself you will have a while lot more information than
you do now.
If you like living alone, don’t feel the house is too big, and feel like the
DIY projects give you a hobby and enhanced living space, then you’ll
probably decide to keep the place. If the market has shifted a lot,
there may be advantages to staying, refiing, or selling. And though I’m
not a financial advisor, it seems likely interest rates will stay low, even
if they’re no longer at rock bottom. Make the divorce simple by not
tossing the house into the mix. A side note: very few divorces are
friendly. If you can keep yours that way, more power to you.

Is 75% Enough?

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My ex and I were together for twelve years. We’re lesbians but that
matters only in the sense that neither of us adopted the other’s bio-
child. The oldest, hers, just got into a very expensive private college
which she prefers to a state school. She got very little financial aid and
I am being blamed (!!!!) because my family and I set up a trust fund
for her education. There’s about $150K in it now, which is roughly
three-quarters of the tuition/room and board that would be required.
It’s on the other side of the country so there’s travel and incidentals to
pay for as well. Assume we’re about $75K short.

 

Her mother, who took me to court (and won ?!?!) to get access to the proceeds
of a vacation home that I owned before we got together is pleading poverty.
She’s a real-estate agent. I know the market is bad and the vacation cottage
may not sell for a while. Also that she doesn’t like to work, as
witnessed by the significant depletion in my own net worth during our
time together. I want Hannah to go to the college she wants to, but I
don’t feel that I should have to foot 100% of the bill. The clock is
ticking on saying yes. I know they’ll keep coming back to me for
everything and as much as I love Hannah she is brainwashed by her
bio-mom. I also don’t trust my ex not to skim funds for herself.

Is 75% Enough?

 
Dear 75%:

I think you have some solid ground to stand on regarding lifting more
than half the expenses, and some righteous leverage to put your ex’s
feet to the fire, assuming you don’t want to pay 100% of everything.
I’d counsel an email, to both of them, that goes roughly like this:

Dear Hannah/Ex: I’m glad you decided on Good School over State.
Here’s my understanding of costs. Four years will be about $200K. My
family has put about $150K into funds for Hannah’s education. I’m
happy to transfer that into a trust fund in her name, and to have that
fund administered by an attorney who will pay the school directly. In
addition I will put another $25K into the trust fund after the vacation
home sells. I’m happy to be able to help you go to college and hope
you succeed in your dreams. I think this contribution is a strong show
of love and support. I think Ex should be able to contribute the
remaining amount of tuition/expenses those out of her proceeds from
the sale of the vacation home. I love you lots – Mom
Nothing can keep your ex from trying to nickel and dime you to death.
But you can set some boundaries that have legal teeth.

Feeling Hosed

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

This may sound like small potatoes to you but it could end up costing
me several hundred dollars. I bought a house last year. About a month
later some people showed up to work on the sprinkler system, saying
they’d had the contract for the house for years. I asked them to not do
the work until I had called for bids. I ended up using a different
contractor who did the work and winterized it. Today I came home and
the original contractor’s crew was there doing work, work that I had
not requested. When I asked what they were doing they said they had
a work order for but could not produce. I asked them to leave, even
though they said they’d found a problem when they turned it on and
that they were trying to fix it. Sure enough, the system doesn’t work
properly now. Each contractor is blaming the other and refusing to
work for free to fix it. Am I stuck? And how do I choose between
them?

Feeling Hosed

 
Dear Hosed:

The contractor whose employees keep coming back uninvited seems a
little more suspect, though if you tested the system before you bought
and it worked, it may in fact be that they’re actually better at what
they do. I can understand the second contractor’s reluctance to take
responsibility for a job where other hands have disturbed how it was
left. So, yes you may in fact be stuck paying someone to fix your
water lines.

 
Ideally I’d call contractor number three and ask for an estimate to fix
your system. When you have a bid, ask each of the other two what
they would charge, in the latter cases, asking for a discount given the
history. Also ask for references from each of them, though sadly
anyone can pretend to be anyone on the phone or email so references
unless they come from someone you know and trust aren’t always that
valuable. Ultimately you’re going to have to make the choice to work
with whichever one you feel most comfortable with, unless your
neighbors can vouch for and recommend someone. The punch line is,
Get out your wallet.

Not Laid!!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I had what I thought was a simple house remodel project. Eight years
ago when I got divorced I painted every wall and ceiling and got
carpeting, among other investments. I also tried to erase every shred
of my ex from the place. Having bright colors and clean surfaces was
great, but I made a mistake with the carpeting. Six years in it looked
lousy and this year I decided to bite the bullet and replace everything
except the guest room. Insert research, shopping, cost comparisons,
and incredibly precise planning about timing the installation.

 

Now that I live alone I am extra careful about lifting and carrying heavy things,
and planned the carpet install when my neighbor’s son would be home
to help move a lifetime of books and other heavy things from where to
there and back again. The evening before it was to happen I got a call:
the installer hurt his back. Push back one day. Fortunately my bed was
still in place. The next day the replacement installer picked up the
carpet and pad but never showed up. He later said he thought it was
for next day. Eventually a different replacement came and did part of
the work but I was told it would be another two days before someone
could come back and finish. I’ve paid for half. I want the work done.
What discount seems reasonable to you for my lost time and found
angst?

Not Laid!!

 
Dear Not Laid:

Has a remodel or house project ever gone right, where right is on
time, on budget, and to the satisfaction of the home-dweller? I’m
talking the history of time, not just your personal reality. I’d bet good
money that even when our ancestors lived in caves that there was lots
of kvetching and handwringing over drippy messes and drafty smoky
rooms. That’s neither excuse nor explanation for your shoddy service,
but it might help with perspective.

 
Focus on getting the work done correctly. Live with the chaos as well
as you can until the work is complete. When you are asked for the
remaining payment ask what discount has been applied for all the
aggravation. Whatever they offer you (unless it’s zero :-), ask for
double. Aim for 10% of the bid. Some of what happened was not in
the control of the company. But enough was their fault that you should
get some kind of break. BTW, if they balk, remind them that bad
reviews spread quickly in our modern age. Yelp, yelp!

Loyal, But Not That Loyal

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

One of my friends is starting a business. She and her partner have a
grand vision that includes international licensing and franchising,
trademarking, the whole ball of wax, and an expensive ball it has
become, in terms of legal fees and start up costs. All this without
opening the first door of their first location, a unique concept for after-
school programs. Unique but in a crowded field, bad economy, and
awkward location. I tried to give advice at the front end of this
process, last year, when the first of flush “Wow we have a great idea
that’ll set the world on fire”!!! occurred. There was too much
excitement for rationality to be heard, and I valued the friendship too
much to be the bearer of bad news. So I just kept expressing bland
support. Now they’re in trouble and trying to round up investors, all
without having even the city space permits that’ll allow them to open.
I have declined to share the “give us money please” request on Face
Book and now my friend is angry with me. I don’t want either to lose
her or suggest what I think is a bad investment. What to do?

Loyal, But Not That Loyal

 
Dear Not That Loyal:

Every friendship has its own rules. Some friendships are volatile and
wide open, with every subject amenable for discussion. Friends like
that sometimes fight when they disagree, but they also know how to
communicate and talk things through, and the friendships can become
stronger over time. Other friendships narrow over time, exactly
because friends start or become conflict averse. Over time, exactly the
things that might bring them closer if they resolved themselves can
slide off the table and the friendships become hollow and more formal
when the ties that bind are slacker.

 
Sit down with your friend and say something like the following: I have
tried to be supportive of your venture. I also tried to give you advice
early, when you had resources that now seem to be depleted. I’d like
to help you, but my money is tied up. [No need to explain that in more
detail.] I’m not comfortable asking friends to support a venture that’s
not up and running. There are banks that do that, and I am happy to
share your brochures with people who are interested in this kind of
business. But my FB friends are not your demographic. When you have
doors open I am happy to tell those with children about it. She won&'t
be happy. And yes the friendship may suffer. Unless you are willing to
open your wallet or give access to your friends, that’s the most likely
outcome.

Penny Foolish

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m having lot of trouble adjusting to changes in my life. I was recently
laid off but the company is paying for my health insurance through the
COBRA period. Because I am getting unemployment, the change in my
income is roughly a $500 a month decrease. That’s tight, but not
drastically, or at least shouldn’t be if I could adjust my lifestyle to my
financial realities. Part of the problem is that with so much time on my
hands it is too easy to go out and spend money. I am eating at home
more but I am also spending more on groceries and just out and
about. How can I get a grip on my new reality?

Penny Foolish

 
Dear Penny Foolish:

There are three things in life that function pretty similarly, though the
consequences to mishandling any of them vary quite a lot: time, food,
and money. Each involves issues related to: good and bad choices;
incomplete, delayed, or zero gratification; insufficiency of resources,
vows and failures; and generally pleasure denied at the costs of
meeting obligations to necessity. It would be grand if we could all eat
and spend as much as we wanted when and how we wanted, not
necessarily only for personal satisfaction. In a universe of infinite
resources you might even be a busy, thin, philanthropist. But the
average human would likely end up a bloated coach potato with too
many things.

 
My point is that you need to apply the same principles to a money diet
that you would if you wanted to lose weight: make up a budget and
stick to it. Start with the necessities: rent/mortgage, utilities,
insurances, taxes, all the non-glamorous aspects of life. Then think
about the daily and monthly expenses and how you can adjust your
behaviors. Things like haircuts (go a little shaggier), food (eat less),
entertainment (budget movies), clothing (mend don’t buy), etc etc etc.
In every category, think about where you can trim. I emphasize trim
not slash. Because if you can make changes at the margin of every
aspect of your life, you may be able to avoid having to cut out
something bigger that you truly value. $500 is not small change in
anyone’s month that I know. But it is enough that you will almost
certainly feel the changes. Unless you’re prepared to do something
drastic, like taking in a boarder, or go into mounting debt (bad bad
bad)!!! You should learn to make these changes.

Side-seat Driver

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband had a horribly botched hip surgery several years ago that we finally
settled with the doctor’s malpractice carrier. We have enough money to buy a
new car (which we’ve not had in a decade). My priority, and what he originally
said was his, was a car in which he could sit for long periods (still the biggest
long-term damage) so that we can resume our long-held hobbies of hiking and
bird watching. The problem: most cars are like recliners and he needs to sit up.
We’ve established which cars meet the criteria, but he keeps getting distracted
by “great deals” on used cars, even though they won&'t solve the problem. I feel
like money dropped from the sky and we should use it to get exactly what we
need for the long run. How can I get him back on track?

Side-seat Driver

 
Dear Side-seat:

Given the prices new cars go for these days (double what my parents spent for
their first house), I understand his instincts to cheap out and get “a deal.” But if
the money came as remediation for a disability that will be with him for the long-
run, I agree with you that paying for long-term comfort, mobility, and the ability to
travel to further destinations should be the primary criterion, with all others a
distant second, third, etc.

 
Let him go through his process on getting a deal but impose some boundaries.
Make a list of all cars of no older than say two years in which he could sit without
damage for at least two hours at a time. Then canvas local dealers for new and
used models that are on the list. Establish a maximum budget for the purchase
from your settlement. If you can get a deal, hoorah. But do not be penny-wise
and pound-foolish. It&'s not money from heaven. You earned it the hard way but
you can still spend it only once. Choose wisely. Happy and healthy adventures to
you both.

Not Cheap, Just Careful

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
We’re in peak Bar Mitzvah season. My son has attended about thirty of
them in the last two years. Each has required a nice gift and dress up
clothes, which for a growing-too- fast-too- believe almost teenager has
been an expensive proposition. In addition, there seems to be a very
unsubtle competition among the parents about who can put on the
biggest and most impressive shindig with the loudest and biggest
band, most expensive caterer, most creative cake, etc. We’re just
beginning to recover from recession-imposed traumas, including a
year’s lay-off for my wife. We have a year to save for his Bar Mitzvah,
but the list of what I’d rather spend the money on is very long. I don’t
want to embarrass my son by making him feel like the poor relation,
like I did when I was growing up, but I can’t live up to local standards
with a clear mind or bank account.

Not Cheap, Just Careful

 
Dear Careful:
Parents owe their children many important things: a safe and loving
home; physical safety and health; instruction about good values,
boundaries, and discipline; and generally instilling the idea that they
have the right to grow up to be good, happy, caring people whose job
is to make the world a better and happier place. They do not owe their
children fancy Bar Mitzvahs, big bands, overdone cakes or parties. This
is one of those great “teaching moments” that your son may or may
not get the first time around. But you have lots of time to plan and if
you make the planning a family activity it could be a bonding rather
than a divisive event.

 
Work with your son to plan a party that suits his interests. Explain that
you want him to have as much fun as he can, but it’s going to look
different than some of the others. Find a location that can
accommodate all the folks he wants to invite, and whom you may feel
owe him gifts. But instead of trying to match other families, make it
something so different and so special that folks thinks you are a trend-
setter. Also, put some chunk of the funds you save into a fund for your
son’s first car/insurance. That should teach him some goal orientation
and support the financial planning lesson.

Shocked

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I’ve lived in my house for thirty years and hope to live here another
twenty. I’m responsible for some remodels as were the owner-builders
that I bought it from. It has been a safe constant through my two
marriages and divorces. I decided to foot the bill for rewiring, as I am
trying to anticipate any problems. They charged me $1,000 to “map”
the whole house and presented me with a three-phase upgrade plan. I
nixed all of phase three, cut $2,000 from the first two rounds, then
gave a go-ahead. They started with the modern things, wiring for data
etc. Now, when I am very close to the end of my budget, they
identified a “major fire danger.” Apparently all the remodels were
piggy backed onto ancient cloth wiring (several decades of building
code from safety). I am lucky it hasn’t burned. But it will cost several
thousand more to troubleshoot and fix. Am I liable for all the costs or
should they have started with the oldest and possibly most dangerous
areas first? I have been paying the bills as they come in.
Shocked

 
Dear Shocked:
Good points for prescience and planning. Too many house fires are
started by exactly the kind of problems that you must continue to
trouble shoot and fix. Lower marks for not being a better general
contractor. It’s too easy to assume technicians will do what would
make you safest. They’re in business to make money and probably did
what seemed right to them. But the old problems should have been
identified in the initial planning stage, So I think you have a good case
for arguing about the final bill

 
Stop paying bills ASAP. Say you’ll settle up when the work is done.
Accept that you will need to find and fix all the problems. Take the
money out of your equity if you need to. Plead your case when you get
the final bill. Say they should have started with the oldest sectors and
that you want $1,00 reduced for the failure of the mapping and                                planning. Be stubborn and keep arguing. You may not save it all but
you should get some kind of financial redress.

To Go or Not to Go?

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I’ve been in relationship with Malcolm for three years. He’s twelve
years older, has two boys, and used to be employed and self-
supporting, got involved in a stupid venture, lost his shirt, had a rough
patch when I started supporting him, and is now on his way back to
solvency. I’ve paid for rent, food, and even part of his child support for
the last two years. A friend of his gave him, repeat gave him, four
tickets to the college championship game for his birthday, saying you
haven’t had any fun for a long time. It will still cost a fortune I don’t
have to get us there and back, put us up and feed us, not to mention
souvenirs etc for the kids. I just want to give them back. He wants to
sell them, or maybe sell two to pay for a trip for just the two of us (the
kids would stay with his ex). I’d love a vacation but I still think we
can’t afford it. I’m also not sure I want to keep supporting him, but
that’s a bigger problem.
To Go or Not to Go?

 
Dear To Go or Not to Go:
I agree that the prospective vacation is probably the least of your
problems. I also happily note that your email is not littered with the
usual I love him so much that generally peppers emails from people in
troubled relationships. That’s how they justify any number of
egregious lifestyles, supporting someone you’re not married to for
several years among them, though not the worst.

 
A vacation is a bad choice for this time of your relationship and
finances. I don’t think you get to sell the tickets and pocket the
proceeds. I think you owe it to the donor to tell him you will not use
the tickets. Ask him if we wants two or four of them back. Or offer to
sell them for him, and ask for some share of the proceeds as a thank
you for doing the work. If you’re really lucky he’ll tell you to keep the
tickets and the money from selling them. But to just act as though
you’re going and then keep the cash seems rude. It also should give
you another window to look at your boyfriend’s values.

Getting Close to Blowing Up Too!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
My husband teaches shop and can fix anything. I believe the exception
should be my 1977 VW van, which burst into flames last week. She
(“Gertrude”) looks like something off the streets of Baghdad. I earn
enough to afford a new car, which I think I deserve, as I bring in more
than half the household income. He wants to buy a $5K oldie and have
a year to fix up the van. I see that as buying trouble and wasting time.
But how do I convince him that the other long-delayed items on his
honey-do list are far more important, and that restoring the blackened
shell is a waste of time and money. Divorce seems too high a threat.
Getting Close to Blowing Up Too!
Dear Getting Close:
Divorce is too strong an outcome, but not a bad place to start with a
hyperbolic threat as in, Do you want t get divorced over this? It’s the
kind of shot over the bow that will at least get his attention and make
him believe you are serious.
After 34 years you deserve a new car. Do your research. Identify the
top two-three models that meet your needs. Get a trusted friend to go
car shopping with you to be sure you have your options right. Then
come to the dinner table with the following proposition: Hubby, I’m not
going to drive another oldie. I’ve done the research and I wan to buy
an A, B, or C. I think I can get a good deal on the end of this year’s
models, but could probably bargain better with my guy helping me
negotiate. [Note: single women pay more at car dealers.] Please shop
with me and help me get the best price. I will pay for it out of our
equity line of credit from the house so we’ll get a tax break while we
pay it off. If you want to make a hobby out of resurrecting Gertrude
you are welcome to drive her when you’re done. But I’d rather put that
money towards Gertrude 2. My money’s on you.