Seniority Issues

by Marnie Macauley September 28, 2015


Dear Marnie: I am a widow, 65, dating a widower. My dilemma is I don’t know who should pay for what? We’re both on Social Security, have pensions and some savings (he also has stocks, etc.) but I have more financial responsibilities than he does. Last month we planned a four-day trip to Vermont. He said I only needed to bring money to buy whatever I wanted. He got us the cheapest rooms. I offered to pay for an expensive dinner and he accepted. Then we ended up eating the leftovers the next night and in the morning we had bagels for breakfast in my room. I would have gladly paid for Vermont pancakes with maple syrup but I didn’t offer. I felt he should have wanted to do that. Am I expecting too much? After all, he did pay for the plane and  lodgings. Is there some kind of financial etiquette for older daters?
-Unsure in San Diego

MARNIE SAYS: Etiquette, shmettiquette. Even if I gave you some “fair” formula (he pays for three dinners and you pay for one decent meal where the place mats don’t include crayons), it wouldn’t solve your problem. Mamala, the real problem is: you didn’t get your Vermont pancakes with syrup.

I’m not being cheeky. What’s important is that the two of you share the same notion of “fun” and what that fun will cost. Rather than “who pays,” it seems your Big Issue is how each of you view using money. This has more to do with values and personal priorities than “who pays” for what.

Talk to the man. Honestly. Discuss how willing you are to help out on your excursions. You’d gladly pick up a special meal, etc., but your budget’s limited to, say, three meals and show tickets each month. More, when you’re on vacation, you enjoy partaking of the special treats you’ve shlepped to see. How does he feel about it?

Offer examples. You would gladly (?) have paid out of your pocket to get a room with indoor plumbing. Would he agree that Vermont pancakes are worth more than bagels? Can you budget together fairly to enjoy what you came for?

His answers will tell you what you need to know about him. His personality. His generosity. His capacity for fun vs. his limitations financially, and his willingness to shell a few extra shekels to create an adventure, rather than a Facebook post.

More important, his answers will tell you whether he has the pizzazz, the panache and the playfulness worthy of an empress like you.  Because, you see, those qualities can’t be bought with megabucks, yet can be expressed with no more than a crêpe – and creativity.

Dear Marnie: Our son and his wife have been married for five years. As the years passed, the “kids” kept spending on high-rent condos, jewelry, furniture, fancy cars. My wife and I just hit retirement age and have saved all our lives for our future. There have been times they asked us for a short-term loan. We’ve also given gifts of cash, and offered to give them sound financial advice. We have not always been thanked. They just announced they are house-shopping. While they make a decent income, believe me, they could never cover the cost of the homes they’re looking at.  We feel we will either be asked for, or expected to offer help, and if we don’t, be made to feel guilty. (The other in-laws are never asked because “they can’t afford to help.”) We don’t want to see them in trouble, but we feel hurt that our generosity has been ignored. We’re wondering if falling on their face financially is what it is going to take to teach them better money management?
-Troubled Senior Citizen Parents

MARNIE SAYS: It looks like you might be in the market to adopt a nicer child…perhaps an advice columnist with the sense to appreciate two lovely pushovers! That said…feel a hug.
So, let’s start with what’ll “NEVER WORK” – then move to “HAS A SHOT.”
What will never work:

1. Good advice–from you. a) They are self-indulgent children. They don’t listen and will resent you for it.

2. The Warning. “If you buy a house like that, don’t count on us,” won’t work because: a) they won’t listen and will wildly resent you for dooming them.
What has a shot…maybe:

1.) Try something like this:
You (in the basic friendly tone): “…Hmmm house…mortgage…Y’know, I recall, we always had a problem swinging it – usually fell behind on something…What’s your secret…?” (See the subtle message?)

Them: “Well…we…a…are getting a special mortgage deal from The Bank of Goniff. Only one per cent and a $5, 000 down payment.

You:  Really…? On a half million house? Tell me, mamalas, just how does that [idiotic] plan work? Maybe it’s something we should try. So, what are the downsides?”

Boom. You’ve taken the wag out of the finger.  And started your exit plan.

Or try the “It’s us darlings, not you” approach.

You: “Well…frankly, now that we’re getting on…things like long-term care insurance…maybe assisted living…we want to make absolutely sure we’ve got it covered and won’t have to depend on you kids – in fact, we want to be able to leave something to you.

Them: “But we thought…”

You: “That we had unlimited resources? Don’t we wish. So, we’re meeting with a financial-estate planner who’ll be managing all of our resources from now on. [IDEA!]  Hey, if you’d like to come along…get some expert advice, too…because, we should’ve done this years ago!”

Done! They’ve been warned without wagging.  You’ve tightened their view of your wallet and shifted the blame More…you’ve perhaps given them and yourselves a gift you’ve been unable to provide – financial discipline – through discussion, and a third party who doesn’t fear closing the checkbook means closing the door.

Finally, you might want to ask yourself … why do you?


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