A Viewer writes:
My husband has been sending money to his Brother for many years - $500 a month or more. Recently, he came into a small inheritance, and he says he wants to give it entirely to his Brother, because the Brother "needs it".Well, the quick answer is, you're right, he's totally wrong, end of story. But good luck convincing him of that. I see you've already tried, and failed. Can I recommend a good divorce lawyer? Let him marry his Brother, if he loves him more than you.
His Brother has a good job with a pension and health care, an apartment, and a car, but spends more than he makes, and as a result has racked up a lot of credit card debt. My Husband says we need to "help him out" because we are "luckier" than he is.
However, I am concerned that we need to set aside enough money for OUR retirement, and we are sacrificing and doing without things (such as cable TV, which his Brother has) in order to pay off his Brother's credit card bills.
When I confronted my husband on this, he said, "Well, it's MY money, and I can do with it as I please!"
Who's right here?
There is so much going on here, it is difficult to parse. However, I see a number of main issues that you could address with your husband, not that it would do any good in situations like this.
1. When you leave home and marry, your primary responsibility in life is to you and your spouse, not to what I call your "childhood family." You have a societal obligation to take care of your own needs first, and the needs of your spouse and your immediate family (i.e., your wife and kids), before trying to help other relatives. It makes no sense to bail out relatives while failing to fund your own retirement. And you have to fund your retirement - that is a given, not being "selfish".
Putting his Brother ahead of you in the hierarchy is totally wrong. Unless the Brother is truly destitute and homeless, your husband should be putting your needs above his wants. Paying off a credit card bill is not a "need" but a sign of living beyond your means.
Many folks get married to a spouse, but put their childhood family (Father, Mother, Brothers, Sisters, Grandparents, even Uncles and Nieces/Nephews) ahead of their spouse, in terms of hierarchy. What the wife says is trumped by what Mom says, and the needs of Sisters and Brothers come first. If you find your wife or husband defending his family and taking "their side" against you in every argument, then you need to think about where this is going.
A marriage should be a dyad, not a triad. A dyad is a two-person relationship - a mating of equals - and is the most stable possible relationship. When a Mother-In-Law or other childhood family member inserts themselves into your marriage, all hell breaks loose, as the third person acts as a tie-breaking "vote" in any decision or discussion - or argument. Suddenly, it is two-against-one, and guess what? YOU ALWAYS LOSE.
So, never marry a Momma's boy, or a wife who was "Daddy's Little Girl" and refuses to grow up and live as an adult. A husband who would rather "hang out" with his Brother and relive the "good old days" (that is to say, the time before you came along and ruined everything) is never going to make a good spouse.
Just forget it and move on.
And if this sort of situation describes you, then grow up, for chrissakes, and toss away this whole "family is everything" nonsense and realize that your spouse is everything, that the family you create is now your primary responsibility. Stop being a perpetual child in your childhood family and move on.
And if you don't, well, then divorce your wife and marry your Mom, or whatever, and stop torturing your spouse.
(Of course, most of these Momma's boys ended up marrying to please their Moms, and of course, Mom was never entirely pleased with the choice).
2. Giving money to people who don't really need it, except to pay for a better lifestyle, is idiotic. I frankly fail to see how people convince themselves to do this at all. People hand over cash ($500 is always the round number requested) to a "family member in need". But what the "family member in need" actually "needs" in their mind, is a brand-new car, cable-TV, take out food, and running up credit card bills at the mall - oh, and a new cell phone.
Why is this? Because these sort of "needy" family members are convinced that "everyone else" has these things and that they are entitled to them, too. So their wants become needs, and they "need" things that you cannot even afford for yourself.
And if you refuse to pay them their ransom money, they do as the Brother did in this example, and run up credit card debt, or otherwise put themselves in financial peril, and then ask you to bail them out. "Help me!" they cry, "or I'll face bankruptcy!".
Bankruptcy is harsh medicine, but medicine makes you get better. Not taking medicine makes you sicker. And when someone pays off your debts and "rescues" you, you learn only to depend upon them for bailouts.
It never, never pays to "rescue" people from themselves. They never learn from their mistakes, if you don't let them (a) make mistakes, and (b) learn the harsh lessons from their mistakes.
Ask yourself this - who is bailing YOUR ass out of trouble all the time? No one - that's right. So why are you doing this for someone else? The answer, as we shall see, may disturb you.
3. Money in a marriage is community property, or should be, so the idea that he has a separate share of money to spend from yours is idiotic. Spending, in a marriage, should be a joint decision, regardless of how much each spouse makes or starts with, whether one spouse works and the other doesn't, or whatever. You should work together to make all spending decisions. Otherwise, the marriage devolves into a "race to the bottom" as each spouse tries to out-spend the other in retaliatory spending.
Or worse, the marriage is a dictatorship by one spouse controlling the purse strings, with the other reduced to begging for pittances.
A marriage should be a mating of equals, and both spouses should work together to make all financial decisions jointly.
And it is a system that works well, too. If one spouse says "no" to a spending item, it should be a veto to spending - this way, less is spent, unless both can agree on it. So his idea that he has "separate" money to spend is bogus, and moreover, is a sure sign you don't have a real marriage. In a real marriage, there is no "his" and "hers" but rather just "ours". And if it is otherwise, you are living in a dream world.
And yet I know a lot of spouses that have separate checkbooks and even split the utility bills. They are not so much married to one another as they are roommates, splitting the cost of an apartment. This is sad.
The problem is, in a marriage, there is no "my money" and "your money". It all, in effect, comes out of the same pocket. Labeling individual dollars with tags such as "his", "hers", and "mine" doesn't make any difference - you are taking the dough from the same pocket and making both of you a little poorer.
4. Altruism is totally evil. The motivations people have for doing things like this are varied, and often hidden - but always bad.
Your Husband perhaps wants to feel like a "big shot" and lord over his Brother this way, by being the Knight in Shining armor, saving the day. And he may expect (but never receive) the eternal gratitude of his Brother.
You see, that is part of this sick dance - the person receiving the booty rarely says "Thank You" and in fact, resents the person helping them out. I've met over a dozen people, over the years, who live this way, on the handouts of relatives, and in every case, they say the nastiest things about the relative or friend giving them assistance - usually along the lines about how the relative is "so cheap" for not giving them more. After all, they're "rich", right?
Or perhaps your husband dropped his Brother on his head when he was a baby, and has felt guilty ever since. Who knows? Old family baggage can cause all sorts of problems, which is one reason you should leave it on the train station platform, when you leave home at 18.
Whatever the motivation, the outcome is never as desired. I've heard over and over again from people who give handouts as to how "ungrateful" the recipients are. But think about this for a moment, if you really are being altruistic (and no one purely is) then you should not expect a thank-you or eternal gratitude.
But then again, this just gives the donor something to bitch about - the perpetual problem by which they can amuse their friends and give meaning to their empty lives.
Think about altruism carefully. In most cases, the motivations people have for giving money away are anything but pure - but rather are pure evil.
5. $500 a month is a lot of money. $500 a month is a number I've heard before - in fact, I've heard this same exact story about 10-20 times, involving children, nephews or nieces, elderly aunts, parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, friends - you-name-it. In every case, the person requesting the money is not even close to being destitute, and in every case, they ask for the magical $500 amount - as if they all subscribed to the "lets con our relatives out of cash" club which came up with this number.
$500 is a nice round amount, as people who live by the "cash flow" mentality tend to think it is not a lot of money - after all, it is less than a car payment, for some. But over time, this amounts to a LOT of money, not a trivial amount.
Invested in your 401(k) or IRA, $500 a month would be over $6000 in one year, $80,000 in 10 years, $210,000 in 20 years, and $420,000 in 30 years - assuming a paltry 5% rate of return. To the "monthly cash flow" mindset, sending off $500 a month to a "needy" relative seems like a trivial amount - but in reality it can add up to nearly a half-million dollars at retirement. Would you send a half-million bucks to that relative? Didn't think so!
Looking at it another way, in terms of disposable income, even for someone making $100,000 a year, $6000 could amount to half your disposable income - as nearly 90% of your regular income is spoken for by taxes, rent or mortgage payments, living expenses, and the like.
So no, this is no "small deal" unless you have a net worth of 5 million or more and an annual income of over $500,000 a year. Middle-class people simply cannot afford to fork over $500 a month to someone else - it is just too much damn money!
And no, your making $100,000 a year isn't being "rich" - despite what your deadbeat relatives may say.
Note also that while that $500 a month cost you $750 or more in terms of pre-tax income, for the Brother, it is all tax-free. When you hand out $500 a month to a relative, you are, in effect, giving them a $10,000 a year raise - and yourself a similar pay cut. Very few middle class people can really " afford" to do this!
So don't do it.
6. Lump Sum Payouts, like an Inheritance, are nothing to trifle with. The inheritance is an interesting separate issue. Tossing away an inheritance like that is pretty irresponsible. You only get one of these in life, generally, and you only have one chance to get it right. While it might seem like a "nice thing to do" to give away your share of an inheritance, first determine whether you might need the money yourself later in life.
In this situation, the Brother has a PENSION with defined benefits, and the reader asking the question does not. A pension pays out until you DIE. Retirement savings pay out only until they peter out. While weak thinkers might say "Well, you've got a lot of money, you've got a million dollars!", in reality, in retirement, this may amount to only $40,000 in income for 25 years, using the 4% rule for retirement.
So again, ask yourself, can you really afford to throw away ANY of your retirement funds to someone whose retirement is fully funded? If you run out of money before you die, will they send you money? (the answer is generally NO). It is not "selfish" to take care of yourself and your spouse - it is your duty and responsibility to society. Paying your Brother's cable bill is not.
But all that being said, you have to convince your spouse of this, and that is the ultimate conundrum I cannot help you with. If this has been going on for a long time and has been a long source of martial tension and arguments, chances are, it won't change anytime soon.
I suppose you could try mapping out your retirement (a good move in any event) and show how the money sent off to the Brother is affecting your retirement savings and income negatively. And you could also show how the Brother could spend less and live within his means without the need for handouts.
(And frankly, this latter exercise is really the best "handout" you could give a financially needy relative - some sound financial advice. But the folks who hit you up for money rarely want this - they want cash. Because to them, the idea of scrimping and saving is something that you should be doing, so that they can live the life of Riley.)
But let me guess, you tried that, and were accused of "meddling" in "HIS family".
Yea, I thought so.
So that leaves you two other choices.
You could just grin and bear it, and continue living this sham of a marriage, with separate bank accounts, his and hers money, and separate lives intersected by sharing of sleeping quarters. And you could just let your spouse spend all "his" money on whatever, and when you both retire, he will have to be poor and not accompany you on any trips or go out to dinner with your friends, as he cannot "pay his way".
Sounds like a pretty sad-ass solution. Sounds like a pretty sad-ass marriage.
So, that leaves the Divorce lawyer. Maybe you have to drop the D-bomb to get his attention. And maybe, if he doesn't react to it - and defends his actions, then you know that he loves his childhood family more than you. And that's pretty sad.
I wish I had better advice. But a spouse that puts their childhood family members' needs above that of their own spouse and family is not a real spouse - nor is it a real marriage.
And sadly, many people in America today can never grow up and get out from under what happened to them as a child - and thus remain perpetual children. They continually relive their childhood, trying to "get it right" while ignoring the fact that their own lives are running out, and that their own spouse and children are being neglected.
Like I said, it is pretty sad.