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Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
I just bought my first condo after years of bouncing around in rentals with dubious roommates. My furniture has all been thrifted or given to me so it is a pretty mishmash bunch. I don’t mind it. My girlfriend hates it. She is addicted to all these home makeover YouTube videos and constantly shoves them in my face about how we can makeover our space.
The problem is the few pieces she has tried to DIY have ended up completely ugly or unusable. And just getting the craft stuff to do it is expensive. She currently doesn’t have a job. I have told her that I can’t afford to get all new stuff right now and that what we have is functional enough. We ended up arguing and she accused me of holding my money over her head and trying to control her. I just think there are more important things to spend money on right now. Can you help?
Dear Don’t DIY,
Making sure your bills are paid, saving up for emergencies, and taking care of other financial priorities is precisely what you should be focusing on, especially after purchasing a condo on your own. Not only are you covering all your usual utilities and other living expenses, but you’re also most likely now having to shoulder things like maintenance, HOA fees, and property taxes. Yeah, DIY projects are the last thing on your mind.
Is there a reason your girlfriend is not working? If she’s struggling with the job search in a tight market, she might be filling her time with HGTV and obsessing over something she feels she can control, like decorating. Despite where her feelings are stemming from coming from, your irritation is valid.
If there is nothing keeping her from employment, she should look into finding a job—and you should encourage her. Bring up the conversation in a calm setting. You can suggest side gigs, like personal shopping or dog sitting. Having her own money to spend, and to contribute to the household, will help her feel like you aren’t holding her back from the DIY projects of her dreams. If she is unable to work, that’s a bigger issue and she needs to look into finding resources to help her gain her own financial stability.
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Dear Pay Dirt,
I am having a lot of trouble with spending too much money. I’m not buying anything extravagant. I am retired and have found a new hobby that I love—becoming a silversmith. I really enjoy making jewelry with sterling silver and semiprecious stones. Obviously, there are lots of tools, machines, and supplies that go along with this. This also includes jewelry-making classes and workshops at our local crafts guild. I really love doing this. I’m constantly learning new things and making new acquaintances and friends in my classes. My husband really enjoys peace and quiet and is a homebody for the most part. I love socializing, traveling, and most of all my new hobby. I’ve been doing it for two to three years now. I have not sold any of it yet. I feel I need more practice, first.
Every month, my credit card bill is $4,000 to even $6,000 dollars. I buy mostly supplies and tools for my hobby but also do online shopping. I never buy jewelry, clothes, or shoes, but still can’t manage to get my spending down. I buy used items—like toys and clothes for my grandchildren and save a ton of money that way. My husband gets really upset about my credit card bill. Sometimes he says something, sometimes he doesn’t. He can afford to pay these bills, but I don’t want him to have to. I feel guilty every month and vow to do better and it really never happens. I have no cash, just a credit card. So, I can’t cut it up or freeze it in a block of ice. What can I do?
I say this with love, but have you ever considered that you may have a shopping addiction? Certain hobbies cost more money than others, but this sounds rather extreme. Walk through the following scenario with me.
Let’s assume you’re paying $1,000 a month on your grandchildren and household items. Based on the numbers you gave in your letter, let’s say you’re spending $4,000 a month on a hobby on average per month. Over three years, you’ll have spent… $144,000 on equipment, classes, and trips to meet new friends. You say you don’t want your husband to cover your credit card bill and feel guilty, yet every month you hand the statement over because he can “afford it.”
Some signs of shopping addiction include being unable to control your spending and feeling guilty about your spending yet continuing your habits. Another sign can be spending money to avoid life’s problems, such as feeling the need to leave the house because your husband needs “peace.” If this sounds like it might have a whiff of truth, Spenders Anonymous and Debtors Anonymous Both offer resources, including free online group meetings that you can attend from anywhere.
In the meantime, I suggest you speak to your husband about going on a cash envelope budget. (You should have access to more than just a credit card, anyway.) This kind of budget allows you to assign a category with a spending limit to an envelope. After you’ve assigned your categories, you then said envelope with the exact amount of cash you previously decided on. Once your cash has been spent in that category, you’re out of money until your budget then starts over again each month.
I talk extensively about this method over several chapters of my book, Budgeting For Dummies. Another great resource is The Budget Mom, an online publication by Kumiko Love. Every week she publishes advice, walks you through examples via YouTube (including her own budget!), and offers free printouts to help you get started.
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Dear Pay Dirt,
I have two nieces, both in their early-20s, and both daughters of single moms (different moms, however.) Both nieces are single, and one of them has two out-of-wedlock children, with a father who rarely lives up to his child support requirements. Both of them ask me for financial assistance every year or so, usually amounting to around $5,000 each, for car repairs, help with rent, and other expenses they have difficulty meeting. In the past, I’ve bought both of them older model used cars, and at one point was sending the single mom a monthly check to help with expenses. My older brother has also been chipping in recently. (Note that he is not the father of the girls, they are also his nieces.)
I am a single woman, past my full retirement age but not yet retired. My house is paid off, and I have a rather small savings account, plus a couple of workplace retirement accounts that amount to less than the $1 million (or lately, $2 million) dollars I keep reading is needed to last a retiree through their retirement years. Recent events in the financial markets have me really worried about whether my accounts are going to outlast me.
I do understand how difficult it is for young people trying to get started in life. I thought I had it hard when I got my first post-college graduation job and was having to make ends meet. In today’s world, the starting wages compared to the cost of living are much lower. The recent jump in inflation hasn’t helped things. So, here’s my question: How much risk should I assume with my own finances in order to help my two nieces? If I run out of money, who will be around to help me? If they run out of money, they could end up in dire circumstances as well.
Dear Troubled Auntie,
I hate that you’ve been put into this situation. Your family’s financial instability is not your problem to solve, and while I understand you feel the need to protect them, you shouldn’t if you’re sacrificing yourself to do it. You’re worried about retirement, so keep in mind that every time you help them, that’s money you won’t have to keep yourself financially stable in your later years.
It will be painful, but you need to cut back on how much you financially support your nieces. Sit down and calmly yet compassionately say, “I love you so much, and I understand why you come to me to ask for help. I can’t afford to financially support you anymore, but I would like to help you brainstorm resources that can.” You’re not sacrificing your retirement, and you’re still providing support.
One way to help is by pointing them to a community resource center that can help with covering supplies they might need for their children, aid them in finding a better-paying job, or sign them up for benefits they could utilize, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). There are other ways to help your nieces, too, that don’t involve financial assistance. You can offer to babysit their kids or offer them advice and emotional support when they’re struggling.
The most significant gift you can give them isn’t money, it’s helping them become adults.
My girlfriend and I have been together for almost a year and a half. We decided we wanted to move out of state suddenly, and did. Before we left, I talked to my mom and she heard from my sister (31) that she, my dad, and my other sister (28) thought I was being controlled and forced out of state. (It’s actually an idea I’ve always had.) Now, because I told her what was said, my girlfriend has anxiety about it.