This post sounds crazy. Reading it, I keep thinking that a bunch of people must be thinking, “Gee I wish I had her problems.” Or why WON’T she just take money. Or lots of us grow up without spending a lot, why is she complaining. And I don’t really have any answers. I would probably need therapy to sort through things and I’d far rather just forget than revisit.
For a long time, I had a very powerful post* in drafts about what it was like growing up with a fear of money. Of not having money. Of being yelled at for spending money. Of parents fighting because my mother occasionally spent money from her salary. I realize now, it was more about being controlled with money than some general money fear. I deleted it because every time I looked at it the fear would return and I’d start to cry. I decided… I’d rather forget. If I’m forgetting the good stuff, maybe the bad stuff will dim with time too if I don’t keep going down those neural pathways.
My personality is such that I tend to be present and future-focused. I don’t like dwelling on the past (unless reminiscing about DH is involved).
But sometimes I think about things.
To preface: I need to say that my household growing up was very much like Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme, but without buy-in from the family.** So I grew up washing dishes and hanging up laundry (women’s work) and freezing in my room above the garage in the winter because I wasn’t allowed to have my heat set above 50 even if I couldn’t sleep (I’d often sleep in my mom’s snowsuit under the covers in the winter and didn’t stop wearing a hat to bed until I was over 30) and sweltering in the summer basement because we weren’t allowed to use the air conditioning and feeling guilty about every single cent. I’d neglect to mention class trips and pictures and so on because my mom would want me to be able to participate and I knew that would result in a screaming fight about me again. Ugh… I need to stop or I’ll get back to that post I deleted however many years ago. And I really do want to forget.
During graduate school, I think I’ve mentioned before, my father gifted me with some then worthless PG&E stock– it had gone bankrupt after spitting out some dividends that he had not given me. But I had to pay taxes on the appreciated value and the dividends at the time he gifted it to me, which he hadn’t told me about, but happened before the bankruptcy. I found out about this at tax time. DH and I were each making 18K and our rent was 18K and he’d brought 10K of high interest college debt into the marriage. We were scrimping and saving so much I’d lost my ability to eat meat without throwing up. An additional few thousand dollar tax bill on stocks we couldn’t sell because they were worthless (and I didn’t know how) was hugely stressful. Eventually I got him to give me the dividend checks to cover the tax bill. But it wasn’t fun. (If I’d known I’d had these stocks, I’d have sold some before they went bankrupt instead of borrowing money from my mom for a deposit and last month’s rent on our first apartment. But I had no idea.) My father’s name is still on the PG&E stock in addition to mine, though I’ve managed to gain control of the web-page for tax purposes. (Also, PG&E is bankrupt again, though we were getting dividends for several years so I no longer feel complete hatred for it, I mean other than the way it kept setting California on fire so I could get those dividends).
At some point I got old enough and found out I had a matured American Century Trust fund that he’d started as a tax dodge in the 80s. I didn’t need the money and it had dropped in value and it was a huge pain to finally get his name off of it years later. So… we occasionally pay taxes on it when it randomly decides to sell and rebuy itself. This used to be stressful, but now we have enough money to handle it. I would just sell it because it’s an over-priced S&P 500 Index but I am greatly concerned about the cost-basis as well as having to pay capital gains. My current game-plan is to leave it to our children after our death. Prior to this, I’d earmarked it to pay for DH’s relatives’ kids’ college, but I think we’re going to be able to cash flow that unless more of their kids decide to go to 4 year schools.
And then there was a small amount of other stocks, maybe 5K of tech companies that went out of business, or a few shares of AOL that got bought and sold by a million companies over time. Figuring out the cost-basis for these has been an occasional nightmare, but at least we got to take losses for tax purposes.
Around the time that we finished graduate school, after we’d bought a house and gotten grownup salaries, and my sister graduated college, my father offered to give us stocks up to the annual gift tax amount. I said no. My sister said sure.
Throughout the years, he seemed increasingly upset that we wouldn’t take his money. I’d say we didn’t need it. They should spend it on travel or a house in Sacramento or charity. The one time we asked him to donate to DC1’s school on our behalf he seemed happy. I would suggest that if he was so interested in skipping over the inheritance tax that we’d be happy to let them fill up the 529s. But he was never interested– just wanted to give me stocks directly.
He just sent an email with a lengthy rundown of all of my sister’s investments from the gift tax each year, including how they’re invested and how much they made in the past year. Apparently it’s over $650K now, in a variety of stocks for single companies, and can they give their usual $30K to her again? He cc’d me. I don’t know why. If I’d wanted the money I guess I could have had it, but I didn’t, and we don’t need it. We have our own money.
So much of what I’ve done with my life has been because I want to be in control of myself. I want to be in control of my body temperature and what I eat and how I spend my time. I want to never feel trapped. Money is a means of control. I don’t want to control other people and I don’t ever want other people to control me. So… I chose a lucrative profession. We got rid of debt. We saved and saved and saved. We lived below our means, but always in a way that we both had buy-in. Yes, it was hard starting out, but we didn’t have much income either and DH was happy to get rid of those loans.
As we’ve gotten more money, we’ve loosened up. Money stopped being a source of guilt many years ago– once we had enough of an emergency fund that a job loss wouldn’t set us back too badly.
I read that email my father cc’d me on and thought, thank God I didn’t let him give me any money. He’s controlling the stocks. He’s telling her what taxes she has to pay or what losses she gets to take. He could probably take the money back if she ever displeased him. Or if he disagreed with how she spent it, if she ever sold those stocks. What a nightmare.
There’s many reasons that I use only index funds (other than the stocks he’s given us). The fact that they’re less risky and less time intensive are the main reasons… but it’s also really nice to not have to worry about them going under and having to find their cost-basis. I’m glad one of the recent previous administrations made a law that companies have to keep track of cost-basis, but that’s no help for stocks that were bought when Brown and Company was still a private entity.
So… I don’t take money from my parents, not for the noble reasons of me wanting them to enjoy the fruits of their labors. That’s what I told myself for years. And not just because taking money from my father has always been a huge hassle (and we always find out about it after we no longer have use for it), though that is still definitely a part of it. But because I still associate my parents’ money with control and being yelled at and about. The money I have access to now is mine and my husband’s. We earned it. We saved it. We control it. We can spend or save it as we like. We built a peaceful life where money is a tool that buys goods and services but isn’t used to create guilt.
I have no questions.
*This post is much more jumbled. And I’m sure there’s people who are thinking #firstworldproblems about this post who would have had sympathy for that post. But I’d rather not be brave than be told I’m brave.
**To be completely fair the rest of us were allowed heat with our showers or baths, so long as we didn’t take long showers or fill up the tub too much. Instead of quick cold showers like Jacob, my father generally only does sponge baths unless he’s at a hotel where he takes advantage and leaves a ring around the tub. Oh lord, now I’m doing that flashback thing and getting yelled at for wasting water while washing dishes in my mind (because even though my sister and I had to wash the dishes, we had to do it his way except we could never get it exactly like he wanted). Maybe I should delete this post too.