Feeling like a jerk about money

If you will recall, DH and his family go on a family vacation each summer.

This year at the end of the trip, they talked about where to go next summer.

A first suggestion was an East Coast beach tourist destination (not Florida).

This year we paid for the house and our travel and a portion of the food.  DH’s parents mostly paid for the rest.  But the house was cheap because it just doesn’t cost much to Air BnB a house in a state capitol in the summer.  So total was something like $2,500.

East Coast tourist destinations are expensive and far away from the Midwest (except Florida, which is relatively cheap but still far away).

Another suggestion was a popular midwestern summer destination heavy on theme parks.  Some of us would fly but some of them could drive.  But the group houses there are expensive!  I don’t feel like we could foot the entire bill like we did this year, especially since we’d probably be staying longer than three nights.

Neither of DH’s siblings asked about defraying the cost of lodging this year.  We wouldn’t have let them contribute this year because it wasn’t a big deal, but if we’re talking about a more popular tourist destination, the price goes up.  BIL has a good union job with a SAHW and a house that’s bigger than ours (glassdoor suggests a salary ~$90K, but who knows).  SIL’s family makes over 100K now (she’s a teacher so her salary is public and MIL said her husband is now making more than she is with his latest raise– I am so crass!).  Of course, BIL has paid for his wife’s family to go with them on a second trip to Disney World.  SIL is financially supporting her husband’s family in many ways.  So income is not the same as disposable income.

DH had been thinking that next year they could all gather in BIL’s hometown, which is an hour or so away from SIL’s.  But it sounds like they want to do something more exciting.  Which means we have to think about how much of the cost we’re going to defray and what we’ll let DH’s parents pay.  And… I think it’s really unlikely that either DH or his parents will ask his siblings to contribute unless they decide to get separate hotel rooms instead of renting a house.  And I think it’s really unlikely that his siblings will even think of offering.

What is wrong with me that we can’t just give a gift without me expecting some gratitude or acknowledgement?  I think in this case, it really is the money.  We can handle nobody knowing or caring that we paid for a lot of this summer’s vacation and other previous summers, but once they start talking about more and more expensive places without chipping in (to be fair, DH’s parents do offer to pay for the entire thing and have paid for whatever we don’t pay for in the past, or to be more accurate, with the exception of this past year they pay and we contribute) it seems like a bit much.  We can fix that in the future by saying we can contribute X amount during the planning stage, so it’s unlikely to be a big deal going forward.  I don’t think DH’s parents would spend so much on one of these family vacations that it would jeopardize their retirement, so we shouldn’t be worrying about that possibility.

Anyhow, I feel like a jerk about money.  We do still make more than the rest of DH’s family.  If we don’t offer to contribute, DH’s parents will pay for everything.  As far as we know, they’re not in danger of running out of retirement money.  This shouldn’t be a problem.  And yet, I have to admit, I’m a bit annoyed.  But we will probably continue this way unless and until some negative change in DH’s job situation.


34 Responses to “Feeling like a jerk about money”

  1. Miser Mom Says:

    Isn’t it funny how the people who feel like jerks about money are the people who are spending it (and don’t want to spend more)? Thriftygal is talking a bit about the same kind of thing today over on her blog.

  2. Nanani Says:

    Even if the amounts were much smaller, like meals out instead of vacations, it would still grate if the same people paid every time and the other grown adults never even offered.
    Seems pretty natural and not especially jerkish, to me.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I did have words with my sister once when we were had both had real jobs for 3 years for letting my mom pay for meals all the time, given my sister made 2x her income at the time. I think kids get used to their parents paying and it doesn’t even occur to them to offer.

  3. bogart Says:

    So, I am not clear — do the siblings know that you/DH are picking up some of the costs, or is that just between the two of you and the parents’ generation? This seems to me to matter to how annoyed you should feel.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I do not know if they know or not, though they did get the forwarded receipts from the house this year to the group email because they needed the AirBNB address and instructions. If they didn’t know, and had asked DH’s parents if they could contribute I would think DH’s parents would refer them to us rather than saying oh no, DH is taking care of it. In general, I think they ought to be asking DH’s parents if they can contribute!

      And DH’s parents have been willing to let us contribute– they don’t even make us go through the three asks, just one! We don’t even get to the second ask. (All our midwesterners know what I’m talking about here.)

      • Leah Says:

        ha, that’s pretty fascinating that they accept on one ask! Wow.

      • bogart Says:

        OK, so, on the one hand the # of asks may be telling here, but OTOH, it seems possible that this is simply a case of different models of who pays for what, as there do seem to be various approaches to this, one being “eldest generation covers all [major] expenses” and another being “everyone splits costs” plus the variation of everyone paying according to ability and/or proportion. If the other your-generation folks haven’t been contributing and you (collectively) haven’t been discussing this, maybe they just assume/adopt the first one, and maybe that’s not inappropriate. Though I understand your frustration…

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It wasn’t frustrating until the prices started getting higher! (And the other people in our generations started having higher incomes.) I don’t want to make it seem like my parents-in-law have no money concerns– they’re not wealthy, they’re just currently comfortably retired. (The Disney trip was paid for with an inheritance.)

  4. Dorf Says:

    I think it’s odd that in your DH’s family, the solution is to gear the budget towards the highest earners (who then pay a LOT), whereas in our extended family, it’s geared towards the lowest earner and everyone chips in equally. Fancy vacations are taken separately, and there the ‘rich’ siblings splash out.
    Another thing we do is have each family take a night and cook a meal for the whole group. One sibling serves chili, another serves salmon filet, but it’s all good.
    It would have been nice if my parents had offered to pay for accommodation, since they can afford it, but they never felt obligated. Anyways, it’s them that taught us our frugal ways!
    I fully intend to continue family vacations with our kids when they grow up, but we will pay for accommodation for sure.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think it’s odd too! I guess my in-laws want to be able to give the grandkids what they couldn’t afford to give the kids? But we’re now all earning pretty nice incomes. My MIL told DH that she’s tired of their small rural town and wants to use these family vacations to travel more.

      On the Disney trip my parents-in-law set up nights like that. DH was assigned pizza and ordered out, but everyone else cooked.

  5. sciliz Says:

    I think you should try to mentally frame it as “we contribute up to this amount that we have budgeted to save DH’s parents some of the burden (even though they could afford the whole thing)”. Not “we are all grown ups and should be sharing the costs”.

    One option is that if they are suggesting more elaborate places to frame requests for contributions as supplemental to enable more activities.
    The ideal is to take someone aside from each branch of the family and have an open conversation about what they can afford- with that framing of if they are able to help *DH’s parents with the burden*. On the other hand, if the situation facilitated an open conversation about money, you could probably just tell them you think it’s ideal if they simply offer.

    Also, I think you should feel *very* free to bring up what *you* would ideally like to get out a vacation. Even if it means they don’t get as much of what they would ideally like, it’s more than ok for you to take a turn. I mean, you are still constrained that the kiddos have to have some good options, but a year of museums instead of theme parks won’t hurt them. I suspect part of the problem is that you are not only footing some serious costs, but spending limited vacation time doing something that isn’t really your top pick, because family is very important to DH and moderately important to you (I’m assuming some things here, based in part on past posts, so please correct me if I’m wrong).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We had been mentally framing that way, but it was easier back when they made less money, DH’s parents weren’t yet fully retired, and the vacations were in state (for them, not for us)!

      I’m not in on these discussions because it’s not my family and I’m not generally there (I only go on the Christmas vacations– so I’m only spending money, not time… also I wouldn’t say family isn’t important to me, it’s just that my sister lives in a nearby city so the most planning we have to do is a text a week before we go up). DH’s view is that he just wants the kids to have time to spend together, but that they need some activities each day or they get cabin fever. His suggestion was renting a place in BIL’s town where there’s some stuff.

      They did museums and a single waterpark this year.

  6. middle_class Says:

    I think you should let DH’s parents handle most of the cost and pay your “share”. In my family one sibling has always gotten the most financial help. Now that s/he has a higher paying job, the pattern is so set that it wont change. To be fair s/he does seem aware enough to contribute more equally. However if s/he continued getting more help, no one would bring it up. I would notice, too, but be the bad guy for bringing it up.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, we probably could pay somewhere between a quarter and a third instead of half (not counting our plane tickets). I don’t know what we’ll end up doing– probably let DH decide.

      It’s weird how families are so different. My sister and I would feel completely free to point stuff like this out to each other, but DH and his siblings don’t discuss it, even though DH has a close relationship with his brother.

  7. Lisa Says:

    Family vacations are so fraught with feelings! My mom has been talking nonstop about the neighbors who took their kids on a cruise to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. She would like to do the same for their upcoming wedding anniversary, but has made it very clear that they won’t pay for everyone. But I don’t want to go on any cruise, much less one with my extended family that I have to probably plan and definitely pay for. I love my family but don’t love spending time with all of them (it’s much more stressful than relaxing). I realize that I’m the jerky one in this situation but I get grumpy about the idea of a forced vacation. It wouldn’t be a financial burden for me or my siblings (at least, I think they could handle it), but it also wouldn’t be a financial burden for my parents, who have plenty of money despite my mom’s insistence to the contrary (I don’t think my dad has been fully forthcoming with her about how much money he has saved). The take home message I’m getting from the situation is that if we want to get our kids all together for family vacations when they’re grown, we’ll want to foot the bill. I’ll be OK with buying their time like that.

    It seems that in the families I know that regularly take big vacations all together, the parents cover most, if not all of it (maybe not food once they’re there). It seems to work well because everyone gets what they want. The kids/grandkids get a free trip with cousins, the grandparents get to have their whole family together in one place. Clearly, this takes some cash from the grandparents, so not everyone can swing it. Has anyone seen alternate approaches that work well and don’t engender resentment? DH’s family doesn’t have as much money as mine, but his dad owns a time share that he can get all over the place. Some years, he gets it in a beach location and invites people to come if they want. We may have all come one year, but usually not. Other years, he gets it close to town and people stop by to hang out as they can. This year he’s reserved it over Thanksgiving at a resort near us, so I think that everyone who lives nearby will probably be there for Thanksgiving. They’re good about not guilting us into coming if we can’t or don’t want to make it, though.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You make excellent points. These vacations aren’t necessarily what people would be picking on their own and if DH’s parents are willing to foot the entire bill, then people get what they want, in a way. I guess that’s why DH has always wanted low-key vacations near the relatives to minimize the hassle for them. (That also argues we shouldn’t offer to help defray the cost… but if we’ve paid half or all for all the years that weren’t Disney, what are the expectations?)

      And you made me realize just now that DH and the kids wouldn’t actually have to go (much less contribute) if they picked the expensive east coast tourist destination.


    • Leigh Says:

      Parents of the grown children paying only works for so long. My sibling and I are now in financial situations where we won’t go on a vacation we don’t want to just because our parents are paying. And my husband is really not into my parents spending that much money on us, which is an extra awkward side of the situation. The six of us all have very different vacation preferences and it’s impossible to reconcile them, which results in not seeing each other as often as my parents would prefer and a lot of guilt.

      • Lisa Says:

        I’d imagine some groups of siblings just like spending time together more or prioritize it more than others, too, which can make it hard to engineer as an aging parent. If the kids have different travel preferences or if they and their partners just don’t get along so well, there’s only so much you can do. But UGH, the guilt! We have an uncle who takes his grown kids (with nearly grown kids of their own) on family vacations at least once a year and everyone always seems pretty happy about going along. Maybe they just hide the drama? But I don’t think so, they talk about plenty of other drama outside the trips.

        My MIL is really good at taking what she can get – she’ll enjoy time with the family together, or with each child individually, at her place or ours. The low pressure, low drama approach results in us spending more time with them than with my parents these days. My mom only seems to want to spend time with the family on her terms, but I can never figure out what her terms are. I’m hoping to learn from my MIL’s approach as my kids get older, but genetics may work against me here…

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        DH’s immediate family is pretty drama-free (MIL keeps saying #blessed). The extended family, less so.

  8. Michael N Nitabach Says:

    Speaking for myself, what would bother me about this situation is the lack of explicitness & transparency, not the money per se. Sounds like lots of people, including you yourself, are making many assumptions about what other people are thinking & doing & their financial situations. And if I were in your situation, I would feel like I was being silently & implicitly manipulated & used through strategies of willful ignorance by others.

    So what would happen if you got really explicit with everyone in the planning for next year about how much it’s all going to cost and how it’s going to need to be paid for?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s true! But it’s not my family and I’m not there! I don’t tend to go and I’m not part of the discussion.

      I think I like Lisa’s thoughts about letting them do what they’re going to do (grandparents paying it all or not) and then participate or not. (If it’s the East Coast destination, then not.) And maybe contribute just our family’s marginal cost if participating.

      • Michael N Nitabach Says:

        OK, missed that this is all your husband’s family. In that case, if I were in your shoes & the money itself isn’t significant to you & your husband’s finances no matter how it gets handled, I would completely wash my hands of it & let my husband deal with it completely & not involve me AT ALL.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Well… I wouldn’t say it’s insignificant to our finances — that completely depends on where they go! For example, that East Coast tourist destination (that isn’t Florida) is pretty pricey. This year was no biggie because the destination was super cheap. We could pay for the full thing every year if they stuck to places that cost that amount (so long as DH remains employed). The problem is when new destinations are pricey.

      • Michael N Nitabach Says:

        Oh, and I would give myself permission to not give a single flying f*cke abt any of it.

      • Michael N Nitabach Says:

        Then can you tell your husband “this is your family & you should take full freedom & responsibility for handling all of this w/o my emotional or cognitive involvement, but you may not commit us to spending any more than $X”? I guess I am channeling Captain Awkward & looking for a way for this to not be your issue to try to manage or have to concern yourself with, but your husband’s!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yeah, we’ll figure it out.

  9. rose Says:

    Do not feel like you are being a jerk. As your family finances are involved you ought to have a voice in the quantity of dollars invested in such projects. IF your husband wishes to, he could toss the topic up for discussion by his side of the family. If he does not wish to open the topic, his choice, then the two of you need to decide on your total contribution to the activity … And not feel like jerks, or heros, or saviors. Life and circumstances change, money decisions then need to change. That will continue to occur.

  10. bogart Says:

    No, I get that, but at some level I think the older generation needs to speak up and create limits, if the extant norm is that they treat (even if you and DH have been working with them and covering a fraction of the cost. Of course I agree that you also have a right to set limits, but seems like that should either be between you & them, as that’s where the interaction’s been, or you could say to the other kids that you’ve been contributing and want to keep doing so but not at a higher rate than — whatever. You could also raise concerns about the older generation’s financial resources/future if appropriate, but that others are persisting in applying an extant (to them) model doesn’t seem surprising to me. Not thrilling, necessarily, but not surprising.).

  11. First Gen American Says:

    Generosity becomes entitlement for some people.

    “They want to spend that on us, so let’s allow them to do that” is not necessarily bad. The leeches however have said “they’ve got the money…what else are they going to spend it on”. “I need it more than they do”. “They have extra”.

    But then the end of the line comes when recipient of the gift starts dictating what the gift should be, and if you hear the words “have to” then you know you’ve crossed over the entitlement line. That was the precise spot when all my giving stopped. Up until that point I gave because I wanted to.

    I think if I were in your shoes, the rub would be that recipients of said gifted trying to dictate the nature of the vacation and indirectly asking for parents to double or triple their outlay. If it’s just about getting the family together it should matter more about family time than sightseeing. I’d debate a touristy location would even reduce overall family time.

  12. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    The things that bothered me most about family vacations is also cost related. They had so frequently started with incredibly overpriced proposals and then those of us who don’t have much disposable income and would be perfectly happy doing free and nearly free things together had to go through multiple discussions to bring it down to an affordable level. It’s frustrating. We’ve made some compromises like finding alternate lodgings where we don’t have to pay nearly so much, and cutting short our participation in some of the trips to half the time and that’s helped. I really appreciate not feeling like we’re obligated to do all the things with everyone always.

    I was talking about this problem with relatives whose spouse’s family insists on their taking extended vacations every year with them. They may or may not pay for the whole thing but the trips aren’t trips that they want to take or sacrifice the time to take.

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