Should parents help out kids equally?

Occasionally one of us will flip to the Mr. Money Moustache Forum and poke around while procrastinating.  This thread on whether or not parents should help kids out equally was really thought provoking.

DH’s mom is excruciatingly fair when it comes to doling out presents.  This means that our kids get a TON of stuff from his parents even though we don’t really need it because DH’s siblings are in much worse financial shape than we are (and also live close to DH’s parents so they can see what the kids need).  It was especially bad the year DH’s then-unemployed brother and SAHM wife were living in his parents’ basement.  We don’t really have a choice in the matter, and, since they focus on the kids, we don’t really feel like it’s our place to suggest they cut back (or put the money towards a 529 etc.).  It is, after all, their money, and they’re giving it to the kids, not to us.

My father is much more like Jacob from ERE than like Mr. Money Moustache in terms of spending, infrequent cold showers and all.  That means over the years my parents’ small nest-egg has grown enormously.   I don’t know how much, but I do know my father is concerned about avoiding inheritance taxes and wants to give up to the gift limit every year.

With the exception of when DC1’s school was about to go under (and he donated a considerable sum to it on our behalf), I have told him no.  I do not want their money.  I want them to SPEND it, or failing that, give it to charity.  I want them to move some place nice after my mom stops working and just enjoy life, even if it costs more to live there than it does in my small college town home town in the Midwest.  They’ve taken me up on the giving to charity bit and have set up a number of local scholarships for graduating high schoolers to go to college or for the library to reward customer service or to keep the paper version of the stock books he loves to spend hours going through to do value added investing.  (He says he needs to consolidate everything to index funds, but he keeps not doing it.  If he ever dies, the estate is going to be a nightmare to unravel.)

My sister, on the other hand, does not mind accepting their money.  So she does.  Neither of us needs the money.  It just gets put away and saved (or rather, it stays in whatever complicated 1980s mutual fund or single stock it was originally invested in because having to deal with selling it is a pain in the rear, which may be part of the reason I’d rather they just give the money to charity(!)).

It doesn’t bother me.  It’s their money.  (Though to be honest, a little bit of me worries about the extreme cost of assisted living expenses and wonders if it might be a wise idea to accept that money and put it in a “for parents’ assisted living expenses” account in case they’ve underestimated their health costs in old age.  I know there’s Medicaid for nursing homes after the money runs out, but I also know that $ buys higher quality care.  They don’t have long-term care insurance and my father is too old to get a policy.)

In terms of fairness for college– they paid for both of us, room, board and supplies.  My sister’s college cost substantially more than mine did, but a portion of that is that I got a lot more need-based financial aid because they were wealthier when my sister went to school than when I did.  Should she be penalized or I be rewarded for the stock market doing well or my mom taking on a temporary administrative position?  (They did give my sister more spending money than they gave me– I had to work for my spending money, but that probably didn’t add up to much and she did take on a heavier class-load and more hard-core extra-curriculars than I did.)

We used the same ancient Oldsmobile to learn to drive on.  Then my parents gave me a no-frills (as in 2-door, manual, no a/c) new Hyundai Accent as a college graduation present that my sister drove the two years (and seriously dented) because I couldn’t afford to pay for car insurance while in graduate school.  They gave her her own no frills new Accent when she went away to college, but she also went to school in driving distance of home whereas I went half a country away.  She paid for her own new car post-graduation (one with a/c!), the same  year we moved to our real jobs and bought our own new cars for ourselves.

They paid for my wedding (~3K, though 1K of that was alcohol my father insisted on providing)– it was either that or there was not going to be a wedding because DH and I had no money just out of college.  My sister doesn’t have a boyfriend, and when/if she does get married it will likely be much fancier than mine was.  I do not know what my parents will do if she does settle down.  And I won’t mind whatever happens.

I suspect though, it might bother me if they hadn’t offered both of us the same deal.  We’ve both been offered stock transfers (though after I said no the second time, they stopped offering).  We were both told that college would be paid for us– not that we’d get the same amount of money, but that we could each go to whatever college we wanted (the reward my mother negotiated with my father for her to go along with his frugality-to-the-extreme ways).  We both got new cars, even the same type, though at different times in our lives.  So the offers seem fair, and we’ve been allowed to react to them in ways that seem fair.  That choice means that if there’s any favoritism going on, it isn’t going on through money channels.  And that seems like a good thing.

I suspect DH and I would not mind if his parents showered a little less on us, but in this case we are so much better off than his entire family that it really feels like the money should be flowing in the other direction.  And maybe it will, some day.  Until then, we accept their generosity and save the money we would have spent on clothing and toys.  We’re pretty sure his parents can afford what they’re doing, but at the cost of working longer than they might otherwise have.  Still, while I wouldn’t say they enjoy working, they do get value out of work, so perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.  If it turns out they miscalculated, we will have savings to spare.

What are your thoughts on financial assistance to individual kids when there are multiple children?  If you have siblings, do you think your parents treat(ed) you fairly?  If you have kids, do you have a philosophy for financial assistance?

You are my center

You make me grounded.

I can have had the worst day at work, the worst luck, the ickiest tummy ache.  And you’ll hug me, and I’ll feel your warm arms around me.  And for a moment, everything will be ok.

You are my comfort.  You are my hero.

I never want to imagine life without you.  Everything will always be ok, no matter what, so long as I have you and the children.  So long as we have each other.

I love you so much.

15 years today!  And hopefully for decades to come.

Ask the grumpies: Fondest childhood memories influenced by parents

First Gen American asked:

On a related note…what are your fondest childhood memories that your parents influenced.

For some reason, my first thoughts are all negative memories.  (Getting sunburn while camping.  Though I do have a fond memory of my first soft-serve ice cream from the same camping trip.  Yum!)

Let’s see… my mom read to me every night until I was almost a teenager.  I went on road trips when I was little with my dad as we drove across country to move.  We’d stop places and see the sights.  My dad would make breakfast on weekends, like crepes or eggs.  My mom would take us to the library every weekend.

#2: I remember my parents reading a lot.  And I remember greeting my dad when he came home from work (when I was little) by running to meet him.  I dunno.  I mean, my family was pretty good but it’s also hard to come up with an answer to this question.

What are your favorite parent-influenced memories?

More thoughts on class

We love being upper-middle class.  Upper middle class is a wonderful world.  #1 never ever wants to go back.

Visiting DH’s family for the holidays provides perspective in many ways.  They have a lot of money pressures that we don’t have because given our current economic class, we don’t have anything to prove.

One of the weird things about our current social/educational/economic class is that … for example… I don’t throw away a sock just because there’s a small hole in it.  I don’t really care if there’s a hole in it or not.  The hole doesn’t say anything about me or my needs.  I don’t wear thick socks often enough to need a bunch of extras, so some of the socks with holes end up getting packed when we visit the in-laws over break.  I don’t really think it’s a big deal, but my SIL comments.  My MIL got me thick socks for Christmas this year.

And we don’t have car payments because we never bought an SUV.  Two kids in carseats fit into a 10 year old Hyundai Accent.  (And we never did get the cosmetic work done when DH’s Civic got hit while parked.  I wonder if they think we’re misers.  Though my SIL must not have noticed, or she would have said something.)

Another example– we’ve talked about the crazy gift-giving before.  We only get that from DH’s side of the family.  So Santa just does stockings and we get a small gift for each DC (this year it was a winter coat for DC1, nothing for DC2 because ze is too young to notice who gives each gift).  My parents mainly get us books.  (My parents are kind of weird class-wise.)  This insane amount of gift-buying is standard for DH’s family– even when they didn’t have money when DH was little, they still scrimped and saved to spoil their kids at Christmas.  DH’s extended relatives who are even less well-off go into deeper debt each year to provide presents– spending more money on each kid (and on their worse-off extended relatives) than we would spend even if DH’s parents didn’t provide presents.  It’s a way of proving that they’re not poor that keeps them from ever getting ahead of their debt.

We also haven’t had to buy much clothing for our children other than shoes and the occasional set of underpants or socks because of the generosity of DH’s parents and hand-me-downs we’ve gotten from friends, colleagues, students, etc.  Families we know making hundreds of thousands of dollars/year in Northern CA have extensive hand-me-down chains.

DH’s brother’s (SAH) wife was talking about how they get that huge amount of gifts and clothing new from both sets of grandparents, and now that they’re having a third child (whose gender will presumably match the gender of one of the first two children), they are buying more things on top of that.  Why do they buy clothing when the children already have more clothing than they could ever wear?  Because children shouldn’t wear hand-me-downs.

We are totally on board with hand-me-downs.  But many of the hand-me-downs we get are very nice quality (because they were presents to our likewise-affluent friends).  Of course, we also don’t mind putting our toddlers in heavily stained (but otherwise clean) clothing either– they have both been very good at adding additional stains.  Nobody that we work or socialize with is going to think that we can’t afford nice clothing or that we don’t take care of our children if they wear a shirt with stain marks across the front.  We’ve got the luxury and privilege of people not making negative assumptions about our income or net worth based on what our children wear.  (Also, DC1 wears uniforms to school.  And I don’t have to go to SAHM playgroups.)  We also have the luxury of handing the clothing down again and being able to feel affluent about that, rather than needing to sell it.

Being able to buy high quality clothing that lasts a long time also means that it’s easier to buy classics that don’t really go out of style, which means they can be worn longer.  I have a lot of basics in classic styles.  When you live an H&M lifestyle, you have to keep changing out your clothing because it’s easy to tell when something goes out of fashion, and the quality isn’t good enough to keep it for 30+ years even if it weren’t fashionable.  Current fashion changes mean I can mix and match sweater sets rather than wearing matched sets, but I can still wear the same pieces, just in different combinations.  And again, nobody is going to think I’m poor because I’m wearing a (thrift-store purchased) 10-15 year old Ann Taylor or Brooks Brothers business casual outfit because nobody is going to know.  The same isn’t necessarily true of Walmart’s finest (though I do have some t-shirts from Walmart that I got in high school that are just now wearing out…).

As a (mostly lower middle class, occasionally genteel poor, always worried about lack of money) kid there were definitely more pressures to spend for appearances’ sake.  But people didn’t just tease me about the rusty VW bug my mom drove (that I loved) or my lack of an Express bag (I eventually got one)… my material possessions were pretty low on the list of things I was bullied about (and the only thing that was external to me).  It was easier for me to just reject their views of fashion and go completely into my own funky style (which involved a lot of thrift-store hats), at least until grunge came into fashion (a style I completely embraced).  But those pressures are gone among the people we associate with and we only see them in action when we visit DH’s family.

Feelings and privilege are complex.

Now, we’re in the educated liberal crunchy upper-middle-class.  Not the wealthy (lower) upper-class.  We don’t rub shoulders with movie stars or even corporate lawyers or financiers.  We’d love to be making that kind of money, but still living our crunchy upper middle class lives.  We hear from people who do rub shoulders with lawyers and financiers that there’s lots of stupid money stresses there too.  Cars and diamonds and so on are back to being status symbols.  Items are expensive not because they’re quality but because they’re in fashion.  It all sounds very nouveau riche.  Crass.  Obviously I must come from old money… or my parents are Northern Californians instead of Southern.  We probably have something we compete on or use as a class marker that we’re too blind to see, but it isn’t $tuff, and that saves us a lot of money.

Update:  This NYMag article is really interesting.  (It definitely does show that my family growing up is very weird class-wise.)

Do people judge you by how you spend your money or what kind of clothing you wear?  Do you have to spend money for status reasons or can you save money because you don’t have anything to prove?  How do you deal with the pressure of trying not to seem poor?


Because everybody cares about my life as much as I do.  (Not really!)


After one week at the new daycare, DC2 decided ze loved it.  Ze proudly proclaimed that ze had friends and named some.  Dropping off only took a little lingering.  After two weeks, ze stopped having nightmares.  Dropoffs became, “Yeah mom, bye, whatever” (though more in body language than words) and instead of clinging and crying ze complained about getting hugged if my coat was wet from rain.  Ze informed us that ze loves hir teachers.  Every day when we pick hir up ze says, “I had a good day.”  Since starting, hir eczema has also been entirely gone, which makes me suspect that they’re a lot better about making sure that ze doesn’t accidentally eat wheat.  Either that or there’s some topical allergen ze isn’t being exposed to in the new place (that just happened to not always be present at the old place).

High quality daycare is amazing and awesome.  What a difference!  I am a bit worried about next year though… I feel like we haven’t quite been fair with DC2 compared to DC1 who never had to experience a bad schooling experience.

Nice kitty who sometimes pees on cloth:

So far we’ve tried having 4 litterboxes for 2 kittens (6 litterboxes for 3 cats, but the other two are in the utility room instead of the master bathroom the kittens use as home base).  One covered litterbox (formerly 2 covered litterboxes), 3 uncovered.  3 with standard litter, 1 with special pine litter.  Different depths of litter.  Scooped every single night whether they need it or not.

They stay in the master bathroom (~100 sq feet, lots of windows, cupboards, scratching posts, a cat house, etc.) overnight until the late afternoon.  This keeps our older kitty from feeling overwhelmed and has allowed us to minimize pee damage.  They’re used to it and willingly go back to their home-base at night when it’s time to go.  If we let them out earlier they often just stay in the room.

We’ve tried not leaving cloth out, for example, putting our bedsheets away before letting the kittens out.

We’ve tried litter retraining (not letting the kittens out of the master bathroom while we’re out of town for a few days).

All of these have worked to decrease the amount of peeing on things, but none eliminated it.

The most recent thing that we still have our fingers crossed for was Prozac.  Nice kitty did not like being pilled at all, and while on Prozac she would hide from us and mostly stay under our bed or in the master bath during their family time.  The vet said to try it for two weeks.  During those two weeks she didn’t pee on anything (other than the litter, presumably), even though it seemed to make her more anxious rather than less anxious!

After the two weeks, we stopped the Prozac, because nice kitty really hated being pilled, and the vet said it was possible that even after stopping Prozac after the two weeks her peeing on cloth habit might also be gone.  So far so good.  But we keep waiting to find something peed on.

So those are my updates.  Fun times.

And then there were three (kitties)

I think it’s finally safe to tell boy kitty’s story.  My sister has gotten attached.

If you will recall, finding a kitten stuck in our garage led to 3 kittens (Nice kitty, the kitty formerly known as Mean kitty, and Boy kitty) and 2 gentlemen kitties, Garage Cat and Patio Cat, and still feral Mamacat.

Garage Cat is being spoiled to bits in his new home with a friend of mine across the country.  Reports are he’s getting along great with his new sister kitty.  I’ve seen pictures!  Patio Cat got lost outdoors for a few days but returned unharmed to my MIL.  We think feral outdoor Mamacat may have found another food source because she doesn’t finish the food every night, but more like every other night, which is good because we may have to stop feeding her next year.

My sister originally offered to take one of the kittens if we couldn’t find any takers.  But she wanted one who wasn’t black because black fur would show up on her furniture.  That stipulation made us think she really wasn’t ready for a destructive kitten.  Maybe two destructive kittens who could entertain each other, but not just the one (she nixed that idea).  So we put it off.  And put it off.  And still had no takers for our remaining kitties.

Finally we figured the three kittens had grown enough and settled down enough that my sister could handle one of them.  We picked boy kitty because he’s not black (unlike Patio Cat who we hadn’t yet given to my MIL) and he doesn’t pee on things (unlike Nice kitty) and he’s a bit more outgoing than the kitty formerly known as mean kitty while not being clingy like Nice kitty.  All around a good cat for someone with an active lifestyle who doesn’t want to be constantly covered in fur.

Unfortunately boy kitty doesn’t like claw caps at all (unlike Garage cat and Patio cat who were all, “whatevs, yo” when we capped them), and found the experience very traumatic.  Moving was also traumatic.  We told my sister we’d experiment for two weeks, but we really needed him out of the house while we went on a trip (we did have someone checking up on the remaining kittens and Little Kitty, but the bathroom really wasn’t enough to hold all three kittens for an extended period of time).

Settling in with my sister was rocky at first.  She complained about the litterbox.  She complained about him taking his clawcaps off.  He kept waking her up at 3am demanding petting.  [#2 notes: this is called having a pet.]. She kept referring to him as “your cat” rather than her cat in conversations.  But the two weeks extended to a month.  We’d bring it up in conversation and she’d be noncommittal about giving him back, so we didn’t push the issue.  Though at one point she made us pay her bill at Pet-smart when we visited.

When she left for a two week business trip, she left him with us (and after a few days he was back to playing with his sisters and terrorizing Little Kitty), but at the end of it, she took him back.

Now, finally, a little more than half a year later, she’s referring to him as “my cat” instead of “your cat” and no longer wants an automatic feeder or expensive litter cleaner.  She seems to be genuinely attached to him.  She has a new housemate who isn’t allergic to cats.  I’m no longer worried that he’ll be coming back to us.  He is her cat now.

So that’s the kitty update.  Join us next year as we attempt to temporarily get the remaining cat number down to something we’re allowed to keep in an apartment or rental house.


How to fix some random kid (and grown-up!) problems

We get a lot of comments, both good and bad, about how much stuff we make our oldest kid do.  Ze, for example, makes hir own lunch for school, has a list of household chores to do (mostly limited only by height restrictions), and is in charge of remembering things like homework and recurring special things like pizza money on pizza day or that Wednesday is special uniform day.

It’s expecting a lot of a 7 year old (and even more of a 6 or 5 year old, which DC1 once was!)  But it’s something we need to do to keep our household running in the absence of a full-time live-in housekeeper.  As full-time working adults with high-level jobs and a 2 year old we just don’t have that kind of mental load.  And DC1 is capable and it isn’t usually that big a deal when we all forget things.

Except occasionally DC1 forgets to wear the special uniform 3 weeks in a row and we get an email noting that if there’s a fourth time, then demerits will follow.  We’re not sure what demerits are going to do, but they sure sound scary.  Or DC1 will forget chores or homework and blissfully spend the evening playing board-games with DH, only remembering long after bedtime or the next morning that there’s an assignment due.

So here’s what we do that works.

Uniform, pizza money, and school holidays/fairs are all put on DC1’s wall calendar.  Each day at bedtime ze crosses off the day and sees what is listed for the next day.  If it’s the special uniform, ze takes it out of the closet and hangs it on hir dresser knob.  If it’s pizza money, ze demands it from DH and puts it in hir back pack.  If it’s a holiday, then we’re reminded.

For that long list of chores, during one of DH’s business trips I made DC1 make a full checklist of all the chores ze has to do each night.  Homework (or workbooks on weekends), piano practicing, making lunch for the next day (if applicable), putting away the clean silverware, loading the dishwasher, feeding the kittens, helping fold laundry (if applicable).  (See, we’re tyrants!  DC1 never gets to do anything fun.)  Once all of those chores are done, DC1 is free to spend hir time as ze wishes on weekends, and can do anything except video games on weekdays (since even the checklist couldn’t help DC1 remember hir chores if video games are an option).

Of course, it’s not enough to do the homework or make the lunch.  Those items also have to make it into the backpack.  So there’s a new rule that they have to go into the backpack as soon as they’re done.  They’re not allowed to sit out on desk or counter where they can be forgotten and then I have to turn back to get them on the way to school and everybody is late.  Because I hate that.

So… calendar, checklist, and automation.  That’s how we keep things together with DC1 during the week and that’s how we’re able to give DC1 so many responsibilities.

Related:  financial diffraction talks about using her calendar to keep track of money

How do you and yours get out the door in the morning every day of the week?  Any tips?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 306 other followers