Save. Spend. Splurge.

Advice: “My parents are treating me like their retirement fund. What should I do?”

This is something I have written about a bit before.

It is under control now and we are back on good terms, but here are some of my earlier posts:

I am starting to hear from various friends that similar things are happening.

We are all getting to the age now where our parents are nearing or already in retirement, and it is starting to become startlingly clear that our parents did not know everything, and in many cases, have little to nothing saved and/or are in serious debt themselves, despite appearances.

A recent story came up at work with a colleague who just let everything spill.

He is so stressed about the situation and I was there to listen, that he started asking for my opinion because he needed advice on what to do.

The Context

You need to have a context of the history and what is going on to really be able to hear what is going on.

I’ve gathered this info over our conversations and with his permission to talk about it (I didn’t mention the blog because I’m Anonymous), but I said I had a lot of friends who had similar situations and were money-savvy (this is where you come in, readers), and could offer some perspective or insight that we may have missed.

I have my thoughts below.

Before I continue, I need you know that I believe this:


I am trying very hard not to judge anyone or to praise anyone for whatever. I just want to try and state the facts. These people are NOT bad people in any way, they are just unaware of their situation.

Obviously I am biased. You will read that, but I am trying not to be.

People in general, as I well know, are not great with their money, no matter their age, their gender, their income.

That does not make them bad people. What people earn and spend has ZERO reflections how good of a person they are.

I sucked at saving and loooooved to spend. Does that make me a bad person?


I just didn’t know any better. I didn’t learn anything about my money and it wasn’t until I did that I realized what I was doing wrong.

Zero reflection on who I am,

People SUCK at saving money because it doesn’t feel good to deprive yourself in this society where we are all about the FOMO and YOLO, and treating yourself.

Look at me — I bought a super expensive car because I wanted it. I didn’t need it, I wanted it.

I know this better than anyone, and continually struggle with my inner spending demon who wants to buy EVERYTHING.

*FOMO – Fear of Missing Out and YOLO – You only live once

So. Not judging. Trying to lay out the situation although I have only heard it from one side (he is pretty fair though).

The Monthly Contributions

So, his wife’s in-laws are not frugal at all. His parents are super frugal. We’re talking spit-shined their cars for 20 years, careful with everything they own, and have spent as little as possible (under $1500 a month) for the both of them, living in an expensive city.

He gives his parents $500 a month.

He used to give less, about $200 a month, but when he got married, he was so surprised that his wife was regularly giving $800 to her parents, that when they joined finances, he said it wasn’t fair to treat one set differently from the other.

The wife argued that her parents NEEDED that money, at least $800 a month, but then conceded to drop it to $700 a month, while he upped his contribution to his parents to $500 a month from $200.

It still didn’t sound that fair to me, but they seemed okay with the situation.

His parents have taken that $500 a month, and set it aside, with the intention of giving it back to him when he needed it — to start a family, to buy a home, if he ever got into trouble.

They sat on that money, and have over the years, managed to accumulate $60,000 from just that money alone plus their own savings. They literally don’t touch a dime.

He has asked them to spend it on themselves, and only in recent years, have they started taking a trip here and there, to use up the money on luxuries — but old habits die hard, and they can’t bring themselves to be so “wasteful”.

On the other side, his in-laws, have taken that money from his wife at $700 a month, and are requiring it to live. They actually call her each time she is “late” on giving them money, and asks her to transfer it ASAP because they need it.

This, makes him uncomfortable, but his wife sees it as — oh but they REALLY need the money or else they can’t do X Y and Z, so she transfers the money and continually brings up how she needs to be giving more money to help them out.

The Assets Situations

His parents and hers, have their houses paid off completely.

The difference as I gathered, was that his parents bought in a cheap part of town, and saved frugally their entire lives raising their kids, to be able to clear the mortgage well before retirement.

Her parents, got lucky, because the grandparents when they passed, left an inheritance that was enough to clear outstanding credit card debts AND clear the mortgage on their house in a very chic area of town.

So, two different situations, bottom line is both parents have their houses are paid.

Both parents have cars, and his parents have had their car for about 7 years and it looks brand new because they REALLY take care of their things.

Her parents, have TWO cars, and have insisted that they need both (they live in cities that are very metro-friendly and in fact, they don’t even need a car to be honest, unlike in rural areas).

They said the second car was a “family car” because his wife or her sister would probably need to borrow it, so it isn’t THEIR car.

The Working Situations

His parents are retired. Hers are not.

His parents retired as factory workers and don’t even need the car they have to get to work, but they have one and take care of it because they use it during the winter, and it is handy for groceries as they are getting older.

Her parents, are still working, but as I gathered, his mother stopped working 2 years after she graduated, to stay at home and raise the kids. His father owns a small repair shop business, and works part-time from what he can tell. He isn’t good at following up on invoicing either.

As a fellow freelancer, I can tell you that freelancers no matter what they earn, are THE WORST at handling their money. It is worse than someone who is an employee because we have to personally chase down our invoices to get paid and we have to get over ourselves and actually ask to be paid, plus hustle for contracts.

Employees, don’t have to worry about getting someone to clear their bill, and will always have work waiting for them along with a steady paycheque. I’ve written a bit about this:

From what he can gather (he has tried to give them privacy and not pry or “judge” or “criticize”), they have only worked part-time, if that.

Even now, in their 60s, her parents work part-time. Her mother has mentioned a number of times things like:

Oh it is too stressful to work full-time. I don’t have time for that.

..when his wife has tried to get her a full-time, super well paying job.

In essence, she comes up with excuses to NOT work full-time.

She has hobbies, she has the two kids (wife and sister) to still “take care of”, and she has to make sure they are happy, etc.

(They are fully grown with jobs and families by the way)

Her whole life revolves around her family, and this means she cannot go back to work full-time.

The father, as I mentioned before, is an entrepreneur but based on him not collecting on his invoices, it sounds like it is just a hobby. It barely pays the bills.

The Spending Situations

His parents, have only recently started using the money he has given them, to go on vacations.

Each time he has mentioned it when his in-laws ask (he has since stopped), his in-laws snort, and say things like:

Oh they’re going on ANOTHER vacation AGAIN?

..when he knows full well that they are using the savings he gave them, and his in-laws, actually go on two major vacations a year that he and his wife (and the other kids) pay the majority of.

He feels like the in-laws think that he is treating his parents better than his wife is treating hers, and they feel slighted.

So they use that to guilt trip his wife into giving more money, or trying to give splashy gifts or vacations to make up for his parents going on vacation so often without knowing the full situation.

Last Christmas, his wife actually gifted $4000 in a full expense paid cruise trip to his in-laws WITHOUT TELLING HIM.

He pretty much hit the roof.

She just bought this gift out of the blue and presented it to his in-laws without consulting him, and it wasn’t until she talked to him, and they agreed to back it down from that amount or consider it a gift for the next two years.

I don’t know what they worked out (I had so much more to ask), but that was the beginning of this whole stressful situation for him when he realized things were getting out of control.

His wife goes with his sister to have ‘family meetings’ to talk the budget and to handle the money situation but from what he gathers they have not made any progress or changed in the past 5 years. They still call his wife for money when she is “late” on payments.

Her parents also think that they are frugal because they cite things like: We don’t live in a huge house (they live in a very nice area but the house is not a McMansion), and we don’t drive fancy cars, or go on vacations every other month. We are modest, frugal people!”

And yet, they work part-time, but still go on vacations twice a year (abroad, not just to another city), and rely heavily on their kids who are earning good salaries, to pay for them.

Why this is all coming to a head

It was already an issue before, and he has tried to very respectfully not step in because he doesn’t want a family rift or to criticize or tell them what to do.

He even feels a bit of shame / guilt and asked me if it was justified to feel a bit outraged to which from personal experience, I nodded in agreement because my parents are similar but I am in touch with the reality and straightened out that mess 2 years ago.

Why it is all happening is because their lives are starting and her parents are starting to increase their demands on his and his wife’s money.

See, he and his wife finally found and purchased a $1 million dollar semi-detached. It isn’t as fancy as you think, where they live, this is a standard price, and it is smaller than if they were to buy here where I live.

His parents, offered to give back the money they had saved from his contributions. He refused. He wanted them to have it and to use it on themselves. They grumbled but kept the money.

Her parents, see it as that they are doing VERY well and are happy they make so much money!!!!

(Catch-22, in my opinion.)

At any rate, the mortgage is $800,000 and about $4000 a month. He thinks this is a good investment (ugh investment in houses, don’t get me started), to get his wife to start saving for a purpose.

She had been giving all this money and gifting her parents things because she really felt like there was no point in earning and saving all this money if she couldn’t help them out after all they have sacrificed for them (honestly, this might be a bit of a rose-coloured glasses situation because she doesn’t see that they haven’t actually worked full-time their whole lives and got lucky from inheritances, and now seemingly relying on them to cover their bills and part-time lifestyle).

Now, he wants to have a sit with his wife, go through the budget and lay out the case for why they have to start turning the money tap off to a trickle instead of a drain, and to get her to see that her parents need to step up their income game and/or manage their budget so that they spend LESS and do LESS as expensive hobbies so they can live.. well.. within their means.

To be fair, he has even mentioned how his wife has given BACK the money her parents gave her for school, as well. And she feels like she owes them a lot for working so hard (part of it, is her mother constantly saying that she works so hard and is so tired all the time).

Her parents paid for her and her sister to go to school but his wife was on a full-ride scholarship, and on top of that, gave back the money she did use.


He feels as though they are stealing from their future

He feels as though his in-laws don’t see anything wrong with this, are in denial about their income, their spending, their lack of budgeting, and isn’t even sure they have anything saved (I highly doubt they have anything saved).

His in-laws even refuse to entertain the idea of selling their home IN CASE ANYTHING HAPPENS.

His in-laws seem very adamant that they live this life, and that their kids are meant to pay  for it, but as a direct result, he has to try and delicately figure out how to manage this situation to extricate themselves from being their piggy banks forever, considering that they are still very young and are able to work at their jobs which are really not strenuous or back breaking, plus, they can make serious money at as their skills are high in demand, but they just seem to have gotten complacent and don’t see why they need to work.

They see that they have “worked” their whole lives, and complain that they will “work until they die”, but then refuse to take on full-time work, and/or cut back to live on just what they make.

A lot of it, his wife has admitted, is her fault.

She has helped them get to this point by giving money, increasing the money, and paying for things to “help out” but instead of helping them out, she seems to be making it worse.

She just finds it easier to give them the money (considering she can afford it, she says), than to deal with the situation and make them start tracking their money, budgeting, and then pushing them into working full-time, cutting back on hobbies and leisure.

On top of that, his in-laws have started mentioning about how their second car is about to die (yes, they work part-time and yet need 2 cars because their kids MAY borrow it one day, so it is a FAMILY car), and have started very strongly hinting about how his wife has to pony up money to buy a new car for them.

This is where the catch-22 comes in — I’m having purchased such an expensive home, they are assuming they are very well off… so what’s a few more tens of thousands for a second car for them?

They’re seeing the benefit of having well-off kids but not necessarily the work and sacrifice that goes into those savings — they just have no clue, they’ve never done it themselves as their home and debts were cleared by inheritances, not by earned coin.

I should also mention that he says they are not good at taking care of their things.

They drive like crazy, don’t take care of their cars or anything they own, and recently renovated their kitchen, and decided they needed granite countertops and fancy fixtures.

They ended up taking out a line of credit against their home to renovate it as an investment in the home (they said), and then needled his wife and her sister into paying into this line of credit because they promised they would help.

(They did promise they’d help but didn’t realize they would spend so much upgrading everything to luxury materials that would triple the budget).

He was furious at the time, but couldn’t do anything because his wife DID promise but didn’t realize it would be $10,000 out of the bank account. He has sort of let it go, but can’t let it go because it never stops.

This is stressful AF.

So.. help? Advice? Have you had similar situations? What happened?


  • Anna

    Had to chime in because I totally get the wife’s guilt thing from a cultural background – since the parents raised her ‘right’, any success, including monetary, they feel is a dividend of the emotional investment of having been and continuing to be her parents.
    And, though it’s not mentioned, I bet her mum will be more than happy to step up and care for any grandchildren since, family, right? Saves her daughter daycare costs AND allows her to continue making that delicious, delicious wage to support the family.

    As a jokey aside, you know who else use family as an emotional bludgeon? The mafia!
    *awkward cough*
    Anyway, guess how I’m familiar with this way of thinking? :/
    So from the wife’s perspective, it must be super, cringe-inducingly embarrassing to have parents thinking the above in contrast to his more financially-savvy parents. Again, ask me how I know? My partner’s family is SO good with money and unlike this guy, my partner is happy to accept financial help from them.
    I’m unsurprised that she tried to sneak the money to her family – I assume it was from her account, and she probably thought of how she’d deprive *herself* to make up for the lack.
    They need to talk – he is angry and she is guilt-ridden and embarrassed by her parents’ situation. They will have to work together because him taking the reigns will lead to resentment from the in-laws and more shame for his poor wife.
    I second inflating the mortgage costs. *She* needs to KEEP going on about it with her parents till they start to be concerned. By that point, if she mentions needing to reduce the amount they get, they should be happy to ‘help’.

    RE: their working. My career has taught me that you cannot make other people do things, even if (you wholeheartedly) believe it would be for their own good. You can give ’em water but can’t force ’em to drink. What does her mum like doing? Who does she admire? What do they do? She may decide to emulate these people. Support her (emotionally! Not financially!!) in these pursuits until she finds one she likes. Like your neighbour Sherry, she may find herself unqualified for the wages she would like. Again, to remind you – you cannot give someone intrinsic motivation. Older people can be incredibly stubborn, especially concerning their money, and if it’s not going to kill them tomorrow, why would they change it?

  • Jessica

    There’s a phrase that gets trotted out quite often in internet relationship advice forums that seems applicable here: You do not have an in-law problem, you have a wife problem.
    He needs to get on the same page as his wife. Sadly, I don’t see this improving because I don’t get the sense that his wife actually wants to change, as evidenced by the fact that she would go behind his back with that gift. He loves her, so instead of placing the blame on her for this, he blames her parents instead. That’s lying to himself to avoid the real problem.
    Assuming she will not change and does want to keep supporting them at this level, I think the only tangible advice I would give is that they need to separate their finances, as much as is legally possible. Do not share bank accounts or credit cards, and arrange joint expense contributions that are either 50/50 or proportional to income. That is the only way to stay sane: whatever his wife chooses to do with “her” money is something that he can turn a blind eye to. If you aren’t able to do things together that you want to do because she doesn’t have enough money to cover her share, you can let her feel the natural consequences of her actions. It will be tough. I can’t think of any other way to manage this, and maybe taking a big step backwards will communicate to her exactly how serious this is to him. If nothing else, removing his line of sight to what she’s doing or how much she’s spending will be helpful in reducing his anxiety over it.
    If his wife does come around – therapy. Seems like there will be a lot of hurt and guilt to unpack.

  • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life

    I think I pulled something laughing terribly in that “it’s not funny” kind of way at the very end there. Oh yes. Yes. BEEN THERE. Even though none of it was for luxury or vacations, she’s been manipulated a whole lot and it’s only going to get worse as they get older, lazier, and more entitled (HI DAD).

    This is exactly why I won’t tell my family that we bought our place. They don’t see a money pit, they see “YOU MADE IT YOU HAVE MONEY”. A mortgage is not having money, people. But they spin it the way they want.

    I can’t really imagine secretly giving money like that though – we’d never have gotten married if I had lied that way (or gotten divorced if it was after marriage). Mostly because I couldn’t live with myself to do that.

    I doubt they can have a relationship with the parents too when the money is cut off, if my situation is anything to go by. I haven’t heard more than once from Dad since I cut him off.

    Honestly, in their shoes, I would cut out the support drastically by really playing up the HUGE mortgage aspect at her parents and make it out to be something they didn’t see coming and now they are in dire financial straits etc. And then start seriously saving for their future because I can’t imagine that they’ve done very much saving for that with all the money they’re giving to their parents (just a guess, obviously I could be wrong).

    You could direct him to my series on cutting Dad off if you wanted.

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      The problem is that it isn’t his parents. *sigh* It is so tricky with in-laws.
      I know your situation soooo well, and you are admirable for the way you dealt with them. I would like to think it doesn’t sound quite that bad, but … still.

  • Amy

    Just to chime in, that should either of her parents need medical help in the future or a nursing home, the precedent they are currently setting will end up skyrocketing.

  • Jodie Bierbrauer

    There are so many things wrong with this situation. Where does one begin? I agree that the husband and wife need to take care of their marriage and should see a counselor. Whether they can come to a satisfactory agreement that they can stick to is another matter. The wife’s parents are parasites and I doubt that behavior will change. They don’t want to work and so everyone else does their work for them. I truly doubt that your friend and his wife can cut them off (financially) and keep a relationship, which is beyond sad.

    If they are willing to see a counselor and are in agreement about making a change, I would suggest giving the parents a firm end date, giving them a lump sum at that time and then sticking with it. It could mean no contact which could result in a strained relationship. Or cutting off the relationship. But the wife has to choose which family she wants to support. The family she is creating with her husband or her family with her parents. Either way saying it won’t be easy is a massive understatement.

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      That’s the worst — they are not bad people. Truly, I think they just don’t know any better / are clueless and everyone found it easier to just give them money rather than try to fix it, you know? I am also certain they feel a bit entitled / happy with the ways EXACTLY as they are (semi-retired for their whole lives), and it can be hard to break people of such habits without causing rifts.

      The families are so close, it would really be terrible if it didn’t work out in the end.

  • Sense

    Jesus. They are headed for a divorce just from the financial infidelity aspect alone. I second the counseling suggestion.

    I like the idea of him sitting down with his wife and discussing their future goals and financial obligations–show her what it costs them in terms of their shared dreams to continue the parental support.

    I also like the idea of turning the tap off slowly–first, agree that there will be no help or major gifts beyond the $700/mo. Then maybe she can tell her parents that next year, she can only do $500/mo (or whatever) because ___insert credible reason here, like their huge mortgage or potential kid expenses__, and the next year, $400, etc. She’ll have to work that out with her siblings because they will undoubtedly be asked to make up for the shortfall.

    No doubt they will lay on the guilt. It’s so sad that parents would treat their children this way!! It would be very different if there were a major emergency or illness. It’s one thing if a child is extremely well off and decides to treat their parents without it affecting their own bottom line, but the guilt and demands are really unacceptable. It’s the expectation that gets me, not the help.

  • kay

    This couple very badly needs counselling! much more than you and I or any other reader can help.

    If I were the guy, I’d be divorced by now and would have moved on. This is serious bullshit – the wife actually knew that her husband wouldn’t like it, that’s why she bought the cruise and secretly gave it to her parents even before she discussed this with husband. She’s probably thinking husband will have to take care of HER, while she’s out taking care of her parents.

    Wife need to contribute 50-50, the husband has to put away another $200 towards his parents share (just keep it away from common share so wife doesn’t think they have toooo much money to give to her parents)… wife needs a ‘come to Jesus, talk!’

    If the inlaws live in Canada, wouldnt they receive CPP and OAS and GIS?

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      Yes, the in-laws live in Canada and do receive all of that, but I don’t know their actual income situation. They may not qualify for GIS, that is really for VERY VERY low income folks… And as they have not worked much / are freelancers like I am, we do not get CPP / OAS as freelancers unless we pay ourselves a salary.

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