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My mother’s husband died. Her savings are dwindling, yet she pays my sister’s bills. Should I intervene?

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Dear Moneyist,

My stepfather recently passed away. He and my mother were each receiving Social Security, and he had two pensions that were fully paid out during his lifetime. This leaves my mother with about 50% of her original income. She is left with savings and investments with a value of about $150,000.

Eventually, my mother is set to inherit my grandmother’s house where she currently lives and pays monthly rent to my grandmother of $2,500, but I am uncertain when that will happen (possibly in about five years or longer, depending on my grandmother’s health).

My mother’s only income is equal to her housing expenses, so she will need to rely on her savings to pay her bills of about $1,500 to $2,000 a month. They are high, mainly because she pays for my 23-year-old sister’s bills (that amount to $500 to $600 per month).

The Moneyist:My sister became my late father’s power of attorney, took out a reverse mortgage on his home, and drained his equity. What can I do?

I’ve been able to reduce her bills by canceling things she doesn’t use, and negotiating for discounts for her cell phone and TV. I’ve told my mother that my sister should be paying her own bills as she lives rent free in my mother’s home, and just spends her money on whatever she likes.

I thought we were on the same page, but my mother seems reluctant to have this discussion and continues to pay her way. I’m worried that my mother will run through her savings before she gets her inheritance, and then she will be in dire circumstances due to my sister’s indulgence.

Should I push for my sister to be a big girl and learn the concept of responsibility, or should I keep my mouth shut?

Disgruntled sister

Want to read more?Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here.

Dear Disgruntled,

I join you, your sister and your mother in wishing your grandmother a long and healthy life. And, of course, I wish the same for your mother too. I understand that it must be hard to watch your mother give hundreds of dollars to your sister every month, especially as she only has a finite amount of savings. But this is her decision to make, as long as she is of sound mind and not under undue influence.

You need an objective voice, preferably a financial adviser, to outline your mother’s financial situation and goals as she faces a life without her husband. It would make a nice New Year’s gift, and you could pitch it as a way of putting your and your mother’s mind at ease. The adviser would then form an opinion on your sister’s role in your mother’s life and finances.

It’s unlikely that your sister will, upon hearing your opinion, suddenly start paying her way. She will accept money from your mother as long as your mother gives it to her. It’s hard to undo such an arrangement. When someone is used to being given special or preferential treatment, they often believe that this is their due. The more pressure you put on both of them, the more defensive they are likely to become.

You need a third party to intervene who does not have a horse in this race.

The Moneyist:My wife and I have 3 kids. I also have 3 kids from a previous marriage. How should we split our house among these 6 children?

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Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch’s Moneyist columnist. You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at qfottrell@marketwatch.com. By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch.





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I have crypto FOMO! ‘I’m too old to sit and hope I can make up for the lost time by safely investing my little bit of money’

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Dear Quentin,

I have about $20,000 saved currently. I believe I need about $10,000, or a bit less, for a six-month rainy day/emergency fund. I have a $3,000-a-month pension. I am living with my ill father, and I am currently not working and looking for a job. I am going to college using the GI Bill.

I am almost 50, and have no 401(k) or anything. I have gone through a very bad time over the last few years and lost everything. My only debt is a $300-a-month car payment at 4% interest.

What should I do with this money?

I’m feeling the FOMO with the stock and crypto markets roaring. My money is just sitting in the bank — meanwhile, if only I had put $1,000 here or there, wow, I would have made great returns! At the same time, I don’t want to be one of those who jumps in at the peak just before markets start “correcting,” and it’s a race downhill for my investments.

I’m too old to sit and hope I can make up for the lost time by safely investing my little bit of money, and getting 5% returns on it for the next 15 years.

Thank you for any help.

Broke Bob

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear Bob,

If only we knew.

If only we knew bitcoin
BTCUSD,
+2.21%

 was going to be the crypto currency. If only we knew Elon Musk, founder of Tesla
TSLA,
-1.10%
,
would talk up dogecoin
DOGEUSD,
+1.98%
.
If only we knew ethereum
ETHUSD,
+0.53%

 would be the surprise hit of the season. If only. We’d all be rich beyond our wildest dreams, wondering why we bother with education or work.

Actually, if we all knew, most of us would be sitting on losses, licking our chops, wondering where it all went wrong.

Remember the housing bubble before the Great Recession? I recall taxi drivers in Dublin talking about their holiday home in Bulgaria. Well, that didn’t turn out so well, until things got better. Eventually. I’m not saying those two things are comparable, but I am saying it’s a dangerous game to look back at lottery jackpots and wonder how life would be different if we only knew those five numbers in the Powerball. It’s deceptive, isn’t it? Five numbers. It all seems so easy, after the fact.

Invest everything you have if you can afford to lose everything you have. Invest only what you can live without. There are no guarantees with crypto or the stock market, although the latter has shown to yield long-term returns over time, save for those bumps in the road along the way. Here’s what Bank of England Gov. Andrew Bailey said Thursday about investing in crypto: “I’m going to say this very bluntly again — buy them only if you are prepared to lose all your money.”


‘It’s a dangerous game to look back at lottery jackpots and wonder how life would be different if we only knew those five numbers in the Powerball.’


— The Moneyist

Those caveats aside, I have some general suggestions. They’re not terribly exciting, so take a shot of caffeine. Still, they bear repeating.

Diversify your investments. But most importantly, stay true to your own risk tolerance and your own values. Seek out high-quality dividend growth stocks. Put some of your spare cash in the stock market. Dabble in crypto if you like, but again at your own peril. The same is true of the stock market. There are no guaranteed get-rich-quick schemes.

As for crypto: It’s all the rage today, while more traditional commodities like gold have had a rockier time. Crypto behaves like a commodity and, in the loosest sense that you can use it to buy stuff, it is also a currency even though it doesn’t act like one. It is also occupies the regulatory Wild West. It’s not a good place to store your cash because of its extremely volatility — and, as we’ve seen with Musk’s touting of dogecoin, it is even influenced by the vagaries of celebrity.

The most valuable commodity we all have right now, as you suggest, is time. And you are using yours take stock of your life and look after your sick father. You will never get back that time with him. You have gone back to college and decided to invest in yourself by furthering your education. That is something no one can take away from you. No stock-market rally or cryptocurrency bounce can change that.

Take a bow, my friend. You made the best investment of all.

The Moneyist: My employer paid me in crypto. It rose 700% in value. Now he wants employees to return the crypto and accept dollars

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My friend set up a GoFundMe to pay for her sick pet, instead of getting a refund on our vacation. I canceled the trip. Who’s right?

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I have a question about the etiquette and ethics surrounding GoFundMe. I had planned a vacation with a very old and close friend this summer. I’d paid the deposit earlier this year, but it was still refundable for another month. This was important to me, as I didn’t know if we would still be on lockdown this summer.

Recently, one of my friend’s animals became ill and needs an expensive procedure. I was expecting a call at any time about canceling or at least postponing the vacation as money is a bit tight. I never got that phone call, instead I got a GoFundMe notice to support the animal’s procedure.


I called this friend and suggested we cancel the vacation since they were having to ask for donations.

A day or two later, I called this friend and suggested we cancel the vacation since they were having to ask for donations. Instead, the friend had no clue as to why I would even suggest such a thing, and we had a huge blowout because, among other things, they said they deserved the vacation.

I ended up canceling, and just told her to keep my deposit and use it as she saw fit. I felt wrong going on a trip that had been funded indirectly by others.

In my world, one should not resort to GoFundMe until they have exhausted all other reasonable options. If the trip was nonrefundable, I never would have even suggested canceling. I probably would have offered to kick in more than my share, as I feel pretty strongly about taking care of our companion animals.

I’m in my mid-50s and maybe just don’t get the morals and ethics around the crowdfunding sites. Can you address this? I need a rational and relevant viewpoint, especially as this seems to have tanked a decades-old friendship. Thank you.

The Friend

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear Friend,

You live in your world, and your friend lives in hers.

Crowdfunding is a strange beast. Everyone from Roger Stone to Kanye West asked for donations (West via Twitter
TWTR,
+0.52%
,
Stone via GoFundMe). Some are more successful than others. Recently, Kylie Jenner, reportedly a billionaire, shared her makeup artist’s GoFundMe account, asking people to donate to his medical expenses following a car accident. She caught a lot of flack.

Why should the public pay for her makeup artist’s medical expenses when other people face such costs and don’t have famous friends with 230 million followers on Instagram? For that matter, why doesn’t she just pay for the medical expenses herself? But that argument works both ways: Yes, the public is not an ATM machine, but neither is Kylie Jenner.


You walked away from the vacation based on this moral judgment, and your friend walked away from your friendship for being judged.

The outrage happens because people are asked to contribute. People find it triggering. Such people see GoFundMe pages as virtual panhandling, and they feel their personal boundaries creaking under the pressure of all the emails and Facebook messages asking, “Brother, sister, can you spare a dime?” The beauty of GoFundMe is you don’t have to contribute if you don’t want to.

You could have said or done one of three things: 1. “Sheila has a GoFundMe page to help pay for her cat’s liver problems. That’s nice. Poor Sheila. Poor cat!” 2. “Sheila has a GoFundMe page for Kevin the Cat. Who does she think she is? We all have problems!” Or 3. “If she thinks I’m going on vacation with her while she has strangers pay for her cat, she has another thing coming.”

No. 3 is the trickiest of the three. Not because it’s right or wrong to ask for help paying vet’s bills when she could have used her vacation money or part of it, but because you decided to cancel your vacation with your friend over a resentment, and then volunteer your disapproval of her decision without being asked your opinion on it. You judged her, and then you punished her.


A person who knows how to write a poignant story and is photogenic will raise more money than someone who has none of those characteristics.

Perhaps she was fearful about her cat’s health and also needed emotional support. A phone call to say, “How’s Kevin doing? I don’t have the money to help you, but if there’s anything more I can do please let me know.” Maybe she needed a holiday. Or just really wanted one. The money was going toward the sick animal. It was not funding her vacation. They are two expenses, not one.

GoFundMe helps a lot of people, and there are also a lot of chancers out there seeking money for nothing. That’s their gig. And when people use it to scam, GoFundMe intervenes and refunds donations. (Remember the New Jersey couple who raised $400,000 to help a homeless man, but they were all in cahoots? That all came crashing down around them.)

A person who knows how to write a poignant story and is photogenic will raise more money — perhaps even more than they need — than someone who has none of those camera-ready characteristics or social-media savvy. It’s not an equal playing field. No one said life was fair. Our challenge is to decide what is right for us, and resist policing other people’s actions.


I have seen more frivolous GoFundMes. There is no condition for crowdfunders that they should not take a planned vacation, or choose tofu over steak.

It reminds me of when former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Uthah) told CNN: “Americans have choices, and they’ve got to make a choice, so rather than getting that new iPhone
AAPL,
+1.28%

 that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.” Your iPhone or your life. Your vacation or your pet’s life. Either/or, or else!

Can we all say that we prioritize our lives in a manner that is entirely selfless? Can you? Can I? I would have a hard time throwing the first stone at this friend for opening a GoFundMe account. I have seen far more frivolous GoFundMe accounts out there. There is no condition for crowdfunders that they should not, for instance, take a planned vacation, or even choose tofu over steak.

If you canceled your vacation because of this and told her why, you absolutely risked losing the friendship. Call the vacation police! You walked away from the trip based on this moral judgment, and your friend walked away from your friendship for being judged. By doing what you did, you were effectively showing her your teeth, and that is something the vet should have asked of Kevin.

Your job is to be her friend, not her judge and jury.

The Moneyist: I’m a farmer in my late 30s, live a frugal lifestyle, and my son has a disability. Should I pay extra on my mortgage — or save for retirement?

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I have a First World problem: I earn $500K, and have $1 million in assets. Should I buy a $30K bracelet during a global pandemic?

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I have a mundane First World problem that may or may not warrant your attention. But I read your column, and thought you could help me. It’s something that has been troubling me for some time. Should I buy a $30,000 piece of jewelry?

I have a $500,000 stable annual income, no debt, my kids have their private college tuition and retirement fully funded, and I have an additional $1 million in investable assets in various bank and brokerage accounts. My husband and I are in our late 40s, early 50s.

We have always lived a financially disciplined lifestyle. We avoid impulse buys, while spending liberally on things we truly enjoy and care about, including annual multi-week vacations for the family, organic food, home upgrades for our hobbies, and supporting our favorite charities.


‘The good news is, this particular brand of jewelry has been holding its value very well over a long horizon.’

I personally adore quality designer jewelry, and get a little thrill every time I look at them on my wrist and finger. I have never spent $30,000 on one piece of jewelry, and I feel some guilt spending that much money on something primarily for myself, not the family.

This particular piece, a bracelet, has been on my radar since 2019, and I found myself coming back to it time and again. I spent hours following online discussion threads, researching its resale value (in case my daughter doesn’t want it) and insurance against loss, etc.

The good news is, this particular brand of jewelry has been holding its value very well over a long horizon; in fact, it boasts the highest resale value in the last couple of years, according to top luxury resale and consignment sites.

However, I just can’t bring myself to pull the trigger: spending almost 3% of our investable assets on a piece of jewelry just feels very excessive to me. I tell myself to reconsider in a few years when we get to a higher net worth to make the purchase easier to justify and stomach.

My husband said I should buy it sooner, and enjoy it for a few more years. I realize the jewelry aspect makes this a highly personal-preference question. I guess a more generic question could be, does a $30,000 discretionary spend sound reasonable in our financial situation?

A Bracelet Lover

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear Bracelet Lover,

Before the world and its mother comes down on you like a ton of bricks for asking this question during a pandemic — and before said world and its mother comes down on me for answering your question — I will say that I find your letter curious. Not “$30,000 bracelet” curious. But curious, nonetheless.

The reason: I don’t believe this magnificent, guilt-ridden obsession is really about the bracelet at all. The object of your desire could be anything: It could be a Tesla Model 3 or a used GT-R. It could be a Fabergé egg, aluminum siding, or even a $30,000 Hermès Kelly clutch bag.

It’s extravagant in the way a motor vehicle or kitchen reno is extravagant. Did you know the average cost of a light vehicle in the United States is over $40,000? You can’t drive a $30,000 bracelet, but you can wear one and drive a $10,000 car to get you from A to B. Who’s more mundane now?


‘The reason: I don’t believe this magnificent, guilt-ridden obsession is really about the bracelet at all. The object of your desire could be anything.’

I get it. There is a thrill in buying something so outrageously out of your price range. How will that make you feel? What kind of connection will you have to this object? Will other people notice it? Will you tell them how much it cost? Would owning it confirm any privately-held ambitions you have for yourself?

You are not just buying a $30,000 bracelet. You are, perhaps, buying your way out of an old way of seeing yourself. That may or may not last. Or maybe you truly believe that it will bring you joy as a family heirloom, and you can resell it at the same or a higher value, if a prospective buyer or the real world come knocking.

Will wearing such an item give you more confidence to sail past the snootiest members of your tennis club or the maître d’ at the most popular Michelin restaurant in town? Please know that I’m not speaking about you here. I’m talking about anyone who splashes out, during a pandemic or not.

About the pandemic. Researching this purchase may lift your spirits, and actually help you escape the mundane. It may or may not be a coincidence that you choose now to do something so bold and new. It’s a $30,000 sop to coronavirus. A million-dollar spit in the ocean during a truly difficult year.


For some people, spending $30,000 on one luxury item is a way of showing their spouse or, indeed, themselves that they are worth that much.

For some people, spending $30,000 on one luxury item is a way of showing their spouse or, indeed, themselves that they are worth that much. The diamond industry, for better or for worse, is based on that conceit. You need a rock on your finger to show the world that it’s true love.

For others, it’s about showing the world that you can’t mess with them and, like Leona Helmsley, the Queen of Mean, will show the world there are no little people, only big handbags — like this woman who sued a country club in New Jersey after a waiter spilled wine on her $30,000 Hermès Kelly clutch bag.

Would I spend $30,000 on a piece of jewelry if I were in your position? Probably not. Should you? That’s not for me to say. That’s for you to find out. The great Suze Orman would probably give you a “yay” or “nay” on the matter, but I’m not Suze Orman. That’s not my gig, nor is it my style.

I’ll tell you what is my style: A pair of chocolate brown Donna Karan trousers that I bought for a friend’s wedding in New York 20 years ago. I had traveled here from Dublin. A friend took me to Saks Fifth Avenue. I was fresh out of college, and thought, “How expensive could they be?”


You have formed an attachment to this bracelet, or at least to the idea of this bracelet. Let that go for a moment. What else you could do with $30,000?

I rolled up to the cash desk after they were adjusted three ways from Sunday, and the clerk told me they were $450. I handed over my fresh-out-college credit card and watched in horror as the cashier rung up the equivalent of one month’s rent. I was Jason, and those threads were my golden fleece.

I loved those dress pants. They moved like slow motion. I cared for them like priceless silk and, one day, I dropped them into a dry cleaners in Dublin. I noticed some lights were out that day, but I paid no heed. It was 2008. The dry cleaners went bankrupt, and padlocked its doors. I never saw those Donna Karan trousers again.

What has all that got to do with your $30,000 bracelet? Three things. 1. This piece of jewelry has something to teach you, and you don’t have to buy it to learn what that is. 2. This is a trouser- and judgment-free zone. 3. Our monetary dilemmas are rarely about what we think they’re about.

You have formed an attachment to this bracelet, or at least to the idea of this bracelet. Let that go for a moment. What else you could do with $30,000? Something different, but equally novel that perhaps could also have an impact? You don’t even have to spend the money on you.

Buy or don’t buy it. Remember this: However it makes you feel, you can feel that way without it. Whatever properties, provenance or millesimal fineness this piece of jewelry holds, your own qualities as a human being outweigh it. Whatever obsession it sparks in you, you can out-spark it.

The Moneyist: Before I give my fiancée a $7,000 diamond engagement ring, I want her to promise to bequeath it to my daughter

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The Moneyist: ‘The thought of her keeping these ill-gotten funds just chaps my behind’: My granddaughter, 7, lives with me — yet her mother received her stimulus





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