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My sister is a single mother and thinks ‘squatter rights’ is the way to secure housing in the pandemic. What can I do?

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I am a 30-year-old woman who has built a stable and happy life for myself, after growing up in a family that was often unstable emotionally and financially. I love my family, but as I become more successful, my family needs more and more of my support.

My sister and her son moved into my father’s one-bedroom apartment in July (which is going against the lease). I was very against this living situation due to it being way too small for two adults and a rambunctious child.

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My sister said she had no other options because her credit is terrible, she has little savings, and she was brought to court around an eviction (that was dismissed but she says it still hinders her). She has now been laid off for not having child care and is collecting unemployment. My father was struggling to pay for his apartment on his own, as well.

Their relationship has now deteriorated to a level where I do not think they will be able to continue living together. My aunt is the co-signer for my father’s apartment, and says she can let my father stay in her spare bedroom if he works with her to fix his finances. My aunt has been trying to help me, as she knows I am overwhelmed mediating their arguments and finances.

The Moneyist:I want to propose to my girlfriend — but how do I divide my estate between her and my daughter from a previous marriage?

I told my sister we will need to find another place for her to live after April, and that I would co-sign if she sat down with me to go over her finances. She cried and said it would be impossible to find a place being unemployed, and that no one cares about her ending up homeless.

She thinks ‘squatter rights’ is the way to secure housing in the pandemic. She said she will refuse to leave the apartment if management doesn’t let her take over the lease. She believes that since she is a single mother with a child, they will not be able to evict her.

I have tried to explain there could be very negative consequences on her tenant record and my aunt as a co-signer (since my sister is in the apartment illegitimately to begin with), but she says everything will be fine.

I do not want to hold my sister’s past mistakes against her, and COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on single mothers. She has been better with her money the last three months, but she has been very irresponsible in her spending the last few years (paying for breast implants, for example). She cannot stay with me, because I am serving as a head of house in one of my alma mater’s dorms, which grants me and my partner a free apartment.

How should I proceed with my sister, in regards to her “squatter rights” argument and me co-signing in the future for her? Am I being too supportive, or not supportive enough? For me, it is not about the money so much, I am glad to support my family as I make more than they do.

I feel guilty even having my own financial goals (paying down student debt, down payment for a home, travel), when they are struggling in this way. I am becoming more and more dispirited as I feel immense empathy for their legitimate struggles, frustrated by their lack of agency, and guilty for the stable life I have built for myself.

Sincerely,

Sister Struggles

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

Dear Sister,

I will answer your letter in two parts.

Firstly, your sister. The hard, bitter truth is you can only help people who want to be helped. Your sister appears to want what she wants when she wants it. She wants to be accommodated by you, her father, and her landlord. The world owes her a favor, and she is going to call in that favor again and again. For her to exclaim that no one cares if she ends up homeless when you are actually trying to help put a roof over her head suggests that she is using the same manipulations that may or may not have worked in the past.

If she walks close enough to the edge, one of her family members will pull her back and bail her out. Perhaps it’s a test of your love for her, or maybe it’s because she has and will continue to put herself first. The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on single mothers, but I don’t think your sister can blame the pandemic for her current plight. It sounds as if she has been making questionable decisions before the pandemic and, unless she has some kind of white-light moment, she will continue to make them afterwards.

If you are putting your credit rating and money on the line, she should meet you more than half way. As it is, she seems unwilling to play by the rules and see how her actions impact those around her: people who care about her, and the landlord of this property, who is likely to be struggling too. Nothing appears to be her fault. Even the reason she lost her job does not lie at her doorstep. In order to change, people have to take accountability for their own actions, and they have to be willing to change. Based on your letter, your sister shows no signs of either.

The Moneyist:We were friendly with our neighbors for decades, until recently. One day, they introduced us to their financial adviser…

Now, to you. The guiltier you feel for the life that you have earned for yourself, the more those around you will be able to turn their problems into your problems. Given your father and sister’s unsuccessful and dysfunctional cohabiting arrangement, your family system may be based on a series of co-dependent relationships, where chaotic personalities and family discord are a familiar space. Sometimes, we are attracted to situations that feel familiar to us. Although it may feel wrong and uncomfortable, we have been conditioned to return there again and again.

You are not responsible for your sister. She is responsible for herself. It may be hard to watch her make bad life decisions, especially when she has a child, but you have worked hard for the life that you have, and you have every right to enjoy it. You are not beholden to your family for a lifetime of debt that will be paid time and again with your peace of mind and happiness. Whether your sister’s problems are related to borderline or narcissistic personality disorder, or substance abuse, and/or a sense that she is always done wrong, that’s her gig.

Your father moved out. There is no reason you should be left holding your sister and her baby. Try this: You didn’t create her problems, you are not responsible for them, and you can’t cure them. (I am not the first person to say that. It is a popular mantra for people who are trying to disconnect from co-dependent relationships.) Your father is your father, but he is also just another human being in the world doing the best he can with the life skills that were given to him. The same is true for your sister. You have a right to live your life, free from her drama.

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook
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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 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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My son, 18, says I should hand over the $1,400 adult-dependent stimulus. He claims it belongs to him. Who’s right?

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Dear Quentin,

We’re having a debate in our house regarding the latest stimulus payment. I claim head of household and have two 18-year-old adult dependents that I claim on my taxes. I received a $1,400 stimulus for each of us. My 18-year-old son claims that I must give him this money stating that it is meant to be given to the adult dependent.

I say it’s not meant for him, as I claim him as a dependent on my taxes because I pay more than half of his household expenses (actually all of his expenses) and this money will be used to offset the expense of raising him. If you have any information you can share to shed some light on the debate at hand, I’d much appreciate it.

I keep searching the internet for some proof that I must give him this money but keep coming up empty-handed.

Fingers crossed

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 FC,

If the money was meant for your son’s use, it would have been sent to your son. The clue is in the wire transfer. He is a dependent and, as such, the money is meant to be used for his care. They are emergency funds to be used for food, clothing, utilities, and anything else that adds to the cost of running a household and, yes, stimulating the economy.

Let’s assume your son is correct in his belief that the money is for his use, and could (or should) be used for his own expenditures — from meals out with friends to new sneakers. In that case, he should be of independent means and pay for everything else: rent, food, transportation. I have a feeling that $1,400 would be used up pretty, pretty, pretty fast.

If you have a balance on your credit card for family purchases, what reason would your son have for you not using part of the total economic stimulus payment to pay that balance off? This is an opportunity to lay bare the economics of running a household, so your son can have a bird’s eye view on how to manage a budget, and the costs of each family member.


‘The problem with putting food in the cupboards: Some kids think it appears there magically. And I don’t only mean that the food is conjured up through some act of existential bookkeeping.’


— The Moneyist

The problem with putting food in the cupboards: Some kinds think it appears there magically. And I don’t only mean that the food is conjured up through some act of existential bookkeeping, but that it actually makes its way from the supermarket bags to the cupboards without any human intervention whatsoever. It takes time to earn the money, shop and to put those groceries away.

As an adult dependent over the age of 16, your son did not qualify for the first two stimulus checks. Under President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, however, parents may claim their adult children as dependents. The amount is based on your income (payments fall for individuals earning $75,000 a year and up and couples making $160,000 a year or more).

The $1,4000 is not based on your son’s circumstances and, as such, the money should be used at your discretion. If you can afford it, however, I suggest talking through your son’s priorities and working with him on how he could spend all or part of the $1,400. It may be that you can help your son feel empowered to spend it on his own upkeep.

But — and this is a big “but” — if he wants you to buy necessities while he uses the money for his own enjoyment, that’s called “pocket money” not an economic impact payment, and that’s something he is given as a child or needs to earn himself. If you decide upon a potential compromise, the final answer will be determined by your son’s own financial priorities.

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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These money and investing tips can help you decide whether to ‘sell in May and go away’

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Don’t miss these top money and investing features:

Sell in May and go away? Not so fast. These money and investing stories, popular with MarketWatch readers over the past week, can help you position your portfolio as the U.S. stock market enters its typically weaker six-month stretch — although that certainly wasn’t the case in 2020. So while it makes sense to seek out market sectors that are stronger in the summer months, it doesn’t change the fact that time in the market, and not market-timing, has been the most reliable creator of wealth.



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