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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.

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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 lost my job at 55 and started my own successful business. I now constantly get texts from friends and former coworkers asking how I did it. What do I do?

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I read your column regularly. I never thought that I would reach out to you with my own issues. But I was wrong. I’m hoping you can help on how best to handle this situation.

In 2016, I lost my long-term job. The company simply went through serious changes, and my position was no longer needed. They were great to me when I worked there, and they gave me a small severance package. I was 55 at the time. I was more than a bit anxiety ridden as I wasn’t in a position to retire, and I was concerned about the prospects of being rehired at this age. The good news is that I was a saver, had no debt and always lived frugally. My husband’s job carried the benefits.


‘I woke up every morning at 4 a.m. to research, research, research how best to use my resources and ended up starting a small business.’

I woke up every morning at 4 a.m. to research, research, research how best to use my resources and ended up starting a small business. Once I started, I made mistakes, messed things up but I kept educating myself more and more. There were tough times that were not easy to get through, but I was determined, and kept going.

After about 18 months, it was working! Everything fell into place, and the train finally started going down the track! Now, I wake up each day and think, ‘I own a small business!’ My hubby even took early retirement to partner with me. While we are not making $1 million, we crossed over into six digits over the past few years.

We run our business out of a home office. I offer a service based on my knowledge from my prior job that I lost. So what is the problem? Several times a month, friends and prior co-workers reach out to us to ask how they too can get started in what we do.

This is just one example of the text I woke up to this morning:

“We are thinking about starting our own business as a husband and wife team like you. We want to discuss this with you, and learn from your experiences. What day and time would be good for you? Early morning or late afternoon? Can you come to our house?”

These requests send me to the moon and back, and I’m not totally sure why. I’m struggling with being a good human being and helping them vs. asking myself why would I want to train my competition to take business away from ourselves?

I liken these friends and former colleagues to the kids at school who march right to the head of the lunch line to get their food, without waiting in line like the rest of us.

My husband and I built relationships across the country and locally, but we do not live in a town where there is enough business for all of us.

Quentin, I hope you can help me sort through how best to decline these requests or tell me if I am wrong? We will retire in 6 years, and we hope to sell the business at that time.

Enjoying My Second Act (& Want It To Last)

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

Dear Second Act,

Your life and business is not a blueprint for anyone. Your path is your own. Your timing was right for you. You did your boots-on-the-ground research, and it’s paying dividends. And you’re correct: Never underestimate your own ability to build relationships. Not everybody has that skill.

That text sounds like an aggressive sales pitch: a strong-armed approach with a smile. No. 1: If they are asking you to do them a favor, regardless of what that favor is, suggesting you do it on their terms is a no-no. If these friends are not willing or able to get off their sofa and come around to your home or meet you close to your house or business, how do they expect to start their own business from scratch, and go above and beyond to build both a reputation and a business?


‘Pushy people tend to know they’re being pushy. They just don’t care.’

No. 2: Pushy people tend to know they’re being pushy. They just don’t care. They may need you to acquiesce to their requests for the reassurance that others can and will bend to their will OR perhaps they simply have their eye on their goal and everyone else are minions (with a lower case “m”). You don’t need to worry about their psychology, of course, but you do need to be just as tough and push back. If people ask me what to do with their money, I say: “I don’t even recommend Broadway plays.”

And that lunar feeling you have when you get those texts? It’s your boundaries bending and creaking. It’s the Old You and the New You doing battle: guilt and people pleasing vs. self-protection and no-can-do. Remember, saying “no” does not make you a bad person. You could pick a book and say, “I read this. The rest was luck and timing. Good luck!” But my guess is someone who thinks that you hold the key to their success will not be so easily put off.


‘You learned a valuable lesson not to discuss your affairs with other people.’

That brings me to No. 3: The clearest, fiercest response is often times no response. Find that muscle. It’s one you can exercise over and over again. As a friend once told me when I had to make a big financial decision: “Take the emotion and personalities out of it. It’s just business.” This is your business. You have nurtured it and you have worked hard at it. Trust your instinct. Protect it. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Is your gut saying no? Then don’t go.

You have learned a valuable lesson not to discuss your affairs with other people. Make it known that you do not like to talk about business when you’re off the clock. Try a new approach to conversations at dinner parties or chats over the garden fence with friends or neighbors. If they ask you about your business and how it’s going, tell them: “Good, thanks.” If they persist, say: “My first and last rule of business is I never discuss business with friends, and I never mix business with friendship.”

Delete that text without replying. Do the same for other texts. Flex that “no reply” muscle and keep flexing it. It gets easier. Don’t be held hostage to the “reply” button on your phone, and do get acquainted with the ability to say “no.” After a while, you will likely come to enjoy it.

The Moneyist:‘Warren Buffett and Harry Potter couldn’t get those two retired early’: Our spendthrift neighbors said our adviser was ‘lousy.’ So how come WE retired early?

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My husband and his brother inherited a property. Our son moved in. We paid $60K in taxes and repairs. Do we split it 50/50?

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My husband and his brother inherited their family home. When they were able to take possession, our son and his family needed a place to live. His brother was quite willing to let them move in and, in lieu of paying him rent for his 50%, my husband and I would be responsible for all upkeep, repairs, taxes, etc.

The house is probably 90 years old, and needed quite a lot of work before they could move in. We spent approximately $20,000 to make it livable. After four years the house caught fire and, with the help of a crooked contractor, it took another $30,000 of our money to repair all the damage.

Now comes my concern: If my husband and his brother had sold the house when they first inherited it, they would have split proceeds 50/50. It would definitely have been sold, because we didn’t want to be landlords to anyone other than our son. But now six years later, we have paid well over $60,000 in repairs and taxes. This amount is well over what we had planned on, but it was a chance we took.

According to old tax records, the house was probably worth $45,000, and now is worth over $100,000, and growing. The future sale and split of the house proceeds was never discussed. My husband is all for splitting it evenly. I’m the one with the issue because of all the money we spent in improvements.

I understand his brother took nothing at beginning, and I’m all for his getting 50% of the original value plus some extra, but I just don’t feel like he should get half of the current value. The house would certainly never be worth what it’s worth now if we hadn’t done all the work on it. Unless the house continues to increase in value, we will never recoup our investment.

May I have your opinion on this problem? On paper, this makes me look petty but my mind is unsettled over this.

Upset Wife

Dear Upset,

Sometimes, the clue is in the question: “In lieu of paying him rent for his 50%, my husband and I would be responsible for all upkeep, repairs, taxes, etc.”

You are aggrieved that you walked into this money pit with both eyes wide open in order for your son to save money in the short term. It seemed like an attractive prospect at the time, and I can see why: Your brother-in-law is easygoing, so why don’t your son and his family live in the house for a while and give it a new lick of paint when needed, a scrub-scrub here and a scrub-scrub there, and make sure it’s ticking over while they live there rent-free? Everyone wins, right? Well, not quite.

You, your husband and your son and his family win. Your brother-in-law, alas, did not get much out of that deal. But being Mr. Nice Guy, he said, “Be my guest.” Literally. Why would he want to charge his nephew rent? He decided to forgo the money to be made from a potential rental property or quick cash for the sake of family. What’s the point in having a house if you can’t help other people out? Plus, it would be looked after. And it was. But then there was a fire.


‘Your brother-in-law decided to forgo the money to be made from a potential rental property for the sake of family.’


— The Moneyist

You don’t say how the fire started. Was the stove left on? Did faulty wiring cause it? Or did a power line fall on the house in a storm? If it was your responsibility to take care of the property while your son and his family lived there, you are accountable for those first two scenarios. Even if it was an act of nature, you are responsible for ensuring that the home is insured. Of course, the main thing is no one was hurt. Still, as you say, upkeep (and that includes insurance) is your department.

You don’t fare well in the renovation vs. free rent argument, but you also raise a hypothetical argument to support your case: You should receive more than 50% of the proceeds from the sale of the house because your brother-in-law and husband would have sold the house (maybe; we’ll never know for sure) had your son not moved in. It was worth $45,000 then, and it’s valued at $100,000 now, so given your $60,000 in repairs and taxes, he should be happy with $22,500.

OK, I’ll play that game. Let’s peel back another layer of wallpaper and say, “If their parents passed away when they were much younger, they would have sold the house at an even lower price.” Or, “If their parents lived to be 99 1/2, they could be living in the house in 2021, and maybe you would make out like bandits because you would never have paid money to Uncle Sam and Sam the Contractor.” Let’s peel away even more layers: “If no one had been born, we wouldn’t have this problem!”

If you have to bend the laws of space and time to justify your proposal, splitting the proceeds 50/50 doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, after all.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

The Moneyist: I married ‘the life of the party,’ but he’s different at home. He takes his money woes out on me — and calls me a ‘gold digger’

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As the market nosedived last year, my older brother advised me to sell. I lost $80,000. How can I ever forgive him?

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Dear Quentin,

This time last year, when the market was nosediving, my older brother advised me to get out of the market, and go to cash to conserve my assets. It was only going to get worse, he proclaimed, and he had 40 years’ experience in the market.

Granted, it was an ugly drop. Following his lead, I said hello to a $80,000 loss, while thinking I’d say goodbye to an even worse disaster. That same downturn soon ended, and the market recovered. It took me months to get back into the market.

If I’d ignored his advice and stayed the course, I’d be way ahead instead of way behind. To this day, I’m behind $55,000, so I’ve recovered some. I don’t feel good about being led down this path. Perhaps I have no one to blame for listening but myself.

Any thoughts on this matter would be greatly appreciated.

The Brother

Dear Brother,

Accountability is everything. You can start forgiving your brother by forgiving yourself. But in order to do that, you must repeat after me: “I, and I alone, was responsible for buying these stocks while the going was good, and I, and I alone, am responsible for selling them.”

Intent also matters. Your brother, whether he has four years or 40 years of experience, did not mean you harm. He may have been feeling concerned himself, and projected that worry onto you. You didn’t say whether he sold stocks too. Regardless, rinse and repeat the above quote.


‘It was a hard lesson. But the fun part is figuring out what it is you have learned.’


— The Moneyist

You are responsible for making money, you are responsible for saving money, and you are responsible for investing money. When you ask for advice and give 100% of your decision-making over to that person, you are making a choice. You are also handing over your power.

It was a hard lesson. But the fun part is figuring out what it is you have learned. 1. Don’t sell your stock during tumultuous times based on fear. 2. Don’t give up your own agency. 3. Don’t torture yourself by counting every rise and fall. That is what got you into this situation in the first place.

The situation, by the way, is temporary — so you can now choose to suffer, or you can take an action and choose NOT to suffer. Close your laptop, call your brother and ask how he is doing, stick with it for the long haul this time, and take a walk and get in some steps.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

The Moneyist: ‘Warren Buffett and Harry Potter couldn’t get those two retired early’: Our spendthrift neighbors said our adviser was ‘lousy.’ So how come WE retired early?

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