Teen wrecked the car? Put him on a payment plan to cover damages.
Whenever I’m able, I like to answer readers’ questions about their individual situations.
While I take some time off, here’s a transcript of a recent online discussion in which Jonnelle Marte, who writes The Washington Post’s “Get There” personal finance blog, and I answered people’s questions.
My teenager was involved in a minor auto accident that damaged his car to the tune of $1,000. I feel that he should contribute to the repairs — and he agrees — but not sure how much. He has a part-time job and makes a few hundred dollars a month. How do you suggest handling the situation?
Jonnelle Marte: Good call on requiring him to pitch in for the payments. Maybe he can pay the money to you over the course of the year — say, $50 or $100 a month until it is paid off. That will still give him some spending money but also remind him that these things come at a cost.
My husband has terminal cancer. We have one child and a significant amount of an inheritance (low six figures). Would you recommend spending some of it now so we can create memories as a family or keep saving it, as our income will go down after he passes away and I raise our kid alone?
Michelle Singletary: I’m so sorry about your situation. Without knowing more about your expenses, I can’t tell you how much to splurge, but I would nonetheless do some things to enjoy what life your husband has left. So if he wants to take a trip to the beach, go — if you can afford it. Doesn’t sound like you want to be reckless, so enjoy the time you have left.
My parents give financial gifts to my two sisters. I make more than they do, which is my parents’ reasoning for the unequal treatment. The reason this bothers me is that my sisters constantly have new clothes, bags, etc. I make a lot of money, but my wife and I save every bit we can. My wife doesn’t have new clothes. It is frustrating that my parents’ money is allowing my sisters to live this lifestyle. It also bothers me because I worked hard (and planned well) to get where I am today. So why should my sisters be rewarded for getting mediocre jobs? I know I have to deal with this for many years to come, so how do I not let this affect my relationship with my parents and sisters?
Marte: It’s common for money to be a source of tension between parents and children or among siblings. But I would try not to get caught up in the comparison. It sounds like you don’t need as much assistance, which is great. If you and your wife are forgoing some nice things now so that you can save more, that sounds like good news to me. You’ll have more money for travel, shopping and investing later!
Singletary: Life isn’t fair. Say that three times. Seriously.
I totally get that you are frustrated and mad. You do all the right things, and you don’t get extra. They appear to be spendthrifts and get more.
But step back and think about it. You save. You have a spouse who saves. You understand delayed gratification. All things that will serve you well.
But also keep in mind that your path is your path. You talk about their “mediocre jobs.” What does that mean? Maybe they don’t want to work in a job that requires hours that eat into their personal time. Or maybe in their eyes, their jobs are good. When you make more, you tend to work longer hours — hours that aren’t spent with family. Perhaps that’s not the choice they wanted to make.
Your reward for doing well is, well, doing well. Take your eyes off of what they are getting and doing and be grateful for what you have.
And one final thing: Isn’t this really about entitlement? On your part? It is, after all, your parents’ money to do with what they like. Maybe your sisters aren’t begging for them to bail them out or give them money. Maybe you are right and your parents are looking at you thinking, “He’s got this, so let’s help the other kids.”
Nobody is entitled to your parents’ money. Not your sisters. Not you.
Write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more, go to wapo.st/michellesingletary.