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When you attempt to talk about money with family members, the situation is usually pretty tense. I had this happen recently with my mother. My mother has no interest in personal finance. The closest she comes to managing her personal finances is writing out a check and hoping it clears.

I've been after her for years about letting me help her get her finances in order. She finally said that if I "wrote some things down", she would take a look at it.

I knew things were bad, but I didn't think they were this bad.

Bank Accounts

I setup online access to her bank account and logged in to take a look. There was craziness all over the place. She is paying a maintenance fee of $8.95 a month for her account. She's had the account for over 3 years so she's given the bank almost $300 just for having a plain vanilla checking account. She has bounced a couple of checks so there were more fees for NSF funds.

It only gets better......... Her savings account has a balance of $1.26.


I setup her 401k a few years ago. I thought she was still contributing to the account. Not only is she no longer contributing; she cashed out the account a few months ago. She is 55 years old and has nothing saved for retirement.


My mother filed bankruptcy when I was in my early teens. At the time, I didn't realize what that was or what effect it had on your finances. I knew my mom's credit was probably not good so a few years ago, I put her as an authorized user one of my cards. Apparently, doing this hurt her more than helping her. At some point, she received a credit card from the bank that she has her checking account with. The credit card has a $5000 limit and a balance of $4977.

When I met with her to go over everything, I tried not to let the anger show on my face. I couldn't believe she has been so irresponsible with her money. I wanted to just fix the problems and be done with it. I could pay off her credit card and have her close the account but she would probably just get another one and do the same thing. I could get her account balanced but she would just lose track again.

I told her she was an adult and it was time for
her to fix her problems. If she had legitimate questions, I would answer them but she has to be responsible for her own finances. I'm tired of just fixing everything for her. She has just come to expect me to fix it and I don't think I should do it anymore. I love my mother more than anything but I can't be her crutch.

Does anyone else have this problem with their parents when it comes to money?

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  1. sara l // July 13, 2009 at 10:05 AM  

    I wrote about my FIL's money situation this morning. Despite saving money while living with us for 8 months, as soon as he moved out on his own he started spending money like water.

    I think my husband would want to help financially if he had any trouble, so stepping in now will hopefully help him to be secure financially and save our emergency fund from being hit.

  2. Frugal Urbanite // July 13, 2009 at 10:42 AM  

    My parents have got their money well in hand, but my MIL has nothing saved for retirement and is supporting two deadbeat sons.

    I have no idea what we could do if she needs help because although we've got bills of our own and we're trying to start a family.

  3. Roxie // July 13, 2009 at 11:43 AM  

    I could write a book on the heartbreak and frustration of this very same situation.

    There is, however, no fixing it. I just had to let it go if I want to have any sort of relationship with her. I have to define my boundaries -what I will and will not do as she continues to age.

    It's hard to parent a parent who is perpetually 17.

    Good luck.

  4. Green Panda // July 13, 2009 at 12:28 PM  

    Fantastic post!

    I have had to help my mom with her budget planning. Things go well for a while, then she starts using her credit cards and running a balance.

    She gets paid monthly. I arranged her online bill pay schedule to withdrawal her bills on the first week, so she has only to worry about food and entertainment for the rest of the month. I hope this makes it easier for her.

  5. K-money // July 13, 2009 at 12:54 PM  

    My parents always used credit cards and refinancing their home to maintain the facade that their finances were OK. Just as the house of cards was going to crumble my mother received a $600,000 inheritance. two thirds of it is gone but hopefully she will not run out of money before she dies. She enjoys working and plans to work until she is 75 (6 more years, and her health is good), fortunately.

    Her spending habits are ingrained over a lifetime, I don't see her changing. Just be glad the spending habits you are ingraining in yourself are better.

  6. Anonymous // July 13, 2009 at 1:32 PM  

    I do not fix my parents problems but I am begging them to get a will. My grandparents died without one and it has been a big mess ever since! The family is all split up and no one has gotten their part of the estate due to not being able to agree with the terms. Not good.

  7. mapgirl // July 13, 2009 at 1:42 PM  

    Madame X has a good story about dealing with her parents over at My Open Wallet. (She had a post up recently about her mother spending $1500 a month in groceries.)

    I don't fix my parents' money problems, but I'm well aware of some of them. I help where I can but my parents' are as bad off as others. They don't have much consumer debt, but they still have a mortgage on the house as they go into retirement (which should be now, but will be in the next 3 years, I hope.).

  8. CrystalGB // July 13, 2009 at 3:18 PM  

    My parents are frugal and are good at managing their finances. My mother-in-law is the reason my husband's credit is so bad. Before we were married, he cosigned some loans for her and she didn't pay them and left him holding the bag. He couldn't pay them and his bills so he had to file backruptcy. She never learns and gets herself in a bind all the time. I refuse to bail her out so my husband tells her no we can't help her.

  9. Bible Money Matters // July 13, 2009 at 3:25 PM  

    My parents haven't been great with money over the years, but they were in low paying careers where they didn't make a whole lot (working for a food shelf - where they could make a big impact, but not receive a lot of money). I've talked recently with my dad about money, and it sounds like they've really just realized how much they need to save for retirement in the last 10 years. I feel bad that they didn't realize sooner, but I'm relieved that they're getting their house in order now.

  10. Fida Abbott // July 13, 2009 at 8:13 PM  

    I think you should talk to your Mom, explaining what you thought about her problem. She should not do again anda again like that to you. You are a good child she ever has. Other child will no longer to help a parent like her. Youu will see when you have your own family but as long as you are still single, I think she will keep doing it and again and again.

  11. Revanche // July 13, 2009 at 11:06 PM  

    For years, I fixed my parents' money mistakes and filled in the holes, then ended up paying for everything entirely. It's unfortunate but I can't keep supporting them this much while trying to build a career. To take the next step, I need to be able to move and not try to support two households at the same time. A few apron strings are going to have to be cut, and they're going to have to start living on an actual budget for once.

    It's going to be a difficult transition, I just know it.

  12. Anonymous // July 14, 2009 at 2:42 PM  

    Well, wait a minute, you started out by saying: I've been after her for years about letting me help her get her finances in order. You were the one who insisted on helping her,right?

    Sometimes, we can't save others from themselves.

    if she takes no interest in learning from you, why bother continuing to intervene? I'm sorry, but i don't know what else you're supposed to do.

    My parents, divorced, are both good with money. My dad has more than mom, but they both manage it well.

  13. Anonymous // July 14, 2009 at 7:58 PM  

    Unfortunately, I think this is pretty common. My dad, a Ph.D. and longtime hardworking American citizen, is handing his home back to the bank, because after sustaining a chronic injury that no doctor seems to be able to fix, we have realized that he's only been making interest payments on his $750,000 house. Don't get me wrong he makes good money, but not enough to afford such a large house, eating out all the time, and buying high and panic-selling-low.

    I'm not sure what financial lesson number one should be when it comes to parents... but I think "Don't live beyond your means" probably sums it all up quite well.


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  14. Rae // July 16, 2009 at 1:03 PM  

    I agree with Roxie 100%.

    I've concluded that there is nothing I can do to help my mother with her finances. She was raised in a comfortable, middle-class family, and her spending habits have never caught up to being a single-mother with very little income. I tried to help in HS, I tried to help while I paid my way through college. I still try to help her make good financial decisions (to start with, "No, Mother, you're not getting me anything for Christmas, you need that money for bills, not frivolous gifts. Ok, how about this. You pay your cell bill current as my present" Of course, she still has a past-due bill and gave me things for Christmas)

    At this point, I do what I can to instill good financial sense in my teenage sisters, but it's hard to get them to save when half the time they're helping pay rent and utilities with their summer job earnings.

    I'm just dreading the point, in 20 years or so, when it comes time for her to retire with zero savings, and still living paycheck to paycheck.

  15. Anonymous // July 17, 2009 at 5:46 PM  

    Ouch - good luck with this situation! I help my parents as well... I started teaching my mom about personal finance and now she has a savings account with $400, so it's a start. The problem is that since I live in another state I can't really go over everything with her so I don't know if she's paying bills late. My father says she messes things up, but he won't deal with anything and just hoardes cash to bail them out when she bounces too many checks. I think she's learning, but there is also not much she can do since they both have health issues that mean they can't work. I'm constantly worried about what emergencies might come up right as I start my family... They have nothing for retirement other than Social Security and me - and they are 65 and 75 already.

  16. Abigail // July 18, 2009 at 4:35 PM  

    My mom is more or less fine. She is saving diligently now that she's over 50. (She was before, but for three or four years in the recent past, she went without any real income.) I'm not even completely sure if/when she would retire.

    My in-laws, on the other hand... We're terrified for them. They have no retirement, no savings and debt. They're both over 55. They owe money to the IRS, money to credit cards and still have a mortgage (albeit on a manufactured home aka trailer).

    Pretty much, from what we can see, they're going to get closer and closer to poverty the longer they live. Oh, and I forgot to mention that their adult son lives with them (when he's not in prison or rehab, which have been the deal for most of the past three years). Now, he's gotten a girl pregnant so instead of supporting three people, they'll be supporting five.