Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 23 2006 7:00 AM

Hey, Big Spender

My husband's wretched money management is dragging me into debt.

1_123125_122976_2131188_dearprudence_ey

Get "Dear Prudence" delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Dear Prudence,
I have been with my husband for about three and a half years. He has never been good with money and had significant credit card debt when we got married. I had no credit card debt, but he talked me into getting this "little laptop for only $1,500," saying "we'll have it paid off in a year." Well, that was two years ago and "this little laptop" still has $1,700 owed on it, in my name. Recently he borrowed $10,000 from his parents to pay down some of his debt. Shortly after, he ran up half of it again on a credit card. He insists he told me the things he "had" to get, and is now making the issue about telling me and me not remembering. My family is giving us a gift of money because my dad wants to see us enjoy part of our inheritance from my mom. We had discussed using it to pay off debt. I am terrified he will run these credit cards up again. He insists on being the one to handle our money, even though he is very unorganized, pays bills late, and has bags of unopened mail stashed everywhere. I have tried talking to him about this but he gets very defensive and angry. I don't know what to do. I don't want this incredible gift from my family to be wasted. I've tried to get him to go to counseling but he absolutely refuses. This is seriously making me rethink about ever reproducing.

—Going Broke

Dear Broke,
The two-year-old laptop is now worth a fraction of what you paid, and your debt exceeds its original value. This seems symbolic of your marriage: Your good feeling is shrinking, while your resentment is growing. I wonder if you would have married your husband if he'd had a drinking problem, because a compulsive spending habit is just as destructive to a relationship. Here you are, already contemplating not having children with your husband because of this. First of all, you must straighten out your financial mess. Tell him you are both going to manage your marital assets, then open the bills. Get some credit counseling to find out what your joint financial obligations are, and how you can separate yours from his. Set up your own checking account and deposit the money from your family there. And if he won't accompany you to marital counseling, go alone to help you figure out if you want to go it alone.

Advertisement

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
In a mere four weeks, my mom went from being a young (she's 50), vibrant woman to being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, recovering from a hysterectomy, and needing chemo (which we found out all in the same day). As you can imagine, this was a shock to the entire family. I am the youngest child and am the only one who lives in the same city. My nearest sibling is a nine-hour drive away. My father is in total denial and tries his best, but doesn't know what to do and goes into another room. I feel like I've been transformed into her mom, nurse, and am still working 40 hours a week to support my family. Don't misunderstand, I am happy to do whatever I can for my mom, but herein lies my question. Well-wishers continually ask me how she's doing. I understand they are worried and want to voice their concern, but what they don't seem to understand is that they are one of many who ask me this repeatedly. I've attempted to simply say she is fine, but they linger and expect more. I'm tired of hashing and rehashing this painful topic to everyone. How can I politely answer their questions without having to relive every detail?

—Trying To Be Strong

Dear Trying,
I'm sorry to hear this and hope your mother recovers. One of the great gifts of e-mail is that it relieves patients and their caregivers from having to endlessly rehash medical details over the phone to well-wishers. Compile an e-mail list of family and friends and send a note explaining that you will write occasional bulletins about your mother's health, but that a constantly ringing phone is too taxing on everyone. You could farm this task out to one of your siblings. Since so many people want to help, but don't know what to do, include in your e-mail a list of things that would make life easier. Perhaps people could regularly deliver home-cooked dinners for your parents. Or friends could take turns driving your mother to and from chemo. Ask for a few people willing to take on the task of organizing a schedule for the volunteers. Then you can concentrate on taking care of your mother, your family, and your work. Best wishes.

Advertisement

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
My boyfriend and I decided to move in together and found a great place to rent, but our new landlord is driving us crazy. He talks nonstop and won't let either of us leave the conversation, no matter how politely we insist that we have to go. When my boyfriend met with him one morning to get the keys to the new place, something that was supposed to take 15 minutes took him an hour. He kept telling the landlord he really had to go or he was going to be late to work, and the landlord would just talk right over it, completely ignoring it. As a result, my boyfriend got a parking ticket and we both arrived late at our jobs! Our new landlord is in his mid-to-late 60s and not hard of hearing as far as I can tell. I resent our being held hostage by his endless chatter and feel he is completely rude to ignore us when we politely excuse ourselves. Help!

—Chatter Hostage

Dear Hostage,
Is your landlord a member of the Senate judiciary committee? Your obligation to your landlord is to maintain the apartment and pay the rent on time. It is not to be such a victim of his logorrhea that you are unable to pay the rent because you can't get to work. Compulsive talkers are like vampires, except they want to drain your time, not your blood. After listening to about five minutes of the blather, say, "I'd love to talk more, but I'm going to be late for work," then leave, even if your landlord is still standing there yapping. If he gets you on the phone, tell him you need to make a work call and only have five minutes to talk. When the time's up say "Sorry, I've got to go" and hang up. A relationship with a landlord is a peripheral one, and yours needs to get even more so.

Advertisement

—Prudie

Oh, sage Prudie,
My very sweet mother-in-law gave my 7-year-old daughter a new coat, which my daughter absolutely loves. The problem is that the coat has a rabbit fur trim around the hood. I am anti-fur. And my daughter's favorite animal in the world is the bunny. She can read, so it's probably only a matter of time before she figures it out. Should I cut off the label and just deal with offending fur and potentially let people at her school think I am pro-fur? Should I tell my daughter and hope she doesn't say anything? My mother-in-law has been very good to me and may not have even realized the trim was real fur. How do I handle this without upsetting anyone?

—Stuck in the Briar Patch

Dear Stuck,
I am not a fur fan either, but the rabbit's already dead and you say—miracle of miracles!—you have a good relationship with your mother-in-law. Just let your daughter enjoy the coat. In the unlikely event she comes home one day screaming that she's got Flopsy or Mopsy around her neck, then you can have a talk about the coat and whether she wants to continue wearing it. As for the other parents, you have no obligation to discuss with them the political implications of a gift from grandma.

—Prudie