Q. Asking Parents for Money: I wonder if it's inappropriate to ask my parents to help me with a house down payment. My boyfriend and I are in our early 40s and live in one of the most expensive parts of the country for real estate. We are both employed and make good money, but buying a home is out of reach for us here. Recently we began to wonder, though, and figured we could buy a home if we could get help with a down payment. Our parents are both comfortably retired, though neither is rich. Still, they have made comments and gestures indicating they have a little extra. My question is: Is it out of line to ask our parents for financial help? Complicating matters is that I have a younger brother who has a very strained relationship with my parents and me. Even still my parents have always tried to treat us fairly and I worry that asking them for money will put them in an awkward position in this regard. My brother does not need financial help from them and would likely never ask—though he would likely take it as a slight to learn that I have received a large gift and he has not. I appreciate your sensible advise on this.
A: The good news is that all the parties here are in decent financial shape—no one is showing up on anyone's doorstep with their clothes in a paper bag, and no one is pressuring anyone to bail them out. You and your boyfriend are the experts on your own parents, so you know best if they would be willing to entertain this notion or would consider it an imposition. Before you initiate this conversation, clarify what you want. Are you asking for an early piece of your inheritance? Or would you structure this as a loan that you would pay back at a more favorable rate than you could get from the bank? If you're going to float this idea, you should be able to show them the kind of house you're thinking of, why it's a good investment, and how much money—and on what terms—you would like from them. Also consider that you and your boyfriend are not married, which might (or might not) complicate how each set of parents feels about investing in a joint purchase for the two of you. Leave your brother out of it—that's for your parents to consider. If you decide to make the approach, do it in the spirit of starting a conversation, not putting on pressure.
Q. Mother-in-Law and Finances: My mother in-law is a very sweet woman, who unfortunately shows her love through gifts. The problem is that she has already gone bankrupt, after borrowing thousands from my husband prior to our marriage. My husband told her not to pay him back, but to start saving the money she would have paid him. As we all know, you can't make people be responsible. She has since lost her job, and is working part time at McDonald's and a retail store, while living like she has a full-time, well-paid job. We have had our first child and she regularly shows up with $100-plus of clothing for our daughter. We tried to tell her to stop, that we don't need it and suggested she save the money for visiting her when we move. She has no retirement savings (she cleaned that out a few years ago), and I am terrified that we are her backup plan. We are planning for our own future, and that of our daughter, I don't know how to plan for my mother in-law, too. I also don't want her living on the street one day. I am at a loss as to what we are supposed to do!
A: And here is that letter from the mother who one day will show up on the doorstep with some designer baby clothes and a plan to stay indefinitely. Your mother-in-law has a form of mental illness, but she is (barely) functional, probably doesn't have health insurance, and clearly has no desire to face her problems. Your husband, however, needs to have some serious talks with her about her behavior and where it's going to lead. He needs to tell her that he will never again let himself get into a financial hole because of her behavior—he has a family to raise and his own retirement to start planning for. As a last gift to her, he can contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling on her behalf and offer to go with her to try to get her on some kind of stable footing. But he needs to make very clear that moving into your home cannot be her backup plan.
Q. Fixated on Aunt's Weight Comment: A few days after Christmas, I received a text message from my aunt saying that she saw the picture I'd sent to my parents for Christmas and that it looked like I'd "gained a bit of weight" and she wanted to make sure I was OK. I was flabbergasted as I'm well within the healthy weight range (Size 2), hadn't seen my aunt in a year, and she had never made a comment like this before. I did not reply. She reached out to me, ended up apologizing, and asking if we were "OK." I told her that I was very upset about it because I'm healthy and it's hard to hear an assessment of my weight based on one picture from someone I haven't seen in a year. I think about her hurtful comment all the time and wonder if others also think I'm fat. I'm in my late 20s and she is in her early 60s. She has always been very thin, and I've never had any weight problems. How can I move on from this?
A: You move on by acknowledging that likely your aunt has serious body image issues and not letting them affect you. You're a Size 2, so if your aunt is concerned about your weight, she's crazy. Even if you were a Size 22, a holiday text from her about your weight would have been utterly out of line. What worries me about your letter is not your aunt, but you. This stupid text was months ago, and you're still thinking about it and wondering if people think you're fat. If you yourself have body image issues, talk to a professional. If you just need someone to tell you your aunt is nuts on this subject, consider it done.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week, when surely crocuses will be blooming.
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