Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Lillian, Athena, and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
My son is 21 years old and in college. When he was in high school he did something so egregious I’m still struggling with it. He asked his grandfather to borrow his credit card for gas (without my knowledge) and proceeded to use it to go on a spending spree. My dad had completely forgotten he’d given to him so we didn’t find out until the statement came and he’d wracked up over $600. I’ve never been as furious at anyone as I was with him. I put him out of the house and sent him to live with his dad for a month.
His dad and I put him in therapy and he paid part of the money back while we picked up the rest. He’s never done anything like that since. My problem is I can’t move past it. I’ve forbidden my dad to ever loan a card to my son. Just the other day I gave him my card to get gas and told him not to use it anywhere else. He stopped and said it really hurt that I still don’t trust him and wanted to know why I was still hanging his high school stupidity over his head. It’s a fair question, but it’s hard to overstate how infuriated I was at the incident and honestly, I still don’t trust him 100 percent. What should I do here?
Dear Trust Issues,
It’s no secret that teens can be impulsive. If they don’t learn the right skills at that age, they will continue to engage in risky behavior as an adult. But it seems like this situation turned out to be a hard lesson that your son learned from.
I think your son’s past actions, while egregious, were him trying to see what he could get away with. I’m wondering if you feel like you failed as a parent when he did this. His actions ultimately hurt you. If this is the case, know that you didn’t fail. At all. You showed him his stunt would not be tolerated and he learned from it.
You might want to talk to a therapist about why you are still so angry and how you can work through it so this no longer affects your relationship with your son. A therapist can walk you through why you are reacting the way you are and help you communicate with your son. You’ll need to move past this so you can one day enjoy the adult your son has become. He may surprise you.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I live on a generous limited budget since my husband died. I am very lucky to own my own home and have family nearby since I am disabled. My problem is my sisters. “Mary” is a single mom who is having problems with her teenage daughter over her new boyfriend. Nothing out of bounds, just strong personalities all around. “Jane” is married with three boys. They live to play video games.
I am very involved with all the children, but I have been doing more “special” activities with my niece. She is interested in acting so we have been going to many workshops and regional plays for a while. I pay. It doesn’t break the bank, but I can’t afford to spend three times the amount when it comes to my nephews. First, they have no interest in these events. Second, I asked them if they wanted to do anything similar and they told me they rather get gaming gift cards and stay at my house.
Jane doesn’t see it that way. She has called me out on favoring my niece over my nephews. I told her it wasn’t a contest. Our niece was going through a tougher time and could use some extra TLC. Her sons don’t share the interest or the need. But if she wanted a spreadsheet, I spent more on her sons twice over just by feeding them and their friends. Jane didn’t like my tone and complained to Mary. So WWIII started. Mary thinks Jane called her a bad mom. Jane thinks all situations are equal so she is the victim here. My niece thinks she is the problem and wants to move in with me. I went off to the porch with the new boyfriend while Mary and Jane went at it over the phone—he asked me if our family has always been like this. How do I deal with this? And how do I protect my niece?
Dear Oldest Daughter,
I’m sorry you are currently going through this. To be honest, I do see Jane’s point to a degree. But I think all three of you are being defensive, which isn’t helping the situation. When you have children, you look out for them, and it seems like she wanted to talk to you about it. Telling her, “It’s not a contest,” and then offering her a spreadsheet to see how much her kids ate probably wasn’t the best or most mature response. She wasn’t implying the costs but the time spent with the kids. Her children shouldn’t have to be going through tougher times for you to spend time with them, even if they are homebodies.
Unless the environment is abusive, I don’t think your niece should move in and, should instead, work things out with Mary. She can’t keep avoiding her mom. Mary can’t keep avoiding her daughter and pushing her off onto you because your niece doesn’t like her boyfriend. So the best thing for you to do, as much as it might hurt, is to take time away from both of your sisters and let the situation cool off. Let your niece know that while she hasn’t done anything wrong to you, she needs to take this time to work on her relationship with her mom.
Once the strong emotions have settled down, go out to lunch and talk like sisters. Try to hear everyone’s side of the story and then come up with a plan together so that moving forward, the children aren’t harmed. Good luck.
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Dear Pay Dirt,
My husband and I were invited to a friend’s house for dinner for takeout. I asked what to bring and she originally said nothing but then said a bottle of wine and a dessert. When we arrived with the dessert and two bottles of wine she informs me that she wants us to pay for our part of the takeout. We have had them over for takeout before and never expected them to pay. In the past when we have dinner at one of our houses the person doing the inviting provided the main course so I was totally shocked and didn’t know what to say. This really bothers me because we consider them friends. We paid them for the food but I am really disgusted that they treated us like this. When she invited us for dinner she should have told me that she wanted us to pay and we could have declined the invitation. Any advice you can provide would be appreciated because I don’t know how to handle this.
—Shafted By Dinner Host
Dear Shafted By Dinner Host,
It was kind of messed up that she didn’t give you a heads-up and then surprised you with an unexpected charge. Especially if that had never been the case before. I wonder if they’re strapped for cash and just assumed you’d be OK with helping out. Still, I can see why you’re bothered about it.
You can wait until the next time you hang out to address this, but if you feel it’s essential to have a conversation about this sooner than later, express over the phone (not text) that the last time you hung out caught you by surprise because they didn’t tell you beforehand that you needed to pay for part of the meal. Because that’s not your usual arrangement, you can express wanting to check in on whether everything is OK and if that’s the arrangement you should expect moving forward. If she says she didn’t think it was a big deal, you can share that you just felt surprised and would like to know beforehand next time. If it happens again, then feel free to find new dinner friends.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My wonderful domestic partner and I are unmarried (for various reasons I won’t get into here), and expecting our first child in 2023. We pay for joint expenses together proportional to our incomes via a shared credit card and checking account, but otherwise, our finances are separate. This system has worked well for us to date. I make a good deal more than him (about 80 percent more gross). He has excellent healthcare through his employer, so the baby will probably be on his insurance (I am as well and reimburse him for my costs). My understanding is only one of us can claim the child as a dependent tax-wise. Should it be him for insurance purposes, or me so I can get the tax bill reduction? Thanks!
—Baby on board
Dear Baby Onboard,
Congratulations on your future bundle of joy! As for taxes, many tax professionals agree that the parent with the higher income should claim the child as a dependent for a higher tax break. It’s important to note that the IRS does reduce the child tax credit amount if you either make $112,500 if filing as head of household; or $75,000 if you are a single filer or are married and filing a separate return. If either of these applies to you, which may be based on your sharing that you make 80 percent more than your partner, he should claim your child for the total amount.
When I met my husband 10 years ago, he had been divorced for two years. “Lindy” turned into a party girl after their divorce. Never around for the kids and very flaky. We have custody of their two children. Lindy was out of the picture for years, but she reemerged and texted my husband. She says she’s changed her focus in life and is getting herself together. She told my husband that she’s moving to Australia to start a new job and new healthy life. A few weeks later, I come home from work and find Lindy in my house having a glass of wine.