Posts Tagged ‘money


borrowing money

Reader M. B. writes:

When it comes to borrowing money, how much is too much? Should you even do it at all?

Dear M.B.:

Money is a touchy subject. As a general rule of thumb, I say eschew any money issues having to do with friends or family. Borrow only from strangers or the government, and only borrow what you can pay back.

borrowing money

Image: dan /

Furthermore, don’t lend your money to friends or family members. If you are going to lend money to someone you know, make sure it’s an amount you don’t plan on ever seeing again, because you probably won’t.

I think it’s okay to borrow money once in a while if you don’t take much and can pay it back. If you don’t pay it back, you get a reputation for being a mooch and an untrustworthy person. If you’re at the office and you forgot your lunch and your work spouse can lend you $5, okay, fine, just get him/her back the next day. (It’s better if you two buy each other lunch once in a while and don’t keep tabs on this kind of stuff.)

I also think student loans are an acceptable case for borrowing. I hate that money can get in the way of a student getting the education they want, and I believe that, for the right school, a government-backed loan is a great solution. Student loans tend to have good interest rates and a pretty affordable payback schedule, as long as you finish school and get a good job with your degree (eventually — sure took me a while, not gonna’ lie). Plus, you can defer loans if you’re out of a job.

Pay day loans are obviously not okay. If you need money that bad, there are always other ways to handle debt. The one thing most people do wrong when they are in over their heads is try to hide from the problem or pretend it’s not there. There are debt counselors, and lots of places will forgive certain fees, etc., if you just talk to them. So don’t borrow money from pay day lenders, or from, say, the mob.

So, to recap:

– When borrowing money, make sure you can afford to pay it back, and then make sure you do pay it back;

– $5 once in a while is okay between friends, though buying someone lunch may be a better route;

– Avoid borrowing or lending with friends if you can help it;

– If you do lend money to someone you love, be prepared to let that money go;

– Only lend money you can stand to lose;

– Only take money from credible sources that won’t cap your knees if you can’t pay back on time;

– Rather than hiding from money problems, get organized and get them settled, sooner rather than later.



Reader X. W. writes:

I just recently got divorced and I’m considering keeping the diamond from my engagement ring. What do you think?

Dear X.W.:

Engagement rings are technically gifts, so as long as you went through with the wedding, that sucker is yours. You already know this, but I find this fascinating. If you had decided not to go through with the marriage, you’d have to give it back to him. That is amazing to me. It’s a promise of the intention to marry, but not necessarily a promise that the marriage has to last forever.

In any case, sure, keep the diamond. Obviously you’re not going to want it as a ring anymore, so I’d say remove the diamond from the setting and either melt down the gold, sell it, or make it all into something new. You can keep it as long as you want, but you can probably only sell it once, so keep that in mind. I honestly think that re-purposing this relic of your past life into something for your new life is the best thing you can do with it. Whether that something new is a new piece of jewelry featuring the diamond, or a big fat check is up to you.

engagement ring

Image: Graeme Weatherston /

Personally, I wouldn’t want to wear something so emotionally charged, even if I had it remade into a pendant or brooch. It’s an item, and I don’t believe it is endowed with the powers of the love you had for your ex husband. It’s not magical just because it was once part of an engagement ring. But it can still mean a lot. It was supposed to cost him 3 months of salary. It was supposed to be representative of your love for each other and all that jazz DeBeers has been selling us since the 1920s or whatever. If you can make it into something new without bursting into tears over it, go for it.

Of course, any type of real jewelry can be a good investment. Definitely get it appraised and see what it’s worth. The gold may be worth something, too, so figure that out. It’s probably going to be hard to re-sell as an engagement ring — again, they’re full of symbolism, and buying someone’s old engagement ring can be a bit weird, especially if the couple got divorced. If you get it turned into a new ring or something else, the diamond is probably going to retain the same value it had in the ring. (I’m not really sure about that — if someone out there knows jewelry better than I do, let us know!) What I’m saying is, even if you get it re-set, you can keep it as investment jewelry. You don’t even have to wear it. You can keep your diamond (in whatever form you finally decide on) until you need the money and sell it when you’ve got something in mind you really want, like a house or a nice vacation.

But I also want to know why you want to keep it in the first place. Your motivation to keep this diamond means a lot about your feelings about the former marriage. Are you not ready to give up the relationship? Or are you just ready to keep this diamond for investment purposes? Clearly an engagement ring is a big part of any girl’s life. They hold a lot of meaning as a symbol, but also a lot of memories personally. My first instinct is to sell, sell, sell, just because a divorce means that there’s a lot of hurt going on.

But as I said before, it’s a THING. Keep this in mind. You have complete control over what this thing means. If you want to keep it as a memento and give it to your grandchildren (which is kind of sick, if you think about it — “here’s the engagement ring I got from the man who wasn’t your grandfather”), you have every right to do so. You can also make money off it, and spend that money however you wish. You just have to be careful with your heart, which is infinitely more important than this object.

If you’re ready to move on, take this diamond and make something happy out of it. Don’t let it symbolize a divorce or failed love. Do whatever you can to make your life new.


vacation alone

Reader P. J. asks:

My husband and I have been planning a vacation for several weeks. Okay, let me rephrase that — we had been planning a vacation. I was really looking forward to it, but now he says he’d rather stay home and use the money for something else. If he won’t go with me, I’m considering just taking a vacation with a singles group alone. I feel like a vacation together would strengthen us as a couple, but a vacation alone would probably make me stronger, which would help us in the long run. What do you think?

Dear P.J.:

I am a travel addict, so I will never understand why somebody would say something like, “No, let’s save the money and stay home where it’s boring.” So your husband’s attitude baffles me in the first place. Of course, your husband probably has a better handle on the finances than I do, but hey.

Also, what a let down that you got your hopes up about actually going somewhere, and even had it planned, and then he popped the fantasy bubble. That makes it even worse in my book. It’s kind of like you telling him you’ve got a great birthday present, something he’s been wanting for years, and then right at the last second saying, “But I decided it’d be better to save the money for something else.” That would make me spitting mad.

But now, to address your actual question:

Yes, I think taking a vacation without him may be in order. I agree that it could be good for you to spend some time away from him, figuring yourself out. I adore traveling alone for that very reason. We spend a lot of time in our culture scaring women into thinking there’s no way they could travel without someone protecting them. That isn’t true. As long as you’re careful and go to safe places (i.e. I would not recommend a trip to, say, Johannesburg alone without researching the city first), you should have no problem.

However, I’m not so sure about traveling with a singles group. I suppose it would depend on the singles, but most groups that are specifically geared towards “singles” have a “… but not for long!” angle to them. You may find that people in this group are looking for a husband or wife, and may tempt you to do things you wouldn’t necessarily want to do as a married person, especially if you choose to go somewhere fun and exciting like Las Vegas.

My recommendation is to find a friend or relative who lives somewhere interesting and go visit them there. Of course, not everyone has friends in extremely interesting places, and you may not actually want to spend time with Auntie May in Cleveland. For this reason, I highly recommend Couch Surfing, if you’re feeling very adventurous. Most of the people on Couch Surfing are verifiable (they have friends who vouch for them), and you can find a couple to stay with who will show you the town without pressuring you romantically or sexually.

Another route would be to recommend cheaper vacations to your husband, which could be an ideal compromise. You could show him exactly how much you’d be saving, which might make him feel better about going on vacation at all. In fact, Couch Surfing is a great way for couples to get out, too — you’ll be much more comfortable hanging out with strangers if you’ve got your boo right next to you.


older man, no money

Reader D. N. writes:

I met an older man. Basically a generation older. He’s great and I’m in love. But…. he’s financially unstable. In fact, in my 20’s as a student, I am more financially stable than he is. What do I do? I am always thinking about the future so I am wondering if it’s worth it to stick it out in hopes that things improve or end it now before I get too attached to a financial mess.

Dear D.N.:

Money is one of those issues that turns out to be a bigger problem than you ever think it’s going to be. If two people have different ideas about money, the relationship is going to fail. Big time.

From having dinner or drinks out with friends, I have come to categorize people into three groups of financial thinking:

The Keep Trackers.

These are generally people who were raised around money and whether they actually have it or not, they treat spending very fairly. If you go out to dinner with one of these people, they will take pains to split the bill exactly. If they spring for your dinner once, they will keep track of how much you owe them, even if you both know they have more money than you. On the converse, they will also keep track of exactly how much they owe you, so it’s actually rather a good thing.

The Free Spenders.

Most of these people were raised in middle class families where there was at least some money. They don’t keep track of who owes what to whom. If they spring for your dinner, they’ll just wave it off and say, “You can get me next time.” And, in fact, you probably had better offer to get it next time, or they’ll start to feel used. These people are generous almost to a fault, but they still believe in a quid pro quo kind of lifestyle. They expect everyone to step up and do their part without having to be reminded to do so. These folks are nice to go out with because you never feel a cloud hanging over your head.

You don't have to put the poorhouse in the doghouse.

Image: graur razvan ionut /

The Never Had Its.

For the most part, these are folks who were raised in a house without money. They may even have an unconscious “the world owes me” ideology going on in their heads, unbeknownst to them. These are people who will accept your offer to buy dinner without ever returning the favor, whether they have money now or not. They aren’t necessarily aware of the fact that they’re mooching; they’ve just never had that much disposable cash on their own, and so they think that if someone is offering to spend money on them, that person must have the money to spend. Unless you’re a Keep Tracker yourself, these people can get rather tedious after a while, and will take advantage without even noticing it.

What does all this have to do with your relationship? I think that as long as you and your gentleman friend have the same ideas about money, even if he doesn’t actually have any, you’ll be fine in the long run.

I am personally a Free Spender. It’s how I was raised — we just offer to buy dinner. Many of my good friends are the same way. I dated a Never Had It for a while, and he just let me buy everything without offering to so much as do extra chores around the house to make up for it. It just didn’t occur to him that I wasn’t in the position to be a sugar momma. Eventually I started keeping track, which is against my nature and very hard for me to do, and put a lot of strain on our relationship, especially when I started asking him to pay it back. (He still owes me at least $3 grand, which I have had to write off.) (Jerk.)

If we had both been Keep Trackers, this would never have happened. In fact, if we had both had the same ideas about money, it would never have happened. If he had been a Free Spender like me, he would have at least had some urge to keep things relatively even somehow, and I wouldn’t have started to feel so used.

If your older beau makes you feel used because he’s always letting you pay for things and doesn’t “pay you back” somehow (affection, services, attention, something), then yeah, you should end things now. But if he’s capable of making you feel that things are equal regardless of the financial situation, keep him.

Please note that I am not advocating that people avoid mating with members of a different class. It is a truth that people tend to marry other people from their same financial class, although there are always exceptions (yes, even exceptions outside of the Hollywood rags-to-riches fairy tale). I think it’s just easier to be with someone who has the same ideas about money as you, and those ideas tend to come from your upbringing, which sadly has a lot to do with what social class you’re born into.

But I am saying that the amount in a person’s bank account has less to do with how your relationship is going to work out than their attitudes about money in general. You can be perfectly happy with this poor old man as long as you both agree on how money works for you.

Let’s not get into your differing opinions on music or politics, though. Whew.


moms and money

Reader P. J. asks:

who does mom's yard work?

Image: Michal Marcol /

My mother-in-law lives alone in an enormous house and has no income, although she does have enough in savings that she can live comfortably for a while. We’ve tried really hard to get her to move into a more manageable house, because the one she has needs a lot of work — yard work, roof work, floor work, etc. My husband and I live pretty far away from her, and we both work and don’t have time to take care of little details for her. We found out she just grossly overpaid for some lawn work (full disclosure: none of us could come over and do it for free), and I’m worried she’s going to spend her savings unwisely because she just doesn’t know how much certain things are worth. What can I do?

Dear P.J.:

This is a really tough one. The problem with taking care of adult parents is that they’re adults. Your m-i-l has been making her own life decisions for decades now, and unless she lives with you or is under your protection due to mental or physical infirmity, you don’t really get much of a say about what she does, even if it’s wrong. Part of being an adult in this modern age is living far away from your parents, which can be both a blessing and, as you know, a curse.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about monitoring her expenses. She’s going to have to decide how to spend her money, especially if it’s on work that she can’t get her kinfolk to do for free. (Which, btw, could be seen as mooching — I don’t think you’re wrong or a bad daughter-in-law to tell her she has to find a professional to do work for her.)

However, you could ask her to call you whenever she’s about to make a big purchase or pay someone for work so you can discuss how much she ought to pay. Make sure she knows to do it BEFORE she pays them or has them come out. Also help her with the estimate process — if she doesn’t know how to Google how much she should pay, do it for her. You can be a help from a distance without having to give up your entire adult life to go do her yard work for her.

Hopefully this arrangement won’t hurt her pride too much. If she’s unwilling to ask your advice or help on these things, maybe you can recommend that she talk these issues over with an accountant, or even a trusted family friend. But I think if she’s willing to ask you to do her lawn or housework for her, she should be willing to accept your advice on paying someone to do it.

I think the biggest takeaway from this is that you can’t feel guilty or responsible for her decisions if she’s in her right mind and is a capable adult. If she had Alzheimer’s or another debilitating illness that kept her from being able to do her own research and make intelligent decisions, then perhaps you should feel you have to step in. But adults make bad decisions all the time, and you have to let them do it, even if they’re your mother-in-law.

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