Trying to Get My Parents to Budget is Like…

What would be the correct metaphor here? I don’t even know. My parents are way worse than I am when it comes to finances and both of them are in massive denial over their spending problems. It doesn’t help that my dad likes to blame my mom for everything and sees no fault in his own actions. Ever. Trying to get them to agree on a serious budget is like… impossible.

Towards the end of 2008, I made my mom sign up for a account so I could see exactly what they were both spending all the money on. My father would never let me spend time on his Quickbooks, where he says he carefully tracks all the finances. When I visited home recently, I sat down with my mom to review their 2009 spending. What I saw didn’t shock me, but it scared me a little.

They spend $13k a month, on average, not counting my sister’s tuition, which they pay in full as well. Neither of them are working. My dad receives a sizable pension and disability right now, but not enough to support that kind of spending. This year, he told my mother that they should be spending $6-$7k per month at most. The 401k will be available next year, so he keeps saying “once we get the 401k we will be fine. We just cannot spend a lot this year.” I’ll talk about the 401k issues later. But for now, simply, my parents need to spend no more than $7k per month on just the two of them and their house. That sounds like it should be do-able, right?
My dad told my mom that she can spend $2.5k on all her stuff per month, he’ll spend $1.5k, and the remaining $3k will go towards the mortgage, taxes, insurance, and other necessary costs. So I sat down and worked out a $2.5k monthly budget with my mom. I think this helped her start to understand how much things actually cost. She spends so much money on clothes and other random things. Not really nice things usually. My dad spends most of his money on medical (he has terminal cancer and is being treated in the city so pays a lot for transportation and his co-pays, pills, etc.) Both of them spend way too much on food per month (about $1,000 total for two people!) though I let my dad’s food spending slide to an extent because he earned the entire household income for his entire life, is dying within the next few years, and loves food more than he could ever love anything or anybody else. He won’t get to enjoy his 401k/retirement years, so I’ll let him spend a little too much on food without being picky. He deserves at least that.
My mom, however, looks at the budget and says “ok, that helps a bit. I don’t think I can stick to that. But it helps me understand how much $2,500 a month is worth.” Ugh. She doesn’t understand that she has no choice other than to stick to the budget. Granted, my dad has about $1M in the 401k, and even with the $300k left they owe on the house, they still are doing ok spending too much, for now. It’s hard to put everything into perspective, because the nitty gritty of the situation is that my dad is going to die within the next 10 years and my mom could live a very long time… so she’s the one who should be worried about having enough to live on for the rest of her life. And given her spending habits, I’m not so sure she will.
The unfortunate thing is — the $1M in retirement plus pension may be a good retirement amount for this day in age, but my father’s health costs may continue to rise before he passes. With terminal cancer, you just don’t know how much the treatment will all cost, but it’s going to be expensive no matter how you look at it. My mom will surely be left with a decent amount of retirement savings, but not the $2M my dad had hoped for them both to retire on before he became ill and before the stock market crashed. So she’s going to HAVE to budget eventually. She can’t just be in denial about her spending forever. Or can she?
It’s not just her, though. I went through their entire budget and figured out that, not counting things like food, clothes shopping, medical, and other purchases that should fall in my mom and dad’s personal budgets, last year they spend about $9,000 per month (!!!) on everything else. Between the mortgage, home taxes, insurance, utility bills, cell phone bills, they spent about $3k per month (which is how much more they should be spending beyond their personal budgets.) But then it gets messy. Where does that extra $6k per month go? Well, it goes to a lot of things… house cleaning (every week, last year it cost about $10k for the whole year!), home improvement (painting rooms, new furniture, fixing the air conditioner, etc), and then other random things that we couldn’t categorize, even after all of the checks were in order and labeled.
Right now, I’m mostly concerned that my mom will not have enough money to live for the rest of her life. I’m hoping that once my dad is out of the financial picture she will let me sit down with her and plan a serious budget. Because currently my dad won’t openly discuss all the finances with her (he calls her stupid, etc, and doesn’t have patience to explain to her the reality of the situation. He just says “spend $2,500 a month and no more”) so once all that’s left is my mom and all the banking accounts, I can help her seriously budget. It’s really not a place I’m comfortable being in. My father has always been set on leaving behind money for his kids, when I talk about my own retirement savings he would say “why are you saving for retirement? You’ll be fine with what we will give you and your sister after we’re gone.” Or something along those lines. I didn’t listen to him, I’ve been saving, but it just is unfortunate that in the end, I’ll be the one to budget that dream of my fathers out of the picture. I know if my dad was budgeting, he’d factor in what he’d like to leave behind for his heirs. My mother won’t do that. Or even if she does, she’d somehow manage to spend it anyway and use it as her yearly cushion. I don’t want to have to convince her whether she should save money for my sister and I, that is just an awkward place to be in. That’s the least of my concerns, but it all factors into my parents extremely poor financial habits and ability to think about anyone else by themselves when it comes to money or anything else.
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4 thoughts on “Trying to Get My Parents to Budget is Like…”

  1. Wow. Thanks for sharing. That's really intense. We're here to listen, but I don't know if I can offer any help.

  2. is your mom also retired? She sounds bored (painting home, buying useless things, lots of shopping). Maybe all she needs is a cheap hobby…or better yet, to volunteer somewhere. Not only will it keep her from spending money, it will also make her feel really good about herself.

  3. I can totally relate to this post. Well, not totally since my mother doesn't spend near the amount that your parents do, but if she had the income she would! My mother makes around $60,000 per year. She just turned 63 and will not be retiring for at least another 2-3 years. She has a retirement account through the education system where she works, but nothing else. No savings, no investments, nada. Her philosophy has always been that if she has it she needs to spend it or else it will just…go. My husband and I share a house with her and split the $1200 per month rent. She pays electric (around $400 per month which, really, for a 4,000 square foot house isn't that bad) and water (about $100). We pay internet and cable ($100 per month), groceries ($400 per month and we also have a 3 year old), mow the yard (which saves her about $300 per month since we have 5 acres that we mow), and we cook the meals. When we go out to eat, my husband and I usually pick up the tab. She also drives my car 2 nights per week because her headlights don't work. She doesn't put gas in it. So her monthly expenses come to around $1500 per month when you take in some of her small bills, too. That's what they SHOULD be anyway. She also adds on $500 per month in storage bills. Why? Because she is a hoarder and has 3 different storage units. For years I have been trying to get her to clean them out and put the money in some kind of account (and kind of account) and save it. Unfortunately, if you have watched the shows on TLC or A&E you know that's easier said than done. I now understand that when she goes it will be my responsiblity to sort them out. She filed for bancruptcy a few years ago and just found out that she is being audited for the past 3 years on her taxes. They are saying that she owes $20,000. She filed for an extension. She gets into a lot of financial trouble (and she's a very educated person) and it usually falls on me to bear the burden. I WISH I could sit down with her and put her on a budget. But to do that, she would have to admit that she has a spending problem. She won't do that. I think she's a little narcissistic and maybe bi-polar because you constantly have to walk on eggshells around her and she seems to have a sense of entitlement over everything. In the meantime, the best that I can do is make sure that we make responsible financial choices ourselves and hope and pray that she doesn't get us into any messes.

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