You Want Me To Do What??

A few weeks ago, the strangest thing happened. We were visiting with my mom, when my uncle called. He is the youngest of my mom’s siblings at 58 years old. They have always been close, even though they fight like cats and dogs much of the time; so, when she answered the phone, I gathered up my stuff to leave and let them talk. As I was waving goodbye, I heard her say, “Yes, she’s here. I’m not sure, you’ll have to ask her yourself.” The next thing I knew, I was on the phone with my uncle.

For the record, I don’t share my mom’s sentiments when it comes to my uncle. I tolerate him and am always nice to him, but we’ve never had much of a relationship. When I was growing up, he would go on rants and put his fist though the wall or block people from leaving the room until he was finished talking. I later learned that he was an addict at that time; but as a child, his behavior terrified me. Though he has not used drugs for 20+ years now, his personality has never really mellowed. He might not put his fist through walls anymore, but he still goes on rants that make you wish you could crawl under the furniture and disappear. He won’t talk to one of his daughters because of the way she voted in the last presidential election and his 13-year old son told me that he’d rather be dead than live with his dad. And here I was on the phone with him.

Over the past few years, I’ve talked to him a few times on his visits to see my mom. Once he was contemplating opening a community center and wanted my help in setting up a 501c3. I directed him to see a lawyer. As I held the phone, I thought perhaps he was going to ask me to write a grant to help fund his venture. In my mind, there was no other possibility for why he would want to talk to me. Then he asked me to be the trustee of his estate.

I had to let that sink in for a minute, which was pretty easy to do since he never stopped talking long enough for me to answer. As a fog settled around my brain, I caught snippets of things like money in a safe deposit box, envelopes with people’s names on them in the office safe, real estate taxes, and investing something for someone to do something with sometime. I wanted to scream. I am the last person who wants to be responsible for someone else’s finances.

If you are unsure (like I was) what the role of a trustee is, let’s look at it together. According to the website for the Law Offices of John W. Callinan:

A trustee is responsible for investing and administering the assets of the trust.  A trustee can be held liable to the beneficiaries of the trust if he invests the assets of the trust in an imprudent manner. A trustee must also distribute the assets of the trust to the beneficiaries of the trust according to the terms of the trust. The role of trustee may last for several months or several decades. So, unlike an executor, a trustee may be serving in his role for a long, long time.

When he finished talking, I gave him the best answer that I could muster: I’ll think about it. In the weeks that have followed, I’ve thought about it…and thought some more…but never once have I thought about saying yes.

I can’t do this.

When my uncle dies, his wife and kids will fight over his estate. I know this because they fight over it now and he rewards (or punishes) this behavior by giving (or withholding) money. Right now, my aunt owes more than $30,000 on her credit card. This is her 3rd time in the last decade to amass this amount of consumer debt. When my uncle wants her to do something, like quit her job or move back in after a separation, he offers to pay off her debt in full. She always accepts, then racks up the debt again. Same for the younger kids, except his bribes to them are in the form of gadgets and games, which I’ve watched them purposely break in order to get newer, better ones. And the madness doesn’t stop there. In the mid-90s, before my uncle got clean, he borrowed a total of $5,000 from 3 of his siblings to make payroll for his home-improvement business. He has never repaid those debts, despite having the money to do so many times over, and he makes a special point when any of them asks for financial help to tell them that he owes them nothing because “they had no business loaning money to an addict in the first place”.

Witnessing behavior like this is part of the reason that I have such an aberrant view of money. It makes me sad and angry and sick, all at the same time, to see people abuse one another all for the sake of a green piece of paper! I can’t be his trustee. I can’t be a part of something that goes against everything I believe in, on so many levels.

I wish that I could say that this type of behavior is rare but I’m not sure that it is. I once watched two sisters fight over who was taking home more plants at their father’s funeral. I also witnessed a grandchild throw a screaming fit at a funeral visitation because her dead grandfather had left his house to his oldest son instead of her. Angie even recalls a time when her nephew told her dad that he wished he was dead so he could get his inheritance and many more times where her siblings have had serious discussions with their parents about spending up all their money. I bet if you really thought about it, you know someone like this too. I hate that we’ve come to a place in this world where the sum of someone’s life means less than what we can gain from their death.

When my mom passes, I hope that she has lived a long, happy life unconcerned about what possessions she will leave behind. I honestly hope that she has spent ever last dime that she saved for her retirement by then. Her legacy gift to me should be the time we spend together while she’s here, not an insurance policy or a safe deposit box full of cash.

I ultimately told my uncle no. I gave no explanation other than that I thought it was a lot to ask and I didn’t think that I could do it. Perhaps that’s a cop out. Perhaps I should have told him how nauseous I felt just considering it, but I doubt it would have made any difference. I am never going to change the way he thinks about money. I can only change myself, and more than anything, this incident has confirmed for me that money is the least important part of my life.

Want to know what is important? Spending time together. Be sure to keep up with out latest adventures in dating through our 48 Really Great Dates project. 

Moratorium on Micromanaging Money

I celebrated my 46th birthday this week and I celebrated it in grand style! I took the day off from work. I had almonds in my oatmeal instead of walnuts. I went to the grocery store and found a mango on the clearance rack…in a bag of organic apples, no less! I picked up my free treat from Starbucks and gave it to my mom (which made her very happy). I watched a short documentary on stuff, went for a brisk walk in the cold, and worked on a puzzle with the love of my life. I even had my favorite dinner – pizza – and a big slice of homemade birthday cake for dessert. It was epic and I’m not kidding.

You see, I connect with simple in a way that defies explanation. The fact that my mom wrapped my gift in a piece of paper that she saved from a gift she received two years ago, the fact that she took nearly 3 hours to scratch bake me a yellow cake with chocolate icing (my childhood favorite), the fact that Angie ordered our take-and-bake pizza without cheese so I could put my own non-dairy cheese on it and she used a coupon, means more to me than any elaborate birthday celebration ever could. These little things show that my family gets me and if that’s not a gift, I don’t know what is.

Now it’s time to start getting myself.

Besides taking the day off, I decided to give myself another birthday gift. I decided to call a moratorium on micromanaging our money. In looking back over the past few years, I realized that I had inadvertently given money a more powerful position in our lives than I had intended. I was spending an inordinate amount of time playing with Excel spreadsheets, envelope systems, and budgeting apps; but more importantly, we were side-hustling part of our time away and investing our income in companies that thrive off the very things we are trying to remove from our lives. This hasn’t set well with me for a long time, so I decided it was time to take some steps to reconcile it.

Thus, the moratorium. Which does not mean that I plan to be oblivious to what’s going in and out of our bank account. That would be irresponsible. It simply means that I don’t intend to obsess over money – chasing it, spending it, or saving it – until I know where it fits into our life.

To make sure I don’t break down and break out the budget apps, I’ve set all our monthly expenses to auto-draft and have allocated $510 per month for personal cash, gas, groceries/household goods, and entertainment. This will be ALL the flexible spending cash we receive, so in a way, I suppose we’re also doing a version of the no-spend year (though that was not our main intention). There will be no income-generating side hustles this year. I moved all our investments into two vehicles – our personal IRAs and U.S. savings bonds. No matter what the market does, I do not intend to manage these accounts more than once or twice this year (instead of weekly like I was doing when we owned individual stocks and ETFs).

What do I hope to accomplish by this hands-off approach to personal finance? Peace of mind. A better connection to the world outside of money. Greater resourcefulness. The pride that comes from being able to figure things out without throwing dollars at the solution. Increased contact with real people. Better bartering skills. I believe the possibilities are endless; and for as much as spreadsheets once excited me, the idea of living without one is even more exciting.

Do you have ever feel that money management plays too great a role in your life? Do you ever struggle to align your spending with your personal beliefs and values?

Less time balancing finances means more time to concentrate on what’s really important.
Be sure to keep up with our 48 Really Great Dates project!