Don’t put your goals on hold for someone else

Family problems can hold you back

Financial success is more than Buy Low and Sell High

Coming up on the one year anniversary of my Mother-in-law’s death.   It’s a bitter-sweet time for me.  I had known my MIL for more than 30 years.

I can hear some questions flying now….”What the hell does this have to do with personal finance?”  The answer: Everything.

This post also relates to the theme of some of my goals for this site.  They include sharing some of my own life lessons.  That includes how some life events have hindered parts of my financial progress over the years.  There’s a lot more to personal finance than simply saving more than you spend.  A lot of the financial sites that I follow, involve a husband and wife team, or partners.  I honestly believe that divorce is one of the biggest single financial setbacks someone can endure. Many people often never recover financially from a divorce. So I think it’s best to address these types of issues, up front, before they become bigger problems.

In the process of clearing out much of our paperwork that related to my MIL, my wife came across some legal documents and eviction notices.  They were dated from the Summer and Fall of 1989.  About 6 months before we were to get married in 1990.

At points during the time I had known my Mother-in-law or future Mother-in-law, she had been a sometimes heavy, sometimes raging alcoholic.  She ended up cleaning up her act for the last 10 years of her life, but not her selfish and manipulative attitude.  She also coupled her drinking with a 3-pack a day smoking habit.  This left her final 10 years, debilitated with COPD and the need to lug around oxygen tanks.   She couldn’t walk from the couch to the bathroom, without her oxygen.

Seeing that eviction paper work, brought back that sinking feeling that I remember so well from all those years ago.

Don’t think people are going to change, or that you can change them

I was always hopeful that my MIL would “figure it out”.  But in truth, she was divisive and selfish, right up to her dying day.  She ended up moving to California to live with my wife’s brother, after we did a lot of leg work and paperwork to see if it might be more practical for her to live closer to us.  All of those efforts were for naught when she decided that the sunshine of the West coast was better suited for her.  No sooner than 30 to 40 days after that move, we would receive desperate phone calls from her with her arguing with her son and both of them screaming and ultimately making my wife feel like crap.

This type of situation had been replayed every year or two for the 30 years I had known her.  There was never a single holiday where she didn’t feel like she was either slighted or deserved more attention.  I lost a lot of friends and relatives that I truly cared about during those 30 years.

Sooner or later, we all run out of time, but don’t make that be part of your end game plan.  I’ve a lot of time to reflect on that in the year and a half that I’ve taken as my personal sabbatical.

Don’t expect people to do the right thing

There were always a number of players in the tragedy that could have pulled more of their own weight.  The ex-husband, the common-law husband, who was married to someone else. Other brother’s, other sisters, or maybe even my MIL herself.  We didn’t always end up bailing her out, but it created an inordinate amount of extra stress in our lives and definitely our financial life.  It would always amaze me, that my MIL would always have an attitude that she alone, snatched herself from the jaws of destruction.   Or, her stubbornness in not keeping her mouth shut during sensitive situations.

It was always a challenge, and that eviction notice, took me back to remembering a young couple, just starting out at only 23 years old, trying to save for a down payment on a house, and her with her hand out. In your financial life, there might come a time when you really need to make some tough decisions and there should be some limits and boundaries established.

People don’t want to hear about your personal sacrifices

I don’t want a medal for my efforts, but a Thank you from her would have been nice.  I always said, through those years, that I felt like I was the victim of a “drive by shooting”.  I’d go over my FIL’s house (her Ex) and found little in the way of comfort or advice.  Same with even my own Mother, who grew up in a similar environment.  I also just wish people wouldn’t sugar-coat the story or the memory of bad-actors in this life long drama.  Again, don’t hold your breath.

In a really big way, both me and my wife sacrificed so much for my MIL.  It definitely had a very big monetary cost that will never be recovered.  A lot of young people today, live with the possibility of having a windfall of real estate equity if their parents decide to leave them some type of inheritance.  That formula can be reversed very easily if you don’t keep your eyes wide open.

Start the dialog early

It’s better to have clear conversations up front about what your level of commitment will be, as both a couple and individuals.   My wife doesn’t drive, so whenever it was required that we visit my MIL, I was automatically hooked into a commitment.  That created more than a few arguments over the years.

I was brought up in a close-knit family, so I felt a certain level of duty and responsibility, but it went well beyond what was ever required of me, from my own parents.  We tried our best to be the peacemakers and the go-betweens in countless situations.  It was never enough.  In a big way, I now feel like I’ve put my life on hold for the last 30 years and in some ways am only now starting to live.   Or, more accurately, live unencumbered.  I’m documenting this, with the hope that someone that might need advice, will read this.

My Father was not alive when I got married, so I didn’t have any role model that could provide some time tested wisdom.    When it comes to your personal goals, whether they are financial or others, don’t be a hero.  Think for the long term and be realistic about how much your’re willing to give up.  Today, couples seem a bit more independent as individuals.  Therefore, it’s possible this is less of an issue, but it deserves some consideration. Especially if you’re working as a team to build financial independence.

I highly recommend this 25 year landmark study book.  The Legacy of Divorce. For anyone even tangentially involved with someone who has been involved in a divorce.  It’s a great place to start the conversation.

Do you have one person that seems to be hindrance to achieving your financial goals?