Dear Mary: My husband and I became debt-free this year! Hallelujah! Your articles have played a part in our journey. Recently, you answered a letter in your Everyday Cheapskate column where you advised that there is no way to debt-proof your parents. That was a very timely column for us.
I have a follow-up question: How do we handle parents who are placing monetary expectations on us? My mother-in-law dropped off bills for us to pay, my father asked us to pay for plane tickets, and my parents asked us to house them until they are able to find jobs and housing due to their out-of-state move. How do we respond to such demands and set boundaries that will not derail our own financial plan? -- Maria, Texas
Dear Maria: Congratulations on this awesome accomplishment of paying off your debt! I am so proud of you.
For some reason, your collective parents believe that not only are you quite wealthy, they are entitled to share in that wealth. Here's the problem: As long as they believe this and you respond in ways that confirm it, no matter what you do for them, it will never be enough. You have a serious case of ADS (advanced doormat syndrome) and need to stop it immediately. It's time to start treating them with tough love.
The first word you need to learn to say is "No," followed by no apologies or further explanation.
"No, Mom, we will not be paying these bills, so I need to hand these back to you."
"No, Dad, you'll need to purchase those tickets yourself."
"No, it is not convenient for you to move in with us, but we'll be happy to help you find a short-term rental that fits your budget while you search for jobs."
Setting boundaries is mandatory and not difficult. It's enforcing those boundaries that can be challenging. But if you learn to communicate clearly -- leaving nothing open-ended and no room for loopholes -- you'll be fine.
"We'd love to welcome you to our home on Thursday the 10th. We'll let you pick up a rental car at the airport and have dinner with us that evening, and then we will say goodbye on Friday afternoon."
In case you're wrestling with feelings of guilt, understand that guilt is the proper response when you've done something wrong. You have done nothing wrong here, so there is no reason for you to feel guilty. You are doing this for their own good -- not to harm them, but to help them remain financially independent.
By staying out of debt, working toward paying off your home and saving for retirement now (rather than supporting your extended family), you are making sure that you will never become a financial burden to your kids. That's the gift you want to give.
It's going to take a lot of tough love on your part, and I know you can do it.
Do you have a question for Mary? Email her at email@example.com, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.