Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: My husband, “Rob,” is terrible with money, and he knows it. Before we got married, he declared bankruptcy because he was deep in credit card debt, amassed from his previous marriage and nasty divorce. With a clean slate, and my example and input (I’m a CPA and great with my finances), Rob swore he’d do better. Three years later, Rob now tells me he owes over $8,000 on maxed-out credit cards with high interest rates. He would like to use my low-interest home equity loan to pay off the debts, repaying me over time. I love Rob and know he will make the regular payments. However, he refuses to cut up his credit cards once the balances have been paid off. Rob wants financial privacy, where the wife isn’t peeking in, so sharing a credit card with me is not an option. I understand his need for financial autonomy. Rob has a lot of emotional baggage from his last marriage, where he felt controlled by his high-earning ex-wife, so when I try to enforce any hard-and-fast money rules, it doesn’t go over well. I want to be helpful, but I do not want to enable him by freeing up credit that he can max out again. We live in a community property state, so it’s in my best interest in the long run to help him, right? Should I? — Overextended Wife
DEAR OVEREXTENDED: “Rob” is asking for a lot and offering nothing in return.
I’m no CPA, but that doesn’t seem like a very good deal — financially or relationally. If Rob is so desperate for a bailout, then why doesn’t he agree to make some changes?
He has already had one clean slate, courtesy of the bankruptcy courts. Now he is seeking another bankruptcy (where his debts are wiped clean, at no cost to him).
Rob should cut up his cards and move to all-cash or one very low-limit card, and pay off his own debts the way he plans to repay you — a little at a time. His version of “financial autonomy” is really just having the freedom to plunge himself into debt without your knowledge.
You should approach this as if Rob has an addiction. He should seek professional help (not from you) and also a support group or recovery program such as Debtors Anonymous (recovery.org). And, because he seems to have cast you in the same role as his previous wife, you two should see a marriage counselor.
DEAR AMY: I have two adult children, one with two children and one who is pregnant with her first. Their father died before the grandchildren were born. I have been married to their stepfather, “Mark,” for many years. They have not always had a great relationship, but I thought it had improved. I have asked the kids to call him “Grandpa Mark.” The oldest grandchild said, “My mom told me not to call him that because he is not really my grandfather.” I acknowledged that and said that Grandpa Mark loves him just as if they were his own. When gifts are given, the children are told they come from me, with no mention of Mark, even with him in the room. The grandchildren act loving toward him. I have talked to my children and told them that I think that it is unjust to treat Mark this way. Calling him Grandpa Mark is not taking away from their deceased father’s memory. Am I wrong? It really has me upset, and Baby No. 3 will be here soon. — A Name is Meaningful
DEAR NAME: Don’t pressure the young children about this. Maybe “Mark” can work with them to come up with a different nickname just for him. He should communicate with them independently of you: signing cards, giving them gifts that come from only him and sharing his own photos, stories and history with them in order to build a unique relationship.
Your grown children are not behaving well. You should express to them that you are sorry the situation isn’t what they would have designed, but Mark is your husband and is a grandparent to these children alongside you. They need to get on board.
DEAR AMY: I enjoyed the letter from “Can’t Afford It,” who was on a budget, while her friends were spenders. Her friends might be enjoying themselves, but I bet they’re in debt too. — Thrifty
DEAR THRIFTY: I think you’re probably right.