Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Petty, Pointless Rant By An Ungrateful Daughter

On Monday I received a notice from my parents’ cable company demanding a payment of $199.73 by October 4, or else my parents’ cable and high-speed internet service would be cut off.

Before I go on about this recent incident, I’m going to unload on my parents now. I feel terrible bad-mouthing my parents in a public forum but I am adequately pissed off that I’m going to do it anyways.

About 7 years ago, my father got laid off. Fortunately, he was 65 so he already qualified for Medicare and Social Security. However, this left my mother uninsured and my father could not care less. With my insistence, my older sister, my parents and I agreed to split my mother’s private health insurance premium equally 3-ways. The deal required me to “front” my parents’ share and they would reimburse me.

Initially, the premiums weren’t that bad. But by 2006, the premium cost nearly $600/month, which meant I was fronting approx. $400/month (including my parents’ share) plus $80/month for my parents’ cable bill. (Another long story short: I previously offered to pay $40/month for my parents' cable bill after my dad, in a dementia-episode, declared he was no longer going to pay for cable TV. I offered to do this in lieu of giving them birthday/mother's day/father's day/Christmas gifts .)

In late 2006, my parents stopped reimbursing me. When I asked for reimbursement, my mother asked that I continue to cover their share for a while until the currency market improved. (My father receives a pension from a foreign company in that country’s currency.) She also mentioned they were having difficulty making ends meet because of the currency market fluctuations.

What was I supposed to do? Stop paying my mom’s health insurance? No. I stopped paying the cable bill. (Okay, I admit this was really passive-aggressive.) My parents took over the cable bill via automatic credit card payments but neglected to change the mailing address.

By early 2007, my parents owed me $1,000 and I was digging myself deeper and deeper into debt trying to make MY ends meet. (At the time, I only had $233 in my savings!)

Eventually, my sister intervened and convinced my parents to reimburse me immediately regardless of currency market conditions. My parents paid me back in full, but this incident left a bitter aftertaste. (FYI: My mom now qualifies for Medicare. Yeay! No more health care premium payments for me!)

Going back to the most recent incident, I called my mother and asked why she hadn’t paid for the cable service and she said, “We never got a bill!” (Grrrrrrr.) I then inquired why her credit card wasn’t charged and she said she cancelled the automatic bill pay service because it cost an extra $7/month, which didn’t sound right. When I told my mother the outstanding amount was $199.73, my mother asked that I cover the amount and promised she would reimburse me. This request made my blood boil because my parents don’t ever seem to take responsibility for their finances.

I immediately called the cable company and requested a change in the billing address. I inquired about the purported $7/month charge and was advised that they don’t charge for recurring credit card payments. I then set up an online account so that my parents (read: I) can access their bills online.

Surely enough, their bills do not reflect an additional $7/month charge for the automatic bill pay service. But my mother insists the charges appear on her credit card bill.

In the end, I paid the $199.73. I told my mother that since I intended to give my mom and dad $100/each for their birthdays in October, they should consider this their birthday gifts. My mother gratefully accepted.

I really don’t want to bother further with this incident but I do wonder why my parents were charged $7/month on their credit cards. Should I investigate further or should I ignore it and just let my parents handle it themselves (which they probably won’t)? I really, really, really want to put this behind me, though.


FruGal said...

I don't think you should look into the $7 thing. This may seem harsh, but it seems like they are leaning on you a bit too much, and if you continue to support them so much they might never feel like they have to do it themselves. I feel sorry for you, and have been watching a close friend go through a very similar thing with her parents (they are about to lose their house because they are so far behind in their mortgage payments. She is deciding whether she should fork up the money to get them back to even, knowing that she'll never get the money back and that she's probably only delaying the inevitable as her parents have been so terrible with money for so long, and always will be). I think it's highly unfair of your parents to act in this way. Have you and your sister sat them down and seriously explained to them that they are putting you both under financial strain? You are a very good daughter though, just make sure you aren't being taken advatnage of, especially if it means your financial goals are being pushed aside. Good luck!

FruGal said...

Oh, and don't feel like an ungrateful daughter - it's ok to have a rant every now and then!

Shtinkykat said...

Thanks! I agree about not looking further into the $7 because at some point, they have to take responsibility for themselves. I have sat together with my parents but it's been futile. For now, they're self-sufficient but I dread the day they aren't. Oh gosh. I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. It'hard but if she's putting off the inevitable, she probably shouldn't bail her parents out. :-( Good luck to your friend as well...

Abigail said...

My guess is that the alleged $7 charge doesn't exist. It might be taxes (perhaps they add up to $47 with taxes and you're mom assumed that was the cause) or perhaps she's confused and too embarrassed to investigate.

Even if the $7 charge did exist, it's not your business anymore and, like everyone said, it's time they take control of their finances.

I'm sorry things are so stressful. I can kind of relate. I don't want to rant on my own blog because my in-laws sometimes read it, but they're in a quasi-similar situation.

Right before Tim and I met 2.5 years ago, my FIL quit his job to go to the competition. He'd been miserable there for literally over a decade. So I don't begrudge him. But the competition fired him after six months, saying it "wasn't working out."

So rather than go back into the field he had two decades' experience in, he went for state-supported worker retraining to fix computers. He's in his 50s!

Meanwhile, he got his profit-sharing from the old company. After taxes it was about $80,000. They spent it. All. In under a year.

Now, about $15,000 was given away as loans to some family members, including around $3500 to Tim which we are slowly paying back. But the rest? Gone. 20 years of profit sharing. Gone.

Most of it went to refurnishing the house (all new living room furniture, new kitchen table, new $3000 fridge), a couple of trips, and mostly a lot of casino visits. A lot. They always talk about how one of them wins, but they never talk about how much the other one loses. I think they never bother to balance out the math.

Then I did their taxes at the end of the year. Turns out dear old FIL hadn't paid the 10% penalty (even though HR advised him he would need to see a CPA about it) so that year they owed $6,000. I asked FIL about it, he said, "Yeah they told me that. I guess I was hoping that the $20,000 they took out covered that." ??!!!

Oh and did I mention that, though they paid off the timeshare, they didn't pay off their mobile home's mortgage. Yeah. So then they had to sell the timeshare at a HUGE loss so that they could continue to make ends meet while he was in school.

Anyway last fall, my MIL ended up in the hospital diagnosed with congestive heart failure. So now she can't work. (She was limited anyway because she has replaced knees, but she was doing some merchandising and bringing in a little money.)

At this point, FIL got a contract position. But MIL isn't insured yet, despite a successful disability claim because Medicare doesn't kick in until 2 years after disability. And between his job and her disability, she earns too much for Medicaid. But due to health conditions and age, the state health insurance pool (the only that would take her) would be $900+ a month.

But despite all this, they started going back to casinos again when FIL got the good paying job. And before you ask, no, they haven't paid off the debt from when he was a student.

Now he's been demoted again (though it took a couple weeks before they stopped going to casinos, they kept having "one last time") and is making only $17 an hour and getting less overtime, they're back to having money troubles -- that they'll actually acknowledge, that is.

Makes you want to bang your head into a wall.

They're absolutely sweet people and I love them to death. But there are also days when I want to shake them. Very hard. Or demand they turn over control of their money to me.

Shtinkykat said...

Abigail: That's an incredible (and depressing) story about your in-laws! I find it ironic that the more people's finances are in disarray, the more likely they do something irresponsible like going further into debt or gambling. (I would know!) You and I may actually do our parents (or in-laws) a favor by shaking them and taking control of their finances. But it's clear that you and I have our hands full with our own finances. Ay, ay, ay.

Christine said...

And hence all these lessons are teaching us what not to do! Hence, we will come out the winners.

I agree with frugal, they are leaning on you a bit to much. Taking for granted the "hand that feeds them".

But, I can understand feeling guilty as a daughter, too. But, this is your life, too. Take hold of the reigns. Perhaps they will learn from your strength and financial control you have. Well, perhaps.

I know this parent thing and no control over their finances (btw, abigail... I am sorry you IL are not playing the wrong route and you have to deal w/ their weaknesses cuz your family). My mother is terrible with money and owes like a $100K in consumer debt. Yup, credit cards, auto loans, and social security that she knowingly collected as she knew she didn't qualify for it anylonger. They caught her!

And we wonder why the economy is in shambles!

Well, here is the new generation of 20 - 30 years olds proving to take financial control! :)

Good luck with your situation. Oh ya, and with the other situation you face in a couple of weeks. I really do wish you the strength to pull through!

Shtinkykat said...

Thank you Christine. Oy vey re: your mom. I hope she will allow you to assist her in digging herself out of the hole. But as they say, you can only lead a horse to water...

I'm so glad I started my blog. The encouragement and comments given by fellow bloggers help me cope with my financial struggles and tribulations. Viva PF bloggers!

Penny said...

I am really glad you are not letting your parents dig a hole in your finances any longer! If anyone digs that hole, it should be you!

Donna Freedman said...

This family/money thing is a really tough gig. I'm sorry that your parents were so passive about paying for things. It reminds me of a couple of tenants in the building I manage. One day it was revealed by the electric company that these young women had never had the electricity put in their own names, even though at the time they signed the lease, they agreed to do so.
For almost two years they'd gotten free juice; when a tenant moves out, the power goes back into the building's name. The new owners of the building never noticed.
When I went up to talk to the young women, they were ultra-casual about it. Why didn't you put the power in your own name? "Oh, we meant to." You just never got around to doing it? "No." In almost two years time? "No."
Your parents may be suffering from the same "maybe nobody will notice" syndrome. Maybe if we don't say anything, she'll keep paying our bills. Maybe if we ignore the fact that we owe money, it will all go away somehow.
I agree that the $7 charge sounds bogus. But I'd leave it. Just get your name off the account and try, as hard as it may be, to stop enabling them.
Or how about this: You and your sibs say, ever so sweetly, "Times are tough right now, so if we're going to have to keep subsidizing you it will hurt us and our own retirements. You're going to have to learn to live on what you have."
Then do it, and make it stick. You could always take turns mailing them grocery-store gift cards -- but at irregular intervals. Don't let them get to depending on it.
That's my tough-love solution. Of course, I've never been in this situation so I really don't know what works and what doesn't.
I wish you luck. Again: One mean, uncomfortable dynamic here.