I’m 29 years old, living with my parents, my older sister and my niece.
My mother stopped work when she gave birth to me, so she’s pretty much been a housewife all her life. My father is that wonderful combination of breadwinner and financial abuser (i.e, he has enough money to buy expensive shoes and perfumes for himself, but asking him for money so we can have food and power supply is like talking to a wall), so when things are down, it falls to my sister and me to pick up the slack when it comes to money. My sister just started a new job, and I’m still entry-level at the job I’ve had for nearly three years.
The thing is, it usually falls to me to pick up the financial burden. I’m asked to pay the cable, the internet, the groceries etc all the time. I’ve asked my sister for both of us to split the bills, but she doesn’t agree. And when I ask my mother to talk to her, her preferred method is to placate me rather than talk to my sister. Usually, this means that I’m counting every cent until payday because I don’t have a lot for myself. Despite this, anytime I buy food/toiletries for myself, I’m expected to share with the two of them. I plan out my groceries and needs for the month, and I literally cannot afford to be replacing items if they finish earlier than expected.
I need help saying no, especially to my sister. Every time I try to be firm, I’m called ‘selfish’ and ‘I used to be so nice’ and ‘we’re family, so we share everything.’ I don’t think it’s selfishness to want to let my personal groceries last as long as possible, especially when I can barely afford to look after myself, and especially when my sister won’t do anything. I’m at that point where I’m seriously considering buying a small cupboard/fridge, putting it in my room and keeping everything locked up when I’m not home. What should I do?
– Not Selfish
Dear Not Selfish,
I don’t think it’s weird to ask adult children who live at home to contribute to household finances, but I don’t think it’s okay for your sister or your mom to pressure you to share your scarce resources or to call you mean and selfish when you won’t or to enforce a rule like “we’re family, we share everything, which means you share everything and I share nothing.” Them ganging up on you to keep you in line (instead of working out a fair, transparent agreement) is where this stops being a story about the women in the family helping each other survive an abusive man and becomes about a sick system replicating itself.
Your letter describes your sister as an antagonist, but what if she is someone whose example could be useful to you? By which I mean, she has learned how to say “no” to paying the family bills. And what happened? The sky didn’t fall. The key to resisting the kind of manipulation your mom is throwing at you is to accept her insult of your character. By typecasting you as “selfish” or “unkind” your mom manipulates you to prove that you aren’t selfish (by doing what she wants you to do). To turn the tables on her, agree with her assessment of your character, and then refuse to do the thing you don’t want to do. For example:
“Yes, I’m selfish! Also, I can’t pay the cable bill this month, so you’ll have to figure something else out.”
“I used to be very nice! Not so much anymore. Also, those are my groceries, and they need to last me the whole month, so don’t eat them.”
See also the “sorry you feel that way” non-apology, which, in my opinion, can be used FREELY with manipulative people. “Sorry you feel that way, Mama, I’m doing the best I can, and I can’t afford to cover that bill anymore. I hope you can work something else out.”
Go ahead and get containers that lock if you want to. Your mom and sister will throw a fit. You will be called terrible names, probably. But your dad didn’t get kicked out of the family for being an asshole. Your mom hasn’t gone back to work at any time in the past 20 years and she has a say in how the household is run (no doubt a complicated set of decisions, but, she has found a survival strategy). Your older(!) sister gets to say no to financial manipulation without the same pushback you’re getting. So, why not you? Either the cable will get turned off (and they’ll manage) or someone will figure out how to pay it (and they’ll manage). It’s far from an easy or uncomplicated thing that I’m suggesting, because it involves realizing that your family situation is messed up and deciding how much their opinion of you gets to matter to you. It means swimming against a current of powerful emotional and cultural messages. It means being even more uncomfortable in your own home than you already are. Only you can figure out what it’s worth to you – is it cheaper to pay with money, as you have been doing, or is it worth kicking yourself free of your abusive dad’s way of living even if you can’t take everyone with you right now?
My big question for you is, how much longer do you plan to live in this house? How many generations does your dad get to financially control and keep dependent on him? If I were to say, “Is it time to find a roommate and a cheap place of your own where you decide the rules?” I sense that question would unleash a flood of automatic resistance from you. “But I can’t afford it.” (Maybe you can’t…yet….but if you paid less to household bills maybe you could save up?) “But if I move out, my mom won’t be able to survive without me.” (She will, tho.) “But I owe them!” (Do you owe them every minute and every dollar for the rest of your life?) How much of that resistance is you talking, and how much of that is your family, who would like to keep you stuck in their financial dysfunction? I feel like the effort you would put into trying to change your mother and sister’s minds and hearts might be better spent rolling with their insults for now while you take care of yourself – with locks, with the word “no,” with savings, with a plan to get out of that place by the end of the year.
In fact, before you pay one more bill at home, maybe it’s time to open a bank account that your family doesn’t know about and start your G-T-F-O-Fund.
152 thoughts on “#840: “I need help saying no to my family about finances.””
Time to apply the Sheelzebub Principle.
My thought, too, reading this, was “why haven’t you moved out?” You have an entry-level job, which is a job. If your finances are anything like they are in my house, where my father does the “I make most of the money, control nearly all” thing to a lesser extent, then you probably have a great cable package, unlimited internet, your family probably eats a lot of meat, even from an entry-level job, you should still have money left over after that. If you don’t, it sounds like they have expensive habits, and if you moved out, if you budget well, you will be pretty well fine.
I really don’t like these assumptions about LW’s family cable plan or “How rich they are.” LW said themselves they do not have much money. And an entry level job does not equal a living wage.
Depends on where LW lives. In some places the cost of rent really is utterly prohibitive, even with a steady job, whereas a mortgage for people who’ve lived there for some time is much more manageable. This is often the reason why people end up living with parents when they don’t want to. I’m not saying it’s impossble, but it likely comes down to a bigger issue than just careful budgeting. In the area where I live many many single people are unable to find a place they can afford. If the LW is still there in spite of everything, I’m guessing there are good reasons for that.
Absolutely! Also…if the LW is in an area where she prefers to stay and there aren’t any rentals available. I lived with my husband and 2 kids in a room in my mother’s basement for what felt like way too long because there weren’t any rentals available in our area at all. We refused to move out of the town for a variety of reasons so we suffered in silence in that basement room until one became available.
The LW may also be facing cultural barriers to living separately — there are a lot of questions we could ask nicely before we do the “why haven’t you moved out” harangue?
Instead of why, I like CA’s thinking of “What can you do to move out?” Why is a question about the unchangeable past. What is an action plan for the future =)
+1. And, “What can you do to move out?” can include stuff that is related to emotions and coping, like, “Before I move out I need to find a therapist so I can have support for all the guilt trips my family will subject me to.”
“If your finances are anything like they are in my house”
It’s unwise to assume that the finances in the LW’s house are are anything like they are in your house. But in that case, why haven’t you moved out?
LW says explicitely in the letter that they have to pay for groceries/cable bill/internet and that Dad just buys stuff for himself, so it seems like their situation is very different from yours in that those basic things are not provided.
Sorry, your thought is “you have an entry-level job, OBVIOUSLY you should have money left over after paying for a great cable package, unlimited internet, high-price groceries for a family of four, and the unspecified etc (which based on the first paragraph quite likely includes utilities)”?
Followed by the thought that “an entry-level job is absolutely enough for one person to live on by themselves, it’s not like there are places in North America where the market is so warped that rent runs into four digits for a bedroom in someone else’s house”?
(Not that LW is necessarily even from North America.)
LW, you’re in a situation that will keep you financially dependent upon them. I’d follow the Captain’s advice, but I’d also look for accommodation elsewhere. Is it affordable for you to live somewhere if you share the home with others? And if your friends aren’t looking for roommates, would you be open to looking at ads searching for roommates? Yes, it will be tight financially but it will beat the hell out of the stress you’re already under.
I did pay rent when I lived with my folks after college, and it’s one thing if they ask you to pay a certain amount towards bills OR ask you to cover one bill that comes in. I get that. That is reasonable. But this isn’t what you’re being asked to do.
I do not see this situation improving. If you stay, you will be perpetually broke (because making more money means their demands on you will grow larger) and unable to be financially secure. You’re an adult now, and it’s not okay for other grown adults to keep you from being independent. Your father is the main problem here with his financial abuse, however, he’s not a problem you can solve. If you can do it, get out. If you can’t do it right away, start researching housing options, commuting costs, etc., and start taking steps do move out.
Oh shit, actual Sheelzebub is here.
So very much this. I can’t see any way that living in a shared house with some students (for example) could be *worse* than what you have right now, and depending on where you live a room in a shared house can be very reasonable (and comes with utilities/etc pre-divided).
There are situations wherein “people of the same family club together and contribute what they can to a mutual living situation”; this is not it. This is you being taken advantage of.
if they ask you to pay a certain amount towards bills
I was thinking of this as a possible interim strategy too. LW, one of the really dysfunctional things about the situation that you’re in is never knowing when you’re going to be next asked for money. One of the things that might give you more control is setting the amount of money that you’re going to give to your mother every month, and then you can repeat, “But I already gave you the $150 we agreed to?” Even if it’s slightly more than what you’re currently giving (though ideally it should be somewhat less!), having it as a fixed outgoing makes it much easier to plan around.
(This can actually work both ways: being the askee kept on varying amounts of money can also be a very disempowering situation. When I was a teenager, I got a fixed allowance annually and also had a job. I didn’t have much money, but I knew exactly how much I had and that it was mine to spend. My then-boyfriend got more money from his mum than I got, but it was done on a “here’s some money, ask for more when you’ve spent it” principle. When he asked for more, he got questions about how come he’d spent that much and what had he spent it on, so there were lots of times when despite being theoretically richer than me he’d be reluctant to spend money on something because it would mean asking for more and having to justify it. Fixed incomes and outgoings are often mentally much more easy! )
I think given the amount she has contributed to the household thus far, the best plan is to just refuse going forward. If you have to “earn” living with your parents, surely she’s already done so.
I completely agree that she’s entitled to do that, but she may not feel able to withdraw her financial consideration entirely. Setting a specific figure on how much she gives could be a useful midway-point whilst she works out a moving-house plan.
I just worry that these people have already offered ample evidence that they regard anything LW says as a starting point and that LW being reasonable is just going to lend spurious legitimacy to their continued demands. (Apologies, LW, for using female pronouns above! Advice is the same regardless.)
This. So much this.
My husband said I could ask for whatever money I needed for bills, but, I hated asking for money(or anything, really. I have gotten a little better about asking for what I need) and so I spent my savings down first before I asked,many only asked for the barest minimum. In hindsight a budget and a regular amount would have been so much better.
… or a shared bank account so in a shared-income, partnered relationship the income-earner’s contributions aren’t considered green light for total control of family finances…
If you’re interested, I absolutely love this Katharine Whitehorn article from the 1960s about how much more power there is in an allowance than one-off requests:
(Whitehorn is a British journalist who is now in her eighties and still writing and publishing! )
(Also, the last time I linked this to someone, she said it was very interesting but her husband would never go for it hahaha, and then a year or two later I found out they’d split up. So. Read with caution, I guess?)
Jenna, I find your situation very concerning. I’ve been the homemaker in my marriage, and the homemaker is working for the comfort of the family. You deserve equal access to the family finances. My husband and I have joint access to our bank accounts and investments. It took about 10 minutes at the bank with our marriage license to set up.* You are married. You have shared credit, shared financial responsibilities, and, in many cases, shared financial liability. You have just as much right to have access to the accounts as your husband. There are plenty of different setups for different personal preferences regarding money, but unless you ASKED your husband to control your access to money because you’ve had spending problems in the past, you shouldn’t be having to ask him for money for household expenses or for yourself. That’s a recipe for marital disaster and possibly abuse. It’s a very good idea to have an open, regular dialogue with your husband regarding expenses, budgets, investments, etc. I hope you and your husband can design an equitable system that works for you. There is plenty of advice out there on the Internet regarding deciding how to deal with money as a married couple. You should check it out!
*I realize I’m privileged to live in a country with relatively equitable laws regarding gender and marriage. Other countries are less equitable.
Heck, I’m not even married to my partner, and it took all of about 15 minutes on the phone to set up a joint bank account with him. In my previous relationship, we kept our finances separate, (mostly because he had terrible impulse control and I was scared to give that guy any access to my money), and it took us so. much. time. every month to coordinate our budget and how much we were spending on what and who was paying for what and whether it was equitable and all that.
Now it’s simple. Each of us has 60% of our paycheck direct deposited to our joint account. Rent and utilities are set up on autopay from that account. Shared expenses like groceries, household supplies, and eating out come out of that account. Both of us can see all the spending that the other does, and we look it over every few months together to make sure that we’re staying within budget. So not only does a joint account make you less vulnerable to financial manipulation and abuse, it is also just way more convenient than asking your husband for money multiple times a month to take care of routine expenses.
Marriage does not merge credit histories. If the couple applies for something jointly, like a house, both credit histories are checked out, but there is no shared credit. It works this way even if the couple is not married – my (now) husband and I bought a house before marriage and we both had to provide credit histories simply because we were both putting our names down as the owner.
Marriage also doesn’t legally give one the ‘right to have access’ to their spouse’s account without some justified legal work first. If they did, nothing would be able to stop an abuser from draining their spouse’s (possibly hidden) savings.
Yes, I, too, am troubled by the idea that the non-income-earning spouse/partner would need to ask for money. The stay at home spouse is neither an employee nor a child.
It’s a partnership. Unless one of the partners has horrible money habits, then – trust your partner to manage money responsibly and to work with you to meet your common financial goals.
I know it’s hard – my husband and I had the Money Conversation after we got serious and it was so much harder than the Sex Conversation. But I was not about to marry someone who might be profligate with money, so we talked about how much he earned (I was unemployed at the time) and how much we each had in savings. (Neither of us had debt.) I already had a good idea of how he spent money – I would not have stayed with someone who was wasteful. I have worked too hard for my money to let someone else spend it in a way I don’t like!
Once we got married, we merged everything.
Good point about the increased demands as her salary increases. One possibility is to find some sort of hostel, maybe a YWCA, to live in for a month or two while she saves up a bit of money.
I agree with the Captain’s advice. You’ll likely get a lot of pushback via emotional manipulation, and they’ll ramp it up when they see it’s not working. They’re comfortable, and they don’t want things to change. You’re not happy, though, and you are important and valuable and you deserve to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Keep that in mind and be strong, as uncomfortable and difficult as it is. My mother eventually stopped with the emotional manipulation when I kept agreeing with her and she couldn’t make me upset, although she got upset. (Which, honestly, was pretty damn funny, even if I could only laugh in my head or later.)
It will be hard. It will also be worth it. You have to take care of yourself, because obviously they’re not concerned with your happiness. If that means getting locking storage, having your own secret bank account, and/or getting out, do it. I can tell you from the other side that it’s totally, totally worth it. It’s amazing waking up in the morning and not dreading what will happen that day, not worrying if I have enough food or if someone decided that whatever’s mine is theirs (and whatever’s theirs is theirs too), not dreading an interaction where they ask for more than I’m willing to give and being guilted if I don’t accede to their demands (which they are, just more politely worded).
*jedi hugs* If you feel like you don’t have enough money to move out, by the way, there’s usually some sort of budgeting/financial planning class or consultant available for free through your town or city, or through various crisis helplines, I think. Failing that, a trusted friend (who is NOT a friend of your mother, sister, or family as a whole) could help you figure it out.
Hi, LW. It sounds like you have 4 people living on two salaries, plus abusive dad who may or may not be paying for things as his whims declare. I second the “long term goal: get your own space” goal, but in the short term, would it help to write out a strict budget with mom and sis? There are someone free tools (a friend really loves You Need A Budget; i personally just use an excel template i put together) and it might help get conversations going. And then you get to say, “sorry, mom, its not in the budget for this month”.
Also, a locking fridge can be great. A relative in a situation where he was worried about stability also used to keep his cash in there, along with food. Lockboxes are fine, but also portable: they can walk away. Fridges are heavier.
To some degree, we’re trying to offer advice lacking important information, and this is the case because that information impacts the viability of LW leaving, which is the strong majority opinion concerning what to do moving forward. (We’re mostly not looking at strategies to help LW stay in a dysfunctional situation; if LW truly CANNOT leave, we may also be more helpful by pivoting focus from exit strategies to coping strategies.)
LW, if you’re reading, do you feel able/comfortable sharing your location (city + country), personal income, and perhaps ethnic background (especially if it isn’t the dominant ethnicity in your area) or just noting specific cultural barriers you are or would be facing regarding moving out of this house? We would be able to offer more specific advice on steps necessary to get out with that information.
I’ve had friends in situations similar to this, and they solved them by flipping their abusive family members the finger, leaving, and crashing on friends’ couches for a few months while working on getting resituated and figuring out a more long-term housing arrangement. They were able to do so becasue that’s not an altogether unusual path in my area and social sphere, and the biggest barrier was that many lessors required parents to co-sign lease agreements for young adults (this was right after high school – it wouldn’t apply to a 29-year-old like you, LW, but there may of course be other systemic barriers that do; just know that many of these are indeed surmountable, especially with some support from friends). They also, of course, had friends, and more than that, friends who were not ourselves destitute (none of us were particularly well-off, but many of us had steady income, even if it was at or close to minimum wage) and were willing to help.
My point is that the ease of taking steps to leave and what’s even POSSIBLE are going to be different in different places and at different wage levels and with different degrees of available non-family social support. I wish you well, and if you’re comfortable sharing more details, I and others can likely add to the great general/scattered information/suggestions that both The Captain and other commenters have already provided.
Lock boxes can be screwed to something immovable, from the inside, and then locked shut. At least, my Sentry fire-safe box can; there are little holes for the screws. So you could screw it to the floor of the closet and lock it shut.
If you don’t want to go screwing stuff to other stuff, it might also be worth looking into a Kingston lock. They’re basically bike locks for laptops, but you can use them with anything that you can put a loop through, and they’re nigh unbreakable. They cost about £25.
Start your GTFO Fund ASAP.
You deserve better LW. I promise, having been there, that the shittiest, lyingest* housemate, or ending up homeless and couch surfing for a year, is not as bad as being abused by your family.
I left in January 2004, and have never gone back. They insisted I’d be nothing without them but, funnily enough, gaining mental clarity, and physical, emotional, and mental strength, is surprisingly fucking easy when you’ve got enough to eat, and you aren’t freezing cold all the time. Growing into your own gloriously free person is almost automatic, or so it seemed to me, when nobody is gaslighting you, shaming you, and draining you of your money and your life.
Jedi power hugs, and the firm hope that you too can one day look back on it all, and say “I am who I am despite my family, not because of them.
*that’s on purpose, I can English, it’s just for comedic porpoises. 😀
Big Pink: It could have been me writing this 25 years ago. I walked out of my 13 year marriage with my kid (4), my car (a ten year old Toyota), my cat and our clothes. I remember calling my best friend in a panic at the end of the first month because I had $300 in my checking account and I thought I had forgotten to pay a bill somewhere. I just knew that if the power got cut off, Kiddlie and I would end up at the Salvation Army homeless shelter. After going over all my bills with me, dear BF got the honor of telling me “nope, you paid everything. That’s what’s left. Now you can put new tires on your car.” Turns out, there had always been enough money to live on, if the ex hadn’t been taking it, spending it, telling me there was never enough so I would go get another job. The freedom I have felt every moment since that one has been glorious. The only downside? That knowledge turned what had been a fairly amicable split into a full-blown hatred for my ex. He’s dead now so the point and the win go to Team Me!
It takes guts and a half to do what you did, and I’m sure your kid is far better off than they would have been. One relaxed, loving parent beats two people who are just sick of each other.
I had to stay in my parents house until I was 25, because I’d developed a serious neurological issue. They treated me at 25 how they’d treated me as a kid.
Like the LW (and far too many commented) last week, my parents used to wait till I was out, often with my mother at church, and just blitz my room, tearing it apart until I had nothing but a place to sleep, carpet, and curtains. Books were disposed of, toys taken away, posters ripped from my walls, and anything remotely personal was read first, then binned. When I was older my dad thought nothing of taking my video and cassette tapes, and just taping over them, all while calling me all sorts of mental illness related slurs when I protested, and claiming he’d done no such thing.
There there was the complete lack of privacy (including opening my mail!), witholding/obsessive monitoring of food, mental and physical abuse, health-related abuse, and just… Ugh. Leaving saved my life. My lifetime of crippling depression lifted after 19 years, I lost the urge to self injure, and my newfound confidence led me to the arms of the love of my life. Never looked back. My bro has been bouncing in and out of their house since he was 18, and he’s 36 now. He also said I’d never make it, that I’d end up living with my parents forever… The joke’s on him now!
That’s not even an okay way to treat a kid! You are so awesome for surviving through and past that.
LW, this really isn’t about your family being able to pay the bills.This is about your family abusing you emotionally and financially. They are using pretend rules (‘not paying bills is selfish!’) that only apply to YOU, but mysteriously do not apply to Dad or Sis. That’s because the real rules are unfair and cruel, and if they openly said “It’s easier to browbeat you into paying bills than to challenge Dad, and it also keeps you dependent on us”, it would be so much harder to get you to go along with them.
I hope you are able to get to a better place, LW. That you know this is not OK and want to change things is so huge and brave – it is enormously hard to get to that point from inside a toxic emotional hurricane.
“this really isn’t about your family being able to pay the bills.This is about your family abusing you emotionally and financially.”
Seconding this hugely. A friend of mine spent the summer after university living at home, working seven days a week to scrape together money so that the following year, she wouldn’t have to rely on her parents. They desperately wanted to prevent her from having that independence–for whatever reasons of their own, not my place to psychoanalyze–and eventually found a method, which in their case was issuing her a “fine” for breaking a household rule. Both the rule and the supposed breach were nonsense, but it didn’t matter: they ended up with almost every penny she earned all summer, and she was beholden to them for another long stretch of time.
People who want to force you into dependence and keep you from leaving their immediate orbit have all kinds of methods for doing it, and they’ll use whatever works. The pretend rules will always change to somehow, however, prevent you from detangling from them. Please please please reach out to people who can help you deal with that–staying or leaving or something in between, you deserve a really strong Team You, OP.
“That’s because the real rules are unfair and cruel, and if they openly said ‘It’s easier to browbeat you into paying bills than to challenge Dad, and it also keeps you dependent on us’, it would be so much harder to get you to go along with them.”
It WOULD be much harder to get the LW to go along if that is the framing, but based on my experience I suspect the people involved would also rather not admit to themselves that that’s what’s actually going on. People in difficult situations can convince themselves of a lot of things that would seem nuts to people on the outside.
Oh, I’m sure they are lying to themselves as well. But the real, underlying rules here are ‘do as we tell you and stay dependent’. The stuff about supporting the family and sharing are the fake rules.
Yes to moving out with room-mates. Room-mates have their own set of challenges and sometimes take advantage of each other, but at least they don’t get to play the “But we’re faaamily!!” card, so you can either kick them out or move to another room-mate situation if you want to.
I really don’t see how living in shared accommodation could be any more expensive than having to pay for cable and groceries for at least four other people besides yourself.
I shared accommodation you’d be paying for your share of rent and utilities(maybe about 2/3s, maybe half), and only enough groceries for you and you alone.
It may also be possible to rent a room in a shared house, which is less of a roommate situation, but is definitely intended to be temporary while you get back on your feet. These places advertise weekly rates and often allow a hotplate, mini-fridge and electric kettle in your room. It is likely you’ll still have to share a communal bathroom, and there may also be a communal “TV room” and kitchen. The bonus is that there’s no long-term lease and it is generally cheaper than a motel stay. Just another idea.
LW, what if you sat down – by yourself – and worked out what you thought a fair monthly/per cheque contribution was, and then either handed it to your Mom as a lump sum or brought it home in stuff/paid the bills you decide to prioritize?
This fair contribution should not be so high that it stops you saving to move, or prevents you having nice things. Advantage to them: they know what you’re going to put in, and nobody ever has to ask you for money. (They may not see this as advantageous.)
Advantage to you: you know what you’re going to put in and nobody *gets* to ask you for money. And it gives you a script: “Sorry, I’ve already put in what I’m going to put in.”
And yes, get the fridge/cupboard.
This won’t fix the mess. They will still be as they are. It’s only meant to help you survive it and get away.
Hi LW. This is a tough spot, and you need to get out of it. All advice I’m giving assumes that you live in a culture that allows young people to move out on their own (even if your subculture doesn’t–I know all about that, I grew up in a cult), so if that’s not the case, it’s probably going to be less useful. Nonetheless, here is my advice. The first step is to stop paying any household bills. Sock that money away in a totally separate account in a different bank than you/your family uses, one that uses a verbal password as an account lock as well as your info, and don’t pick something your family could ever guess (that means no pets’ names, family nicknames, spots you took your first vacation, etc–use a random weird word from the dictionary and then NEVER SAY THAT WORD OUT LOUD unless you are giving the password to your bank). Have the statements go electronically to an email account your parents don’t have access to. Only bank in person with that account.
Buy small amounts of food at a time, and if possible get a minifridge with a lock (they exist for exactly this reason!) and keep it in your room with the key on your personal keys that you carry around. Install a lock on your bedroom door.
These people have stopped being family and started being That Roommate, and unfortunately, you have to treat them accordingly.
Here’s the thing…of course they’re telling you that you owe them and you’re a bad person and you used to be so nice (when you were a doormat). They’re manipulating and exploiting you, so it’s in their best interests to manufacture spurious obligation (you have NO OBLIGATION to them) and to hold up the behaviour they WANT from you as the IDEAL behaviour, when it’s nothing of the sort.
In a healthy family, your ideal behaviour would be you taking steps toward becoming an independent and successful adult, in whatever form that took. Your family is attempting to keep you dependent so that you can continue to be financially abused. They aren’t going to stop because it’s the right thing to do–they’re only going to stop because you made it impossible to continue.
Also–assume they will play dirty when they finally realize that you are getting out and lay your plans accordingly NOW. It is much easier to asshole-proof your escape plan in the early stages than it is to try to get thousands of dollars back from your family after they’ve already drained your savings accounts.
My first suggestion is to move out. Find a situation with friends or roommates with a nice, predictable, cost. Get the agreement upfront about how much rent and utilities you are responsible for, because then you can plan for that.
Living with people and sharing costs without a plan or agreement is a recipe for stress and can be a map to disaster. I know some people can share nicely, but, sometimes even with the best of intentions things get messed up and twisted with money. I was married and I was the one actually writing the checks for the monthly bills. I had the lower income, and, I also had trouble asking my husband for money. Money for the bills that applied to both of us. As a result of my not asking for money from him for our bills, my savings went down to nothing, while his continued to go up.
Until his savings hit a particular amount and then it seemed to burn a hole in his pocket and he’d go out and buy some expensive tech toy, or upgrade the computers.
Which, if I hadn’t spent my savings on just household expenses I might not have resented as much as I did.
So, that was long and tangental, but, the point is that this is their house too, and maybe set money aside for your savings first, and food for you that you lock up, and give them only a smaller portion as your rent. Maybe record how much you are giving them and when. Keep it a regular amount so that you can plan, and start planning to get out.
LW, if you have student loans, look into income-based repayment. It’s keyed to your income level, so you’re only paying something like $10-13$ of your income, max. (If you make an entry-level salary, odds are good you’d be paying less.) It’s one way to get a bit of breathing room.
Can you be on the receiving end of a pay cut? Normally I’d advise honesty, but these people don’t have your best interests at heart. However much you tell them you’ll make, they’ll bleed you for. So you tell them X amount, then sock away the rest you didn’t tell them about. Make sure that the bank (at one different than your parents/sister uses) doesn’t send paper records (or have it sent to a trusted friend’s.) And make sure you do security questions/answers that only you know the answers to. (General advice: don’t make the answers to those questions things your family or a background check would know. Pick random words.)
I’m building a GTFO fund right now, actually, and have been very vague about my current earnings with everyone, especially family. (Let’s just say my primary asspain thinks I am still earning close to minimum wage, and I…am not.) I am also treating myself to things I haven’t been able to afford that don’t cost much, as I have been emotionally and financially abused for a long time and it frankly feels good to not have to beg for grocery money or prescription medicine money or doctor visit money or college textbook money (very little of which I even got) and now I can even buy a used book or DVD every other week–this is according to rules I set for myself, and it feels GREAT that no one else is setting rules for me–because as long as I put funds into the GTFO Fund first, I can have a Thing that isn’t strictly for eating or a toiletry or a bill or for a work-related need (like new work shoes, etc.).
The GTFO fund is my primary consideration, and it feels good to know it is there.
And yes, if I told my family what I am now making per hour, they would find ways to make me pay more of THEIR expenses, because me being poor enough that I am always one missed paycheck away from homelessness keeps me powerless and docile and outwardly tolerant of their worst behaviors. So I don’t owe them complete frankness about something that isn’t even their business. Nor do you.
Yeah…one of the first things I learned in college was that I didn’t ever mention my $15-a-month MMO indulgence or my latest $5 find at Halfprice books because suddenly I’d have money for things I didn’t have money for. (Much less money for *her.*)
Hang in there. It sucks. You’ll be out soon.
You could also put them on a budget. You look at the money you have coming in (your paycheck). You look at what renting a room in a similar living situation would cost (hard to do, but not impossible). You look at what you need for your own expenses. And you come up with a fair figure for what you should contribute to the household. Then you pay that amount. You can announce it or not. I’m not sure that will make any difference. You pay some bills (cable, groceries, etc.) until you reach the limit of your budget for the month, and then you stop. When it’s pointed out that more is needed, you point out how much you’ve spent with the word “budget” in the sentence. All hell will break loose the first time you do this, but in time, they’ll get used to the fact that you won’t budge.
The best would be to buy groceries first. When the groceries run out and they tell you they need more, you say that you can buy groceries but then you won’t have enough for the cable bill. When they need money for the cable bill, you tell them that your budget is spent and you have no more.
As for keeping food in a locked cupboard in your room, I’m surprised you even sound so remorseful about the possibility. It’s a wonderful idea! I’ll add that I’d be very sly about it. If your family knows you have food, they’ll think nothing of breaking the padlock to get to it. Afterall, they’re convinced you’re selfish, ie. they think your paychecks belong to them anyway, so they won’t see what they’re doing as stealing. Keep bread and peanut butter in a backpack, just enough to keep you from being truly hungry. Cabbage and apples are healthy, cost little, and keep with little refrigeration. Small amounts of milk can be bought at the supermarket. I’m not suggesting it’s easy to eat only on food that you can keep on your back and prep in no time flat, but it’s possible.
LW, I am also a 29 year old living at home with my adult sibling and parents. While I can’t relate to your exact circumstances, I can relate to facing very unequal situations with my sibling. After months of doing most of the domestic labour (cooking 5x per week while finding healthy recipes that met all dietary issues, laundry of family, purchasing groceries on foot as cannot drive, etc) and when my sibling refused to participate in labour because he “was working” (NB I also work from home, albeit with flexible hours), I became very frustrated with this environment and let my displeasure show by not performing the emotional labour of inquiring about everyone’s day at dinner and actively drawing people out.
As a result, my family sat me down for an intervention about my behaviour. The complaint was that I am not kind enough to them, and the evidence supplied was my lack of inquiring about everyone’s day at dinner and my tone of voice when I agreed to one of my mother’s demands. I asked for specific expectations they have in mind for how we were to proceed and this was presented as evidence of my unkindness and demanding behaviour. They all refused to establish basic, tangible agreements (domestic labour expectations, a more equitable division of labour) at my request.
I was hurt and furious but also now I know that they don’t want to establish firm expectations because doing so would establish that I am not “selfish” or “unkind.” They want me constantly attempting to meet an unspecified and intangible goal to continue a narrative that I am the disruptive, troublesome child and my brother (bonus points to those who read very gendered dynamics into this as I am female) is the easygoing, “nice” one. I am taking them at their word that I will never be good enough and aggressively trying to GTFO.
LW, I suspect that if you try to sit them down and ask for agreed upon rules (ie you provide x dollars per month, each of you purchase your own toiletries, etc.) they will refuse and this will reinforce the family narrative that you are “selfish.” For me, this meeting was very freeing. I realized there was nothing I could do to change this mentality. No matter what I do it will never be enough. It really hurt to realize this, but now I know and can move forward (and out). Jedi hugs if you want them, from one “selfish” child to another.
Very similar thing happened to me. Also 29, just moved out two glorious months ago. Also worked from home so clearly, I had all the free time in the world to do chores (along with my mother) but my dad and my brother (older, perfectly situated to move out but won’t because it’s rent-free and he has meals cooked for him) did nothing.
When I had a tiny breakdown about this, because I went through a severe depressive episode and so had trouble getting out of bed, yet somehow still managed to do my chores (and was NEVER asked if I was okay, or able, or if maybe my brother could help out for fucking once in his life), I was labeled as “angry”, “upset”, “unfair”, blah blah. Went to therapy, and my therapist intorduced me to the concept of the “identified patient”. Basically, this is a person who, in a toxic household, begins to point out the dysfunction and try to fix it. But that takes everyone agreeing there are problems in the first place, and it’s easier for the rest of the family to just single out the person as being “the problem”.
The bad news is, they hold onto that angry narrative like it’s a life vest. The good news? You can stop giving fucks. The way it went for me, once I accepted that no matter how reasonable or fair I tried to be about distributing work better and making my family respect my health (and work, which was severely affected by my health)…no matter how hard or sincerely I tried, I would STILL remain the “angry, problem child”. So…. prove ’em right. Be selfish. Be angry. Be a problem. In their eyes you already are, and when you cast off the guilt and shame and manipulation that comes loaded into those accusations… you gain freedom. Not as much as you need, but enough to keep you sane.
Your life, as a damn adult.
Your own oxygen mask first..
Oh Onyx, it’s lovely to hear that I’m not alone (although that sounds terrible to write given your circumstances).
Cheers to selfishness!
“For me, this meeting was very freeing. I realized there was nothing I could do to change this mentality. No matter what I do it will never be enough. It really hurt to realize this, but now I know and can move forward (and out). Jedi hugs if you want them, from one “selfish” child to another.”
This rang sooooooooo true for me. It took me a very long time to stop the guilt the train from rolling through my psyche every few hours about what a TERRIBLE and SELFISH daughter I am and it was the same realization as you that – huh, nothing will ever be good enough because this isn’t about my ACTUAL behavior, this about them and the importance of my role as The Selfish One to maintain their twisted and distorted reality and keep everyone safe from any amount of self reflection (a terrifying thing for some folks)..
I remember vividly when I started pushing back on those “truths.” I was standing in the shower on the verge of tears (stemming from feeling so incredibly helpless and guilty) and some voice in my head (a voice that – not at all coincidentally – sounds just like my therapist) said “so if you were to become “unselfish” and be a “good” daughter – what would that look like to them?” And after moving through sensible and logical requests: visit more, call more often (no, no that’s not enough!) to progressively more and more irrational demands (move back home! make lots of money and give it to them! never, ever under any circumstances set boundaries or tell them no!), I realized – nothing. My behavior will never alter this dynamic as long as I keep playing the game and feeding into these toxic messages about my selfishness by constantly trying to prove to them how unselfish I am by having zero boundaries. Now I am gloriously basking in my “selfishness” of actually listening to my needs and wants making sure those are met. It feels downright decadent.
LW – if you aren’t ready to hear that or you think your situation is somehow different, I hear ya. Just know you are NOT the problem. You are not selfish or mean or cruel. By re-allocating money from your family well to your FO Fund and then eventually moving out, you are opting out of a toxic, dysfunctional, abusive system that is detrimental to you. Just like they all have the option to opt out as well.
I could be way off here, but my interpretation of why LW’s older sister gets away with her refusal to pitch in is because of LW’s niece. LW’s mom is placating LW, but not forcing older sister to help out because older sister has a kid and therefore has to provide for said kid. Perhaps LW’s mom is providing free child care to her granddaughter (since she stays home) and that is the beneficial relationship that makes mom side with sister instead of LW. In mom and sister’s logic, sister is not being selfish for not putting forth more effort because sister has an added responsibility of her child to care for. The family dynamic, to me, seems to favor the sister because she has provided a grandchild. There’s no mention of the niece’s father, so it’s not clear whether sister is receiving support from him as well.
This is not to say I agree with the family dynamic, far from it. But it was not mentioned in the Captain’s answer and I think it’s worth considering that there might be more to the reason sister’s refusal is accepted so easily whereas LW’s refusal is not. The LW needs to find a way out of the house asap and in the meantime, I would definitely support locking her stuff up and only contributing what she can afford to the household budget. I feel like she shouldn’t just completely shut down on contributing to the family budget, but I think she should decide on a set rent that she can contribute based on her budget and if they ask her to contribute more, then she can use the scripts provided.
^^ I agree that the presence of a child complicates things and requires labor and financial support that weren’t mentioned in the letter. We don’t know to what extent the LW contributes to support the niece, or if the niece is still a child, but it’s possible that LW’s place a single person may cause the rest of the family to expect more contributions towards shared ‘adult’ needs while others focus on child-raising. I think the advice suggested by many people and the Captain to figure out what LW can afford to contribute while providing for themself and the services they use at the house, and while saving money are important. LW has to determine to what extent the LW values living with and supporting family. But also, while living in the house it may help to ask questions and _listen_ to what the sister and mom feel they are contributing– if childcare isn’t on LW’s radar, there may be much more work being done by the other two that is invisible to the LW. Perhaps the financial/labor distribution is fairer than it appears right now.
I am also someone who paid rent and my own living expenses while living with my parents for an extended stay, for what it’s worth. We negotiated a lower rate than the market rate for a room in a shared house so I could save and get back on my feet, but I had to contribute a fair share of household labor and expenses– “fair” meaning something that worked for everyone involved after discussion and checking in.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I’m wondering if the LW is in a place where it is expected for adult kids to live with family until they are married. LW, are you even able to move out? Would it cause a huge rift, not only because of family pressure, but also because of religion/culture/social expectations?
This is a good point. If so, perhaps the LW could look into living with other extended family members in a different household (to be “closer to work” perhaps?) or single-gender housing if that’s more acceptable.
I’m thinking it’s time to plug a couple of safety plans. My favorites are The National Domestic Violence Hotline and Scarleteen
LW, right now, you are in a bad situation. It might escalate very rapidly to a DANGEROUS situation. It might not. This is because it’s possible to find a terrible, soul-sucking form of homeostasis in an abusive environment, as long as you play by the rules, but abusers are well known for escalating, seemingly out of nowhere, into violence if their victim tries to leave.
Maybe your dad will, maybe he won’t. The plus side of a safety plan is that it’s still very helpful even if your dad doesn’t escalate to violence, and if he does, you’re prepared!
Things you need, right now, today:
-All of your government paperwork (driver’s license, birth certificate, social security card)–in a place that is not your house. Get a safe deposit box or leave them with a trusted friend
-A bank account, in your name, that no one but you knows about
-A go bag, which should include any medications you take, anything small but sentimental that it would kill you to lose, a change of clothing and any banking information you have. This is in case shit goes sour.
Things to start doing in the near future
-Start saving up a little bit at a time. Even a few dollars here and there helps!
-Start looking for apartments. Craigslist is hit-and-miss (most of the very good deals are scams, of course) but it also has sections for people looking for roommates and housemates. I also like Zillow and Rent.com. Start looking at apartment costs and figure out what you can afford.
-Maybe a good idea to see a therapist? I know this may be out of the question, but some charge on a sliding scale so it may not be impossible. If you’re in the US, one place to start is the APA therapist locator
-Forward your important mail to somewhere that isn’t your home. Maybe a PO box, work, a friend’s address. Your family shouldn’t know you’re going to bolt until you do.
Basically, you want to set yourself up so that if things go south, you can bolt and be, if not okay, then at least function with an idea of where to start. This doesn’t mean that you have to run as soon as you have all those things–all it means is that they’re available if you need them. I found, when I was leaving my abusers, that just knowing I had a fallback gave me the strength to “behave” when I wasn’t yet ready to run.
Right now, your family is deliberately keeping you off balance in order to force you to fall in line. This is also why I suggest a safety plan–right now, you’re so focused on basic survival that you probably don’t even know where to start freeing yourself. So, small goals. Look through Zillow for five minutes. Call a friend and see if they’ll hold onto your paperwork. Find a place to stash your go bag. But see, once you’ve done a bunch of five-minute goals, you’ll look back and realize that actually, you’ve accomplished a lot! And knowing that, it’ll be easier to think, “If I did all that, what *else* can I do?”
I wonder where you would be in your life if so much of your energy wasn’t devoted to people who don’t seem to care about you that much? What could you have accomplished if you were free?
Good luck, LW.
This this this.
ALSO: If you have any bank accounts your parents CAN access, assume all money in there will be drained. If it’s routine for them to use that get your “contributions”, start putting less money in there. If it’s savings, get it out and put it into your own account. Yes, open your own account.
A PO Box is your friend. As is a bankbox / safety deposit box, or even a locked drawer at work.
As other people have said–not just another account, but another bank.
And a bank that uses a verbal password for in-person transactions is VERY helpful.
My credit union keeps a scan of the driver’s license/ID for all authorized users of an account in their computer system. They’re looking at my picture when I’m at the counter.
^^ This. Getting your important documents out of their reach is SO important.
Trulia and Apartments.com also will mail you suggestions every day that fit within parameters you set on their websites. Trulia is less good about sticking to what you ask, often suggesting fewer bedrooms or places that are more per month or don’t allow pets, but the sheer volume of suggestions is helpful, and you get an idea about neighborhoods you’d like and dislike, as they also tell you where restaurants and groceries are in relation to your potential rental, and show crime stats nearby.
Trulia is more for renting houses (which I’ve done and liked better than apartments, because I don’t like being sandwiched between strangers and hearing noises through walls and floors or fighting over parking spots) but few will have laundry facilities (you’ll have to buy, rent or otherwise provide a washer and dryer, work out a laundry night arrangement with a good friend whereby they let you use their machines while you buy dinner and watch TV or play board games with them, or locate a safe laundrymat nearby), and many will want you to mow the lawn and pay ALL utilities, so you have to factor that in. Apartments.com is more for apartment communities, which I have also lived in (good and bad ones) and one tip I will offer is that it is highly unlikely you will ever bother to use the gym, pool, “office”, party hall, etc. in more expensive apartment complexes, even if you are a social butterfly. So don’t fixate on those. Look for the square footage that will fit your stuff, access to laundry, which utilities are included, your commute to work, and parking (if you have a vehicle) or bus routes (if you do not).
Just some other resources that may be available to you if you are in the USA.
LW, let them cut the cable off. They’ll find the money or they won’t.
Agree. ^^ My house is currently being renovated, extremely so, and I have had no TV/cable for months because my (crappy little) TV is living in a PODS outside. I’ve also lived without TV for up to 6-7 years (had a set, just used it solely for watching DVDs and VHS tapes) and haven’t missed it. Now I also have Netflix and I am the only own with access to it. You can survive no cable and so can they. If it is important to them, they’ll cough up the money.
It does seem like the biggest issue is that the amount of money expected from you is capricious and variable depending on how much money you have. Settling on a fixed amount seems like it would be at least a start, since I gather that you can’t move out because Reasons.
Yeah, getting the hell out is HARD AS FUCK and there are a LOT of family (and possibly cultural) pressures not to, but SO WORTH IT. I’d been contributing to the mortgage (and by ‘contributing’ I mean, ‘money was taken without my permission out of my account because I couldn’t get a checking account without a parent cosigner) since I was 15, and also buying groceries so my siblings could have enough food. I left home at 18 and just barely scraped by on minimum wage jobs for YEARS. I’ve lived in some dodgy places. I’ve had my share of bizarre housemates. I’ve eaten my share of nothing-but-cheap-simple-carbs. IT IS WAS SO WORTH IT. You know what’s harder than supporting one person just starting out on an entry level wage? Supporting an entire family against your will on that same wage.
I know the food issue is glaringly unfair, but I think that in this situation establishing a locked, private food supply will escalate demands for money and access to LW’s space and time. It will be a provocation.
IF YOU CAN: Plan out your groceries and needs for the month, but do not buy more than a few days ahead. I realize this shuts out certain bulk discounts and sales, but at the moment, if others use up the things you buy to last a month, you are not benefiting from those discounts anyway.
On the GTFO fund: Use a bank your family has had no previous business with. Do not get paper statements, which is obvious, but banks tend to generate stuff automatically and if you make clear to whomever you speak to that you are in an abusive situation and need this to stay strictly, strictly confidential, you should never receive paper at home. Your paycheck goes here. If there are paper checks, you need to hide them or shred all but a couple of them.
Communications: Get an email address at a service you do not use now and be very careful about clearing caches, cookies, etc., when you check it on any machine your family has access to. They have a good thing going with you right now and they are not going to let you go easily.
Other: If you can rent a post office box and start using that for your W2s, paystubs, car registration and insurance, and suchlike items that do get mailed and that you cannot stop, do so. You don’t need a big one, but you do need to be able to secure your privacy. Don’t say anything about this, again, obvious but not so obvious. Your mail will dry up and stop coming. Probably no one will notice.
If you have any trusted, trustworthy acquaintances or friends at all, consider asking them for assistance in getting out if it becomes clear that that house is not a safe place to live. (Be careful, if there are cultural expectations in your world that this behavior is normal or okay, those “friends” may rat you out, so choose wisely.) You may be surprised at how kind people can be. The domestic violence/abuse hotline and resource information above is good to have, too, if you’re in the US, but if you’re not, it can happen that people you hardly know turn out to be bigger and better than you imagined.
Start looking for another job, in another town, and start also detaching yourself, emotionally, from the things in that house, the family, and the house itself. You can walk away from them; everything you need to thrive is inside you. Except the money in your private bank account.
It’s very possible that if you can leave and ghost on the family, you will later be able to have some kind of better relationship with them that isn’t exploitative. Best wishes for your health and safety.
Tiny addition to the “clear the cookies if you use a computer together” thingy: All the browsers I know now offer privacy windows. It means, if you use a private window to surf, cookies should not be stored, as well as history. What you may have to look out for are downloads. The rest should be taken care of by a private window. (If applicable, read up on what it can and cannot do in your browser).
And if your family has any access to your own phone/computer, make them password-protected. If that’s not possible, do not let the computer etc automatically save your passwords (e.g. in the browser).
I have to agree with this: my family used to ignore that my brother stole money and belongings from me when I was a teenager, and me putting a lock on my door was a HUGE provocation that escalated into a huge dramatic fight. In the end, I wasted my money, time and energy on that lock. I second the idea of only buying small portions or necessities at a time, and keeping toiletries in your purse or a bag instead of conveniently in shared spaces.
Other than ignoring my brother’s thievery, my family typically has not helped themselves to food / toiletries, but I have had roommates who did, and friends of roommates who casually used up things like entire previously-unopened liters of expensive vodka that were stored in the freezer. I have also had dieting roommates who ate my non-diet food and roommates with much larger feet stuff them into my sneakers, worn as house slippers to go get the mail on rainy days (which pretty much had ruined them when I found them months later shoved under a couch). (This is why I was so grateful to have good roommates later on!) So boundaries can be stomped by anyone. What worked best was moving my personal things I did not wish to share out of the common areas, and not storing non-perishables in communal cabinets.
I share your concern about triggering escalations. Asking family friends may not be possible. I wonder if LW will be safer going to an agency or outreach through the family courts or police, that is culturally sensitive to the family issues.
I agree with everyone that getting out is a great idea if you can. I know your Mother likely had her reasons for staying in this situation. But if this is a situation you can get out of, you should. Faaaaamily is not a good reason for multiple generations to suffer financially. And I’m not sure “but this is not how things are done here” is either. You have to evaluate the social consequences of moving out where you live yourself. Would it be uncomfortable or actually dangerous? And is that something you are willing to live with for financial freedom?
My other suggestion is to make more money, and not necessarily tell your family about it. This could mean applying for a promotion at work, or getting on linked in and looking for other opportunities. (Often times the best way to get a substantial pay increase is to get a new job, I don’t know what your field is so you’ll have to evaluate for yourself what opportunities are available. Three years is a solid tenure and enough time to develop some transferable skills that other employers will pay for.)
Also, for everyone in your family it might be time to look into after work gigs like tutoring or working online or things with a flexible schedule that might let you make some extra cash. There are lots of things in the new “gig economy” that let you get paid for small things, like delivering groceries or driving a car. (Task Rabbit, Instacart, and of course Uber and Lyft, depending on where you live different programs might be available.) It might be worth looking to see if there is anything in your area that your Mom could take on, or the three of you could look into to bring in extra cash as an interim solution. Bills have to be paid, and everyone in the family can chip in to do that without necessarily getting a full time job.
Maybe easing some of the budget pressure will allow you to build more savings and feel better about moving out and supporting only yourself!
I also recommend a savings app called Digit, it syncs with your bank and monitors your spending and then socks away a few dollars here and there, as well as providing you information about major changes in your bank balance. Which can be very helpful for tracking purposes. Over a few months i’ve managed to save a solid rainy day fund. This might be a good option for the LW because the process is pretty hands off, so it’s transferring small amounts out of your account when it thinks you can afford it. (If it overdraws you it will pay the overdraft fees) But this way the computer is doing it, and it’s not the LW choosing to take money and keep it away from her family. (Which I realize is probably difficult emotionally even though it shouldn’t be because it is totally an OK and right thing to do.)
In addition to cash gigs, especially if you have access to unlimited internet (cable bills sometimes include them), consider earning points towards gift cards. MyPoints and SwagBucks are places you can earn points and then “cash in” for gift cards, *including* and this is the important part for you, DIGITAL ones.
So you could earn gift cards towards Target, Amazon, etc. and just let them keep piling up on those websites – you’d redeem your points for the digital gift card, then load it to your account at the company’s website (I do this throughout the year, it’s my “mad money” on Amazon).
Then, if you need to swing your GTFO into high gear, use them to supply yourself with necessities. Hidden, unusable-to-family savings accounts. Just make sure and clear your cache, and use a new, unknown-to-your-family email address (and mailing address, if you can swing it) to sign up and use the accounts.
You won’t earn much, but over time could have a good buffer AND IT’S COMPLETELY HIDEABLE.
As for mailing addresses, sometimes people are leary of a PO box – FedEx/Kinkos and places like that sometimes offer real-looking addresses with their PO boxes – you could look at those places as well. Access hours are much more constricted, so you couldn’t pick up your mail at midnight, BIT it would look like a “real” address for resumes, job apps, etc.
Re Swagbucks: You can also cash in for PayPal, which funds could be directed into your shiny new secret bank account.
I second the idea of Digit, unless of course family members have access to your account — they’ll notice the withdrawals.
As someone who escaped an abusive marriage, allow me to caution you that it can be scary as hell even if you know you’re doing the right thing. Until you leave, take deep breaths and fill your head with delicious thoughts of your ultimate independence. Think about your own apartment/room in a shared home: what books you’ll put in it, which colors you might choose for sheets and towels, the kinds of foods you’ll prepare, the fact that you can invite a pal over or be alone, that you can opt to play music/watch cat videos or have it completely quiet.
It will be your place, one that lets you nurture yourself in small ways that will feel HUGE to you. I’m wishing you healing and strength.
If you are crafty or have some gently-used designer or vintage things you no longer enjoy or would prefer having cash for them instead, you can try selling stuff on Amazon (in particular, any gently-used media like books and CDs and DVDs), Etsy (if Goodwill can do it, so can you) or eBay as well. You can also sell eBooks if you are a good writer, but that’s hit or miss, unfortunately.
I, too, grew up with a financial (and other variety) abuser who not only controlled the family but had turned it into a self-sustaining ecosystem to make sure this bullshit lasted as long as was humanly possible. One of the most immediate things you’re going to have to do? Even as you’re implementing a lot of the no doubt excellent ideas from the Awkward Army?
Rebuild your whole relationship with and all your thoughts around money.
When I finally got out on my own I made a lot of bad financial decisions that basically boiled down to “every dollar I make has to be turned into a tangible good or it will be taken away from me.” It took me over a year to stop doing this, and another five to really get my financial shit together. It nearly forced me back into the situation I’d fought tooth and nail to get out of.
First and foremost: Your money? Is YOURS. If YOU share YOUR money with someone who is not a business with whom you exchange goods or services, a loving life partner, or a child who is wholly dependent on you and only you? Then it is a fucking GIFT. Not a mandate. Not a requirement to be loved or to keep someone in your life or to be a good person.
Second: This is going to be contrary to everything your family has been telling you, but THEY are selfish for trying to take your money away. Because you’re an adult who earned that money, surrounded by other adults who could go out and earn their own money if they wanted it. It’s YOUR goddamn money. That YOU get to choose what to do with. Not them. And it took me a really, really, really long time to understand that myself.
Here’s how I got my head straight about my money:
1) I read a lot of books. Start with “Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office” and everything written by Barbara Stanny. Expand from there.
2) I read a lot of blogs. The Billfold, The Muse, The Financial Diet, Mr. Money Mustache, the Middle Finger Project, Bullish, and Get Rich Slowly are all on my daily read list. Basically, I created a financial literacy immersion program where I heard from a lot of different perspectives and they helped me figure out what money meant to me.
3) I opened two savings accounts with different goals and got a credit card that I paid off in full every month to build my credit and practice good financial habits.
4) I got into therapy. Lots and lots and lots of therapy.
BONUS: You have spent three years at an entry level job. Congratulations! That probably means it’s about time for you to level up. Start looking. And using the material above figure what salary you want to aim for and factor that into your escape plan.
Because you really do need an escape plan. There’s a life out there for you where you get to control every part of it. You get to choose where you live, what cable/internet plan you have, what furniture you have, whether or not to leave the a/c on in order to run up the electric bill, what soda you want to stock in the fridge, and where to spend all your free time.
When you first start out those choices may be “I will sit on a crate or the floor”, but it’s your choice. And you get more choices as you continue to level up. I now have my own tiny apartment where I live alone, surrounded by things I picked and paid for. Last year, I finally had enough money to go on my first vacation. I chose where I went, where I stayed, and what I did.
I’ll be honest. This hasn’t been an easy path. But the freedom is heady and sweet and totally, completely worth it.
You can do it!
This is fantastic stuff. Good on you for rebuilding your relationship with money and for making such an excellent plan!
wow, look at that financial listing.
I see that my to-read list just got a hot new topic.
“every dollar I make has to be turned into a tangible good or it will be taken away from me.” AAGH. That place, I have been there.
For me, it was getting away from a financially (and otherwise) abusive husband*, not birth family, but I went through the same process. Working on your relationship with money is KEY. I heartily second, in particular, Bullish and Get Rich Slowly. Bullish has some further articles on this very topic in the archives.
*I was repeatedly threatened with, and for one period experienced, homelessness with small children. That was the rock bottom about two years after dude quit the only really good job he had during the entire course of our marriage, when he realized I was 90% of the way to painstakingly getting us completely out of debt with some savings. During the divorce I was able to get him to admit, in the presence of a mediator, that he was afraid that I’d leave him the minute I was financially secure enough to do so. YOU WEREN’T WRONG ABOUT THAT BUDDY.
This. I’m working on it, but it’s such a long road to knowing and believing that one does not have to justify money usage, or hide it to prevent being interrogated and chastised…
NomadiCat, thank you so much for what you posted here. I need to improve my finances and this will help.
Some tactics about moving out: you might want to get a locker or a well-trusted-friend who will hold onto things for you and move your most precious items out of the house a few at a time whenever you go to work. When you do move out, you may want the option to leave for work one morning and let your family know you won’t be back. This is a situation I can imagine them escalating while you’re trying to move.
Given how much you’re contributing to the family budget, I’m fairly sure you can live in a group house with 4 other people on the same money at least.
Regarding the emotional manipulation: it’s really hard to draw boundaries living in this kind of environment. I totally sympathize. In my family, “I’m sorry” was not a statement of regret, it was a get out of jail free card that meant the victim had to pretend the thing never happened. Hey, it’s ok that my brother would steal my diary (no matter how well I hid it) and read it to his friends at school, because he said he was sorry each time afterwards! It’s ok that he wrecked my stuff, because he said he was sorry! etc. Until he did something really, really, REALLY awful and I was done. My mom FREAKED. OUT. He said he was sorry! I should forgive him! Why was I continuing to talk about The Thing and avoid him? He’d said he was sorry! That meant everything could go back to the way it was!
No, no this time it could not.
My biggest defense? “OK”. “You’re being stubborn!” “OK.” “You’re being selfish and upsetting the whole family!” “OK.” “Your brother misses you!” “OK.” I wasn’t arguing – I’m sure all of those things were true – but I was letting them go. It’s so hard when you’re from a family where “selfish” is the worst insult one can hurl at another family member. But you know what? I wasn’t the one who’d done The Thing. I was returning the awkward to its source.
One other thought – there was a time when you were not in the world, and your mother found the money. There was a time when she had your sister but not you, and she found the money. There was a time when you were in the world, but too young to work, and she found the money. She will find the money.
I wish you the best of luck. It is so, so hard but also so freeing. So freeing to just say, “OK.” and let it wash over you as though it were merely the wind.
Just want to repeat this:
“One other thought – there was a time when you were not in the world, and your mother found the money. There was a time when she had your sister but not you, and she found the money. There was a time when you were in the world, but too young to work, and she found the money. She will find the money.”
Here is this: Your only obligation here is to pay rent for the roof over your head, and a contribution toward Internet, electricity, utilities (like, 1/3 or maybe less).
Your mother’s meals are not your responsibility; they’re hers, or her husbands. He can feed her.
Your sister’s meals are not your responsibility; they’re hers.
Your niece’s meals are not your responsibility; they’re her mother’s (your sister’s).
Ditto toiletries, etc.
It’s time to start thinking of them as roommates.
If you had taken a room in someone else’s home, what would you pay for?
You sure as heck wouldn’t buy their shampoo or their food, and you’d split the cable bill and the electricity and the toilet paper.
Stories like yours are why I don’t make very young children apologize. Like you say, “sorry” is taught to be a get out of jail free card without making sure the person saying it is actually sorry.
I second the commenters urging that LW consider a new/better job… especially if the family’s attempts to beat down their self-esteem and independence are part of why LW is still in an entry level, low paying job. LW might not even realize how much of their job situation might be linked to their home situation.
Why should they get a better job if faaaaaaamily is just going to suck more out of their paycheck?
Is it scary to think of job hunting or discussing raises with their boss?
Have they explored other job options in town… or out of it?
LW is looking for “help saying no” and there might be tons of reasons why that is the most important consideration right now. But a better solution is probably being able to create a living situation where that no longer comes up at all.
I imagine that even if LW moved out, it would still “come up.” People who believe they are entitled to the “family pot” don’t always draw the line at “family who lives here.” Saying no will be important no matter what path LW chooses to take.
This. It took YEARS for my husband to set financial boundaries with his family of origin. In their minds, he chose to leave them, but it didn’t mean that he was excused from his share of the “household” bills. After all, he could have kept living there.
DITTO!!!! As in, word for word!
I suggest that if the LW does get a better-paying job, the LW not tell anyone in their family, and instead sock away everything from better job in the secret, separate account that others have mentioned setting up.
LW! you are not in a situation where you owe your family the truth about your finances.
I’m that bitch that would be asking sister why SHE thinks she gets to be selfish and pay nothing? The devil is a liar, and she needs to be told the truth. ;p
This comment isn’t sitting very well with me.
The sister is not the major problem here. The major problem is the father, who is refusing to do his part to contribute to his home and his family, and is forcing his adult children to pay HIS bills and do the upkeep on HIS home at cost to their own survival and future. It’s not okay to blame the sister for what is, at its core, the failure of a parent.
We don’t really know anything about the sister, but in a sick system like the LW’s family, it’s really easy to see anyone who isn’t playing along, isn’t capitulating to the demands of an abuser, as being selfish and part of the problem.
Instead, I wonder if LW can make an ally out of the sister? I mean, she’s pretty much doing what all of us here at CA are suggesting the LW do–she’s not giving in to the sick system, and she sounds like she’s refusing to be manipulated by abusive behavior. That’s great, actually! That shows that at least one person in the household has figured out that the world won’t collapse if she refuses to pick up the slack for her deadbeat piece of shit father. I’m thinking it’s time for LW to have a sit-down with her, so they can back each other up.
Right now, we know that both LW’s father and mother are her enemies–her father because he’s an abusive piece of shit, and her mother because she won’t confront the father and won’t leave. I’m not intending to victim-blame the mother, I know leaving is scary and sometimes impossible and I have no doubt she’s doing the best she can in a terrible situation. This does not change the fact that, for the LW, her mom doesn’t have her back. Her sister, on the other hand… maybe her sister can be an ally. Maybe they can help each other until either or both of them can get out.
The sister may not be an ally, she may be LW’s enemy in a different way, and since I don’t know anything about her, I can’t say for sure. She might be an awesome ally and LW had just never thought of her that way. Either way, it’s a good thing for LW to find out.
co-signed; the above comment wasn’t sitting well with me either; thanks for putting it so clearly.
I agree that there might be more to the situation, but it does look like the sister is ALSO stealing food, toiletries, etc. from the LW, and she may well be part of the problem. Unless I’m misreading the letter, I’m not sure she can be an ally.
Keep in mind that in emotionally abusive/manipulative families, parental tactic #1 is “alienate the kids from each other.” We don’t know whether the sister is genuinely part of the problem, whether she’s a potential role model for preserving her own finances, or whether she’s struggling and suffering through this in her own way, unable to sympathize or reach out to the one person who should be her most natural ally.
My mom tried this for years. Somehow, my brother and I never took the bait–we’d compare notes, even early on, about how each of us had been told, “YOU will be a failure, but HE/SHE is going to go somewhere in life.” If we’d been a few years further apart in age, though, or if one of us had a slightly more volatile personality, I could easily see us resenting each other tremendously and never realizing exactly how the poison began.
I hope I’m not projecting on the LW’s situation — I realize her scenario may be totally different. But I think it’s something for us, the uninformed readers, to keep in mind: In messed-up families, sometimes sibling dynamics have been deliberately warped by parents who want to maintain control.
It’s also possible that sister is also contributing up to and past her limit, but these contributions are invisible to LW and LW’s are invisible to sister, so when LW says to sister “let’s split these bills”, sister, who is already paying the mortgage or something, is like “WHUT” in the same way that LW is like “WHUT” about paying the bills. It sounds to me like the bad guys here are Father and Mother–Father, for hoarding his money, and Mother, for not sticking up for her kids.
My mother also deliberately set my sister and I against each other throughout our childhoods, and we didn’t even realize how we were being played against each other until I’d been out of the house for over a decade.
It’s not at all helpful to tell LW “well if it were me in your situation, which it isn’t, I’d totally be kicking ass and taking names”.
I mean, she’s probably paying for the small dependent person who needs clothes, food, and school supplies and has no other source of getting those things?
Embrace being selfish.
No, seriously. In every situation that I’ve been disarmed by emotional criticisms, my power has come from refusing to engage on an emotional level when my actions/request/boundaries were practical. Your practical request: you need enough money – to pay for your food, to save towards your eventual independence, to treat yourself occasionally. (There is an underlying emotional need, too, but it sounds like your family are master emotional manipulators and are very comfortable trampling your feelings for theirs, so I wouldn’t even engage on that one). Their objections could be practical, but they have chosen to call on your emotions to keep you in line: enforce your boundaries, and it means you don’t share, you don’t value your FAMILY, you are selfish, you’re mean.
All of their power comes from the fact that you don’t want to be mean, selfish, grasping, ungrateful – in short, that you care what they think about you. Practice believing that your needs are reasonable and responsible (they are!): “I am not selfish, but I am taking care of myself. I am not mean, but I am not an enabler. I love my family, but I am not responsible for cleaning up their mess.” If putting yourself first means that they think bad things about you, let them think bad things. If they say bad things, then they say bad things. Their feelings do not change the reality – that you don’t have enough money to bail them out, and that you need to draw a line in order to provide for yourself now and in the future. They won’t see it like that, but how they see it is not the point; you being in control of your money is.
So: you’re selfish. Try on being selfish, redefine it for yourself: “When they say I am selfish, what it means is that I am going to put my health, happiness, and security first.” When they call you selfish, go ahead and sub in your definition in your head: strong, responsible, providing for myself. Budgeting your money, enforcing boundaries, and starting to save is absolutely the responsible thing to do here, so if that is what selfish means, so be it. Take the sting out, and keep your conversation focused on the actual, practical decisions, actions, and boundaries that you are enforcing.
(I had to lay down (different) boundaries around money with my family when I was about 22. My mom had been using my savings to pay the mortgage, and had always meant to pay it back – but the same scarcity that made it hard for them to pay meant that she never could, and it kept happening. To the tune of 12K, which is more money than I even understood that I had earned (mostly babysitting and at minimum wage jobs). Setting up my own bank account and telling her that it couldn’t happen anymore was awful, because she was so embarrassed about needing my money and ashamed that she had essentially stolen what was supposed to be the starting balance for my adult life. When your mom minimizes/normalizes the contributions she is asking you to make, she is also actively suppressing the shame that she needs your help at all – setting up a reality in which of course you cover for her, of course it’s okay for her to ask and take, of course she doesn’t have to feel bad that she has this mess to clean up at all. Confronting her reality is her problem, and you shouldn’t feel bad that you are asking her to do so as you take care of yourself – but that was the hardest part for me, because even though I was so angry at her for stealing from me, she’s my mom and I love her and I didn’t want her to be ashamed and hurt.)
This is such a great way of looking at it. I love it.
I feel like I quote this all the time, but now there is Meryl Streep BRINGING it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aasECsxrSzQ)
“I’m not nice, I’m just right.”
What you’re doing to your family isn’t “nice” it isn’t going to feel “nice” but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t absolutely RIGHT. You deserve to start your financial future off with some stability, and to build a stable foundation for the rest of your life. You are breaking a bad negative cycle in your family, and that isn’t easy. Doing the right thing, the responsible strong adult thing, is rarely easy.
If that makes you selfish then so be it.
Love it; also love Meryl.
When people try to control you by enforcing “niceness” and its companions “politeness” and “flexibility” – and I have a whole related diatribe, queued up at all times, about the ramifications of this, especially on female “professionalism” and compliance in the workplace – there is a lot of power in being the witch. Don’t try to prove them wrong – that’s the emotional battle – and instead swathe your heart in black silk. Witches do not give a fuck. They know what they want/need, and they reject the social niceties that would strip them of their power and agency (and in this case their hard-earned money and groceries).
It might help to ask friends about kipping on their sofas, to give you a buffer in an emergency. I’ve done that for a couple of weeks when waiting for a new job payday. Another acquaintance slept on my sofa for a month, as she had the salary to pay rent, but needed to save up for a deposit also (and was too shattered from a recent breakup with ex-boyfriend to cope on her own for a bit). It wasn’t that we were all best friends, but as a role in karma, we were willing to help each other out.
I have let people stay with me, and people that I know have let people stay with them. There’s no harm in asking.
Oh LW, there is so much good advice for you here. There is so much good advice for *me* here! I am definitely going to use some of these ideas.
LW, our situations were/are of course different, but can I share just an idea or two? When I was in my early twenties, I returned home after uni to live with my parents. Mostly because I didn’t know how to do anything else. I didn’t know *how* to be independent. Although my dad was generous financially, he used that as a method of controlling my mom, sister and I. He wouldn’t *let* my sister or me move out (I am still marveling over this concept twenty years later). Anyway, my sister and I decided to move out together on the sly. We had a six-month plan for researching apartments and otherwise preparing our “escape.” We both had minimum- wage jobs, and one of the fun things in those six months was to find great deals on stuff that we needed for our future apartment. So-and-so’s grandma saved us some old furniture; Aunty X gave us tons of extra dishes, and we bought stuff on clearance. It is a little funny/sad how happy that dollar bucket and clearance mop made me that I had hidden in my closet. I used to open the closet door and contemplate (with such satisfaction!) cleaning my new, future apartment. Anyway, we presented it as fait accompli, moved out, and began our forward journeys.
Fast forward to now: I left a successful career in another country to come home and take care of my terminally ill mom. Even though they didn’t live together at that point, my father *still* tried to control everything that I did in the course of that care. LW, it was awful. I “ran away” once (left her in his care for 24 hours without calling after a terrible fight, inconvenienced him hugely and, well, GOOD). I ended up calling a domestic violence hotline because his anger frightened me, and I had to ask the counselor over and over “is this normal? Is THIS normal?” (Answer: no, no, no, and no….) We bump chests all the time. We fight. I have to draw boundaries again and again and again. It is not easy, and I won’t be in this situation forever. It is tiring. But I have such a better handle on him and on this situation. You will too. I doubt your family will ever ease up on you completely, but when you are able to maintain more control over your own life and decisions, *everything* will become easier, even if it takes time. My now is so much better than my twenty years ago. I’m quite certain that yours will be too.
Best of luck to you!
Your parents are being unreasonable. They are not unreasonable to request some payment from an adult child living under their roof. They are unreasonable in expecting you to pick up all the bills.
What I would recommend doing is: look on housing lists to establish a baseline of what a room in a shared house with five people in it goes for. Then work out what bills you would agree to. You obviously need electricity, I personally can’t live without internet, you may want cable, or you may decide that you never use it and you never agreed to it so you’re not chipping in. But whatever you decide on: pay a 5th of it. Hand your mother the rent each month, and a fifth of the bills.
This is what would happen in the real world, in a sharehousing situation. It would give you a baseline of what you can expect to spend in a share house, which will help with your budgeting later on. You should have enough money for groceries.
Don’t chip in for groceries at all. Take your toiletries back to your room: don’t share them. Get a lock on your door, keep non-perishables securely stored in your room and if you can get a mini-fridge, do. Do this while saving up as much as you can. If you can, you need to GTFO. I promise you, where you live can actually feel like a sanctuary rather than a source of anxiety.
You’ll get push-back. You’ll be told that you’re selfish. Don’t argue. Just be a broken record. Pick a phrase and go with it. Say “There are five people in this house. I pay my share.”
Just reading your entry prompted me to remember seeing a local business that sells the furniture cycled out from hotels (this is well-built stuff) and that Ive also seen these little fridges for about 30 bucks US. But if your city doesn’t have a business like this one, there’s likely one who buys and resells office furniture and who will carry these, likely with a small warranty too.
LW, I’m going to pick up on some things you mentioned fairly early on in your letter which are leading me to… critique the narrative you’ve been given by your family:
“My mother stopped work when she gave birth to me, so she’s pretty much been a housewife all her life.”
Twenty-nine years ago was 1987. Women were more than welcome in the workforce during 1987. I know this for a fact, since I was one of them (part-time, while I was finishing high school). The last time women were required to remain in the family home and the “home-maker” role through widespread social coercion was back in the late 1960s – by the end of the 1980s, the forces of neo-liberal economics combined with mainstream feminism were busy forcing women out of the “housewife” role as fast as they could pack ’em into the pink-collar jobs, in the interests of equality (on the part of the feminists), and decreasing wages and fuelling the consumerist economy (on the part of the neo-liberal economists). If your father were pressuring your mother into remaining at home, there would have been a consistent and countervailing social pressure in the opposite direction, pushing her to get out. The social pressure was definitely aimed at getting women into the workforce and working full-time jobs.
Also, by the mid-1980s, divorce and separations were commonplace in the majority of Western cultures.
People generally don’t let something terrible carry on for nearly thirty years without attempting to do something about it unless they’re getting something out of the terrible circumstance.
So it is highly likely your mother is where she is at present because she wants to be there. She is in dodgy financial circumstances because she wasn’t or isn’t willing to take the risks or make the efforts involved in getting out of them.
(Before anyone says but but but traditional cultural values/fundamentalist religion etc, I’m going to point to the presence of the elder sister and the niece. It’s the niece in particular who shoots holes in those theories – because the presence of a niece in both the traditional cultures and the fundamentalist religious cultures implies the presence of the LW’s brother-in-law, who I can’t help but notice is curiously absent from all of these discussions. In both the “traditional culture” and “fundamentalist religion” situations, the LW’s sister and niece should be living with her husband. The only way both the sister living at home and the presence of a niece without an accompanying husband can work is if the sister was widowed, which would, I suspect, have been an unusual enough factor to warrant mention in the letter).
I suspect a more accurate rendition of the ongoing argument in the LW’s family (one which has been going on for long enough that neither party bothers with voicing it aloud any more) might be the LW’s father attempting to “nudge” his wife back into the workforce, and the LW’s mother resisting as hard as she can. Now, that’s an argument I can see carrying on for thirty years without end, because it’s an argument where both parties are getting something out of the current circumstances, particularly if one (or both) of them has a tendency toward martyrdom and performances of stoic suffering.
LW, you are under no obligation to save other people from the “peril” they willingly put themselves into.
You are under no obligation to rescue your mother. Or your sister, for that matter. Concentrate on rescuing yourself.
One other thing:
I’m still entry-level at the job I’ve had for nearly three years.
This implies you really need to be looking around at job sites. Entry-level for three years implies either your employer is stiffing you with regards to increments or promotion opportunities; your job has no promotion prospects; or you’re incompetent in your job (highly unlikely – why would an employer keep someone incompetent on for three years?). So, why not start looking for better work in a different city, and provide yourself with an excuse to solve two problems with the one solution?
 There is, of course, the option of parthenogenesis, but I’m fairly sure such an incident would have made at least one major media outlet.
Um, no. Just no. I’m all for hypotheticals and speculation, usually, but you’ve crossed a line and I’m surprised no one else has called you on it.
So, as gently and firmly as possible: your comment is filled with victim-blaming and fails to take obvious markers of abuse into account.
In the first part of your comment you’ve committed the regrettably common fallacy of applying statistics (descriptions of common trends in populations over time) to individual people (who are not obligated to fall into your statistical boxes or justify their standard deviation to you). Put simply, you can’t chart the course of a drop of water by looking at a river on a map.
LW’s mother could have had any number of reasons to not go back to work (or none at all). It really, really, really doesn’t matter to LW’s situation; all you’ve accomplished is to find a way to blame LW’s mother for the entire home situation, when she’s actually one of the victims of Big Bad Dad’s financial abuse.
“People generally don’t let something terrible carry on for nearly thirty years without attempting to do something about it unless they’re getting something out of the terrible circumstance.”
On the contrary, this happens all the time in situations of abuse, especially financial abuse, which is called out explicitly in the letter. Financial abuse is especially tricky because victims are literally unable to escape, as all their money is tied up in pleasing the abuser (sometimes very directly controlled by the abuser, sometimes less directly as in this case where Big Bad Dad spends frivolously and ties up LW’s income to pay basic bills).
For LW’s mother, the thing she “gets” out of the terrible circumstance is to not be, you know, homeless and hungry. She’s made the best of an abusive situation for almost 30 years and she deserves our compassion, not our scorn for “[being] in dodgy financial circumstances because she wasn’t or isn’t willing to take the risks or make the efforts involved in getting out of them.”
And if you come back and say “But she could divorce Big Bad Dad, move out, and get a job anytime she wants to” in any form, you need some more 101 education about the nature of abuse. Which I will not do for you, as you seem perfectly capable of doing thorough research for yourself.
Also, I didn’t appreciate your speculation “LW’s father attempting to “nudge” his wife back into the workforce, and the LW’s mother resisting as hard as she can. Now, that’s an argument I can see carrying on for thirty years without end”. Just…what? I can’t figure out where you got that, it’s an awfully uncharitable and unfounded scenario. There are literally no indicators that this is the case anywhere in the letter.
Big Bad Dad has enough money to pick up the slack and more, from the sound of it. Why aren’t you holding HIS feet to the fire?
Finally, have you seen the economy in some job sectors? An entry level position is a lucky break for the average college grad in most places still, and LW wasn’t much older than that 3 years ago, and the average stay in an entry-level position is something like 3 years anyway (not to commit the same fallacy, just to point out it’s well within the normal range). I was an entry level engineer for 2.5 years. It’s perfectly normal in my industry.
TL;DR Assumptions galore with a veneer of statistics and an unbelievable amount of victim blaming. I can appreciate the desire to speculate, but this is not helpful to the LW and points blame in completely the wrong direction. However, I agree with your conclusion that the LW should focus on hirself.
Thank you. I’m so glad you laid out all the issues with the comment like that, because it was giving me some serious side-eye and I didn’t even know where to start.
Thank you for this.
I think 3 years is a great time to be looking at new opportunities. But the three scenarios she outlined are just so far from being the only possible scenarios.
Staying in the same job for 3 years I would say is reasonable and even expected, it shows you are dedicated to learning your job and commitments. But it is certainly time for the LW to think about what she wants her career path to look like. I hope once she is spending less energy keeping her family from eating her food (oy) she can focus on what she wants her career to look like and building the skills she needs to get there.
Thank you thank you thank you.
megpie71, my family might be a good example of why your reasoning is flawed and short-sighted. My mom stayed home to care for me and my brothers starting in 1987, and by the time she figured out that my dad was always going to be a massive piece of shit about money and parenting and a million other things, several things had happened. First, 5ish years had passed, so getting back into the job market was going to be tough. Second, on a related note, the entire American economy was in the midst of a massive shift toward requiring college degrees for jobs it hadn’t previously. My mom does not have a college degree, because when she started working, it wasn’t necessary. 5 years staying home + no college degree = lol no job for you. Fourth, even if she got a job, it probably wouldn’t have paid for daycare for three kids, so she wouldn’t have even broken even and been able to save in order to get herself out of the shitty, shitty marriage. Fourth, remember that thing where my dad was a massive piece of shit about parenting? Yeah. He also traveled a lot. He was gone 100+ nights per year, during which my mom was responsible for getting us to and from school and activities and whatnot. When he was home, he couldn’t or wouldn’t take up even a small portion of that. One of the few times he was left in charge of pickups and dropoffs (because my mom was getting a cancerous mole removed, fun!), he forgot to pick me up from voice lessons for three hours, despite the fact that my mom had left a very clear — and not very long — list of who he needed to pick up, and when. This was not an isolated incident. My dad “forgot” to pick us up or even outright refused to do so a number of times in order to control my mom.
My mom was able to divorce my dad a few years ago, but she works her ass off at a job that doesn’t pay particularly well, and she probably won’t be able to retire…ever. I should mention that my mom is a classic emotional abuser and narcissist herself, so there’s plenty of blame to go around on lots of other family dynamics, but her not working all those years was (90% or more) not about what she was “getting out of it.”
Yes, I was massively side-eyeing all the “well mom should have done this and that”.
But I do agree with some of what megpie71 was getting at, namely that mom’s decisions aren’t on LW. I don’t know if mom is a victim of abuse, or also an abuser, or maybe not really any of the above – in ways it matters in ways it doesn’t matter. As far as LW goes, “own oxygen mask first” applies and right now it only really matters whether mom has been reliable in the past or not; my gestalt from the letter is mom is not reliable for help, though maybe doesn’t actively make things worse either.
So I think LW shouldn’t count on mom for help, but similarly shouldn’t feel guilty for NOT helping mom as mom’s choices are not on the children to manage.
Absolutely mom’s choices are mom’s choices, and it’s not the LW’s job to rescue mom from her abusive dad.
But turning that into a lecture about how mom could TOTALLY have skipped off and gotten a job and concocting a fantasy scenario about how dad is not so much abusive as ‘nudging’, is a level of victim-blaming and ‘oh, the poor menz’ that I really don’t expect to see on CA.
Shadowflash covered the salient points, save one, which is this one: WOW. 😐
Is this a joke?
Ultimately, why does it matter what LW’s mom’s motivations are? Leaving aside that there is literally not a single scrap of evidence to support your conjecture about the LW’s mother, it really doesn’t matter.
That’s a great advice, Captain. I love how you laid it out. Of course, they can survive with or without or limited help from her. They’ve done that before, they can do it again. She can, of course, insist that her sister help her out. It’s not really her responsibility to pick up the slack when they can’t.
i can relate to “Not so selfish”. I can’t say my dad isn’t a good provider, because he is. it’s the financial upbringing that the parents had learn that i want to break – the type where it’s the kid’s turn to provide for us when they get jobs. It took me also a while to finally start saying “No”. I got to hear all hurtful, insulting words because I refuse to help. When i finally had it, I told them, “I’ll help you out when I see that there are no other options… but since, I see you buying and paying for stuff we don’t really need, I wont help”. (I got an earful when I told them that).
I would probably suggest that “Not-so-selfish” allot certain amount – her household financial contribution – and say that’s all she could contribute for the month and nothing more, anything she bought for herself is her own (and keep reminding her sister and mom), and just basically say NO when they asked for more. It’s hard at first, but eventually, they’ll understand, especially when properly explained.
I have little to add other than, I’m sorry you’re going through this, LW. It’s very hard to break that sort of mental cycle where you’re responsible for other people’s Stuff (emotionally, financially, mentally). I don’t know if a therapist is a thing you can manage, but I think that one might be helpful.
I love your answer so much, captain. I just want to add for the LW, don’t discount the cumulative power of even small savings. If you can manage to save $10/week, that’s $520 by the end of the year. Not exactly king’s riches, sure, but maybe a first months rent for a sublet. When you’re really broke it feels easy to just say “fuck it, it doesn’t matter anyway” but it can really add up. Of course I’m sure you track your spending really closely and if the wiggle room just isn’t there then it isn’t, but it’s maybe sometime to consider.
I’ve had a $5 to savings and $5 to my credit card every week set up for the last couple of years, and recently increased them to $10. I have several hundred in savings now, it’s really really good.
I want to stress that your priority needs to be your own safety and well-being. If possible, you should focus on getting out rather than making do. Many commenters have provided advice for making do and many reasons why this may be all that’s possible right now. I just want to say that getting out sooner with less of a plan and fewer resources is better than waiting until you have just the right amount of savings, just the right exit strategy, etc.
I knew some people who moved across the country together to set up a group housing situation in the new area. They’d been friends for years and thought they knew how it would work out. Nope. The stress of the new location, living together, not everyone finding jobs led to some outright abusive, toxic shit, such as people have described above: opening private mail, screamfests, financial abuse, gaslighting, interrogations, house renovation/safety issues, etc. And these were just friends, not faammmily. Well, several of us pitched in to raise the funds to get the people suffering most in this situation moved back to our area. Because securing their safety was the first priority. Figuring out long-term living arrangements, saving enough money for security deposit, etc, finding employment–secondary concerns compared to just getting out. Just being out of that situation helped them so much. And they are working on the rest.
You will have so many more personal resources (money, energy, emotion) once you are no longer in this daily drain that is sucking it all out of you. Get to safety first if you can. Take a short-term loan, borrow from friends, whatever it takes. It’ll be easier to build and rebuild once you’re free of that environment.
Can you move out? It seems relatively straightforward for me to ask that but I know it might not be a quick or easy solution.
*Potential triggers follow*
To give you my example in the hopes that it might be of use: I didn’t move out till I was in my 30s. I spent most of my life busy surviving abuse and being told constantly that I was so incompetent that I couldn’t possibly survive without parental supervision. I ended up living with my dad, paying the rent and shelling out for any other expenses he wanted me to cover because I was working. He’d decided that my money was his money to spend which meant things like paying for dinners he had with his friends or telling me to spend less on groceries by cutting out all the items that I could eat, which left me with food that made me physically sick. I was also to clean the kitchen for an hour every day and not socialise with work colleagues outside of work.
I’d love to say that I packed my bags and moved out the first time any of this happened but it took me a while to clue in that if I didn’t get moving I’d be living in his rented flat at the age of 60+ with no social connections and no ideal how to survive by myself. I think it was a Captain Awkward post where a commenter mentioned Laura Esquivel’s Like Water For Chocolate that tipped me off. That’s when I started planning since I couldn’t just cut and run right away. I gave away most of the things I could, gave them to charity shops if they could be used or recycled them if they couldn’t. I bought a car without telling him. Hire-purchase with a tiny deposit. I found a flat and signed a lease. I moved things out, over a month, in small batches. Somewhere along the line he sent me a spreadsheet of expenses to ‘prove’ that I couldn’t afford to move out. I looked at it and wondered what he was spending £2000 worth of discretionary funds on per month. Then, once everything was in place, I just left one morning for work and didn’t come back. I left they keys with a neighbor and left a message with family friends and was gone.
A year of no contact later I didn’t end up speaking to my dad again because I ended up in hospital and decided that if I did die (a real possibility) I at least wanted to let him know that might happen rather than someone else track him down after the fact. That was 3 years ago. I still live in the flat I rented and I’ve ‘repaired’ my relationship with my dad to the extent that I occasionally go have lunch with him He’s mostly simmered down though he did ask me for money a year ago and was determined that I should give him cash specifically from my savings. I refused and was outraged that he’d even asked which to me is more emotional progress than I’d ever have believed possible a few years ago.
Anyway, the point of my telling you how I got out isn’t to say that you need to do it right now or that maybe you an build a new relationship with your relatives when you’re out,. Rather what I’m trying to say is that you might not realize that you can get out just yet and if/when you do it doesn’t need to be with a bang and a snappy one-liner. It can be quietly, carefully, with long-term plans and actions, because you’re playing the long-game where the prize is that you get to live a good and wholesome life on your own terms that’s filled with so much more opportunity that you ever realized was possible.
What you’ve done is amazing. Well done and keep strong.
LW, if you’re still reading, one more thing: if you’re in the US (not sure of laws and access in other countries), you can prevent anyone from getting credit in your name. This can be very important to cover when leaving a situation like yours. Please read this web page and use the toll-free numbers to freeze your own credit. You will have the ability to unfreeze it when you need it. Do this one no matter what else you do, after you rent a post office box for correspondence of this kind. This costs you nothing.
Since your mother and sister are playing against you in this game, it is absolutely vital that you keep the PIN away from them and unguessable. That way they cannot spoof anyone by pretending to be you (by knowing other things about you, such as your birth date).
Oh yes! Since financial abuse is a factor, LW, please check your credit and monitor it regularly. It’s better to know about any nasty surprises now rather than when you are ready to GTFO.
Signal boosting–this does really happen (may already have happened–make sure to check your credit, too, if you’re not already) and if anything will make it happen, setting financial boundaries will.
THIS A MILLION TIMES
A friend of mine found out that her step-dad had been opening credit cards in her and her brother’s name and maxing them out when she went home and picked up a piece of mail that had been delivered to their house (where she no longer lived) but was addressed to her name. It took a while to iron it out and her credit score definitely was dinged when he closed the cards.
Yes, and the three credit reporting bureaus now let you check your credit report online, so you don’t have to wait for mailed copies. Check the reports; if all looks fine, freeze each immediately. It will cost $10 to freeze each one if nothing’s wrong, so get a pre-paid debit card to hide the charges. You’ll have to unfreeze them when looking at places to live that want to do credit checks (again, $10 to unfreeze and $10 to re-freeze each, so ask which bureau the place will be checking, and unfreeze only that one).
If you do find fraud, get a police report, and the initial freezes will be free. And don’t shy away from the report. If your family’s done anything, getting the police involved could help you get out of this living situation, and not just the credit situation.
It may even be possible to execute a credit freeze for free, depending on state *and* whether you are – or suspect you may be – a victim of identity theft. Also, even if you do have to pay a small fee, you can save by completing Equifax’s credit freeze request form, and they will then transmit the freeze to the other two bureaus. (I know this because I was a victim of the largest hack in history – OPM – good times.)
The problem in all this is your dad. Everything else is just your family trying to navigate around him as a missing stair. My suggestion would be to see if you can get mom and sis on the same page, and just let one of the bills go unpaid. Preferably one which is not life critical (like cable vs water or electric). Right now, Dad gets to hoard money like a dragon, and all the comforts of modern life still magically appear (at much stress and personal cost to everyone else around him). But I guarantee you that he will start paying for stuff as soon as there are consequences for him not paying. **
** If you think there’s a chance that he might get physically violent, ignore everything I just said.
Also, I concur with everyone above who says that making a plan to GTFO of that house is the long term solution. May the Force be with you in your endeavors to achieve escape velocity.
This. Your mother and sister come to you, OP, because they can “reason” (read: manipulate) you while it’s too difficult and uncomfortable to try to ask your father to support this household. They know he will scream and yell and be generally awful, while you will feel bad and capitulate. Meanwhile, your dad gets to watch the cable, use the internet, the shower, and not have to shell out a dime. I will imagine that the minute he can’t watch a game or surf the internet, he will -miracle of miracles- have money to throw at the problem. He will probably be an awful dick about it, but he won’t go without.
No one in this house is being held accountable but you. People who live alone don’t have to put up with this horse shit.
Another option for getting quick housing, depending on your location, is Airbnb. My experience is with only the U.S. rules, but there’s no huge deposit (they sometimes have small cleaning deposits, like $30), and you can find listings that go on for months (they have a sublet page for that). I’ve had both good and bad experiences — some hosts and housemates have been awesome, and some have been jack@***s, but I figure those are risks you’d take with regular housemates, too. Just an option to consider.
Also, re: forwarding your mail, when you do that, the post office sends notices to both your new address and your old address. The notice to your old address usually doesn’t have the new address on it, but finding that form would tip off your family. Best to get another mailing address and not forward yet — just make address changes quietly, and if more mail shows up at your home, contact that company to get the address changed. Once you’re out and free of your family, then you can put a forwarding order on.
I’m paranoid enough to think that you probably don’t want your family (especially your dad) knowing where you live once you move. So I suggest against mail forwarding. Just tell all the important people and institutions yourself.
Them not knowing where you live will prevent many potential issues from popping up. So, if you do move out I suggest that you not give them the new address for at least six months until you know whether they will behave themselves.
can you forward to a post office box? that could remove the physical address part of the equation.
i suspect one thing that will be difficult is resisting the impulse to answer honestly when you are asked direct questions. if your experience is anything like mine, silence is met with hounding, an unexpected answer is met with more or sharper questions, and any variation on the phrase “piss off” is met with rage.
only you can decide what will keep you safe. if you can physically remove yourself when the questions start, do so. but being able to practice not answering direct questions in the way that has been required of you, even with little questions, may go a long way toward building you up in the ways you may need.
not answering directly may feel like lying, and that may feel bad. this does not make what you are doing bad. you are protecting yourself, and you are giving yourself tools you have been denied for 29 years. people are not entitled to the answers they want. you, however, are entitled to take care of yourself and only yourself here.
You can definitely forward to a post office box, but again, a notice will be sent to the old address (at least in the United State, not sure about other countries). So even if the family doesn’t know the PO box address, they’ll know the mail for the LW is going someplace else. That’s why I suggested not forwarding until the LW was fully moved out. She can get the box beforehand and make address changes herself.
And I hear ya on this: “if your experience is anything like mine, silence is met with hounding, an unexpected answer is met with more or sharper questions, and any variation on the phrase “piss off” is met with rage.” I’ve had to deal with co-workers, classmates, and housemates in the past who felt I must answer them no matter what. Always why why why but but but, right? I’m in my mid-40s now and still have to remind myself that I don’t have to answer personal questions if I don’t want to, even though I’m no longer dealing with those people.
that makes sense about the PO box. good call.
and yeah, i have to remind myself as well! it’s tempting to just make up something to get them to go away, but that never works the way i hope it will. and i’m not great on my feet. so in the long run it’s less messy for me to just enforce the boundary.
The PO box idea is a good one. ++
LW, good job on starting this. I feel concerns for your safety, because violence escalates. Before you make any changes, I advise you speak with authorities.
There are many agencies created by your city or as outreaches of your police department, who can help with the assault, coercion and financial abuse crimes you’ve endured by your relatives. The reason these exist is because getting free of this imprisonment you are in is very difficult to navigate alone, and to restate, because violence escalates. They’ll be so happy to get you safely away now rather than later. Keep doing what you did here and call one.
LW, I’m so sorry that this is happening to you. I can’t even imagine how hard it must be. It’s very easy for most people here to say “Just get out!” or “just tell them no!”
You are going to have to be the villain to your mother and sister and niece. They’ve come to depend on you, and you’re going to have to pull away to take care of yourself. They will count it as a betrayal. They will probably judge you much more harshly than they judge your father. He’s been self serving constantly, but you were on “their team” and the change is going to rock the boat, hard.
How mean, exactly, is your father? Will he let his family starve if you don’t pay for them? Will the other women wither and die without finding other solutions? You are carrying the load because you are the easy money-well. Guilting you into paying is easier for everyone than demanding it from your father or getting a job. Stop making it easy. Be cold. Let them be furious and sad and worried. Let them feel what you’re feeling.
LW, you are worried about having enough food to get through the month. Food. That is the very basic of basics of self preservation.
What I’ve seen of family dynamics like this one is that the person who is like the older sister in LW’s case, the one who Noped out of chipping in, will be the one to inherit the house, the money and the business. The family decides that that person is the most responsible and deserving.
The person in the devalued position, is the one who does the end of life bedside vigils and funeral arrangements. What I’ve seen is that these splits between the family members are all or nothing. And the “stuff” does not get re-distributed, ever.
Another good reason for LW to form their Team Me.
Oh, that’s really interesting and relevant to my personal interactions with my family. Huh.
Forgive me if this has been suggested upstream:
While you’re working on your GTFO Fund, try to ID expenses that you can rework so you’re only paying for yourself, or that you can live without so if the bills don’t get paid, you don’t care. When the family squawks that xyz is out: “If you want it, you pay for it.”
Can you shift your internet use to library, cafe, work? Is there a nice neighbor who will let you use their wireless? If there is, don’t pay internet. Let the service lapse.
Do *you* need cable? If *you* can live without it, let it lapse.
How are your family’s phones set up? If you’re on a family plan, buy yourself a prepaid phone or cheap personal plan, and don’t pay their phone bill. Let their phones get cut off.
I’m sure someone has said this, but can you put a lock on your bedroom or closet door? If not, definitely buy a lockable cupboard or fridge and keep all your stuff in it. Yep, store everything, TP, Q-tips, and all, in the fridge if that’s what it takes. Carry your own roll of TP into the bathroom and out again. Be brutal. It’s not your problem if they’re up shit creek without any paper.
In addition to saving money, it’ll send the message that you’re serious about not supporting the family any longer. Maybe it’ll wake them up. Ha. Who am I kidding- from what you’ve said, they’ll just up the drama, but sooner or later, they’re going to have to drop the histrionics and pay attention to what they’re going to do now that their free ride is over. Or not. Not your problem.
Keep your eye on your GTFO Fund and imagine how sweet it will be when you’re out. Which you will be. You can do it!
Jedi hugs, if acceptable.
Sorry, I’m a little late to the discussion. I’ve lived in somewhat similar situations where I wasn’t in a position to address what was going on (or I did address it, and no cared). Like other commenters, I’d recommend cutting off the cable and internet. Tell them you can’t afford it. I have a feeling they’ll “find” some money after you do that or at least offer to pitch in. If you need internet, you can always up the data plan on your phone (if you have a smartphone).
If there’s a dollar store in your area, I would go and buy the cheapest $1 shampoo, conditioner, and lotion you can find, and leave it in the shower for your family to use. If they complain, tell them it’s all you can afford. Meanwhile, keep the good stuff for yourself hidden. Is it possible you can keep some food for yourself at work? (I know, sometimes people steal that too.)
If you think they’ll go through your things, consider getting a cheap gym or community center membership if that’s available where you live. You can rent a locker and keep your shampoo, soap, lotion, and possibly some snacks there. Many gyms have cable and wifi (plus it’s a way to get away from your family). I don’t think you’d need to do it forever, just until your family breaks their bad habit of mooching off you.
I would also try applying for public assistance. I don’t think you have to count your family’s income to qualify. Many people live with their families but have separate finances. You may even qualify for subsidized housing or other benefits.
Recently, my family had some money drama and I had to say to a family member, “We aren’t going to be able to afford groceries next week. I need you to go to this food bank, show them your driver’s license, and take whatever they give you.” I was completely serious–I had researched the food banks on the internet because we faced having no money for groceries. (Some of them don’t even make you provide proof of income, you just have to show up. They don’t ask any questions.) My family member went into shock and was looking for jobs two hours later. I don’t think that statement will have the same effect on everyone, but it’s worth finding out about the food banks in your area and what times they are open. If your mom and sister need help with the groceries (whether truly or in their own minds), they can go to these places and get food. The people at the food banks have seen a lot of different situations and many of them won’t judge you or your family for accepting assistance.
These are some good coping strategies if the LW is in a situation where they cannot leave, or cannot leave yet. A locker rental, if one is conveniently located, might be a useful thing in general — put anything you don’t want to lose if you have to leave in it, or anything you don’t want your family snooping in, and keep the key always on you.
Also, if you decide to cut them off of Internet/cable, there are plenty of places such as libraries and coffee shops that you can go to to get free quality wifi. I go to Starbucks and dunkin donuts for the free wifi. If you have a smartphone/iPad with data, you can also look into getting a cheap(ish) plan with data so that you can quickly check your email/banking every day even when you can’t get to your free wifi place that day.
If you still want to be able to watch your favorite shows, You can use Netflix/Hulu/HBO GO/YouTube. Netflix is $8.99 per month. You can actually watch stuff on Hulu without a subscription on a PC. They just become available a week after the episode airs instead of a day after it airs. HBO GO is $14.99 a month and YouTube is free (unless you use YouTube red).
From what I hear, some data providers will start allowing you to stream video without using data soon, if they haven’t done that already, so there’s that to look forward to as well.
I don’t understand how the father is “financially abusive.” From the letter, all I can see is that he spends some of the money he earns on himself, and not as much on his wife, two adult daughters, and grandkids as they would like. Unless LW is completely supporting the other women in the house, it seems likely that dad pays for some things as well as providing housing. How many generations of financially dysfunctional people does he have to support, and in what style, to not be considered abusive?
The Letter Writer didn’t go into the entire history of financial abuse because s/he doesn’t need to prove it to me – I believe her. Financial abuse is A Thing, especially as a way that men try to control wives and daughters. You’re seeing a household of women taking advantage of a man and complaining that he’s not doing enough, I’m seeing a story where the dad controls the flow of money so that the other people in the household can’t rely on his contribution (putting things like utilities, etc. at risk) (but will make extravagant purchases for himself), and has done so since the Letter Writer, etc. was a child, as a way to keep his family dependent on him, which can lead to a great imbalance of power and a really chaotic life. You say “It seems likely that the dad pays for some things as well…” …but…like, does he? That’s just your assumption.
From the link, above:
Financial abusers say lots of stuff like “If you want it so bad you can get a job!” or “Do I have to pay for everything around here?” but when you scratch the surface you’ll see that they put a whole bunch of barriers to financial independence around their families. If you’re new to this idea, that’s okay, but please don’t hijack the thread.
The letter writer says “he has enough money to buy expensive shoes and perfumes for himself, but asking him for money so we can have food and power supply is like talking to a wall).”
If money is genuinely tight, the household electric bill and groceries generally take priority over perfume.
That’s aside from the point that a couple can reasonably agree that one person will do paid work and the other will be a homemaker. That doesn’t make it reasonable for them to decide that, in that situation, the bills are primarily the responsibility of their oldest daughter, not of the parent who works for money.
It is not “financially dysfunctional” to want to save some money to move out of a situation built on “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is ours,” or to object to being told “no, I won’t pay part of the electric bill” by a relative/housemate who also has a paying job. It’s possible that the LW’s father and sister are both taking advantage of her, and she is asking for ways to say no to both of them about money.
I could be wrong, but my reading of the letter is that the LW’s default preferred situation is that she be a 29 year old living at home contributing nothing to household expenses, because her dad could totally afford to support everybody on those terms if he weren’t such a dick. Which, like, might well be true but is not actually a scenario of inherent injustice. It might be unjust if something is actively preventing the 29 year old from moving out (say, cultural expectations or physical limitations). But her dad is only responsible for his wife — and that really is their spousal deal to work out, with the daughter’s moral support if the mom is asking for it. But it could be this is a story of THREE selfish people (dad, two adult daughters: one who does not work, and one who does, but doesn’t like being asked to contribute to the household) and one steamrolled person (the mom) who tries to run placating / begging interference among them. The best scenario for that mom might be for the two adult daughters to gtfo and let her then re-negotiate directly with her spouse.
It doesn’t appear that your reading takes into consideration the idea that there are abusive people in this world, and her dad is almost certainly one of them, and the rest of the family enables him. Abused people are prone to defeatist thinking (“I probably CAN’T make it on my own, I can’t even stand up for myself and ask to share the cost of ONE measly utility!”) and truly feel trapped in their own situation. Her letter is asking for advice on how to stand up for herself – the fact she needs help with this at age 29, combined with all the other factors she describes, indicates abuse. Her parents have not said “we need you to contribute or we just can’t afford to have the extra body/mouth around” – they have said “you live here, you pay [all] the bills, deal with it.” How is that not a flashing red light with air horns screaming?
To me, it reads more like a 29 year old living at home expects to pay partial expenses for the household and not spend every cent of her paycheck supporting her family. Which, if you read the letter, is what’s happening. She’s paying for all utilities and all groceries, not just “her share.” This leaves her with no spare money of her own to move out, no spare money to put into savings, no way of controlling her own finances. It’s a way to manipulate her and keep her bound to her family, reliant on them. After all, if she doesn’t keep spending every cent of her paycheck on them, they’ll kick her out and she has no savings to fall back on to get an apartment. She’s in a precarious situation.
It’s interesting how quickly people read accounts from women of men controlling money and say “she’s obviously just a selfish spoiled gold digger who wants a free ride” instead of “yes, financial abuse is really common and a standard way that men control women.” By her account he refuses to BUY FOOD (for the family) or PAY UTILITY BILLS (for the family) when he could be buying luxuries for himself, but she’s somehow greedy and demanding when she’s expected to spend all her money, every bit that she makes, to support her family… including him.
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