#1339: Tired of “Moocher” Son-In-Law

Dear Captain Awkward,

My husband and I recently moved to a touristy beach town. It is expensive to live here. My daughter’s husband is a professional and flies here to work in this town for a two or three days a month.

He makes very good money. We welcomed him to stay with us but here is the problem. He is a moocher. He never offers to buy food, he expects to drive my car for free and very seldom mutters a thank you. He is taking advantage of our hospitality and we are tired of his ungratefulness. We would like him to contribute in some way like buying food or taking us out to dinner or some sort of appreciation. He can certainly afford it.

We are retired and on a fixed income. We are saving him hundreds of dollars by providing a free room, free car and free food. How do we handle this?

Thank you for your advice.


You are allowed to tell your son-in-law that you’d appreciate grocery money, to have the car returned with a full tank and a thank you if he takes it out, and whatever else you need to turn these periodic visits from him into something that works for you. 

“[Name], it’s nice seeing you when you come into town, but we’re on a fixed income and we can’t afford to cover the groceries, fuel, and other expenses. From now on, are you able to chip in $X ahead of time to cover your stay?” 

You are allowed to change up all or part of the previous arrangement. “You’re welcome to the guest room, but we’ll need the car most days, so probably plan to rent one.” 

If you’d like a nice dinner out, then say that: “When we go stay with family, we generally take our hosts out for a nice dinner to say thank you. Would you be up for treating us to something like that?” 

You are also allowed to say, “Oh, that won’t work for us” from now on and leave him to make his own hotel and rental car arrangements. Search your heart: Is your honest preference that he stay elsewhere from now on when he’s in town without your daughter? Then go with that. (Do you even like this guy?) 

I suggest having him stay elsewhere for at least the next visit as a way to reset things between you. “I know you usually plan to stay with us when you’re here for work, but we’re taking a little break from hosting anyone, I wanted to let you know so you can make other plans.”  Don’t set it up as a  lesson he’s supposed to learn absent an actual conversation, though. If he asks why, or even if he doesn’t, tell him: “These visits are taking a financial toll on us in a way we didn’t expect, and we’ve started to feel a little bit unappreciated, so let’s take a month off and reset the parameters so it works for everyone.” 

Then tell him what you’d like to be different from now on.”Can you ask before using the car, and remember to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’?” Some families operate on the pretext that they are so close that they don’t need to say please or thank you or ask permission for stuff, “company” manners are reserved for people outside the family. In some families, the parent-figures pick up the check no matter what (on pain of death/severe disapproval), and he might be from one of those. He married into your family, he’s on your turf, so he needs to adjust to how you do things.Whatever guests “should” do, he isn’t doing it, and he’s not going to magically intuit something different if you don’t tell him. There is no extra credit for gritting your teeth and faking that everything is fine when someone is making you mad. If you want things to change, you must say something. 

The One Weird Trick I can offer up is a reminder that your grudge clock has been running for a while now, but if you’ve never raised any of these concerns to him before, your son-in-law doesn’t know. If you’ve “welcomed” him to stay in the past, and never raised any issues, how would he know? He might be an entitled cheapskate, he might be a generally good guy who is just a little oblivious about this and has been taking you for granted, the proof will be in what he does when he knows for sure what you need. If you want to stay constructive and give him the best possible chance to do the right thing, be very specific and clear about what you’d like to happen from now on, and then restart the clock. Once he knows better, does he do better? Be prepared to give a gentle reminder now and then until you find a new normal that works.

If that new normal is that he explores your beachside town’s many hotels on his work trips, expenses it all come tax time, and everyone likes each other better for it? That’s still better than what’s happening now. 

P.S. Strong congrats to this Letter Writer for looking for ways to handle it directly with the son-in-law and not making it something your daughter has to mediate. 

P.P.S. I thought I recalled writing something for people who live near tourist destinations and need to manage the influx of entitled houseguests, here it is for anyone needing a general review.