After another 12-hour day at work, Julie was disgusted and dismayed when she walked into her kitchen to start pulling dinner together. As she approached the kitchen, she saw broken potato chips around the garbage bin and the chocolate syrup bottle on the counter, swimming in a pool of sticky brown syrup. Apparently, her nephews had an afternoon snack and doing their “best” to clean up fell far short of Julie’s standards.
She called in the boys to clean up their mess, but after calling their names several times and not getting any response, Julie started cleaning the mess herself. She was tired and anxious to get dinner going so she could be done for the night. Tomorrow was going to be a hectic day and stopping now to reprimand and/or teach her nephews the house rules —again — was beyond her energy level.
…she works hard at balancing family and finances with grace.
You see, Julie is still learning how to live with her nephews and she works hard at balancing family and finances with grace. Her sister Carly, whom she loves dearly, left her abusive husband close to a year ago. At the time, Julie was appalled by Carly’s stories of Hal’s abuse. She wanted Carly and the boys to be safe first and foremost, and insisted they stay with her until things settled down.
However, in spite of the best of intentions, thinking that balancing family and finances would be a positive experience, some confusion and a bit of ill will have now surfaced. When Carly and her two boys first moved in, Julie had expected it would be for a month or two — three at the very the most. She has a small ranch and to accommodate the three, Julie doubled up her daughters and rearranged the living room so Carly could have privacy and a place to sleep.
At first, it was exciting having her big sister move in. All the fun of their youth was resurrected as they made thick milkshakes and freshly baked cookies. The two could talk for hours about everything, from a new recipe to the best way to remove the mold smell from Julie’s bath towels (a combination of white vinegar and baking soda in the washer — who knew?). Past family vacations, broken bones and hearts, deep-seated feelings and opposing opinions about their parents’ health, their self-absorbed cousin and a host of other matters near and dear to both: All were topics they could discuss nonstop.
While Carly was disappointed that her marriage had ended, she reveled in her newfound freedom. She got herself on a few dating sites and was going out several nights a week for dinner and drinks with new and exciting men. She would come home with hilarious stories about the men she was meeting and their idiosyncrasies.
While all that was exciting for Carly, Julie suddenly became mother of two more kids. And these were kids who had some serious issues. They missed their dad (and their often absent mom). They were thrown into a new school where they were having difficulties making friends and keeping up with the more-advanced curriculum. The boys acted out and were in large measure just little boys in need of mothering. Julie is a loving mother to her daughters and had been extremely gracious and generous with her nephews, but every week that they all continue to live in her house, her nerves get stretched a tiny bit thinner.
The cost of groceries doubled, as the boys eat not only at meal time, but have healthy snacking appetites and are used to expensive treats Julie does not usually buy. Carly has offered to pick up groceries a few times, but when she stops on her way home, she comes in with a limited array of organic fruits and vegetables, rather than focusing on specific meal-planning and lunch box fillers. Balancing finances and family was starting to become more of a burden than a blessing- at least for Julie.
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While Carly is not paying rent or buying many groceries, Julie continues to make her mortgage payments. The household expenses have increased: more electricity, more water, more gas. Carly is (or pretends to be) oblivious. She thinks the mortgage is Julie’s big expense and her being there doesn’t make the mortgage any higher. Carly appreciates that her nieces are sharing one room, and she sees that as a plus. The girls are together, just like she and Julie were growing up.
While Julie is “mostly OK” with all of it, nights like tonight, when she has to clean up messes before she can get dinner started, then is expected to help with everyone’s homework, get her exasperated. Julie is tired of cleaning up after everyone, doing loads and loads of laundry, working on homework assignments for four kids and thinking about and meeting everyone’s needs.
In addition to the emotional stress this has caused, Julie has been spending over her budget every single month.
Julie doesn’t want to kick Carly to the curb, but at the same time, doesn’t Carly see she is taking advantage? It felt like only one of them was working at balancing finances and family at all. Doesn’t she want to regain her independence and get out of Julie’s house? And, even if she doesn’t “want” to, per se, shouldn’t she do it anyway? Carly is a grown woman. She can’t stay here for much longer, or Julie will explode.
In addition to the emotional stress this has caused, Julie has been spending over her budget every single month. She has been using her savings to pay for unexpected expenses. How could she say no to the boys while buying school sweatshirts and tickets to the class trip for a day at the aquarium for her girls? Last month, Julie had to call her HR department and tell them to stop the automatic deduction to her 401(k) plan because she does not have enough money and is afraid of her growing credit card debt
Julie called me to ask for advice in this sticky situation. She started by saying, “I should mention that Carly does have a decent-paying job. She certainly cannot afford the house she moved out of, but she should be able to rent a place in a good neighborhood if she stopped spending all her money on organic groceries and dating websites.”
Of course, this is a very delicate situation and feelings are inevitably going to get hurt, but ignoring the situation has not worked and I always believe that open and truthful communication is the best way to go. My advice to Julie was to tell Carly it was time for them to have the “moving out” talk with an exit strategy, to plan a time when the two could be alone and away from the distraction of the children.
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Such a plan would give each some breathing space and an opportunity to think about what they wanted to bring to the table in terms of a game plan. When the appointed meeting time came, I suggested that Julie open by telling Carly how very much this past time together has meant to her and her girls, to extol the specialness this time would always have in everyone’s hearts and the bonds created and strengthened in their time of need.
I suggested that Julie be prepared with a move-out date, and since it is already mid-fall, perhaps the end of the school year would be the perfect time to move. Carly and the boys could have the summer to get used to their new digs and be ready to start school, wherever they landed, in time for the next school year. Of course, it would be great if they could find a place nearby and stay close and in the same school district, but that was only one consideration. Carly would have to find a place she could afford, where she would be responsible for not only the rent, but also for food and utilities — an amount much greater than what she has been contributing to Julie’s household.
Julie should be prepared to help Carly in her search and help her crunch numbers, if Carly is willing to accept that help. Balancing finances and family is complex, but doable if both parties are open to working through the complexities within the whole relationship. But she must be firm in both her deadline and her pocketbook — keeping it closed, that is. There can be no hope of an extension that might lead Carly to shun her obligation to vacate Julie’s home.
Balancing finances and family is complex, but doable if both parties are open to working through the complexities within the whole relationship.
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I don’t think Julie has to complain about the messes the boys leave behind, or even the increased expenses Julie is incurring as a result of their extended stay. Rather, I think she can easily state that it is time for the family to relocate. While the time together has had a strong positive influence on all the family members, it is time for Julie’s girls to have their own rooms back and for Julie to be able to hang out in her living room (in her underwear, if she so desires).
To make the transition easier, Julie can agree to a weekly family dinner or a night or two when she could watch her nephews to give Carly some free time, but she must be clear that all of them staying under one roof indefinitely is no longer an option.
Julie fears that Carly will pull out all the stops to stay: from tears, to guilt, and maybe even threats of self-inflicted harm (Carly has a history of cutting). Julie is afraid to take any steps that will be viewed as selfish or bitchy. While nothing Julie has done or said seems that way, in my opinion, we all know every story has two sides, and each person’s perception is her reality. Nevertheless, fear of repercussions is an insufficient excuse to allow this living arrangement to continue unchecked.
Julie knows she needs to take action. Having a game plan will give her the confidence and strength to get it done.
“Life has no remote. … Get up and change it yourself!” – Mark A. Cooper, “Edelweiss Pirates: Operation Einstein”
“Every woman that finally figured out her worth, has picked up her suitcases of pride and boarded a flight to freedom, which landed in the valley of change.” – Shannon L. Alder
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I’m a debt settlement and bankruptcy attorney who negotiates resolutions between clients and their creditors. I am also a real estate attorney involved in both sides of purchasing and selling distressed real property. I am passionate about teaching people about money and helping individuals of all ages achieve financial independence and success in a "no…
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