Caroline Moss is an author and host of the podcast "Gee Thanks, Just Bought It," which helps people find the products they need to make life easier, better and more productive. Now with this column, "Asking for a Friend," she's helping people with the advice they need to make life easier, better and more productive. To submit a question, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My husband and I got married when neither of us had a lot of money and, over the last five years, both of us have started to make a little more; enough to live comfortably and happily within our means. We both agreed that we’d likely stay in the same range of income for the foreseeable future. Neither of us “come from” money and while our families have always done fine, it's not like we never had to worry about finances. Most people do.
My husband’s mother recently won a major medical settlement and was awarded an extremely life changing amount of money. Like, lotto-winning life changing. She wants to give us a lot of that money. My husband is an only child so we’re not even splitting it with anyone. Now my husband is looking at houses and boats and cars and his mom is SO happy to be “providing” these material things should we want them, and I feel extremely uncomfortable both with the money part of it and the obvious strings attached part. This wasn’t how we as a couple talked or thought about money before, but now it seems his opinions have changed knowing that he’s essentially “set." He has even mentioned quitting his job to start a business using some of the money as capital. To me, all of this is crazy.
I know what money like this can do to people, especially those who don’t know how to manage it, and I feel like I’m losing my mind and being the buzzkill, no-fun, practical wife. Is there a way to discuss this with him that will be less killjoy and more realistic without totally screwing around the dynamics of my family?
Windfall of Problems
If you were to suddenly inherit a farm filled with horses and cows and chickens, would you know, instinctively, how to run a farm? I wouldn’t, and I’m guessing you wouldn’t either.
Money isn’t that much different. Money management is a whole career. There are people who you can hire to sort out all of your finances and make recommendations about how to spend, save and invest it. If this is big enough money to be described as “life changing” for your relationship, you have to bring a third party in right away. The good news is that you can afford to do that now. Hooray.
Secondly, it may be time to explore some sort of therapy situation as a couple. It doesn’t have to be because you’re having problems, but you said yourself that the two of you had mapped out what your life would look like and how you would manage your finances. Things change and it looks like things have changed in your life. You now are people who have money. That can be great but it can also wreak havoc, which is why most lottery winners end up broke. A therapist, like a money manager, can be a third party hired to help you manage the emotions and feelings you and your husband experience when you talk and think about finances. This person may also be able to help guide you through your relationship with your mother-in-law. Let your therapist do the heavy lifting instead of you — that is not your job. A therapist can also help you and your husband figure out how to best communicate with your mother-in-law.
It can be fun to fantasize about how you would spend a million dollars (or whatever your big “we're rich!” number is), but a boat, a new car, a new house ... that stuff adds up quickly. If you get the sense that your husband is just having fun picking out expensive toys, but understands that he probably won’t be able to have a boat, a new car, a new house and an early retirement, then maybe try to indulge this activity by doing the same. Maybe it makes him happy to just think about the possibilities without actually pulling the trigger and buying them. You can be realistic about actually spending the money, but it’s always fun to dream. When it turns into him actually putting down the credit card to make those purchases, then make sure you have discussed with both your financial planner and perhaps your therapist first.
Do you have a question for Caroline? Email us at email@example.com.