The bumper sticker is pretty funny the first time you see it: Get Even: Live Long Enough to Become a Problem to Your Kids. Haha, right? Well, not really. Today’s first question comes from a reader who feels like this is happening right now and her parents are not even that old.
Dear Mary: My husband and I have been debt-free for three years. My father has recently been very ill, and my mother spilled the beans about their debt. They have two bank credit cards plus several store cards—all with large balances. They also have a mortgage, HEL (home equity loan) and a big car payment.
I’m frustrated, disgusted and heartbroken to find out my parents have so much debt in their 60s. My husband and I paid off one major credit-card account for them that had a balance of several thousand dollars. Afterwards, my mother went out and bought a new outfit on that card—something she did not need.
I’m not willing to do that again or to go into debt to pay off their debt. I explained to her that with that kind of debt they will never retire. Am I wrong? I would appreciate any advice you might have for us. Julie
Dear Julie: First, Congratulations on your newly achieved, debt-free status! You have my utmost respect for having achieved it.
I am sorry to hear about your father’s illness but that doesn’t change my response: You shouldn’t bail them out by going into debt, and I think you’ve discovered why paying their debts even if that doesn’t require you to go into debt isn’t such a hot idea, either. I would say the same thing if your parents were writing to me about you. You cannot fix anyone by making them comfortable in their misery. That only enables them to stay there. And buy more stuff.
All that being said, your parents are not accountable to you for how they choose to live and the way they manage their money. You cannot legislate their lives, so you should stop trying. Your goal should be to always remain a fragrance in their lives; never become a odor.
For these reasons, I suggest you back off their financial situation and begin diligently to save and invest now because the day may come that you decide you want to contribute to their day-to-day care. But even then you will not be responsible for their debts.
Should they die with debt, their creditors will look to their estate—not their heirs—for payment. And if the estate is not large enough to cover those debts, that’s their creditors’ problem, not yours. Just don’t count on a big inheritance.
I hope everyone reading this—regardless of age—will take stock of the way they are managing their finances and preparing for the future. The best gift we will ever give our kids is our own solvency. In that way, we will not become a financial burden to them.
Should your parents or anyone reading this want to find the path out of debt and into solvency (as you have), I would love to be their guide and coach through the book I wrote more than 20 years ago—Debt-Proof Living: How to Get Out of Debt and Stay Out. It is as relevant today as it was when I wrote the first edition. It’s my story together with the simple steps we took—and anyone can take—to get out of debt and change their lives.
HELP! GRIMY KITCHEN CABINETS
Dear Mary: I would like to know of a quality product I can use to clean, nourish and protect my beautiful hickory kitchen cabinets. I have been reading your column everyday for years and have used many of your tips. I only wish I had you years ago when I was raising my family. But better late than never. Thanks so much and keep them coming. Adele
Dear Adele: First, thanks for your kind words. I’m happy to know we found each so many years ago.
Now about your cabinets, it’s a good bet that wood needs a deep cleaning first to remove the build-up of stuff that sticks to kitchen cabinets, followed by a good wood polish and conditioner.
Murphy Oil Soap Liquid Wood Cleaner is a fabulous product for cleaning wood—everything from floors to cabinets and furniture, too. Just follow dilution and use instructions on the label.
If you prefer a homemade DIY option, here’s the best:
Kitchen Gunk Remover. Bust through hardened, dingy layers of old, sticky, dust-grabbing grease with vegetable oil and baking soda. Mix one-part any vegetable oil to two-parts baking soda. Apply this oily paste to dirty areas using a soft cloth or paper towel. That ugly, greasy, dirty build-up on cabinets will begin to soften and start to disappear. Wipe clean and buff with a soft cloth. While this method will be a bit more labor-intensive, the results will be magical. And cheap!
Following a rigorous cleaning, wood cabinets are thirsty for moisture and protection. But you want to be careful that you don’t make matters worse by using something that will create a new kind of build-up that becomes a magnet to kitchen grease and grime.
You won’t find a better product to do that than Howard’s Feed-n-Wax Wood Polish and Conditioner. It contains beeswax, carnauba wax and orange oil to keep the wood from drying out, while at the same time repelling kitchen grease. It smells great, too.
Howard’s is fantastic for all of the wood surfaces in your home because it is a penetrating feeder and polish for all furniture finishes and natural wood in your home—not only those beautiful hickory kitchen cabinets.
Dear Mary: After reading in a past column about programming a free 411 service into my cell phone, I forwarded the number to all of my friends and family members. But the first time I used it, the “little commercial” that you must listen to while waiting for the number turned out to be X-rated! Why would you recommend such a thing? Jackie
Dear Jackie: Unfortunately, you made a common mistake. You dialed 1-800-411FREE (a service that is enjoying a lot of misdirected traffic), instead of the correct line, which is 1-800-FREE411. To use this free and very wholesome service you need to program the number 1-800-373-3411 into your phone land line as well, so you won’t misremember next time.
The folks at FREE411 do not serve any adult-rated content, rest assured. I know this is true because I have checked them out. And you can bet your speed dialer that I would never endorse something of a questionable nature. Dial carefully and give FREE411 a second chance. It’s a great service.
Once the service has located an entry for your requested number—business, government or residential—it reads the information aloud and offers the caller the option of connecting to the number by pressing a single number on his or her phone keypad.
How can Free-411 afford to offer free directory assistance service? It works a lot like commercial radio or television—businesses pay to sponsor it in exchange for presenting their advertisements to customers. Once you request a number you will be presented with a short (a few seconds) audio advertisement, which you can act upon (I wouldn’t) or simply ignore.