When Shari's son, daughter-in-law and two children moved into her house, they had, financially speaking, nothing. The cookie business they started together had failed--despite infusions of money from the family. So when Shari and her husband Hal opened their home as a refuge--"a lifeline" she calls it--money was an issue. "We could have subsidized their rent," Shari says of the decision to have the family move in with her, "but their needs were so far above and beyond that. They needed food, medical insurance, car insurance, clothes--the works." Shari and Hal were fortunate to have the wherewithal to pick up the tab for the big things, but what to do about "walking around money" while the son and daughter-in-law were job hunting?
At first, the four adults held Sunday night meetings: to go over any unmet needs or frustrations; to keep Shari and Hal up to date on job interviews and other employment prospects. Once it became clear what some of the day-to-day cash needs were, Hal came up with a plan. Every Monday morning they would leave Shari's son a check that was big enough to cover lunches, car fare, outings with the kids, other incidentals for both the son and his wife. That way, the younger couple wouldn't have to ask every time they needed something. This was important to Shari: "Money can be very divisive," she says. "It can be a wedge." She didn't want her son to feel demeaned by his circumstances, that he had to ask his Mommy for money to meet a friend for lunch or take his kids to the movies. And there was this: she didn't want either her son or daughter-in-law to rush into a job that wasn't on a career path.
It helps when you can afford to be as generous as Shari and Hal were. But the important point, to me, was not so much how much they could give and how many bills they could cover, but the open way they communicated. Talking things out--being up front about even the most personal money issues--can ease a tricky financial situation. And for Shari, setting a clear goal--jobs for her children that were on a career path--helped her formulate a plan she could live with and not resent.