Episode #102: “If he doesn’t stop supporting our 31-year old son, we won’t be able to retire”

Janis and Michael have been married for 39 years. They share two adult children; the first is a therapist that recommended coming on the podcast. The second continues to take advantage of them financially. Their story is heartbreaking, totally unique—concerning, but far from hopeless. 

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Show Transcript

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Ramit Sethi: [00:00:00] Your son is 31, you’re 63, and you’re helping him with his finances.


Mike: [00:00:05] Yeah. It was an agreement that they were going to pay it back. And he’s our kid. He says he’s telling us the truth. So okay, we want to believe him. The question is, will I see it again? Well, that’s what my wife and daughter think. But I think family loyalty will somehow come through. Well, make attempts to pay it back.


Ramit Sethi: [00:00:31] Tell me about that. Family loyalty to you means what?


Mike: [00:00:37] That I try and trust that they will do what they say.


Ramit Sethi: [00:00:41] You think your son has that same sense of duty?


Mike: [00:00:46] It’s not apparent that he does. No. I don’t want to accept that even though I probably should.


Ramit Sethi: [00:00:55] You don’t want to accept it because?


Mike: [00:00:59] Here’s my son and I want him to succeed.


Janis: [00:01:02] We’ve got to cut him off. He wants to do this by himself. He wants to be independent and all that, so we’ve just got to do it. And Mike actually said– because I said, what are you afraid of? And he said, I’m afraid that I won’t see him ever again. We’re just always going to go from money to zero, money to zero, money to zero. It’s bad.


Ramit Sethi: [00:01:26] What do you do for your 31-year-old son still called you for help with money? Well, today I’d like you to meet Mike and Janis. They’re both in their early 60s, and this conversation is absolutely fascinating. They wrote me with a list of issues from a foreclosed farmhouse to a dozen orthopedic surgeries, and ducks, and dogs, and animals. But it’s really their interpersonal dynamics that make this conversation unforgettable, especially when Mike talks about their son. 

Before we go on, I want to remind you that you can watch this full episode on YouTube, which lets you see the body language. I would highly encourage you to do it, and do me a favor. If you like this podcast, hit pause, go over to Apple Podcasts, and leave a written review. It really helps. All right. Now, Mike and Janis.


Ramit Sethi: [00:02:20] Tell me about a time where you were not on the same financial page as each other.


Mike: [00:02:26] This should be easy.


Janis: [00:02:27] Yeah. We’re always not on the same page.


Ramit Sethi: [00:02:30] Okay, give me an example.


Janis: [00:02:32] When I found out that the beautiful shed that Mike built me, and it’s just gorgeous and spent a lot of time on it and everything, but I didn’t know that he charged it on the Home Depot credit card.


Ramit Sethi: [00:02:47] Hold on. Mike, you have a Home Depot credit card. Why? Explain that.

Mike: [00:02:53] Well, originally–


Ramit Sethi: [00:02:55] Do not say I was going to get 10% off a 2 by 4 and save $0.45.


Janis: [00:03:00] How about 24 months no finance charges.


Mike: [00:03:03] Right. When we were getting the flooring. Right.


Ramit Sethi: [00:03:06] Do you still have this Home Depot card with a balance that you carry over every month?


Mike: [00:03:10] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:03:11] How much is the balance?


Mike: [00:03:12] 1,100.


Janis: [00:03:14] 1,100?


Mike: [00:03:16] Yeah.


Janis: [00:03:16] Thought it was 11,000.


Mike: [00:03:17] Oh, no.

Janis: [00:03:17] See, this is the disconnect.


Ramit Sethi: [00:03:19] Wait. That’s kind of a big difference in numbers to not know, Janis, wouldn’t you say?


Janis: [00:03:26] Yes. I feel like we’re just always– and I don’t want this. This is just my mindset, that we’re just always going to go from money to zero, money to zero, money to zero.


Ramit Sethi: [00:03:40] So it doesn’t really matter if it’s 1,100 or 11,000. It’s bad.


Janis: [00:03:44] It’s bad. How much did the whole shed cost?


Mike: [00:03:48] All the labor was free. But yeah, it was maybe 1,500 in materials.


Ramit Sethi: [00:03:55] All right. 1,500 on the credit card. And how did you discover this, Janis?


Janis: [00:04:01] We ended up using our tax return, which we were really happy about because there have been a lot of years where we had to pay and stuff to pay down some debt. And then I said, why is there that much on the Home Depot credit card? And he said, well, the shed. What? The shed?


Ramit Sethi: [00:04:20] Where did you think he would have gotten the money to pay for it?


Janis: [00:04:24] I thought we had it from different jobs he’s done.


Ramit Sethi: [00:04:28] Do you have access to each other’s financial accounts?

Janis: [00:04:32] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:04:33] Do you have a joint account?


Janis: [00:04:35] Yes.


Ramit Sethi: [00:04:35] Any individual accounts?


Janis: [00:04:37] No.


Ramit Sethi: [00:04:37] Okay. It’s all joint. Great. And you both have access. Now, the real question is, do either of you ever log in?


Janis: [00:04:44] He logs in all the time.


Ramit Sethi: [00:04:46] Are you the money guy, Mike?


Mike: [00:04:48] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:04:48] Okay. You’re the money guy. And Janis, how would you describe your role financially speaking?


Janis: [00:04:55] Oblivious.

Ramit Sethi: [00:04:55] Oblivious. Okay. You’re financially oblivious. He’s the money guy. Fair?

Janis: [00:04:59] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:04:59] All right. And before we continue, are these roles working?


Janis: [00:05:04] No.


Ramit Sethi: [00:05:04] What’s the communication like between the two of you? You’ve been married 39 years.


Janis: [00:05:09] We’re a really good team, like building a shed or doing things like that. But as far as emotionally, and the way Mike explains things, and stuff with computers, and all that, I just get frustrated. I’m not getting the answer that I asked. And so I shut down, and he shuts down, and it just doesn’t happen.


Ramit Sethi: [00:05:42] When you think about money, what words do you see?


Mike: [00:05:47] I guess more opportunity loss because not having a plan of what to do with the money that we had mainly with investments and savings.


Ramit Sethi: [00:06:04] So what does that feel like? What’s the feeling, if you had to describe it in a word?


Mike: [00:06:09] Loss.

Ramit Sethi: [00:06:10] What’s the feeling you have with money?


Mike: [00:06:13] It’s lack of structure.

Ramit Sethi: [00:06:16] Unstructured.


Mike: [00:06:18] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:06:18] That’s a bit of a cerebral word. It’s not really a feeling. Can you give me a feeling?


Mike: [00:06:23] I get that a lot.


Ramit Sethi: [00:06:25] Really?


Mike: [00:06:25] Yeah.


Janis: [00:06:26] He’s a rough one.


Ramit Sethi: [00:06:27] Who says that to you?


Mike: [00:06:29] Our marriage counselor before.


Ramit Sethi: [00:06:30] Okay. She said you’re telling me what you think, not what you feel, that kind of thing?

Mike: [00:06:35] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:06:35] All right. I understand deeply.


Janis: [00:06:38] We used to have to have the color wheel.


Ramit Sethi: [00:06:40] I totally get it. So Mike, if I’m thinking there’s a part of my life that’s unstructured, I feel what?


Mike: [00:06:55] I guess it would really be stressful.


Ramit Sethi: [00:06:58] Is it stressful to you? Money?


Mike: [00:07:03] Yes. Because I don’t know what I’m doing with it.


Ramit Sethi: [00:07:09] Do either of you know what you’re doing with money?


Janis: [00:07:13] I mean, I know how to save it and I know how to not spend it, but I certainly wouldn’t hire myself to invest in it.


Ramit Sethi: [00:07:21] Okay.


Janis: [00:07:22] Yeah. I don’t know how many times a week I ask Mike if there’s something wrong because I always feel like he’s holding something in. So I think if we worked on these things together there, he wouldn’t feel like he doesn’t want to tell me we don’t have it, and I wouldn’t be wondering.


Ramit Sethi: [00:07:42] Got it. So Mike, you go, you build this shed because you think that Janis wants it. Janis, did you want a shed, out of curiosity?


Janis: [00:07:51] I really did. But I have asked him with everything to tell me if we don’t have it. I would have been fine without it.


Ramit Sethi: [00:08:03] Hold that thought. And Mike, did you do that? If so, tell me. And if not, why not?


Mike: [00:08:14] No, I didn’t ask her as far as really needing it or wanting it. But like I said, for the most part, I guess I’ve gotten us into trouble with the money because when someone would say that they want it, it’s like, okay, well, I got to do it, instead of really sitting down and saying, okay, well, yeah, we want to do this, but what’s it going to cost? And then what do we have, and how long would it take to save for it if we were going to wait?


Janis: [00:08:53] And I’d be right on board with that.


Ramit Sethi: [00:08:55] I’m getting a lot of clues already. Are you? Here’s what I’ve noticed. Janis is oblivious. And from the way she describes it, I don’t think she actually thinks it’s a problem. Mike feels confused and overwhelmed, but he can’t articulate why. And it seems like he makes a lot of assumptions about what the people around him actually want. Let me try to find out a little bit more about their backgrounds.


Mike: [00:09:20] Both Jen and I come from alcoholic families, and we, as kids, really didn’t have anything. My father was an alcoholic and somewhat abusive, but a lot of times absent. My parents were divorced when I was six. Then we lived with my grandparents for five years, which was really our saving grace. They were great people. And then my mom got remarried. 

Up until our mid-to late teens, he was okay. But then once we started– he was a real competitive person. And so when we started beating him at games and things like that, then he pulled back. It was like where he would be on a golf league, two bowling leagues, but he couldn’t pay for us to be at Little League or whatever. We weren’t worth paying to be participating in different sports.


Ramit Sethi: [00:10:33] And are you talking about you or did you have siblings as well?


Mike: [00:10:36] Yeah, I had three brothers.


Ramit Sethi: [00:10:37] Oh, wow. Did you go to college?


Mike: [00:10:41] Yes.


Ramit Sethi: [00:10:41] What was that like, being away to college?


Mike: [00:10:45] Well, the first one was interesting when I first went to college, when we went to meet with the financial people. And the expected parent contribution, my parents were like, there is none. So they were going to count however many thousands towards it, and it’s like, well, no, we don’t have it. My mom was one that was like, with the four boys, everybody had to be treated equally. So even though we were all different, she had to treat us the same. So I was on my own, working and getting student loans for it.


Ramit Sethi: [00:11:26] When you heard that, were you sitting in the meeting with your parents when they said there is none?


Mike: [00:11:31] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:11:31] What do you remember feeling at that time? I know it’s hard as a teenage boy to remember feelings, but do you remember anything about that moment?


Mike: [00:11:39] Yeah, it was that even though he was my stepfather, it brought home really where he treated his own kids, even though they were living separately, better than he was treating us. We both pretty much said we want to do the opposite of what our parents did. So I think that I really wanted my family to be able to have things, experience things because I just didn’t know when to say no.


Janis: [00:12:18] Can I tell you a little story that tells about his parents?


Ramit Sethi: [00:12:24] Sure.


Janis: [00:12:24] At the graduation, Mike’s parents were there, and they handed him a graduation card, and he looked at it, and then he handed it to me, and I opened it up. And it had every single cent that he had borrowed, like Christmas present for dad, $20. And she had listed every debt that he had to them and then put minus 100. We’re proud of you. And he had a master’s in architecture from University of Illinois.


Ramit Sethi: [00:12:54] Wait a minute.


Janis: [00:12:55] Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: [00:12:56] Mike’s mom listed every expense he incurred as a kid.


Janis: [00:13:00] Beanbag chair, college. Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:13:03] Okay. And what was the minus 100? What is that?


Janis: [00:13:05] That was her gift–


Mike: [00:13:07] For graduation.


Janis: [00:13:07] Graduating with a masters.


Ramit Sethi: [00:13:10] And Mike, was your reaction, here we go again?


Mike: [00:13:15] Right. Yeah.


Janis: [00:13:17] He didn’t do anything. I ripped it up and threw it on the ground.


Ramit Sethi: [00:13:21] Right. That keeping track of everything, if you had to describe how that makes you feel, that card and keeping track, is there a word that comes to mind for you, Mike?


Mike: [00:13:32] Oh, boy. Almost like a commodity.


Ramit Sethi: [00:13:38] What does that mean?

Mike: [00:13:39] That it’s like I’m a product being– as I developed, there’s a cost to developing, and instead of investing in my future, it was a loan, basically.


Ramit Sethi: [00:14:02] That’s very perceptive, to see yourself in their eyes as a commodity. As someone who’s got it– it’s like factory expense. Oh, we got to factor in the lights on, write it down versus– nobody thinks about a child like that. You don’t calculate the diapers. You don’t calculate the time teaching them to ride a bike. It’s an investment. It’s just life. Interesting. 

All right, Mike, what do you think the lessons you learned about money as a kid all the way up to being a teenager are? When you look back, you put yourself in young Mike’s shoes, 10-year-old Mike, 17-year-old Mike, what are those lessons you absorbed from your family?


Mike: [00:14:52] I think my grandfather, when we were living with him, he was 68 when we moved in with him, and he kept working all the way through while we were there. So it seemed like, well, you work forever.


Ramit Sethi: [00:15:09] Was this in the Midwest?


Mike: [00:15:13] Chicago. Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:15:14] Describe the socioeconomic. Was it working class, middle class? What would you say?


Mike: [00:15:21] I would say between lower, middle, and working class. They always rented an apartment. They never owned a home. But my aunt owned the building they lived in.


Ramit Sethi: [00:15:34] So you learned that you pretty much work into your old age. That’s what you do. What else do you remember as a kid and as a teenager learning?


Mike: [00:15:42] Well, part of it was that they didn’t talk about money and that it was for– it seemed like it wasn’t a topic for whatever reason. I think it just seems like when we were kids, it was the old thing of seen but not heard kind of thing.


Ramit Sethi: [00:16:04] Oh, that’s a good one. See, that’s for adults, not for kids. Keep going. What else?


Mike: [00:16:11] Well, and that was the thing. It was like, especially with my mom and grandpa working, then it was my grandma taking care of us, and she was 60 at the time. And so it was like, eat breakfast, go outside, come back for lunch, leave, come back for dinner. It was like we were out exploring and doing whatever. Because not really seeing or not feeling like we’re a part of the family. That was, like you said, for adults to talk about, and we were just there to be kids.


Ramit Sethi: [00:16:53] What did they teach you? I mean, I know that any parent or grandparent teaches a lot of things just by osmosis, but were there things like, for example, my parents, they were like, got to get good grades. A’s. That was really important. Got to respect your family. They explicitly taught us these things repeatedly. Were there things that your family repeatedly taught you?


Mike: [00:17:16] Outside of being a constant fixture at church– even to this day, Jan jokes because I tie my shoes differently because my grandpa paid me $0.50 to tie my shoes the way he did versus the one bowing around where he taught my brothers that for a quarter. So I went for the $0.50. I still tie my shoes that way.


Ramit Sethi: [00:17:44] What’s the lesson you take away from that?

Mike: [00:17:51] Well, part of that was it was okay to be different because I did things differently than my brothers. I still do. I still think I’m a little different than everybody else in the family, for sure.


Ramit Sethi: [00:18:04] Is that good or bad?


Mike: [00:18:05] I think it’s good. Studying, I think, was one of the main things because we would come home from school, sit at the dining room table until our homework was done. And then we could leave.


Janis: [00:18:17] Duty.


Mike: [00:18:18] Yeah. Duty.


Ramit Sethi: [00:18:20] Oh, tell me about that, Mike. And Janis, thank you for the helpful nudge. A partner always knows best, always. They’re just waiting in the wings, and they just drop a little word, and they go, here you go, Ramit. Okay. Mike, a little birdie told me the word duty. Can you clarify?


Mike: [00:18:38] Again, I think it ties back a lot to the religious practice that we had. Catholic is really ritualized. So we had that, and actually, I was an altar boy for a while, not necessarily for a sense of duty, but because I got out of the first period class for a half hour to get in late because I was an altar boy. We did things out of a sense of duty to the family, whether we liked to or not. It was just expected. Whether there was any joy in it or not, that didn’t matter. It was just expectations to do these things.


Ramit Sethi: [00:19:26] So Mike, would you say that now you still embody this sense of duty?

Mike: [00:19:31] Yes.


Ramit Sethi: [00:19:32] When I talk to people about money, I’m always hunting for a single specific, vivid moment that gives me some insight into their relationship with money. And I honestly cannot think of a more vivid example than what Mike’s mom did at his graduation. Can you imagine your parent, or parents, hand over a card at your graduation listing off every single expense that you incurred as a kid minus $100, which is their gift, and they say, here you go? I literally cannot imagine this happening in my family. 

But you can tell that this is seared into Mike’s memory, and Janis’s as well. Think about what this example means for the way that Mike’s family communicated, for their family structure, for their ability to articulate things verbally, for the way that they just expressed love. Is it any surprise that Mike, who grew up working class, being told you should be seen and not heard, now struggles to articulate his feelings decades later? 

I speak to a lot of diverse couples on this show. And Mike and Janis are adding a texture that we haven’t seen before here. I so appreciate them coming on and sharing their story with us.


Ramit Sethi: [00:20:51] Son and daughter. And your daughter is the one who actually turned you on to this podcast, I understand.


Janis: [00:20:57] Yeah, she’s amazing.


Ramit Sethi: [00:20:59] She’s some type of therapist. Is that right?


Janis: [00:21:01] Yeah, she’s a marriage and family therapist.


Ramit Sethi: [00:21:04] Okay, great. And financially speaking, how does she handle money?


Janis: [00:21:07] She’s following your book to a letter. She got married two years ago, and they’re both talking about money together, and making a plan, and investing together. Yeah, she’s on board.


Ramit Sethi: [00:21:20] How are your son and daughter so different financially speaking?


Janis: [00:21:21] Right.


Ramit Sethi: [00:21:22] How?


Janis: [00:21:23] I don’t know.


Ramit Sethi: [00:21:24] You raised them the same way?


Janis: [00:21:26] Well, not really.


Ramit Sethi: [00:21:29] Oh, really? Tell me.


Janis: [00:21:31] Can I tell you? Is it my turn?


Ramit Sethi: [00:21:32] Please.


Mike: [00:21:34] I’d like to know this too.

Janis: [00:21:35] Yeah. See, Alex, it was typical they get to the end of third grade, and they discovered he had ADD, but he also had a processing disorder. So it was really hard for him to express himself. And so he started playing guitar at five years old.


Ramit Sethi: [00:21:55] This is your son when he was five.


Janis: [00:21:57] This is the son. So he started being in this band, and then we moved into the house that we lost, which was out in the country. So he went to a little country school where he was idolized. I would say to the principal he wants to go travel the country, but I want him to go to school.


Ramit Sethi: [00:22:17] He was idolized because he was in a band?


Janis: [00:22:19] Yeah. Everybody just thought he was it. And so the principal was trying to convince me that he could go to school online and still tour with this band. And so he basically didn’t get a high school education.


Ramit Sethi: [00:22:38] Whoa. Hold on. Why did you move to the country?


Janis: [00:22:43] Um, my daughter had a really hard time in the school we were in. It was real cliquey and sports-oriented, or you had to be a cheerleader, on the dance team, or good at soccer. And she was good at everything that she wanted to do, but she didn’t fit a mold.


Ramit Sethi: [00:23:04] I got you.


Janis: [00:23:05] And so I used to come and have lunch with her every day through high school because she didn’t have any friends. And she’s beautiful, and she’s talented and everything, but she had no friends. Alex had all the friends but didn’t get any of the academics through high school. Mike would bail him out, like do his projects for him, and do his papers for him.


Ramit Sethi: [00:23:34] Hold on.


Mike: [00:23:34] With him.


Janis: [00:23:35] Hold on. Which one was it? For him or with him?


Mike: [00:23:41] With him.


Ramit Sethi: [00:23:42] Listen, as the clues start to gel together. Mike was raised with a sense of duty, that you help people around you, that you work until you die. Then Mike and Janis took their son and daughter out of school because their daughter was having a tough time. And so Mike decided he wanted to help his son now in school. He started helping him with work. He started doing the schoolwork for him. 

Now imagine you replace your rich life with a duty to help everyone else around you to your own detriment for five years, 10 years, 30 years. What do you think happens when you take that to its logical extreme? Well, let’s find out.


Ramit Sethi: [00:24:22] So Mike, would you say that now you still embody the sense of duty?


Mike: [00:24:26] Yes.


Ramit Sethi: [00:24:26] What is your duty now?


Mike: [00:24:30] I still have the sense of duty with even supporting the family and the kids to– part of my detriment with my son is that we’ve helped him financially more than I should have. Instead of paying the kitchen with the tax return, we paid off a credit card that I had used to help him on a couple of occasions.


Ramit Sethi: [00:25:01] How old is your son?


Mike: [00:25:02] 31.


Ramit Sethi: [00:25:04] Your son is 31, you’re 63, and you’re helping him with his finances.


Mike: [00:25:09] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:25:10] Does he have a job?


Mike: [00:25:11] Yes.


Ramit Sethi: [00:25:13] How much does he make, ballpark?


Mike: [00:25:15] Right now, he’s at 3,500 a month.


Ramit Sethi: [00:25:20] Okay. All right. And for his area is that–


Mike: [00:25:24] He’s up in Seattle. So it’s pretty expensive.


Ramit Sethi: [00:25:27] Yeah, that’s expensive. All right. So you help him with some stuff, and you said to your own detriment. Hold on. Janis just let out a huge sigh, and she looks down at the floor. Don’t worry, Janis. I’m coming to you soon. I know you got a lot of stories. She’s probably going to pull out this scroll, 35 pages. She goes, Ramit, run the tape. I got a few things I want to talk about. All right.


Mike: [00:25:49] Jan wasn’t the only one who kept the list because when he was younger, we helped him financially as far as– he was in a few bands. He traveled the country, so we helped him with that, and it was a great experience for him. But then when he moved out, he got himself into situations with a variety of girlfriends that were not helpful economically.


Ramit Sethi: [00:26:20] What is that? That’s a very nice way of putting it. What does that mean?


Janis: [00:26:24] Just say it.


Mike: [00:26:26] They were freeloaders, basically.


Ramit Sethi: [00:26:27] Okay, so he was paying for them what? Food?


Mike: [00:26:32] Everything. Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:26:34] How many times did this happen, by the way? It sounds like it’s not just one.


Mike: [00:26:40] No, it’s been a few times, but there were two big incidents, one where his girlfriend wrecked his car. And to get it fixed, he couldn’t pick it up till he paid for it.


Janis: [00:26:54] His insurance lapsed.


Mike: [00:26:56] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:26:57] How much? Oh, his insurance lapsed. Okay, that’s not good. And how much did he have to pay?


Mike: [00:27:01] It was about 3,600.


Ramit Sethi: [00:27:03] And so what did he do? He picked up the phone to you.


Mike: [00:27:05] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:27:06] How’d that call go? Hey, dad– what did he say?


Mike: [00:27:11] The bad thing was that he actually worked at the car dealership that was repairing it. And they wouldn’t give him a break.


Ramit Sethi: [00:27:19] This is like out of a– this is crazy.


Mike: [00:27:20] Yeah. So he wouldn’t– it’s like, well, take it on my paycheck. But they wouldn’t do it. They wouldn’t release a car until you paid for it.

Ramit Sethi: [00:27:30] What kind of car, by the way?


Mike: [00:27:32] Well, that was actually a Land Rover because– 


Ramit Sethi: [00:27:35] A fucking Land Rover. Are you kidding me? He makes 3,500 a month and he drives a Land Rover? What world is this?


Mike: [00:27:43] Well, previously, he had worked for Land Rover, so he–


Janis: [00:27:49] He making a lot more.


Ramit Sethi: [00:27:50] You don’t get that much of a discount?


Mike: [00:27:52] No. Actually, what they did was they actually gave him a stipend for the car because they used it as advertising because he was driving around in–


Ramit Sethi: [00:28:01] Running into trees and stuff. All right, great. Wow. I’m so glad you got a stipend for his $ 1,600-a-month car. Okay. Anyway, so the girlfriend runs it into whatever, he calls you. And what was your response? In fact, did he even ask for money or did he just tell you the problem?


Mike: [00:28:19] No, he said what the problem was. And first, it was like, well, how are you going to pay for it?


Ramit Sethi: [00:28:28] You said that?


Mike: [00:28:30] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:28:30] That’s a good answer.


Mike: [00:28:31] And he’s like, well, I have– he had a few hundred dollars he could pay on it. Again, instead of saying, no, I don’t have the money either, I put it on a credit card to bail him out because he needed a car to get around.


Janis: [00:28:48] But with the intention that he was going to pay us back.


Mike: [00:28:50] Right. Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:28:51] Who’s whose intention? Who said that?


Mike: [00:28:54] Well, it was an agreement that they were going to pay it back, and they started to, and then his girlfriend lost her job. And so then he started paying more for everything else. So then–


Ramit Sethi: [00:29:09] How much was the– 3,500, you said?


Mike: [00:29:12] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:29:12] And what was the payment that you agreed on he would pay back every month?


Mike: [00:29:15] It was going to be 100 a month between the two of them.


Ramit Sethi: [00:29:19] What? That’s a lot of months of payments.


Mike: [00:29:23] Yeah. Well, again, it was because of his finances at the time that he couldn’t afford. He said he couldn’t afford more than that.


Ramit Sethi: [00:29:33] Let me just get this straight. This is a Land Rover we’re talking about, right?


Mike: [00:29:38] Mm-hmm.


Ramit Sethi: [00:29:39] So you got a guy, at the time, 20 something– what color was this Land Rover? Black? Fucking black Land Rovers. I see them everywhere.


Janis: [00:29:48] It was charcoal gray.


Mike: [00:29:50] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:29:51] Beautiful. So nice. All right. 27-year-old kid driving a Land Rover. What does it cost? 80 grand. And he goes, dad, I can’t afford to pay you back this 3,500. Let me pay you $100 a month for three years. Of course, you didn’t factor in interest. He’s your son, you’re not going to charge him interest. So three years of $100 payments. How many payments did he get before he stopped paying that? Let me guess. Don’t even tell me. 


Mike: [00:30:18] Okay.

Ramit Sethi: [00:30:21] I say three payments. He gave you a half month of payment and then never paid again.


Janis: [00:30:26] That’s basically it.


Mike: [00:30:29] Four months, and then stopped. Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:30:31] Mike, when he stopped paying you. Were there any consequences?


Mike: [00:30:36] No.


Janis: [00:30:37] Well, because of COVID, they laid him off from his job, and they still made him keep the lease on the Land Rover for $400 a month.


Ramit Sethi: [00:30:48] That’s horrible. That’s why we don’t take those kinds of obligations from our employer. It’s handcuffs. And people think they’re getting a great deal, but they’re actually being encumbered. Did he learn any lessons from this?


Janis: [00:31:00] Oh, I don’t know.


Ramit Sethi: [00:31:01] No. Mike?


Mike: [00:31:03] No.


Ramit Sethi: [00:31:05] I like Mike’s honesty.

Mike: [00:31:06] No, because now he drives a Jaguar.


Ramit Sethi: [00:31:10] I am so mad right now. A fucking 20-something deadbeat kid calling up his elderly parents and saying, hey, dad, I know that you’re a total pushover because of the way you were raised, anyway, it’s your deadbeat son. Me and my deadbeat girlfriend ruined this $80,000 black Land Rover, so can you go ahead and send us some money? No, we’re not going to pay you back. Oh, $100 a month? Yeah. Okay. Whatever. Anyway, send the money, dad. Thanks. Bye. Who would do this to their parents? 

Now, Mike has some culpability here. For 30 years, he has indulged and never said no to his son. And Janis has intentionally put her head in the sand. They have some responsibility as well. Yes. But if I ever hear of some deadbeat 20-year-old taking advantage of their elderly parents, just know that you’re going to hell. By the way, if you drive a Land Rover or a Jaguar while your parents are struggling, I hate you.


Mike: [00:32:05] There was one more incident after the car that was pretty much the last straw part that it hasn’t been that long, but we haven’t helped him financially since then. It’s been what? Six months or whatever.


Ramit Sethi: [00:32:21] What happened?


Mike: [00:32:23] He and his girlfriend moved from Portland up to Seattle to stay with her mom to try and save money, and her girlfriend and her mom have a real toxic relationship. So they ended up having to move out, and again, didn’t have the money to do that. And when he asked that he didn’t have the down payment for the security deposit, he called me. The only thing that he needed to agree upon was that he would be there by himself, not with the girlfriend, because she never contributed. 
So we, again, loaned them. It was $1,600. He’s our kid. He says he’s telling us the truth. So okay, we want to believe him. And he hasn’t come home for a few months because of not having enough gas money to come down. And so Jan and my daughter decided to take some birthday Christmas presents up there since it’s three months after Christmas, and guess who was in the apartment?


Ramit Sethi: [00:33:40] Oh, this is the girlfriend?


Mike: [00:33:41] The girlfriend. And she ended up getting a job three blocks away. So it’s like, well, she’s going to be living here because she’s not going to travel a half hour.


Ramit Sethi: [00:33:51] Is this the same Land Rover girlfriend?


Janis: [00:33:52] Yes.


Mike: [00:33:53] Yeah. He’s really not relying on her paying it back. So I’m saying to my son that you’re really ultimately responsible for it. So the question is, will I see it again?


Ramit Sethi: [00:34:05] Is that really a question? I mean, shouldn’t we just drop all the pretense here?


Mike: [00:34:11] Well, that’s what my wife and daughter think. But I think family loyalty will somehow come through, and he’ll make attempts to pay it back.


Ramit Sethi: [00:34:25] Tell me about that. Family loyalty to you means what?


Mike: [00:34:31] That I try and trust that they will do what they say, even with proof to the contrary on some occasions.


Ramit Sethi: [00:34:41] You’re a smart guy. I think I heard you have a master’s degree in architecture. Is that right?


Mike: [00:34:46] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:34:46] Smart people can do things that are hard to understand. But as you’re saying this out loud, your son hasn’t paid you back, he’s driving a Land Rover, making not that much money. I mean, it all starts to sound a little bit absurd. Would you agree?


Mike: [00:35:01] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:35:01] Realistically, do you think he’s going to pay you back the money that you “loaned” him?


Mike: [00:35:09] I’ll say, realistically, I think he’ll pay part of it because with the help of your book, I’ve given him a conscious spending plan that we’re working on basically over the next three months to see what he’s spending and what would be left, where he could start paying us back.


Ramit Sethi: [00:35:30] And who’s the one who’s driving the creation of that conscious spending plan?


Mike: [00:35:37] I am because nobody else thinks he’ll pay us back. I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt that if he has a plan, he can hopefully start paying us back.

Ramit Sethi: [00:35:48] So it’s a plan that he’s lacked, and that is why he hasn’t paid you back.


Janis: [00:35:52] Tell him how much he’s paying you every month that he hasn’t paid you ever yet.


Mike: [00:35:58] Well, that’s why– because he always says he doesn’t have any money, it’s like, well, why don’t you have any money? Because you don’t have a plan.


Ramit Sethi: [00:36:05] You think your son has that same sense of duty?


Mike: [00:36:09] I would say it’s not apparent that he does. No.


Ramit Sethi: [00:36:12] What about to his girlfriend or girlfriends?


Mike: [00:36:16] For some odd reason, yes, he does.


Ramit Sethi: [00:36:19] Hmm. It’s so interesting. I have a lot of questions now for you, Janis. Hearing everything Mike just told me, are you surprised in any way?


Janis: [00:36:30] I thought the commodity, I’d never heard that from him. I think it’s sweetly sad that he still trusts that Alex will do the right thing. It makes me feel sad because we both raised him that way. Yeah. And we held that, like telling the truth, being a person of your word, being there on time, all these things we taught him. And Mike is still trying to hold on to that when he continually– he hasn’t come here for almost a year. And Mike will say he hasn’t come for a couple of months, because he doesn’t want to realize that our son would take from us and not care.

Mike: [00:37:24] During that algebra time where you were helping him, what habits do you think might have been co-created with the two of you?


Mike: [00:37:33] I guess that he could count on me to help and bail them out in a certain aspect, that I would be there with him to really help them through a situation.


Ramit Sethi: [00:37:49] Yeah, that’s one way to look at it. You would be there to help him, but wouldn’t any good parent be there to help their child with a situation?


Mike: [00:37:59] To a certain point that, I think, from other parents I know, they would back off at a certain time and just say either I’m out of my element or I’ve taken you so far, you have to finish up.


Ramit Sethi: [00:38:21] Do you ever do that?


Janis: [00:38:24] Rarely.


Janis: [00:38:25] There have been a bunch of times that Mike has tried to get Alex steered towards a good profession because now he can do all kinds of trades. So Mike being an architect, when we bought our house, we thought about the home inspection thing and I said, hey, this is a good thing that you and Alex could do together. And so we put in, it was over $1,000 for the material and the program. And Mike was the only one doing the homework. Alex didn’t do any anything with it. And Mike even passed the test for him.


Mike: [00:39:05] No.


Ramit Sethi: [00:39:05] Does this surprise you at all?

Mike: [00:39:08] Oh, boy. Looking back at it, no, because it was something that we steered them towards. And I don’t know if he was really interested in it. If he wasn’t interested in something before going through it, it would have been nice if he would have said something. Because that happened to me once where I started a course of study that I really didn’t want to because of what other people wanted.


Ramit Sethi: [00:39:44] You say anything back then?


Mike: [00:39:45] No.


Ramit Sethi: [00:39:46] Did you say anything when you bought the shed and put on the credit card?


Mike: [00:39:50] No.


Ramit Sethi: [00:39:52] Any connections anyone see around here? There’s a lot.


Mike: [00:39:56] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:39:56] So sometimes things are really complicated. Right now, I’m still trying to unpeel the dynamics here, but sometimes things are also really simple. Your son hasn’t paid you back repeatedly. He’s probably not going to pay you back. 


Mike: [00:40:14] Again, I don’t want to accept that even though I probably should.


Ramit Sethi: [00:40:23] You don’t want to accept it because?

Mike: [00:40:28] He’s my son, and I want him to succeed.


Ramit Sethi: [00:40:31] I want him to too. I don’t even know this guy. I do. I’m not kidding. I really want– you two are very nice. What a tragedy for you to have to be worrying about your 31-year-old son, especially when your other daughter is doing so great. I want him to succeed. What I can tell you, just from being on the outside here is– I’ll actually ask you a simple question. Is the approach you’re taking working with him?


Mike: [00:41:01] Doesn’t seem to be. No.


Janis: [00:41:03] We’ve got to cut him off. He wants to do this by himself. He wants to be independent and all that, so we’ve just got to do it. And Mike actually said– because I said, what are you afraid of? And he said, I’m afraid that I won’t see him ever again.


Ramit Sethi: [00:41:21] Yeah. That’s honest. Because Mike, to you, duty means what?


Mike: [00:41:30] Well, that there would always be a connection somehow that we would work together on figuring it out. 


Ramit Sethi: [00:41:43] Being a provider is such a common identity for men. In fact, I would argue it is the identity for married men. That’s why so many married men come on this show, and I ask them, what’s your rich life? And they all make the same dad joke. Well, I just want my wife to be happy. Ha ha ha. I go, ha ha ha. Okay, seriously, though, what is your rich life? And they stare at me blankly. They have provided themselves right out of a rich life. In fact, they’ve provided themselves out of an identity altogether. 


Ramit Sethi: [00:42:17] Do you see any connections between the way that Mike has treated his son trying to be helpful and the way that both of you treat money? Anybody see any connections? What might they be– Janis, go ahead. Let’s toss them out.


Janis: [00:42:36] Okay. I think that the connection is that Mike wants to be able to provide for us, and he wants things to be easy for us. He keeps it all to himself, all the trouble on it, and just wants us to be happy.


Mike: [00:42:55] I’ve always tried to avoid conflicts. So I think by not confronting Alex with the money or by not sharing my concerns with Jan that I’m avoiding a conflict that may or may not happen as opposed to more of a discussion and teamwork on the approach to the money. I think that if I said no, then conflicts would arise from that, that I’d be really uncomfortable with it.


Ramit Sethi: [00:43:36] Yeah. And are you uncomfortable with the conflicts that have currently arisen?


Mike: [00:43:44] Yes, because I’m denying what seems to be the inevitable.


Ramit Sethi: [00:43:50] Mike, my man, That’s very perceptive. Yes, that’s extremely insightful. You can’t just turn off how you feel. I never come on here and tell people, stop feeling that way. It’s pointless. We all feel a certain way about vivid things in our life. I’ve found it’s much healthier and much easier to instead talk about what, do we want this next chapter of our lives to be like?

So then we get to design it, almost like a blank page, and that helps naturally for us to focus on things that we want to do, we want to feel, and the other thing slowly get pushed to the side. They’ll always be there. You may always feel guilty. That’s okay. But you can also replace some of that feeling with perhaps some new positive feelings. So let’s talk about the finances, because if you to have $20 million and you got to write a $3,000 check to your son, go ahead, do it for the rest of your life. Is that the case?


Janis: [00:44:51] No.


Ramit Sethi: [00:44:52] No. All right. Shall we look at the numbers?


Mike: [00:44:55] Definitely. 


Ramit Sethi: [00:44:56] All right. Let me do a quick numbers recap here of Mike and Janis. Recall that they are in their early 60s. They have $458,000 of assets, $180,000 in investments, $1,000 in savings, and $307,000 of debt. That debt is made up of $270,000 on their mortgage, about 18,000 on a Subaru, almost 10,000 on credit cards, 3,100 on medical bills, and a consolidated loan. Their net worth is 316,000.

Mike’s income is about 9,000 a month. Janis’s income is 1000 a month. She works part time, tending the grounds of a property, and their combined gross income is about 118,000 per year. 


Ramit Sethi: [00:45:44] You ever try to negotiate your medical bills?


Janis: [00:45:50] No.


Mike: [00:45:52] No, I don’t think so.


Ramit Sethi: [00:45:53] Both of you looked up like, what? Yeah, you can.

Janis: [00:45:56] I didn’t know you could do that.


Ramit Sethi: [00:45:57] Yeah. A lot of things could be negotiated. Medical bills are one of the most common. Possible. It’s not always the case, but that would be one of the first things I would do. Call up those medical bills, say, look, I have a lot of difficulty paying this. I’m spending more than I make. Times are tough. I need your help. And they can often work with you or even dramatically reduce the amount that you owe. There are lots of options. All right. So that’s one thing you can do right off the bat. There’s one thing that we haven’t mentioned yet. Your pension and Social Security. Have you calculated how much you will get from that?


Mike: [00:46:36] Yes.


Ramit Sethi: [00:46:36] All right. What do you know?


Mike: [00:46:40] Okay. So if I went to 70, Social Security would be 4,348.


Ramit Sethi: [00:46:52] That’s 4,348 per month?


Mike: [00:46:54] Yeah. And then the pension at 70 would be 2,428.


Ramit Sethi: [00:47:04] And what about for you, Janis?


Janis: [00:47:07] I just started taking that, so I just–


Mike: [00:47:11] 968 for Social Security.


Ramit Sethi: [00:47:13] That’s 968. So to take a look at your fixed costs here, 79%. What do you all think about that number?


Mike: [00:47:19] That based on the target, we’re quite above it.


Ramit Sethi: [00:47:26] Yeah. It should be 50 to 60.


Janis: [00:47:28] Yeah.


Mike: [00:47:29] One question is, I guess if you look at guilt-free spending, I say that our pets should be a part of the guilt-free spending and not a fixed cost, but other people think otherwise.


Janis: [00:47:43] No.



Ramit Sethi: [00:47:44] Okay. I have to step in here. First of all, my microphone on the recording is about to go haywire, so I apologize for it. You can still hear what I’m saying. It just gets a little rattly. So I’m sorry for that. Second, I want to point out Janis’s question, which I find so fascinating, and in a way a lovely commentary on the human condition. There are so many massive dynamics here. And Janis asked the question about, how should we categorize this? 

The truth is the categorization doesn’t really matter. It’s almost like you’re on a boat and it’s sinking and you’re busy folding your clothes, making sure that they are meticulously put away in the closet. For many of us, three-dollar questions are the only way that we can exert control on the world around us.


Janis: [00:48:32] No.


Ramit Sethi: [00:48:33] Okay. I’ll answer your question, first of all, trust me, how you categorize your pets is the least important issue of anything. It does not matter. All right. This is a good guideline. First of all, you can’t go wrong one way or another if you want to put it in one. If I had a pet, I would probably put that pet’s expenses under fixed costs because you’re not going to sell your dog or whatever. And so it’s like, let’s get real.


Mike: [00:49:03] It’s a luxury item.


Ramit Sethi: [00:49:04] Yeah. Some people are like, look, if times get tough, Chester’s out the door. I mean, what are you going to do? All right. Janis is looking truly mortified right now. She’s like, I can’t believe this.


Mike: [00:49:16] We have to limit the incoming pets. That’s what we need to do.


Ramit Sethi: [00:49:21] Yeah. Wait a minute. What the hell? What does that mean? How many pets do you have? Oh, God. How many?


Janis: [00:49:27] We have three dogs, a cat, five rabbits, two ducks.


Ramit Sethi: [00:49:33] What the hell?


Janis: [00:49:33] And three chickens.


Ramit Sethi: [00:49:34] Answer me this. As someone who does not own any pets and nor do I want to, how come anytime someone owns more than one animal, it becomes like Noah’s Ark? They have to get every single species on the planet. Why is that?


Janis: [00:49:50] Well, we help out at a farm sanctuary. Rabbits and chickens are the most giving up pets. Yeah. I’m like, sure, it won’t cost that much. And then we figured it out, and it’s like $500 a month for all our animals.


Ramit Sethi: [00:50:07] Hold on, Mike. You want to say anything about selling these animals for a profit?


Janis: [00:50:11] No.


Ramit Sethi: [00:50:12] Mike? I’m not saying it. I’m asking Mike to say it. Ramit Sethi is not saying sell your pets for a profit. Please don’t write me.


Mike: [00:50:21] Yeah. That’s why I think it’s more of a luxury item. Here’s another failure that I did. I wanted to stop three dogs ago.


Ramit Sethi: [00:50:32] Oh, I see.


Mike: [00:50:34] Again, my enabling behavior has helped to keep the farm going. But I will say, we have rescued, what, 25 animals in our 40 years together.


Ramit Sethi: [00:50:47] It’s pretty cool.


Mike: [00:50:48] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:50:49] Round of applause for that.


Mike: [00:50:51] We give them a good life.


Ramit Sethi: [00:50:52] You got pets for 500 a month. What else?


Janis: [00:50:57] We don’t do anything. We don’t go anywhere. We don’t take the– Mike took a vacation by himself so I could stay home with the animals. I’m going to go back to Illinois, and he’s going to stay here.


Ramit Sethi: [00:51:08] You two have been married almost 40 years and you can’t take a vacation because of a duck? A fucking duck. What’s this duck called?


Janis: [00:51:16] I won’t sell the duck.


Ramit Sethi: [00:51:19] Oh, my God. That tail is literally wagging the dog. This is insane. I couldn’t write this. What else besides the pets for– does any pet ever get sick and you got to take them in for some–


Janis: [00:51:31] Oh, yes.


Ramit Sethi: [00:51:32] Oh, wow. And how much does that cost when that happens?


Janis: [00:51:35] I’ve had two rabbits and two chickens that I’ve taken into the vet, and that was $800 a shot.


Ramit Sethi: [00:51:43] What?


Janis: [00:51:44] Yeah. And they died. And sometimes the sanctuary helps us, but I hate to ask them because they’re nonprofit.


Ramit Sethi: [00:51:53] Well, right now you’re nonprofit too.


Janis: [00:51:55] Yeah. Right.


Ramit Sethi: [00:51:56] Well, I mean, come on. What the hell?


Mike: [00:51:59] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:51:59] All right. So, look, these pets are not 500 a month. This is $1,000 a month for pets.


Janis: [00:52:04] No.


Ramit Sethi: [00:52:04] Yes. The menagerie is truly costing you. So we got to get– Janis, remember how you were like, it’s sweetly sad that Mike really believes that his son will pay him back. In a way, isn’t it sweetly sad that you don’t really want to know how much your rabbits are actually costing you?


Janis: [00:52:24] Not even sweetly sad.


Ramit Sethi: [00:52:26] Please don’t write me about pets or selling pets for a profit. I have no stake in this argument. I don’t want to be a part of this conversation. Leave me out of it. Back to Mike and Janis.


Ramit Sethi: [00:52:36] So what other expenses are not being counted?


Janis: [00:52:40] Did we cover medical? 


Ramit Sethi: [00:52:44] You had 12 orthopedic surgeries. How are you doing now?


Janis: [00:52:49] I’m doing well. I’m back to all of my sports except for running. And now my other knee is starting to give me trouble, so I had one replaced. It seems like something is always falling apart on me, and I’m the one who tries to keep myself healthy.


Ramit Sethi: [00:53:12] It’s not fair.


Janis: [00:53:14] No.


Ramit Sethi: [00:53:14] And multiple surgeries cannot be easy.


Janis: [00:53:17] It’s covered by insurance. But I had to have a hand surgery in January, so that was a new year. So they were like, well, when you come on the day of surgery, have, how much was it?

Mike: [00:53:31] $1,000.


Janis: [00:53:33] Something like that. And it’s all me.


Ramit Sethi: [00:53:35] Well, you two are married. That’s how it goes. You’re here for each other in sickness and in health. So we’ll figure out a way to make it work together. Where’s all the money for your son? Mike, I didn’t see a line item for, my son who never pays me back. Where’s that? You guys are really not getting too specific on this CSP.


Mike: [00:53:57] Well, wasn’t that the 15% you throw in there extra for unknown expenses?


Ramit Sethi: [00:54:03] Okay. This CSP was not good. That’s the frank truth. It was too loose. They hadn’t accounted for phantom costs of their pets. They hadn’t taken into account major expenses like paying for their son’s car accidents, and all kinds of stuff. And this is very typical of people who make a decent amount of money but they feel like they can never get ahead. It’s that they are too loose and often not accounting for all of the expenses, particularly one-time expenses and phantom costs. 

And because of that, they simply look at this big number. We make 118,000. Where’s it all going? But they haven’t actually sat down and calculated that. If you want to understand where your money’s going, you have to calculate it and you have to understand the insidious effects of phantom costs, which brings me now to their debt.


Ramit Sethi: [00:54:55] So how are you thinking about paying your debt off? What’s your approach?


Mike: [00:55:00] Looking at the Home Depot card since it’s the lowest amount, I’m actually working on one side job right now that when I get paid for that, I’ll be able to pay off the Home Depot card, then take that 100 from there and put it on the next card to up that loan.


Ramit Sethi: [00:55:20] Which card is that? Please don’t say Lowe’s.


Mike: [00:55:22] No. We actually paid that one off.


Ramit Sethi: [00:55:27] So you’re working your way down. Hey, when you pay off these cards, do you actually close them?


Mike: [00:55:32] I have on some, but others I leave open because we’ve been penalized on credit score before for closing the accounts.


Ramit Sethi: [00:55:40] Yeah, but what do you care about the credit score?


Mike: [00:55:42] I don’t really. And we have had one that we kept for emergencies, but then emergencies come up and we use it.


Janis: [00:55:55] Not we.


Mike: [00:55:55] Yeah. Me. Yeah, that’s the worry about having anything. But we usually keep it in a firebox at the house. So we really have to work at getting to use it.


Ramit Sethi: [00:56:08] I mean, it’s good to have some emergency. That’s fine. Credit. I’d rather you have emergency cash we can work on, but okay. Fine. Your groceries, 800. That just can’t be right. I just don’t believe it.


Janis: [00:56:22] I looked through for a whole– and we brought it down because Mike would stop on his way home from work. I would already gone to the grocery store.


Ramit Sethi: [00:56:33] Something’s not right here. I would like for you to pick a number, and I would like for the two of you to have a discussion right now about what number should be on here, and then how you want to break that up.


Janis: [00:56:48] I would say $400 a month.


Ramit Sethi: [00:56:51] Hold on. Is that how you have discussions about money? One person just– well, if so, let’s try to change that. Let’s have a discussion. And the two of you do it, and I’ll watch. Go ahead.


Mike: [00:57:03] Okay.


Janis: [00:57:04] How about $400 a month?


Mike: [00:57:07] I think going from 800 to 400 is probably a little too drastic. So I don’t know. Say we look at maybe 500 and see if that’s a realistic target.


Janis: [00:57:20] Okay.


Ramit Sethi: [00:57:22] You’re both committed to that, 500?


Janis: [00:57:24] I can try to do that.


Ramit Sethi: [00:57:28] Hold on. Can we just– let’s pick a number that you can both commit to where you’re like–


Janis: [00:57:31] 500 sounds good.


Ramit Sethi: [00:57:33] All right. Mike?


Janis: [00:57:34] I can do it.


Mike: [00:57:34] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [00:57:35] All right. To me, the dollar amount here is less important than the two of you starting to build habits where you’re both like, this is what we’re going to do, and we’re both going to be involved. Janis is involved. Mike’s involved. And what’s the entire purpose of this? Well, we just saved 300 bucks a month. What are you going to do with that 300 bucks?


Mike: [00:57:58] Well, I’d like to put it.


Ramit Sethi: [00:58:02] Hold on. Before you answer, can the two of you talk about it? I’d love for you to have a healthy discussion about what to do with 300 brand new dollars you just found. Go ahead.


Mike: [00:58:11] Okay. The practical thing, I guess would be paying down the debt. But we also don’t– right now we’re not putting anything in investment, so I don’t know if we can split that up somehow, partial debt and partial investments, or probably savings because we only have the $1,000 emergency fund. So I think we probably need more there.


Ramit Sethi: [00:58:33] Let me pause you right there. So, Mike, you just gave me a whole stream of consciousness. I want you to give that to Janis again in one sentence, because it’s very confusing to receive that. It’s a lot.


Janis: [00:58:42] Yes.


Mike: [00:58:43] If we get $300, I would say $100 to debt, $100 to investment, and $100 to savings.


Janis: [00:58:51] That sounds good. I agree.


Ramit Sethi: [00:58:54] How is this so easy?


Janis: [00:58:55] You’re here.


Ramit Sethi: [00:58:57] But this is like– first of all, Mike, great suggestion. I love it. I think that’s awesome. Janis, super cool. Enthusiastic response. That was textbook. How come that’s so easy, and how come you haven’t gotten there in 38 years?


Janis: [00:59:16] I think a lot of it is that it just gets too busy, and then I lose track of– he has too many words. And I get sick of even thinking about it.

Ramit Sethi: [00:59:35] And so what do you do when he comes at you with a long sentence?


Janis: [00:59:39] I just tune out and get out of there as soon as possible.


Ramit Sethi: [00:59:44] What did I do?


Janis: [00:59:45] You asked him to rephrase it in one sentence, and I never even thought to do that because I’m so used to the dynamic.


Ramit Sethi: [00:59:56] Yeah, totally. So this is exactly why it’s so helpful to have a third party, and working with your therapist as well to be able to have conversations and build some of these tools. So use that, both of you. Janis, if you feel like you just don’t understand or it’s just too long, you go, you know what, let me pause you right there. It’s a lot of love in the way you say it too. You know what? I know this is important. I really want to understand. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. Can you give that to me again but this time in one sentence?


Janis: [01:00:24] I would love– Yes. I just needed the dialog.


Ramit Sethi: [01:00:27] There you go. And then, Mike, sometimes it may be difficult for you because you’re thinking out loud. I could see you were talking as you were thinking. And so sometimes, you might add a little tool to your repertoire. You might say, okay. Gosh, I don’t know the answer to your question, but can I think out loud for a second with you? And now you’ve gotten her permission, and now anything you say for the next three minutes, stream of consciousness, it’s in this box. 

And at the end, she’s going to be looking at you like, what is this guy talking about? But at least you’ve both agreed it’s in the stream of consciousness box. And then both of you can say, ah. Mike, you could even make a joke of it because maybe you talk a little bit. You go, ah, all right, let’s close the box. All right. Can I try to answer your question in one sentence now? And Janis is going to be like, yes.


Mike: [01:01:20] Yes.


Janis: [01:01:21] Because I always say that I want to work on this stuff together, but the way that I’m seeing it, in my mind, is that I’m just not intelligent enough to understand it all.


Ramit Sethi: [01:01:37] Why? Here we’re looking at about ten numbers. It’s straightforward. Sixth grader math.


Janis: [01:01:43] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [01:01:44] Does it make you feel stupid to look at these numbers right now?


Janis: [01:01:49] Only because I didn’t know we weren’t putting anything in investing.


Ramit Sethi: [01:01:54] The last thing I want anyone to feel on this show or in any of my material is stupid. I don’t think you’re stupid at all.


Janis: [01:02:02] Thank you.


Ramit Sethi: [01:02:03] And I’d like to change that, to turn it around and to start dreaming. But in order to do that, you got to have a shared vision together. So that means now the two of you are actually coming up with it and basically meshing it together. Mike, do you remember when you tried to buy all those exam books for your son, and he wasn’t into it? It’s similar right now.
Janis isn’t into the money stuff. She hasn’t felt she has access. She didn’t understand the structure of it. And so it’s just neither of you were engaging on it. And what I’d love to see is more of this, the two of you coming together, like Velcro. When you look at it under a microscope, it really clicks in with each other, right?


Mike: [01:02:52] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [01:02:52] So what would that look like? It might be the two of you feeling good about money. It might be recalculating how long that debt payoff is going to take and going, oh my God. It used to take three years, now we’re going to pay it off in 18 months. That means by 2020, whatever, June, we are credit card debt-free.


Mike: [01:03:16] Yeah.


Janis: [01:03:17] That would be amazing.


Ramit Sethi: [01:03:19] I just want to see something for a second. 50. Okay, so that’s better. What I just did so everyone can hear it and see it is I took your debt payments, which are $1,275, and I just zeroed it out just to see what effect it would have on your fixed cost percentage. Watch this. It takes it down to 58%.


Mike: [01:03:44] Oh. Whoa. For sure.


Janis: [01:03:45] Oh, that’s good.


Ramit Sethi: [01:03:46] Way healthier.

Janis: [01:03:47] Yes.


Ramit Sethi: [01:03:48] Isn’t that cool?


Janis: [01:03:49] Uh-huh.


Ramit Sethi: [01:03:50] So what do you take away from that?


Janis: [01:03:52] That as soon as we get rid of our debt, that we would be living well within our means.


Ramit Sethi: [01:03:58] Yes. Exactly. So you have a line of sight on being able to be much more comfortable.


Janis: [01:04:07] Very doable.


Ramit Sethi: [01:04:08] It’s doable if you two are aligned.


Janis: [01:04:13] And we align in a lot of other ways.


Ramit Sethi: [01:04:15] I could tell. But with money, Janis, you turn a blind eye to it, and Mike, you are very indulgent of everyone, and you can’t do that. The dynamics are not good because Mike will start saying yes to everything, and Mike will even go above and beyond and build a shed that you don’t even care about. And it’s actually causing direct harm to your finances. 

So if the two of you have a vision and you can talk about it regularly, Mike can suddenly have the courage to say, you know what, I’d really love to build you a shed. I love you. I notice your head banged on that metal. I really want to buy– and then, Janis, how would you respond to that?


Janis: [01:04:55] Can we afford it?


Ramit Sethi: [01:04:57] That would be one way. I hate that phrase because it’s so loaded in our culture. Can we afford it? It makes people feel like on the defense. Try it another way.


Janis: [01:05:05] Do we have it available for spending?


Ramit Sethi: [01:05:09] How about first appreciation? He’s thinking of you.


Janis: [01:05:11] Oh, yes. Absolutely. Thank you very much. And I love my shed. 


Ramit Sethi: [01:05:18] I love it. Beautiful. Thank you so much. I love the shed. I love that you’re thinking of me. You know what? It sounds amazing, but I’d love for us to go back to our conscious spending plan and see if we can make it work together.


Janis: [01:05:30] Yeah.


Ramit Sethi: [01:05:31] That’s how you do it. Nobody’s feeling defensive. You’re not arguing with each other. You’re just saying, hey, we’ve got a plan. Let’s stick with the plan. Let’s see if we can make it work. And if we can’t, that’s okay we can’t do it today, but maybe tomorrow.


Janis: [01:05:44] Right. We have a plan.

Ramit Sethi: [01:05:46] Yeah. I think it’s awesome that you came on. I’ve been very excited to get a chance to talk to you. I also think that you’re in your 60s. You look to be quite healthy. It seems like you do. I mean, you built a shed. I have a screw that fell off one of my armrests, and it’s literally sitting in the other room. It’s been sitting there for over 10 days. I don’t even know what to do with that thing. So anyway, I admire the fact that you could build a shed or even know what a shed is. That’s awesome. 

Look, there’s a lot of possibilities. But I will say this. I love that the two of you came on here. You’re in your 60s. The way I look at it– so some people, they go, is it too late? And some people even start to make these very dark jokes. They go, I’ll take my debt to the grave with me and blah, blah, blah. All this really negative– they start talking about death. I don’t like it.


Mike: [01:06:36] We’re hoping that people can learn from us in their 20s, that start when you’re 20, and don’t wait.


Janis: [01:06:43] Right.


Ramit Sethi: [01:06:44] To me, this was a beautiful, and contentious, and fascinating conversation. One thing that stood out to me was Janis’s comment that she did not want to feel stupid. She actually made that comment several times during our conversation. The last thing I ever want anyone to feel on this show or with any of my material is that they are stupid. 

I actually find Mike and Janis to be lovely people, quite caring, quite loving towards each other, maybe loving to a fault when it comes to their son. We were able to rearrange some of their money so that they could put some money towards investments, and that makes me really happy. I’d like to share the follow ups that they sent me. Take a look.

Janis said, “What really surprised me was how my lack of involvement in finances had just as much to do with our relationship as other excuses. I’ve been using the “I’m not good with math and money” to remove myself from the responsibilities of saving and spending money for both of us. It was so much easier to blame Mike than sit in an uncomfortable place until I helped resolve our situation.

“One thing our marriage counselor told Mike and me was that it takes two people to make a marriage work. You helped us to see that we need to sit down together and to make a plan. It wasn’t fair of me to put it all on Mike As far as an action plan, I already contacted a few farm sanctuaries and posted my ducks in hopes that I can rehome them and reduce our annual expenses. I’m applying to a few plant nurseries in hopes of being hired for some seasonal work. It makes sense that we weren’t being brutally honest about where our money is going.

“Again, this was a great opportunity for our marriage, and we owe you big time. One of the reasons we decided to seek your help was because we hoped that the younger people watching this could use our example of financial difficulties and roadblocks to help them get a clearer communication before they have made mistakes like we did.”

Thank you very much, Janis. Now let’s hear from Mike. “First, what surprised me was the process wasn’t as scary as I anticipated. I thought we would be in a catastrophic condition, but Ramit, you were very reassuring and frank about where we were at. You gave us constructive criticism and a straightforward plan to follow. 

“Secondly, the takeaway is to engage with Janis in all financial discussions and decisions. We will also allocate the $300 reduction in food as follows: 100 to debt, 100 to investments, and 100 to long-term savings. Thank you again for having us participate in your podcast. We were nervous about how it would go. Your friendliness, down-to-earth personality, and humor that comes through on your podcast was very reassuring to see personally in action.”

I want to thank Mike and Janis, and I want to invite you to join me on the I Will Teach You to Be Rich podcast newsletter where I answer your questions about this episode. Go to iwt.com/podcastnewsletter, and you can ask me any questions you want about this episode. Why did you say that? What if they did this? How would you handle that? And I will answer it every Saturday on the special podcast newsletter for you. Thanks for listening. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next time.