This advice column is penned by a Sonoma County resident and our new weekly sage. Go ahead! Ask her anything.
Dear Sydney, about six months ago, I loaned my cousin some money. She and her husband had fallen on hard times, and at the time, the $500 I loaned them was a lot to them and something I could afford. Since then, things have stabilized for them, but they have made no effort to pay back the debt. I am a very understanding person. I have tried asking for it directly and have made indirect comments on my current lack of money. All of this has only been made worse by the fact that my cousin, who is what I would call "high maintenance," is constantly showing off her new clothes, shoes, hair colors and--my favorite--a handbag costing more than the amount she owes me.
I know that all of these items are bought with credit cards and not real money, but it still bugs the crap out of me. What should I try that I haven't already? We are a very close family and see each other often, so I feel torn. Should I just chalk it up to a lesson learned and forget about the money? It's not the money as much as just feeling disrespected--that and the fact that I would love a handbag like hers, but I can't afford it.--Funny with Money
Dear Funny Money: This is one of those tragic situations where, discovering that you have loaned money to the wrong person, you now have to figure out how to get it back. Well, here's the thing: You can't get it back. The only way to get it back is for your cousin to give it to you, and it doesn't seem that she is planning on it. And honestly, even if she did give it to you now, after you have been forced to raise a stink about it, you will never trust her with money again.
Your cousin may be wrong to behave in this manner, but some people are just funny about money, and the best thing you can do is not loan them money ever again. Just consider it a lesson learned. Five hundred dollars is a nice bundle of cash--who wouldn't want $500? But it's also not irreplaceable.
Try to let it go. Even consider it a gift. It's not worth losing family over. Let her know you feel let down, but don't give up on her entirely. In other words, don't give her the PIN to your ATM card, and don't buy her an expensive Christmas gift, but when it comes to Thanksgiving, have her over and ignore the stupid purse. It's only a purse, and you should feel nothing but pity for someone with such appalling spending habits, as things will undoubtedly continue to be difficult for her.
Dear Sydney, why must we feel so much pain? My insides are hollowing out and there is so much emptiness. I feel as if I'll never again be happy.--Seeker
Dear Seeker: Picture your mind as a complex and very expensive video game. Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, you are playing your mind. You move from level to level, you process information quickly, you never stop overcoming obstacles and gaining and losing points. Some levels are fun, some lonely, some incredibly hard, some are scary. This is not life that I'm talking about here; it's your mind, your thoughts and feelings, and how you process what comes at you from the outside on the inside.
Life can be miserable, I'm not going to deny you that. And constantly comparing yourself to someone living in Iraq never helps. Whoever spread the false rumor that you can feel better about yourself by imagining the suffering of others had her head up her ass. But what you can do is to keep getting better at the game and gain some control. Figure out the cheat for happiness. Switch levels. Make changes. Upgrade your expectations. In other words, don't let yourself become hollow inside. You can see life as it is, but then you have to make something better out of it. Otherwise there's just nothing to look forward to in playing the game.
Dear Sydney, my partner and I have a three-year-old. I work full-time and my partner stays home with the kid and tends house and cooks, but does not have a steady job that brings in money. We are pretty happy with this set-up. Aside from being a little broke, we feel like our kid is getting a good beginning in a rather rough world. However, both of our folks (and our grandparents, too) think my sweetie should get a job. This would entail putting our daughter in daycare. At this point she does go to a daycare just a few hours a week, which gives my partner some freedom (I work about 80 hours a week, so they don't get much space from one another). Also, in a year or so, my partner is planning on going back to school. At that point, our kid will need to start a more formal and time-consuming daycare. The question is, are our parents right? Or, do we continue with our lifestyle that makes us happy? Money is a stress, I will not lie, but we think having our kid have this great start is worth the struggle. Also, how do we make it more palatable to our parents? Thanks.--Broke and Happy
Dear BAH: Pursue the lifestyle that makes you happy! If your partner wants to stay home with the baby, if this is what you want as well, and you can do it without ending up starving or homeless, then keep it up, and congratulations! It's not an easy feat to support a family on one income. In fact, many believe it to be a near impossibility unless one of you is making the big bucks. Good for you, for being willing to make time with your child the priority.
On the other hand, there is the reality of bills to pay, and to that end, things could be a little easier if your partner made just a little income. Even an extra couple hundred bucks a month can make a difference, and if you keep your monetary expectations modest, there are many ways to pull in extra cash.
But either way, it's up to the three of you, and making it palatable for your parents is unnecessary. It's not any of their business to tell you who should be working and who should be staying home and when the baby should go into daycare. Unless, of course, they're giving you regular sums of money--but then you have another question on your hands entirely.
No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Ask Sydney.