My husband and I are normal professionals with normal jobs. For the past 30 years, we’ve lived frugally – we bought a very modest home, we rarely vacationed or ate at restaurants, we bought used cars, we didn’t keep balances on credit cards, and we always invested our spare money. That, combined undeniably with luck — we were never unemployed – means that now we find that we’re…wealthy.
Our kids just graduated from college, and now we’ve got that tuition part of the budget again, and we’re realizing that we can spend more on ourselves and still meet our goals. So we’ve leased nice cars and are updating our house, and we want to loosen up a bit as we’re nearing retirement. Part of my problem is guilt. I’m donating money to some good causes, but I can’t pay for friends without it being weird. And I worry about losing my sensitivity – just today I was about to suggest a friend meetup at an expensive coffee place when someone else suggested a park, and I realized they didn’t want to pay anything. When friends are worrying about saving for retirement and paying for their kids’ colleges, I’ve been able to help with good advice, but when they say they have nothing saved for retirement at age 50, I just feel sad and guilty that I do.
So I guess my question is, now that we’ve achieved our financial goals, how do I relax and enjoy it? Please don’t roast me; if I came across badly, it’s hopefully just because I am bad at explaining.— Newly Wealthy
Hey, congrats on getting the kids through college, working hard, being lucky, and saving enough money through your lives that you can now comfortably enjoy it. I think you’re right in that this is kind of a non-problem to have, though I appreciate how you might feel temporarily awkward with your friends if you think they don’t have as much money as you do. It may help you to accept that they don’t want your pity or your guilt and, in fact, may not be as sad or stressed or whatever as you think they are. Maybe while you were not going on vacations or eating in restaurants, they were. Maybe they had a thirty-year jump-start on enjoying life the way you plan to now? This is neither good nor bad, but a perspective to keep in mind. Perhaps some of what you are feeling now is pent up from years of denying yourself little comforts and treats, and the very people you now feel sad for might have had reason to feel sad for you all this time. Would you have wanted their sadness and their guilt? Or would you have felt that you were living your life the way you thought was best, and just because it was different from how others were living theirs didn’t make it sadder or worse or wrong?
Another thing to keep in perspective is that perhaps when your friends don’t want to do something – like go to a coffee shop – it isn’t because they don’t want to spend money. (I mean, let’s be honest, how much money are you really going to drop at a coffee shop, even if it’s an expensive one?) There are other reasons a person might suggest a park over a coffee shop. Maybe, during Delta Covid times, they prefer being outdoors. Maybe the coffee shop is too loud. Maybe they don’t even like coffee. Maybe it was a beautiful day and they wanted to be outside enjoying the weather. I wouldn’t necessarily jump to money as a reason someone might prefer doing something different than what you suggest. That said, I’d continue being sensitive to different budgets in your friend group and not suggest activities or places that are pricey. Stick with the kinds of activities and places you’ve always enjoyed with them. Your having more money to spend now shouldn’t change the kinds of things you do with your friends.
So, how can you and your spouse enjoy your newfound wealth? Well, in your letter you say: “we’re realizing that we can spend more on ourselves and still meet our goals,” so do just that! Spend money on yourselves! Go out for meals in nice restaurants together. Take those vacations you denied yourself all your adult life. Go away just the two of you or, if you really want to be generous, invite your now-adult children along if you enjoy their company. Splurge on lodging that’s a few steps above budget-level. If you’re concerned about making others feel bad, there’s no need to share pictures on social media or tell your friends about where you stay and the amenities you enjoy. Keep it to yourself. Enjoy the luxuries and comforts you can afford now without humble bragging about them.
You said you can’t pay for your friends without it being weird, so don’t. Have you ever paid for them before (or vice versa)? If that isn’t part of your friend group culture, it *would* be weird to introduce that now. But if you’ve taken turns in the past paying for each other, that doesn’t need to stop just because you find yourself with more money now. Continue paying for things that are within everyone’s budget so that when it’s their turn to reciprocate, they can cover the same quality comfortably in kind. Then, it doesn’t get weird. No need to feel “sad” or “guilty” or whatever.
Finally, one more thing to keep in perspective: Monetary wealth is just one aspect of a person or couple’s or family’s whole picture. It’s great to feel like you’re lucky and to feel grateful. But while you’re feeling sad for others who don’t have what you do, you might be ignoring everything else they have that fulfills them and makes them happy and gives their lives value. Good health, a meaningful career, a beautiful and bountiful garden, pets, children and grandchildren, and interesting travels are just some of the many things that might round out your friends’ lives. They don’t want your pity or your guilt. Pack that stuff away. Enjoy your money and enjoy your friends, but don’t feel like you need to enjoy the two together.
I say she is enabling this behavior and needs to kick them out, but it always ends up in a fight and I have to back down and stay quiet. I can’t take it any more. The worst part of this is that she and I have never had a night alone in the house! We have to go out of town if we want to be alone and have a romantic night in because they are ALWAYS HERE! And now the older kid wants to pay less rent since his younger brother is here and not paying anything, and I’m at my rope’s end with this! Please help! — Tired of Living with Slobs
There’s a pretty easy solution to this: Move out. Get your own place where you and your partner can enjoy privacy together and you can comfortably entertain your friends and family without worrying about a stinky, smelly home. Recognize that moving in together after two months was too fast in this case and you didn’t understand what you were getting yourself into. Now you know and you gotta get out. You’ve tried talking to your partner about how you feel and she shows zero interest in changing anything. Clearly, she is not as bothered by this situation as you are. Maybe she even likes it, who knows. But you don’t, and no one is forcing you to stay, so go. None of the other adults you live with is going to make the changes you need in order to feel comfortable in that home, and the longer you continue staying there, hoping they do, the more resentful you will get. If you want to save this relationship and your sanity, move out already!