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Ask Dave

More Than Just a Problem

Jonathan wants to know how to address his mother-in-law and her problem with credit cards.

QUESTION: Jonathan in Arkansas says his mother-in-law has a credit card problem. She can't afford stuff, but shops anyway and just thinks she'll pay for it later. The mother-in-law's husband has bailed her out a few times but won’t do it anymore. How can Jonathan, his wife and his sister-in-law address this?

Dave's ANSWER: They need to do it. They need to do it in a closed setting where there is no interruption, no family or kids and no TV. They must sit down very bluntly and very carefully walk her through this.

Start with and end with the fact that they care deeply about her, and they are tired of watching her destroy herself and her marriage. It makes them ashamed when they see her misbehaving at this level. She needs to take control of herself.

You must know that you might get a volatile, negative, angry reaction. Don't expect everyone to play patty-cake here. Sometimes you tell people stuff, and they get ticked off. If her husband will participate in the confrontation on a reasonable basis, he should do that. It would be great for him to be involved.

It may be that you guys should sit down with a good family counselor before you do this, because what you're talking about is an intervention. It's as if she was a drunk and you sit down with her to say that the drinking is killing her and destroying the relationships in this family and you've had enough of it. Stop it.

There's a process to do that. It is advisable to sit down with a family counselor and get some direction on how to do this properly. I'm not one, I've just done a lot of that as a financial coach.