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Ask Dave

She's Going To Hit A Mathematical Wall

Teresa has an 86-year-old mother with no savings, and her only asset is her home. Her mom isn't willing to allow Teresa to help her. Dave suggests posing a lot of questions to her.

QUESTION: Teresa in Austin has an 86-year-old mother trying to live on $1,200 in Social Security payments. She has no savings, and her only asset is her home. She got a home equity line of credit on it and is blowing through the equity with emotional purchases. Her mom isn’t willing to allow Teresa to help her. Dave suggests posing a lot of questions to her.

ANSWER: It’s very difficult. A lot of folks are facing this right now. We always call it the Powdered Butt Syndrome. Once someone’s powdered your butt, they don’t want your opinion. It doesn’t matter if you’re 60. You’re still her little girl, and you still have no sense. You’ve obviously reached out to her and tried to communicate to her that she’s misbehaving. You’re not worried about you. You’re more worried about her hitting the wall. Mathematically, this is going to come to an end. I guess rather than try to force myself into those situations, I would just ask a lot of questions. What are you going to do when the credit line is up? How are you going to keep the house? What are you going to do when you get foreclosed on? Where do you plan to live? She doesn’t have five years of money left at the rate she’s going.

The problem is stupid but is not illegal. She’s acting like a child and being irresponsible regardless of her age. I don’t know that you can do anything here except pray for her and watch this unfold. You can drop a bomb on something, and sometimes, a sudden and violent jolt will move it. More often than not, in something like this, it’s more like hydrostatic pressure, which is like water building up behind a wall gradually but with a constant push, and finally the wall falls over. I think if I were you, I’d be hydrostatic pressure. Just keep this steady pressure where there’s this discomfort with the situation that’s being relayed to her constantly in different ways. A good way to do that is just lots and lots of questions that make her face reality. It may be that she loses the house and ends up living in your basement or an apartment. She can live on $1,200 in an apartment. The problem is you can’t make people do stuff. It’s particularly aggravating the closer you are to them and the more you love them.