The Moneyist: I’m 59. My wife is 33. We have 2-year-old twins. I pay for my mother-in-law’s rent. The time has come for me to cut the cord


Dear Quentin,

My wife and I have been together for 11 years. We have twins aged 2, and I have a 20-year-old son in college.  I have my own business and do well.  I am 59 and my wife is 33. 

I paid the apartment rent for 10 years for her mom. I also paid my mother-in-law $1,600 per month for helping with our twins for one year.  In addition, my wife employed her for a year in a salon. Neither occupation ended well due to her mom’s desire to push back on her daughter’s authority.

My wife has two siblings. One has very little, while the other has no kids and a nice business — yet he has never contributed to his mom’s expenses.  Also, my mother-in-law does not seek work, but she does breed dogs, which provides some income. 

As I approach 60, I have explained that I will not be signing any lease next year (January) and that I will contribute up to $500 per month in rent, but the remainder must come from the mom and her brother. 

While everyone agrees, no action or further efforts have been made by anyone and I am concerned that come fall, amnesia will kick in, and I will be on another lease and stuck with the rent again.

I have three kids and a wife in college as well, and need to cut the cord.

What do you suggest?

59-year-old Son-in-Law

Dear Son-in-Law,

You don’t have to manage your mother-in-law’s expectations or, for that matter, her direct deposits. You only need to manage your own.

Sometimes, the best way to get the outcome you desire is to take the path of least resistance and do nothing. Perhaps your mother-in-law and her children are busily making plans to sign a new lease and agree on how the rent should be paid. Perhaps they are relying on the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” principle, and benignly waiting for the direct deposit to continue.

As Jane Austen wrote in “Persuasion” (1817), “Let us never underestimate the power of a well-written letter.” Remind your mother-in-law of the last date of the lease, and tell her you will keep her in the loop on the new arrangement in writing. Inform the landlord that the payments will end on the last date of the lease, and cc your mother-in-law on the letter.

It may feel difficult to set a bar on your generosity, and then adjust that after several years. But it sounds like you have tried several ways of helping your mother-in-law, and none of them has worked out, through no fault of your own. She has worked in your wife’s salon, she has been compensated for helping with your twins, and you have followed that up by covering her rent.

You are now flexing a new muscle. Once you draw a line in the sand and stick to it, it will get easier the next time you do it. And the next.

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