Dear Mrs. Riches:
I'm a 29-year-old single structural engineer who makes a decent salary. The trouble is that I can't seem to save money worth a darn. No matter how much money I make, it all seems to go out the window. A friend suggested going to a financial planner, but that idea sounds like a great big "ugh." I don't really want to hear the bad news, I guess. Any more palatable ways to learn about saving?
-- Spending's Friend
Dear Spending's Friend:
So, saving (otherwise known as ensuring that you'll be covered in an emergency and that you can retire someday) leaves a bad taste in your mouth? Surely, as an engineer, you don't advocate that clients take the unsafe shortcuts over the structurally sound (albeit more expensive) strategies? Draw your own parallels. Right now, the architecture of your financial life is quite shaky.
Treating financial planners like ogres who enjoy dashing your fun is an example of immature thinking. It's not their job to make saving "palatable." Rather, they strive to get you on a realistic trajectory toward financial responsibility. Such a noble goal will be accomplished by encouraging you to get out of debt, establish a budget, and save for your future. At the end of the day, you're still the person who has to step up to the plate and get responsible.
If, however, you're looking for someone to rubber-stamp your expenditures, look no further than your credit card company or the local mall. They'll encourage you to spend all you want without batting an eyelash. The trouble is that when it comes time to pay, they suddenly become all business: Pay up or your credit will suffer, and you'll be stuck with high interest rates or a smorgasbord of other nastiness.
In the meantime, the only person you're cheating is yourself. Fast-forward 40 years: Will your 69-year-old self appreciate that high-def TV you just purchased more than the ability to quit working and fulfill dreams of living on the beach in Florida? Few people in their golden years lament spending too little money. Instead, save more, take good care of your teeth, and spend more time with loved ones.
The good news is that you have time -- time to repent and time to build up a tidy nest egg. Don't sacrifice your quality of life in the future for frivolous fun today. Read more on The Motley Fool, sign up for your company's 401(k) plan immediately, and get going in the right direction now.
Dear Mrs. Riches:
My mom is pretty much a compulsive shopper whose motto is "Charge it!" She's always buying things for me, my kids, friends, neighbors, you name it -- but then she hides the bills from my dad. Every couple of years, he finds out the totals and bails her out, but instead of feeling sheepish, she seems to see this as a free pass to buy even more. I have tried talking to her about the situation but seem to get nowhere. I'm guessing you will say that it's their marriage and I should butt out, but I'm concerned about my dad's health. He's had some trouble with his heart, and the stress of her irresponsibility weighs heavily on him. I'm worried it will cause another heart attack. How can I make my mom realize the toll this is taking on him?
-- Daughter Divided
Dear Daughter Divided:
I'm so sorry to hear about your dad's health troubles, as well as your mother's problems with spending. While I hope the two are not related, I would echo your concerns: Certainly, whether you're discussing mind, body, or bank account, this situation isn't a healthy one for either of your parents.
Your mom's problem is an insidious one because shopping is considered a socially acceptable pastime, especially for women. But in her case, her shopping habit has crossed the line from an enjoyable life activity to a compulsion. As you know, true compulsions cause sufferers to sacrifice relationships with loved ones to satisfy an impulse. That can certainly strain a marriage and cause undue stress on a partner.
The term "co-dependent" is a trite but apt description in your dad's case. He has, knowingly and unknowingly, assisted your mom in her irresponsibility by bailing her out and allowing her to remain unaccountable. As you said, rather than showing her the error of her ways, his help has simply spurred on greater expenditures. At this point, as someone complicit with your mother's illness and with his health failing, he's vulnerable and also needs intervention.
So, what can you do to help each of them?
While financial guidance can help down the road, what's most essential is getting your parents the emotional support and help they need. Compulsive shopping can be an outgrowth of other root emotional illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Since mere conversation hasn't seemed to help at all, you may want to consult a mental health professional or addictions specialist to determine the best way to proceed. He or she may recommend an intervention with multiple family members present or another higher-impact strategy.
In the meantime, offering your father support is critical since both you and your dad can make some changes on your own. He can work with a counselor to develop insight and strategies going forward, as well as talking with a financial expert to determine how best to minimize the damage to his credit and the family's assets. You can set strong boundaries about the types and quantities of gifts you or your children can receive from your mom, making it clear that you will not support her shopping habits. Support groups like Spenders Anonymous may offer tips for how you can help your mom, as well as yourselves.
There aren't any easy or quick remedies for compulsive shopping, but this fight is a critical one to wage for the health of your family. Good luck!
Want more advice from Mrs. Riches? Try:
Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who regularly talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. To get your money and relationship questions answered, send her an email .