How to get over money envy

Laveta Brigham

Dear Liz: I am a 41-year-old man who is married with small children. I have finally reached the point financially where I am meeting or exceeding personal goals for retirement, college savings and reduced monthly expenses. I have a high income. I drive a piece of crap car because it’s […]

Dear Liz: I am a 41-year-old man who is married with small children. I have finally reached the point financially where I am meeting or exceeding personal goals for retirement, college savings and reduced monthly expenses. I have a high income. I drive a piece of crap car because it’s paid for, but I am still hemorrhaging cash! Yet my peers are buying second homes at the lake or in ski country. What am I doing wrong?

Answer: Congratulations! You’re doing a lot right with your money, and you may not be doing anything wrong. To borrow a phrase, you can’t judge your insides by other people’s outsides.

Some of your peers may have inherited money, or received infusions from generous parents. More likely, they’re not saving enough, or at all, for retirement or their children’s educations.

They also may be deeply in debt. Although their lives may look good on the outside now, their futures may be a lot less flush.

You can’t know how other households conduct their financial affairs, so keep focusing on your own situation and how you can make it better. If you feel like you’re hemorrhaging cash, track where the money is going for a while. If you discover as a family that you’re spending on things that aren’t important to you, you and your spouse can look for ways to redirect spending to better support your values.

Her dead ex’s kids can’t dictate benefits

Dear Liz: My husband and I were living apart but not legally separated when he passed away. He was receiving disability benefits. His children, who are grown, tell me I am not eligible for widow or survivor benefits and that only they can collect his benefits. I am disabled myself and 51. Do their claims hold any weight? Could he have removed me as a recipient?

Answer: No and no. The children are wrong, not just about your eligibility for benefits but about their own. Social Security survivor benefits typically aren’t available to children over 18, but they are available to widows and widowers starting at age 60, or starting at 50 if the spouse is disabled.

As long as you weren’t divorced, you would be eligible for survivor benefits. And if you had divorced, you could still be eligible for survivor benefits if the marriage lasted at least 10 years.

You can call the Social Security toll free number at (800) 772-1213 for more information.

Don’t get creative with mom’s money

Dear Liz: My 91-year-old mother lost her mobile home (and everything else) in a fire. I was able to put her in assisted living and she is actually doing better than when she was by herself. There was insurance money, which is now in a joint account, but considering her age, we have decided not to buy another place. Is there something I should do with this money? Friends have told me I should invest it. Her new home will keep her whether she pays or is (eventually) on Medicaid.

Answer: You should talk to an elder law attorney before doing anything with the money. Typically, your mom wouldn’t be able to get on Medicaid until she spends virtually everything she has. If she tries to avoid spending her money by transferring it improperly, the transfer could delay her eligibility. You can get referrals from the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

Reconciling checking accounts

Dear Liz: Any suggestions for the best way to catch up with monthly statements from checking accounts? Friends and I need to know: Should we start from the first one we missed or work backward?

Answer: With the switch to online banking, many people don’t reconcile their checkbooks anymore. In fact, many don’t use checks, so there’s no risk that one will clear belatedly and trigger overdrafts.

That’s not to say overdrafts aren’t possible or that errors and fraud don’t happen. People should review their transactions regularly, even if they don’t reconcile.

To answer your question, typically the best way to start reconciling your checking account is to start from the first month you missed and work forward.

Liz Weston, certified financial planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com.

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