Money talk: loans to family and friends

After reading this post by Revanche at A Gai Shan Life my first thought was that I’ve never loaned money to family, so I can’t comment on the experience. Then I realized that wasn’t true at all, and that I could write a fairly lengthy comment in response to her post. Since I’ve been trying to get myself to write more blog posts, I decided that my response was better done here.

My one experience with loaning money to family didn’t turn out so well for me. When I was 15, my father asked me to loan him the contents of my savings account. As a minor, he probably could have taken the money out of my account without checking with me, so it was nice to have him ask me first. Of course I said yes because this was my Dad, after all. My hazy memory pegs the amount he borrowed at $6,000.

The only reason I had any money in my savings account at that time was because of my maternal grandfather. Every year he gave me and my sister a savings bond for Christmas with the stipulation that we could use the money for either a wedding or college. As the bonds matured, the funds needed to go somewhere, so my parents created savings accounts for us at my father’s credit union and put the money there. In today’s dollars, that $6,000 would be worth about $15,000, so it was a pretty substantial amount for me to have in savings at a time when I wasn’t even old enough to be earning a real paycheck.

Dad wanted to borrow the money so he could do a little real estate investing and flip a house or two. He got the idea in his head that he could do this pretty easily by pooling funds with another neighbor and doing the labor on fixing up the house themselves. I don’t know the details of why he didn’t make the profit they had projected, or even if there was any loss involved, but the payback to me didn’t work the way it was supposed to. There wasn’t any documentation of this loan or even a timeline for repayment discussed, but it was understood that I’d get the money back PLUS interest in time for me to use it for college, so he had about three years to pay me back. At this time (1982-1985), interest rates for savings accounts were around 8%, so I should have been reimbursed about $7,500 in 1985 dollars (nearly $18,000 in today’s dollars).

In those three years, our family life disintegrated, though. Dad and I started clashing on typical teenage stuff; I wanted to date boys and Dad wanted me to stay away from them until I was 18, apparently. The close, warm relationship I had with my dad as a child vaporized. My parent’s marriage — which had never been very happy or close from my recollection — disintegrated completely to the point where Dad moved out in my last year of high school, and I was left living with my Mom. (Because my mother is not the most emotionally stable person this was a very stressful time for me, but that’s not something to go into here).

So there I was at 17, wanting to get my money back so I could head off to college, and Mom and Dad in the midst of divorce negotiations. Dear reader, I think you can see where this is going: Dad tried to default on the loan.

Actually, the loan would have been considered a marital debt that both of my parents needed to document during their divorce. Whether my parents had the money to pay me back or not wasn’t material, apparently, since they were still in the early stages of negotiations at the point where I needed my money, and both attorneys were counseling that this was not something that could be addressed at the time.

Mom insisted that I needed my money, and actually lost her attorney over this issue since she continued to push on the issue at every meeting despite the attorney telling her to stop. I did eventually get SOME of the money back by the time I needed it for college. I didn’t get all of my capital back, much less any interest, but I was told that was the best I could expect and to just accept it. So that’s my story about lending money to family: I got screwed.

On the other hand, I have lent money to close friends twice in the past 10 years or so and been paid back in full. For both of those loans we talked about expectations for repayment and a promissory note was signed.

I also invested money in a friend’s business a few years ago and recently learned that the business has folded. At the time I invested the money I knew I was taking a risk, though. The lost investment is going to be a capital loss on my taxes over the next few years, so it’s going to be put to use, in a way.

I think what is more important to me is the fact that my own father has never once apologized for not paying me back, or for not recognizing how his actions impacted me.

Dad did another shameful money grab at the time of the divorce, too. A few years prior, he had set up an account at his credit union that he held jointly with my mother’s uncle as a way to pay back a personal loan great-uncle gave to my parents. During the divorce negotiations, Mom documented the loan in their joint debts, and the savings account in their joint assets. She had no access to the records for that savings account since her name was never on it and Dad denied its existence. When great-uncle (whose name was on the account) tried to access it he was advised it had been closed. The best estimate was that there was roughly $10,000 in the account at the time.

So Dad not only screwed me over, he also screwed great-uncle over, and my mother, too, since she was held responsible for half of those debts while he hid away the money to repay them from his asset statement. Is it any wonder I often say that my parents are best dealt with from a distance?

To end on a somewhat positive note, though, I have come to understand that my parents are only human, so any disappointments I have in their past or present behavior is tempered with this mindset. Nonetheless, I will never trust my father with my money or my mother with my deepest emotions.

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Aging is not for the faint at heart

You know what’s worse than waking up several times a night from hot flashes? Waking up from wrenching pains in your lower abdomen, too. This happened to me about three weeks ago, started a flurry of doctor visits, and ended in the ER.

Since I arrived here in December I’ve had lots of settling in to do. I had yet to get around to securing a primary care doctor because my most immediate issues (I thought) were gynecological. Turns out that my lower abdominal/pelvic area pains that started that night had nothing to do with my reproductive system, but were instead caused by another bout of diverticulitis.

I don’t feel like writing down a summary of all the doctor visits I’ve had in the past month and I doubt anyone wants to read that much detail anyway. The only way to definitively diagnose what was going on was to do an abdominal CT scan, so after a week of progressive pain increase and the eventual onset of fever I went to the ER and walked out a few hours later with two prescriptions for some heavy-duty antibiotics.

The worrisome issue for me is that I had diverticulitis two years ago, too, and according to both the new primary care doctor here and the gastroenterologist back in Chicago it’s likely I’ll need surgery to remove a troublesome section of my colon in the next two years. I’ve been doing everything the medical establishment tells you to do to minimize the risk of a recurrence — drinking a lot of water, consuming high fiber, and exercising — but that doesn’t seem to be enough. Apparently I’m one of those people who just has a tendency for recurrent infections in that area of my body.

The pelvic ultrasound ordered by the gynecologist showed all was fine with the exception of a small ovarian cyst that should go away over time. The hot flashes are manageable for now, so I’ll just continue with my new sleep habits — layers of bedding to toss off/pull on as needed, a remote-controlled fan, and an early bedtime — to deal with the hormonal fluctuations. And hopefully the waves of fatigue that have showed up recently are more related to my body fighting off a major infection.

Honestly, with the exception of that tiredness that sometimes overtakes me in the afternoon I’m feeling better than I have in a few months. I’m more clear-headed and I have more energy and enthusiasm for work. These are all good things!

Now I just need to get myself slowly back on track with a normal diet. When the hospital released me I was sent home with some information on low-residue diets. Until my gut is healed, I need to cut out all high fiber foods. The day after release I saw my primary care doctor for follow-up and he amended the diet guidelines even more. He wanted me to eat only a liquid diet until I was pain-free. Then I was to gradually add the low-residue foods, and finally get back into my normal high fiber diet.

Since I had no food in my house that was suitable to consume following these guidelines I’ve had to make several trips to the market for stuff I never buy: fruit juice (and no puree, pulp, or pineapple juice in the mix), regular noodles or pasta, white bread, baking potatoes, and rice pudding. I was only on the liquids for about two days (that’s all I could stand before the headaches and icky feeling from consuming nothing but broth and juice got to me), and have slowly worked my way up through the hierarchy of allowable foods. Just yesterday I started adding some low residue vegetables: a piece of lettuce on my white bread and ham sandwich, and some thoroughly cooked green beans with my baked potato (no skin allowed!) dinner last night.

I haven’t been walking very much or hiking at all during this entire ordeal. I took Hannah dog out to a park yesterday for a lesson with the dog trainer and had to pause at the top of every hill we walked up. I think next week I’ll try to join one of the hiking groups that has members with a variety of fitness levels and hang out with the folks near the back of the pack because I miss the social connections and not just the exercise.

One good thing about this mess: I lost about 4-5 pounds and am fitting into some shorts I had saved from a few years ago. So at least I won’t have to pick up new shorts.

Actually, that’s not the only good thing that came out of this experience. When I returned home from the ER, I laid down in the hammock outside for a few minutes, stared at the brilliant blue sky, and felt immensely thankful that I’m here now. There’s nothing like a health scare to make me realize how important it is to build a happy life for myself. I’m very glad I moved to California, and that I made the opportunity to do it at this point in my life while I still have enough health to enjoy all the benefits it brings to my life. My fledgling support network of kind neighbors and friends is building, and if and when I have another need to be in the hospital for any length of time I’m putting in place safeguards to ensure that Hannah dog is well cared for during my absence.