August 11, 2022

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My boyfriend, 68, has almost no ‘mad money’ for fun activities and trips. He lives with his father, 95, and expects to inherit his house. Is it unreasonable to expect him to get a part-time job?

Dear Quentin,

I am a 65-year-old retired woman with modest Social Security and annuity payments. I also own my own home and have savings.

I’ve been seeing a 68-year-old retiree since just before the pandemic. He lives with his 95-year-old dad, who is in poor health (he can’t get around much, doesn’t drive, and is showing signs of dementia). This was presented to me as “I moved in with Dad because he needed care.”

What became slowly clear over time is that, although his dad needs live-in help, he is living there just as much for financial reasons. My boyfriend lives on modest Social Security payments as his sole source of income. He has very, very minimal savings. This is due to a combination of poor choices, an ex-wife who absconded with some of their savings, and the recession hitting him hard, etc.

Here is my problem: Before COVID-19 hit, I suggested that he get a part-time job. He has the skills and is in reasonably good health. We have gone around and around on this, with him giving one “reason” after another. I’ve told him I’m very concerned about his finances. He will respond that he is “getting by” just fine and really doesn’t want to work.

Before COVID-19, he was actually starting to create a profile on TaskRabbit. Now he adamantly refuses to look.

He is generally a loving, patient, reasonable man, but this issue bothers me. His dad’s assets (primarily his house) will be split between him and one sibling. I feel like he is waiting for his dad to pass, which seems morbid.

In the meantime, he has almost no “mad money” to go places and do things. I can’t for the life of me understand why someone in his situation — essentially, he is living in “poverty” — would not want to better themselves. He has a dual attitude where he will say he is ashamed about his situation, but at the same time refuses to consider a part-time job.

Am I being unreasonable here? Thank you.

Financially Stable Girlfriend 

Dear Stable,

It’s not unreasonable of you to expect him to get a job. It is, however, unreasonable of you to expect him to abide by your wishes and go out and get one. There are no victims, only volunteers, as the old saying goes — and you are walking into this relationship with your eyes wide open. 

At least you see your boyfriend for who he is: a kind and caring partner who also looks after his father, but a man who likes an easy life without too many demands, and who isn’t pushed to show up for a job that he feels is beneath his dignity, even if every job is beneath his dignity. 

He is living within his very limited means, and that’s primarily because he does not want for much: a roof over his head, a family home that will likely pass to him upon the death of his father, and monthly Social Security checks to pay for food, his cable bill, and other bits and bobs.

He’s not the “mad money” type, I’m afraid. You will be footing the bill if you want to have an adventure in Hawaii or Europe or Asia during your well-earned retirement, or take a cruise to the Caribbean (although I am still scratching my head why anyone would want to be trapped on a ship during a global pandemic).

The concerning part of your letter relates to his feeling shame about not working, or not being willing or able to work, and his inability to take action. He could be afraid of failure and rejection — no one likes either of those things, so he would not be alone in that. But it has left him stuck in the proverbial mud.

People are living longer and leading healthier lives. With unemployment at 3.6%, the labor market is tight and employers are showing renewed respect for older workers, and no doubt displaying a newfound appreciation for their professionalism and years of experience.

With unemployment at 3.6%, the labor market is tight and employers are showing renewed respect for older workers.

In fact, older Americans are “blowing past this idea of traditional retirement,” John Tarnoff, a Los Angeles-based career transition coach and co-host of “The Second Act Show” livecast, recently told MarketWatch. Some need to keep working; others simply like to stay busy.

The Nationwide Retirement Institute polled more than 1,800 adults and found that 42% of Americans planned on filing for Social Security benefits early while still working, up from 36% a year ago. The uncertain economic outlook obviously has played a role in that.

It might be worth telling your boyfriend that he is not alone. There are millions of others out there who either want or need to keep working. There is no shame in working beyond retirement age (66 or 67, depending on when you are born) or living on a modest income.

The government’s Senior Community Service Employment Program is one such service for people like your boyfriend — over the age of 55 and on low incomes — to help them get back to work. He may also benefit from therapy to help him deal with his negative self-image. 

But even if your boyfriend does find a part-time job, you are unlikely to change him. People don’t really change. They are who they are. If you want a partner who has plenty of money and whose wanderlust has not dimmed with time, you may have to seek that elsewhere. 

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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