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Help elderly mom rein in spending

By Andrea Bonior
Andrea Bonior
Andrea Bonior (that's BONN-yer!) is a licensed clinical psychologist, professor, and writer. She completed her M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology focusing on individual and group psychotherapy for young adults and specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders and depression.

Q: I’m really concerned about my elderly mother spending above her means. My father is in a nursing home, and she is in control of all the finances. She constantly buys stuff she doesn’t need from TV, catalogs, etc. How can I rein this in while still letting her be independent?

Has she always been like this? Or might her spending habits be a sign of a compulsion – or anxiety, stress, depression or even some cognitive issues? There’s a big spectrum between sloppy money management and a larger psychological issue. Of course, driving herself into financial instability will only cause more problems. The key is to get her into a dialogue about it and work in small steps toward a plan she feels comfortable with.

Whether you’re bringing up your concerns for the first time or practically staging an intervention, here are a few guidelines: Show respect; don’t treat her punitively or like a child. And treat yourself like a collaborator who wants to help her solve this problem – perhaps by meeting with a financial adviser together and setting small goals – rather than an authority cracking down on her and repossessing her zebra-print Snuggie.

Q: My wife and I are unhappy in our jobs. I’ve been actively looking for something new for about six months, but she has been less motivated. Every time I have a promising lead, she says things like, “We’ll have to see where I end up.” We earn the same salary, but I feel like if I am actually putting forth the legwork to get a new position, then that should take precedence over some imagined new position of hers. Your take?

I could say to give her a deadline: By this date, you will be free to accept a new job, regardless of her situation. Or you could develop a plan to conquer her procrastination (Day one: Hunt down old resume and consider ditching Times New Roman).

But the key question here involves the real roadblocks underlying her stagnation. Is she sabotaging herself because she doesn’t feel she deserves a better situation? Is she afraid she won’t be able to do it? Or is it about competition and sabotaging you? Focusing on the larger implications of what’s going on will make sure that this disconnect doesn’t turn into a bigger mess once you get a new job.

Andrea Bonior is a psychologist and author of “The Friendship Fix.” www.drandreabonior.com
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