Dear Penny: Are We Jerks if We Don’t Pay $600 for My In-Laws’ Housecleaning?

Stock image shows an older woman looking unhappy at a younger man while a younger woman looks stressed sitting next to the older woman.
Getty Images
Dear Penny,

My husband’s parents have always expected their adult children to pay their way for restaurants and vacations, and whenever they need or want something that they don’t want to purchase. My father-in-law says his kids can afford it because they all have better jobs than he had, but he never paid for college for any of his four children.

The in-laws have mismanaged their money for years. My father-in-law plays golf four or five days a week whenever able, and my mother-in-law likes to make unnecessary purchases on home decor, etc. They both also seem to have a prescription drug problem that nobody wants to address. 

The newest thing has been trying to get the kids to go in on gifts for them. My husband and I have helped pay for a new kitchen floor, rocking chairs for both of them, a week at a condo, etc. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law are wanting us to go in on a cleaning service for the next 12 months because they cannot keep up with their cleaning. The cost is $50 per month per family, or $600 per year. 

Our oldest son is in college, and we are paying upward of $20,000 for his tuition. We also have out-of-network health care costs from my son’s recent hospitalization while he was away at school. We have not yet received a bill for the hospitalization. My younger son will be starting college in a year and a half, and we are worried about coming up with that money, plus inflation. 

How can we get out of these joint gifts now and in the future? One of my husband’s siblings is a millionaire, and another is in a higher tax bracket than we are. Help!


Dear M.,

Don’t make this about how much you and your husband are struggling compared to his siblings. Or about your in-laws’ poor decisions. You and your husband can’t afford to keep giving his parents money. That alone is your reason to end your support

This will be a tough limit to set without your husband’s support. Generally, I think it’s best when each spouse takes the lead on talking to their own families when you need to set boundaries. Your first step is to agree on how much — if anything — you’re willing to spend on your husband’s parents.

Dear Penny

Ask Dear Penny!

Get practical money advice from Dana Miranda, the voice of Dear Penny and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance.

DISCLAIMER: Questions will appear in The Penny Hoarder’s “Dear Penny” column. We are unable to answer every letter. We reserve the right to edit and publish your questions. But don’t worry — your identity will remain anonymous.

Your husband should have separate conversations with his siblings and parents. Mentioning the medical and college bills you’re facing is fine. But he doesn’t owe them a full breakdown of your finances. Providing too much information can backfire by giving the impression that the matter is up for debate.

If you want to limit your support for your in-laws without withdrawing it altogether, contributing the $50 a month for housecleaning may be the easiest way to go. It’s fixed and predictable. It’s a lot more affordable than a vacation or a new kitchen floor.

Either way, your husband should tell his siblings that you can’t offer the kind of financial support you have in the past. If neither of you wants to pay a third of the cleaning bill, his siblings can each chip in an extra $25 a month. Or they can scale back the frequency from once a month to every six weeks. Their call. But also give them a heads-up that you’re not in a position to contribute to the bigger expenses. If they’re determined for their parents to enjoy free vacations and restaurant meals, they’ll need to budget a bit extra.

Your husband should talk to his parents when they aren’t asking for money. He can tell them that money is tight, so you can’t afford the continued splurges. That probably won’t stop them from asking. Nor will it keep them from being miffed when you tell them “no.” But at least you’ll know that you gave them ample warning.

You both can communicate your love for your husband’s parents without spending big money. For example, you could decline a restaurant invite if you know they’ll expect you to pay. Reiterate that you don’t have much to spend on extras. But if they live nearby, you could invite them over for dinner.

Fortunately, your in-laws have asked you to fund their wants, not needs. Saying no to a family member who needs money for food or rent can be hard. But it’s a bit easier when they’re not in a crisis.

You’ll both need to be OK with the fact that other people don’t always like the boundaries we set. Maybe your husband’s parents will think you’re both ungrateful. Maybe his siblings will say you’re cheap. But they don’t get to decide how you should spend your money.

Trying to climb out of debt? Here are 50 ways to bring in extra money this month.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].