By: Revanche

What’s your price?

February 17, 2016

The cynics among us say that we all have a price.

Although my instinct was to reject that truism, it may be true. We all care deeply about something in our lives. Sometimes we care about those things more than our own lives, sometimes they mean more to us than our principles.

Sherry and I were chatting about money as a tool for manipulation. Her extended family has ways they manipulate family members using money and so does mine. In most cases, I’ve gotten a very small dose of the Controlling Juice, but it’s bitter enough to inform my independent streak which has grown a league and a half wide.

Both our families have a cultural tradition of Filial Piety, though it plays out in different ways.

My parents were a mix of traditional and non-traditional in their approach. They instilled in me a sense of responsibility using filial piety, but it was an example, not an expectation. “Big Cousin bought his mom a house because he loved her, wanted her to be comfortable, and because he could afford to. Not everyone can do that so it’s good that he’s been so responsible with his money that he could.”

Showing your love was important, but being sensible was much more important to them. They cherished the salt dough handprint made in kindergarten as a gift as much as anything I bought with my red envelope money. Thanks to those conversations, I knew everything they did for me was out of love, not as a down payment for retirement (and some parental obligation to keep me alive). And everything I did for them was out of love for them (and out of my self-imposed obligation to keep them off the street). Neither of us expected money from each other.

But the idea of bragging rights that Sherry described was absolutely part of the mainstream culture and there was talk in the community of how I was taking care of my parents. No one said a word to me directly, it simply became obvious when I hit 25, “marriageable age”, and suddenly people I’d never met before were coming over for tea and a visit.

It was all a ruse to introduce me to their sons. “This will be a good daughter in law,” they said, “she would take good care of us in our old age.” As if there was no more to me as a person and a potential spouse than my ability or willingness to support my family. But they’re an older generation, maybe there wasn’t anything more important to them.

Obligations, everywhere I looked. Thus, any offer of money is looked at not as a gift, but sideways and scrutinized for intention, strings, and expectations. Is there any situation in which I need money badly enough to take it as a gift rather than taking out a loan?

So far, history says “no.” There’s no situation where I would want something badly enough that I’d take a lien against my integrity for it. If I need it, and can’t afford it, I find a way to pay for it.Β  If I want it, and I can’t afford it, too bad. End of story.

Why so stubborn?

Two reasons, same experience

Number 1: Mom’s family. Immediately after her death, knowing that their behavior to her had been despicable, and was going to be public knowledge now that she was gone, they desperately wanted to look good. In our culture, the way they could fake it would be to pay for her funeral. That way, after treating her like dirt beneath their feet during the worst years of her illness, they could say “Of course we loved her, we paid for her funeral and everything!”

The price tag on “saving face”: $7,000

They harassed me endlessly, from the moment they knew I was coming back to arrange the funeral, to the moment the funeral began. CLASSY.

I didn’t consider it for a second. I also didn’t give them the courtesy of an answer. I just ignored them and wrote the check, letting the few sane elements of the family tell them to Back Off. A few of them went a bit further and pointed out that, money notwithstanding, I’d always taken care of my family. It’d be a cold day in Hell that I’d accept a handout from them, even if I went into debt in the refusal.

They were right, of course.

I didn’t go into debt but nothing would have convinced me to give them the satisfaction and I don’t regret it for a millisecond.

Number 2: I grew up poor. In most cases, money gifts within closer members of the family are just part of cultural traditions and mean nothing more than well-wishing. But in cases where there’s great disparity between the giver and the recipient, “gifts” become “charity.” And like it or not, charitable giving is considered a virtue, charity acceptance is not.Β  By the same token, someone who gives to charity is good. But someone who needs charity is looked at through a different lens, one where they’re judged, and found wanting. I learned quite early on,Β  there is so much stigma around accepting help that I wasn’t willing to ask for help of any kind.

What if the situation had been different?

What if she was still alive and they offered money for her medical care, money that I couldn’t afford at the time? I’d already paid over thousands to fix her terribly painful dental situation. I’d already paid hundreds of thousands for their living expenses, over the previous ten years, and that’s after I’d paid several tens of thousands of their debt. All of this before my salary reached $60,000, annually.

What if they had offered me enough money to buy her good health insurance?
What if they had offered me enough money to ensure some level of stability, as a hedge against my ill health, loss of income, and homelessness?

For nearly two decades, I’ve dedicated my life to save, invest, and plan for the worst possible scenario. We’re not free and clear yet but that self reliance and drive has gotten us pretty far down the road. Ten years ago, though, it wasn’t clear if and when I’d get clear.

What if I’d been offered an easier way out that could have saved Mom some suffering, for some unspecified obedience or compliance, all those years ago? Would I have swallowed my pride and taken it? I hate to think that I would cave but in hindsight, knowing that my best efforts weren’t enough to help her, the smart money is on YES.

What if it was an outrageous amount of money?

Barring the scenario above, the highly unlikely theoretical in which my mom’s family cared enough about her to offer me help to help her (they didn’t), what if the situation was less about your need, and more about the amount?

What if it was millions? Billions?

There’s a point at which our instincts must be to start rationalizing how much good you could do with that money, isn’t there?Β  I know mine starts to say, with $5M, you could do a lot of good. With $5B, you could do a whole lot more than that. You could, for this outlandish amount, put up with the price of [something really annoying].

Or substitute “do a lot of good” with whatever it is you’d want to do.

Would it be worth accepting the money with one hand, and a possible shackle on the other?

If we’re talking purely in currency, how big would the bucket of money have to be for you to willingly walk away from what you believe? What would you be willing to sacrifice, or tolerate? If we’re talking about valuable gifts not calculated in currency, like good health, what would you think, then?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, Disease Called Debt and Frugality 2 Freedom*

14 Responses to “What’s your price?”

  1. “a lien against my integrity” — Can I just say how beautifully put this was?

    Honestly, I don’t hold true to a lot of things; so I don’t know how much it’d take to walk away from my integrity. I think the closest thing would be taking money from my dad. It’s an unlikely scenario in that he is now broke. (Muahaha. Yeah, I never said I was a good or bigger person than it all.)

    But if he did… Would I take it as money due for my suffering? Or would I refuse it because it might give him some sense of satisfaction/false sense of being a good dad?

    I honestly don’t know. I’d probably take it after his death because he’s not around to be smug. While he’s alive? I don’t know whether I could bear it. On the other hand, we can use all the help we can get.

    I don’t know what the magic number would be to make me accept help from him. Probably not as high as I’d like it to be.

    • Revanche says:

      Given what I recall of your relationship with your dad, seems like we’re in the same boat insofar as how willing we are to give the Not Beloved relations any satisfaction.

      P.S. you don’t owe him anything, including good wishes πŸ˜›

  2. This is such a compelling post. I’m going to be thinking about it for quite some time – and I imagine my answer will continue to change. The noble part of me thinks, I have no price. But that’s probably not true. I suppose what is difficult for me is that I was raised to repay everything or return the favor if repayment isn’t an option. Accepting money makes me so squirmy, especially large amounts. It gets especially tricky when the gift isn’t a measure of goodwill but rather an attempt to clean up one’s karma or ease one’s conscious. I’m definitely going to come back to this post. Maybe I’ll have an actual answer then.
    Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies recently posted…The Price of PolitenessMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      Honest to goodness until I wrote the post, I would have sworn I didn’t have a price either, for the same reasons you describe here.

      The post will be here when you’re ready to add more πŸ™‚

  3. Sense says:

    Yeah. Thinking back to the rougher days of yore, I would have done almost anything if it meant that I could help my family. My price was probably very low at that point. As it was, I felt guilty that I was in graduate school, having a really wonderful time learning about my passion and making really good friends (and making very little money), while they were back home, suffering. I just kept telling myself that I’d be able to help MORE, later, if I made it through. Once I was out and had a better paying job, I did help more, but it never felt like I could do enough for them to pull them out of their situation.

    Currently, I still feel really guilty, on a daily basis, for not giving up my dream job and moving home to help them out, emotionally as well as financially. πŸ™ Right now, I’m not sure any amount of money could solve this issue (unless I ripped them out of their comfort zone in the US and somehow paid immigration to let my ill dad and sister and over-the-age-limit mom through to NZ).

    So, I guess what I’m saying is, my price has gone way up, so as to be astronomical at this point. I’d also say that my health is priceless–save some sort of exchange of good health with my ill loved ones, nothing could make me give that up.

    • Revanche says:

      And even if you could afford the astronomical amount of money it would take to bring your family to you, the money itself won’t be a guarantee of successfully helping them get better. Particularly our siblings. πŸ™

  4. Katherine says:

    Right now, with my job and finances as they are, I don’t have a price. I feel good about my ability to meet my needs and that of my family. But if things were different? I think I could have a price, and one that’s a lot lower than it was when I was single and responsible only for myself. Mainly because I have a baby now, and for her health and safety, I’d accept whatever I had to. In my mind, it wouldn’t be giving up my integrity for cash: it would be sacrificing my pride for the sake of my child.

    (Though I’m glad I don’t have to.)

    • Revanche says:

      That’s a very true point: once it turns into accepting help on behalf of a loved one who needs it, it’s more about giving up your pride than integrity.

  5. […] your price? Could your dignity and pride be purchased? Revanche hits it out of the park. “What if I’d been offered an easier way out that could […]

  6. This is a toughie. I’d have to agree with you… If it was to help someone I cared about survive or be more comfortable, I’d take it. But after they were gone? Not so much.

    There was some of this in my life, only I was accused of looking for handouts when I really never was. The entire situation was weird and maddening. It definitely reinforced my will to be independent, though. Sometimes stubbornly so.
    FF @ Femme Frugality recently posted…Gender Discrimination: A Story of Career FlexibilityMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      It’s always easier to help someone else at cost to yourself, isn’t it? But yes, if it was just me, nope.

      That’s really weird, I find that people who would make that accusation are just looking for ways to stir up trouble.

  7. I’m not sure this is an amount it would take to get me to compromise my own integrity, but I think if it was for someone I loved, it wouldn’t take much at all.
    Mel @ brokeGIRLrich recently posted…Retire With the Money You NeedMy Profile

  8. […] those of who are of the staunch, independent ilk, you could also (in hindsight) wonder if you should have just taken the moneyΒ and swallowed your […]

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