Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mother Takes Her Cut

At the end of my sophomore year of college, I applied for and accepted a campus job as a Resident Assistant.  My payment was a rent-free studio efficiency apartment that would normally cost a little over $10k for the school year.  In order to accept the job, I had to quit my mail room job I had worked since freshman year.  It had been my sole source of income during the school year.

Because my RA apartment didn't come with a meal plan, I had no way to pay for food.  I also had no way to pay for the phone line the school required me to have, or clothes or anything else.  My social security checks were still being kept by my mother to pay for my books and tuition.  My parents kicked in a lot toward tuition, and I paid for the rest with a hefty academic scholarship and student loans.

After my explanation of the situation -- that she wouldn't have to pay for my housing and could redirect funds toward the things I'd previously paid for with my mail room job -- my mother agreed to give me a monthly allowance so I could buy food and necessities.  I believe it was $150 per month, if I recall correctly.  I know the budget I worked out allowed me to spend $20 per week on food, so I had to stop buying whole grain healthy stuff and eat a lot more ramen.  Unfortunately, that was the same year I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, so I had a lot of doctors bills, and I had to pay bus fare three times per week to get to the hospital for my initial follow-up appointments and some related blood tests.

I called my mother and told her I needed more money to pay hospital bills, and she screamed at me for daring to pay any of them in full.  ALWAYS put them on a payment plan, she told me.  NEVER pay hospital bills in full!  I hadn't known.  I asked for payment plans going forward, but I still needed more money.  I was barely getting by, and my boss got mad whenever I argued that I didn't have money to eat restaurant food with the other RAs.  My boss expected me to pitch in an equal amount whether I ate their food or not.  My mother eventually gave me a little more money and purchased me a small supplemental meal plan through the school so that I could eat larger, healthier meals occasionally.  Then she spent somewhere in neighborhood of $70 -- more than three weeks' worth of grocery money in my world -- to send me a Hershey's Chocolate Tower of Treats made up almost exclusively of foods my doctors had told me to avoid, such as nuts and popcorn.  I had even told her about the diet restrictions before she sent it.

After graduation, after my mother went off the deep end, my dad mentioned the monthly allowance I had lived off of for those last two years of college, except the figure he quoted to me was more than double what I had received.  "She told me you hated me," he said.  "She said I had to give the money to her because you would never accept it if it came from me directly because you hated me so much."  And then she had taken a more than 50% cut for herself.  Every single month.  I'll let slide the fact that she told my dad I hated him because parental alienation was old hat with her and shouldn't have come as a surprise.  But knowing I was struggling, hearing me cry over the phone that I couldn't afford anything and was embarrassing myself in front of my boss, she made the repeated decision to take her cut.  Every.  Single.  Month. 

My dad didn't even control their money.  He only ever bothered controlling his own comparatively tiny social security checks, which were about 10% of their total monthly income.  The rest was all hers.  About $9k per month, all hers, at least $6k of which should have been disposable income.  I guess she wanted more.

[Edited:  I forgot to factor in my tuition and their various car payments -- I don't even remember how many cars they would have been paying off at that time -- when I said they had $6k in monthly disposable income.  I was going on what their finances looked like when I took them over a couple years later.  I think their mortgage payments were less back then, before the refinance, but I don't know by how much.  They might have had as little as $4k disposable income per month. Of course that number also factors in if my mother had paid both the home equity line of credit payment and my tuition rather than paying the HELOC payment every month and then immediately borrowing against it again to pay my tuition, which is what she said she did (in one of her "you are why we're poor" rants).  Actually, she said she paid for at least one car with the HELOC too, so that payment wouldn't have been extra.  Never mind.  I can't even picture what finances looked like when my mother was in charge of them.  I've tried before, and that way madness lies.]

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