html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Goes without saying.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Goes without saying.

When my Dad was in grad school, he spent a summer running rats in a maze. If you pick a rat up and blow in its face, the rat will run faster to get away from you. My Dad's advisor caught him blowing in a rat's face one day and told him in a stern voice "[Lastname], you blow in one rat's face, you blow in them all." My Dad thought that was the essence of both experimental design and child-raising. I can't think of an occasion when he brought a present to one of us and not the other sister, including birthdays. I heard "blow in one rat's face, you blow in them all" so often that I thought it was an American proverb until college, when I believe Anand gently told me that no one had ever known what I meant by that.

That's why the reactions to this letter in Cary Tennis' column were strange to me. A woman wrote in saying that her 12 year old son was making a good deal of money and wanted to give some of it to help his college age brother through college. I simply do not understand the people who oppose this. My sister and I are both financially independent now; our basic needs are met. I know that if either of us got a windfall, for whatever reason, we would split it without a second thought, simply to keep us even*. Any windfall would be bonus to me, so half a windfall would be bonus to me. My winning the lottery would be exactly the same as my sister winning half the lottery (and the littles winning some chunk). We don't even talk everyday or agree on everything, but my sister is my own self. What is mine is hers; my house and money, should she need it, my debt, should I need hers.

People whose parents couldn't help them don't understand why I have no qualms at all about accepting a college education or medical emergency money or a down payment on a house from my parents**. But I don't, not for an instant. Our familial resources are communal, except that they seem to only flow down the generations. But I also assume that my resources are communal. Should something happen to my parents, it is a fact that my sister and I would pay for our baby siblings' college. On the day my nephews need something, all of mine is available. When I have kids, if I can, I'll give them what my parents gave me. If I can't, my sister will.

*If I didn't need it, I would defer in favor of my nephews. But I would be very surprised if she didn't offer. She has before, in other circumstances.
**I would never take money for a wedding from my parents. That is fortuitous, because I am sure they wouldn't offer.


Blogger Dubin said...

This is a good example of how everyone brings his own baggage to the money question. Imagine how your outlook would be different if you had a different upbringing, say, if you needed money and no one gave you any because they were too busy fighting with each other or too busy being an alcoholic or what have you. For the record, you know I have the same outlook as you, but I can sort of see how other people aren't as fortunate -- and by fortunate, I don't mean rich, I mean that they don't have the luxury of not thinking about money all the time. They have a lot of financial issues and a lot of debt and regret and ill feelings towards family who didn't help when they could. I think most people have these issues, actually, even if you and I don't.

Some people also have loving parents who are really great and quite well off but have a serious "bootstraps" mentality that precludes giving their adult children money for ANYTHING EVER. I know several people like that.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Honestly, I don't know what that bootstrap mentality accomplishes. I've seen it too, and seen resentment from it. But I don't know that people brought up under that philosophy have a stronger sense of self-reliance and resiliancy. At this point, we're both at the same point of supporting ourselves. I just never had to go through the fear that I would be out on my own. I also think being scared brings out the selfish side of people and can perpetuate the "take care of myself first" mentality.

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think our attitude to money/possessions depends on family background, personal circumstances -as both of you say. Is culture a part of that as well? Is there really something as a "me" generation and "possessive individualism" that goes hand in hand with the culture of capitalism?


10:52 PM  
Blogger Cladeedah said...

Yeah, I'm not really willing to share financial burdens with my sister. Call me crazy, but I like my credit score as it is.

10:57 PM  
Blogger Dennis said...

I think it's a great story, and a kind and generous offer which should be acknowledged and encouraged in the kid. I'm just not sure that the older kid's taking out a year or two of student loans is a real emergency!

Maybe I'm a bootstrapper, but if the older kid is doing well in school and is a leader-type, he should be able to pay off those student loans pretty quickly. I paid all of mine off in just a few years of "real" work, and I was only making $45k! It was a healthy experience and I feel good about it.

(The fact that my dad stole all my college $ after my grandparents died is a totally seperate issue! And I only mention it in the spirit of psycological disclosure.)

Of course you and your sister would help each other out, but she didn't have to give you her savings so you wouldn't have a morgage payment, right?

So I say let the older kid take on some reasonable amount of student loans. The rates are good, payment plans are reasonable, and everything should work out. Save that money for a "real" rainy day. At which time it can be lovingly shoveled over without hesitation!

7:00 AM  
Blogger amanda bee said...

Hmm, I managed to get through school without loans, mostly because I went to public school, but also because I got some serious state support. Still, my parents were adimant that I not take out student loans. At the time I thought it was just them being weird, but then when I left school and came to NYC and could afford to intern at a radio station for six months and I didn't have to dive straight into findinga salary, I understood. I am incredibly glad that I'm not saddled with debt. Most of my friends in NYC (ie, my friends who did not have the magical experience of state subsidized quality education because they aren't from California) are feeling the pinch of their student loans and don't feel like they can afford to take risks with their lives and careers.

I didn't make my way to the letters because those banner ads all reminded me that I'm supposed to be w-o-r-k-i-n-g but I hope that someone at least pointed out the possibility of a loan, a la There is a thing that sits between taking out student loans and giving your brother money. If older bro takes the money as a loan and pays it back at even half the interest that he'd pay on a formal loan, everyone in the family is better off.

Meantime, I urge you to rethink your stance on wedding money. What I've discovered (and so many brides and grooms before me) is that parents have their own priorities and they want to see certain things happen at a wedding. And so you might as well negotiate a cash exchange so that if they think it is desperately important to have [insert thing you wouldn't bother to throw money at] they can pay for it and you don't have to fight about it. I'm not saying money will make all the difference, and there is something to be said for reserving the right to say "We are paying for this and if we don't want ... "

It is all about balance. If we pay for our wedding ourselves but then ask our parents for help with a downpayment, they are still subsidizing the wedding.

7:40 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Well, we've been lucky in that my sister and I have had fairly parallel monetary situations all along. She wouldn't give me her savings so that I didn't have a mortgage 'cause at the time, she was paying off her own debt. And we are both the same amount of reliable with money.

It isn't so much that we want to keep it equal at all time (she makes more than I do, and I have the cushy state job), as that a big windfall would make us drastically uneven, and it would be easier to redistribute it than to figure out why one of us got it and not the other.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Bob V said...

To some extent this is related to a cultural issue I am always in the middle of. My parents are from India and are used to what I perceive to be the more communal family culture there. They are constantly trying to give me stuff. I, meanwhile, feel that as an American (dare I say libertarian?) I should earn everything I have and not relying on Mom and Dad. So, I keep trying to refuse things and give them stuff back.

I don't think there is a particular answer as to whether the individualist or the communal family financial structure is best. Certainly as long as Megan and her sister are both responsible and have a mutual understanding of their relationship, it should work out just fine, and there is nothing morally wrong with it. Similarly, there is nothing morally wrong with keeping finances completely separate.

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems like a bad idea to me. The younger kid could have his whole future eductation paid for with his savings.

I don't agree with that keep it even attitude. It seems ridiculous to me. You make decisions, and take risks, if they pay off great, but you don't owe someone for that.

I mean, I'd understand pooling resources for an emergency, but just saying, I don't think it's fair my sister has more than me, sounds stupid.

What if you were married? Would you still have to play this keep it even game? What if you had kids? Shouldn't you be worrying about putting money away for their future expenses, and potential emergencies?

I can't imagine why you'd have to question why one of you made a lot of money, and the other didn't. You should just be happy for your sister if she does, and not bother with the, it's not fair, nonsense.


8:42 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

It isn't fairness, and it doesn't apply to earned money. My sister makes a fair amount more than I do, and I am purely happy for her. She's also offered me money when she thought I needed it. Married would be different, because that is your nuclear family.

But a windfall, like an inheritance or prize or something (or earning a good deal of money through your art that you didn't expect), would be different. It isn't that it "isn't fair", it is more that it doesn't make sense for one of us to have it and not that other. If it arrives by chance and we are exchangable and have the same goals for our family, we would just split it before we got attached to it. I guess it is more like spouses, until we have spouses.

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But, making money through art you're producing is earning it. You've got some skill, people value it, and pay you for it. How is that not earned? Even if you didn't expect it, you still worked for it. Creating that art is essentially that kid's job, right? That could very well be a short lived thing for him, he might not be good at much else, while his brother has made it through college and will likely get at least a decent job.

Or a prize, a prize for what? If I spend the next few years playing pool a couple times a week, then end up winning my way into a national tournament, and winning there, how have I not earned that money? Sure, I won it, but only because I put in the time to get better to be able to compete and win it, right?

Even if you win the lottery, you were the one who took the chance with it, right? Why would it be your risk, and her gain?


9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I've got a question, while we're on this topic.

Even in the case of marriage, why is it expected to keep the money even?

If one makes more than the other, is it expected then that the one making less pitches in in a different way to make up for the fact that they're making less?

It seems at one point in time the even split in assets made sense, since there were pretty well defined gender roles. But, if both are working, and doing house work, and cooking, and taking care of kids, why would the money just be split 50/50? Everything is split equally, except the money making, why doesn't the one making more get to keep that extra share?


9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Justin, it isn't just money that is shared in some traditions. It is not unheard of for sisters to give one of their kids to a sister who cannot have kids for whatever reason.

The way I understood Megan was the way things are in my family as well. We didn't really think too much about money in terms of who it belongs to. similarly, my best friend sacrificed his own academic career and worked as security guard and taxi driver to pay for his brothers' education.

I hear what you're saying about sharing leading to a lack of incentives but maybe this is a cultural thing (as Bob v said).

10:25 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Bob V. and anonymouse 10:25:
Yeah, I am way more Asian-Am than you might guess from my race.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

We've picked up on that before. Though now it seems like your whole family is.

If you want real street cred though, you need more. Do you know what an ABCD is? (without looking it up?)

2:34 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I don't need to prove my street cred. The constant harping on family and responsibility ought to do it. My hs friends thought my parents' emphasis on grades made my parents practically Asian. But I had way more social freedoms than my Asian-Am girlfriends did.

Shoot. Not American Born Chinese... Looking it up.

Oh, American Born Confused Desi. I'm not as solid on the sub-continent as I am with east Asian and southeast Asian immigrant conventions. And also, I know California Asian-Am issues (from ten years) ago real well. I get nervous about generalizing any wider than that.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

What were Asian-American issues in California 10 years ago? Did it go beyond hoping AA would get banned?

Anyway, I don't mean to judge. It's quite possible that your high school friends would consider me just as far from being of Asian descent as you are. That is one of the reasons why I go for the "brown" label.

3:21 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I guess conventions more than issues, like how hot your kimchee had to be before you were a real man. What kinda car to drive. Knowing how to act around the Baptist Koreans vs. the rest of them. Knowing how to bow (and for the record, white people can too learn how to bow, if you teach them early enough).

(Oh, and we can cook rice, too. For several years I had an Asian-Am boyfriend and a Persian stepfather. You think either of them took their rice lightly? And they wanted the exact opposite thing out of their rice and I could too make them both, so you so can just suck me, ex-boyfriend's Mom. But I'm totally over it.)

3:41 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

so can just suck me, ex-boyfriend's Mom

See, that doesn't sound very Asian. Though I guess it depends which group you hang with. One of the biggest unifying Asian-American themes is that we have very few unifying themes. Going off my own recall they include:
- your parents will kill you if you get a B.
- if you are male, no non-Asians will date you. (and apparently Megan isn't even a counter-example because she's honorary Asian!)
- if you are female, you lucked out because you don't have to date clueless Asian males.
- you are good at math for no obvious reason.
- you will major in something that has an application. (but even this is changing)

That's all the stereotypes that I feel are universal enough that we can ignore the exceptions. (And there are enough exceptions to make it interesting.) So, it would be hard for us to provide a true test of one's Asian-American-ness, but the very fact your parents cared about school does go most of the way.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I am SO respectful in person, especially to my elders.

Parents/grades, check.
Date Asian-Am men, check.
Can date non-Asian men, check.
Good at math, check.
Major WILL have an application, check. (In fact, my sister and I only got college paid for as long as we studied a science. We did not rebel.)

Fits in a size-two black dress? NO! It all falls apart! I am NOT Asian-Am after all.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

We can forgive the dress. After all, I don't even have ground effects or a spoiler on my car. And I can't even name one ghetto rapper.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

You haven't slammed your car? Did you build RC cars? Did you watch robot shows when you were little? Do you believe meals without meat are the same as not eating? Do you eat noodles on your birthday? I am beginning to think you weren't East or Southeast Asian-Am in Los Angeles in the 1990's.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Oh boy.

1. I don't know what "slamming" my car means.
2. I owned one RC car when I was a kid, but it worked right out of the box.
3. I didn't watch robot shows because we didn't have cable.
4. I don't believe eating meals without meat is the same as not eating because I'm vegetarian, and I believe I've eaten in my lifetime.
5. Noodles? Is that the same thing as pasta? And what's the connection to my birthday?

So yeah, not East or Southeast Asian. It's a pretty big continent, that Asia. Then again, I'd guess my growing up in Texas has lead to a couple of different experiences from yours in California. Did you have to drive by cattle in order to get to the freeway? Have you ever brought a rifle to school as part of a school project? Have you ever literally loved football more than life? Have you ever gone years without using walking to get anywhere? Have you ever absent-mindedly used your state to identify your nationality?

4:50 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

None of those other things, but I have said Californian for my nationality.

5:15 PM  
Blogger ScottM said...

Ours are and they aren't... my brother, in the past, has proven himself a poor judge of money. After a few loans from each of us, and his inevitable defaults, we cut him off. (He was never in desperate need-- mostly he sought vanity goods.)

Since then, his career has gone well and he hasn't needed money, even though his choices are little better. If he's ever in need, I'll help... but I'll be reluctant until the need is clear.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Why would anyone say Calif---ok, it's your blog. I'll be nice.

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh, Megan: I've been pondering this for a couple of days now, and I'm getting embarrassed. What exactly does that quote mean? ("you blow in one rat's face, you blow in them all")

I feel like the only guy who doesn't get the punchline. -K.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Well, my Dad's advisor meant that my Dad could skew his experimental results by blowing in some rat's faces (making them run fast) and not others. Dad was introducing an unaccounted-for variable into the experiment. So, his advisor's solution was to treat all rats equally. Blow in one rat's face, blow in them all (or, better, don't blow in any of them).

Dad stretched that to child-raising, and was forever blowing in our faces to make us run fast.

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for explaining -- it all makes sense now.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Spungen said...

I think people who make those critical comments about accepting help have either been sold a bill of goods, or are living in a fantasy world where it's possible to be completely self-sufficient.

Or feeling resentful due to their own circumstances, they want to believe that their deprivation has somehow made them better. I've got no problem admitting that in my case it certainly didn't.

2:01 PM  

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