Finances & Money

Dealing with Trust, In-Laws and Money

During college, my wife, the dietitian, worked at Dairy Queen, and her mother took care of her finances on her behalf. Her mother wisely handed out only enough cash for Stacie to purchase essentials for the week, and she left college with most of her part-time income in the bank, not on credit cards.

Clarification: Stacie actually asked her mother to manage her paychecks during college. Sorry that wasn’t clear.

Buying Our First Home

The first time I ran into my mother-in-law’s (MIL) distrust of me was when we bought our first home. I can totally understand that she only knew me for a couple years, and we don’t live near her, so she doesn’t interact with me daily to build that trust. However, the circumstances around our home purchase just really irked me.

When we needed to fill out the part of our mortgage application about “how much cash did we have”, Stacie remembered her accounts back home. This is where things got tricky. We called up her mom, and asked how much she had in the bank. There was an immediate WHY?!?. We explained we needed to put down the number on the mortgage application, but didn’t need the money at all. This resulted in a back-and-forth between myself, my wife and my MIL to reassure her we would not be touching the money. It got even worse when we had to have her get a signed letter from the bank with proof of the balances.

After 3 phone calls, she finally told us the number and agreed to get the letter. We couldn’t get the letter because my wife changed her name, but her maiden name was still on the accounts (I have a contradictory story about this for another post though).

Yearly Interest Statements

Just a few short months later, after I had filed our taxes, my wife reminded me we had to submit the interest income from her accounts back home. We called up her mom, and this time only needed a single callback to get the interest amounts.

This past year, my MIL actually trusted me enough to give us the 1099-INT statement directly. It didn’t show the balances, which I was really interested in learning, but it did show one thing I was able to use later to our advantage…

Account numbers!

Taking Ownership of Our Own Money

I browsed to my wife’s bank to see what we needed to do to get an online banking account. It turned out we just needed to plug some information in, answer some credit report questions, and then provide the balances of some of her accounts. Guessing at the interest rate, I worked backwards and gave a close enough guess to be authorized as a user on the accounts! Apparently, the accounts must be created by a human, and that person figured we were close enough to the correct balances and granted us permission.

I was able to see all of the details of the accounts and realized how pitiful the CD and savings rates were! We were earning 0.2% on the savings, 2% on two CDs and 3% on another CD. We were actually losing money on these “investments” for years!

So what did we do?

Obviously, we (I) wanted to close these accounts as soon as possible and deposit the money into something earning more than 2%. Since we needed to go to Pennsylvania in person during banking hours to close any accounts, we had to wait for the perfect opportunity. Months and months went by before we decided to take a half day this past Friday to go to PA. I was intent on getting to the bank before it closed so we could close those accounts.

But then I found out the bank is always open on Saturday mornings. We could have went to the bank any of the times we visited her family. Dang, THAT’s what the internet is for!

I don’t want to give too much away about the process as I’m saving that for another post, but we were able to close the accounts, get a cashier’s check and walk out of that bank feeling like we finally owned our own money.

When we got home from the bank Saturday, we decided to break the news to her mom that we went over her head and closed the accounts without running it by her first. We eased into it by stating our intentions with the money (savings and retirement), and then told her the news. She took it quite well, but I guess she just needed more time to trust me and accept me.

Lessons Learned

  1. Communicate with your spouse and in-laws about finances.
  2. Talk WITH them, not AT them in order to earn their respect.

It took me 7 years to get to the point of my mother-in-law trusting me enough not to react sharply to the news. I was frustrated throughout the whole ordeal (in my mind), but in the end, just by waiting, it wasn’t that bad after all. Be patient, and things will work out.

About the author

Clever Dude


  • Wow, if I’d been in the position that your wife was in, I’d be upset that I wasn’t thought of as reliable enough to take care of my own money.

    Which probably just goes to show that everyone’s family works differently. I’m also a great believer in “…things will work out”

  • Throughout the process of going to college and getting married, your wife didn’t have access to the money that she earned through her part-time work? Instead, her mother doled out appropriate amounts and resisted telling her what the balance was or giving her access to the accounts?

    WEEIIIRDNESSSS. Time to buy that book Ramsey is always recommending: “Boundaries.”

  • I have to say, that’s sounds like an odd situation..

    Odd first that your mother-in-law was controlling your wife’s paycheck during college, but then really, really odd that she continued to do so after you were married and out of college.

    And, in my completely unqualified and uninformed opinion, massively inappropriate that she would question your joint need to know how much money there was.

  • Samerwriter, my wife had asked her mother to control her paycheck during college, and after college, well, we got married and I now control her paycheck 🙂

    The main issue was your second point. The major problem was her needed to control access by EITHER of us to that money. Obviously I wasn’t on the account, but now that Stacie is married to me, she questioned Stacie’s intentions with the money as well.

  • Moneymonk: He’s just kidding.

    Clever Dude: I think her mom does sound a bit overzealous with her guardianship. I mean, let it go. If suddenly she wanted to use the money to fund a year of backpacking after college, why not? She’s the one who worked to earn it, not her mom.

    I’m surprised she didn’t freak out at you guys for what you did, regardless of the financial wisdom of it.

    Crazy how easy it was to get online access. That’s kind of nuts.

  • Dude, you handled that much better than I would have. I would have had control over those accounts from day one and probably been very rude about it. Of course, your MIL was wise enough to help your wife save that money, so she deserves much respect. I guess after all those years she felt some ownership in it. Good work, dude.

  • I must say, Mike didn’t tell the whole story. I wanted to be responsible about my money back then and help my parents out financially with college. So, when I handed over those pay checks, I thought that they were going for college loans. Not until I was getting married did I realize they put my money into savings for my future. As you also may have realized, my husband has a history for some superfluous purchases with money and the less available the money was to us in our bank accounts, the less he will be tempted to spend. He’s finally getting a handle on his temptation for spending money, and I have finally been less lazy to actually care about where the money has been (and do something about it). Hope this clarifies the situation! My mom isn’t the mongel that Mike says she is!

  • You know, we had this situation in our family wherein my parents were wary of my husband and how things were laid out re our family assets. It all changed as soon as we had kids. They no longer worry about where the money’s gonna go. They just think that now it’ll all just end up with the grandkids! 🙂

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