Seeking Guidance with Mom Who Overspends on My Kids

Updated on February 12, 2009
J.C. asks from Tulsa, OK
21 answers

Mu mom is retired with a very fixed income. She was a social worker/teacher her whole career (single mom). In the past she's had a problem with debt/almost declaring bankruptcy at one point. She has a credit card for every major store in America and uses them to overspend on my children. We got TEN boxes FILLED with Christmas gifts. I just got two boxes filled with new clothes for both kids. I know (because I saw a statment) she doesn't pay off her bills. I feel so angry about this. Do I 1. Ignore and let her be? 2. Tell her how I feel (she just gets defensive? 3. Refuse these boxes? Have other moms faced this challanged and how have you handled it? Thanks. J.

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answers from Tuscaloosa on

She may be a shopping addict, or trying to prove her love through material items. You can explain to her that no gits are necessary, but I she insisted, that one gift is plenty, and the kids know she loves them. She may need counseling if she is willing to get it.



answers from Lafayette on

I would just be thankful for the things she gives them. My childrens grandparents only give them things for their birthday and christmas and that is pretty much the only time they come to see them, and we only live a mile away. So I would just be thankful that she wants to be a part of their lives. and with the whole debt thing, She is an adult and she should know by now how and when she can afford things, if she goes bankrupt that would be her choice and something she has to live with. So I would just say thank you for the gifts and leave it at that.

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answers from Tulsa on

Wow J., Interesting letter. I don't believe I've see one like this before. The responses were good and I would summarize:
Your Mom is filling a void
You need to put your foot down to avoid disaster later
This may be a sign of early mental illness
You can teach a powerful lesson to your children in handling this effectively

This is a tough case. I was shocked because I actually saw my mother-in-law in your story and I had not noticed it before. My father in law says that something from QVC arrives almost every day. Part of me thinks Ah, she's spending my husband's inheritance but then I quickly wipe away that thought because it IS her money. Plus she does pay her Discover bill off every month. But it is the VOID issue once again. She has no hobbies, no friends and no clubs. Only one child...I see tons of older women doing this. My own mother, retired now for 5 years, is so busy with teaching, running the neighborhood organization and walking at the mall she never has time to shop. A person must have another outlet or some other input into their lives that can replace this dangerous one. Its no better than smoking or using drugs. It destroys the stability of the household. Sometimes you can replace the living in excess urges to living as a minimalist. That is very rewarding. Pretend you live in Japan and have only a very small area to live- no closets and money for "stuff". How would you live? If you could somehow trade that philosophy for this one of excess.

Anyway, I'm ranting. Good luck. If you come up with any brainstorms that work, let the rest of us know. We all have more and more friends like this. Perhaps the "economy" will help put this to a stop.


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Fayetteville on

I totally understand how you feel. Does your mom come over to your house? If she does, show her that they do not have enough room to keep all of these toys. You have to sensitively tell her how you feel. She is grandma and one of her "jobs" is to spoil her grandchildren, or at least that is what my mom says. But, when I showed her their rooms she understood. Then I had the kids go through all of their toys and give some to the Salvation Army. Every year after that we would go through the toys before Christmas and give to Toys for Tots. I also made limitations every year, like no toys this year, they need clothes or whatever they needed that year. That helped a lot. Now they are older, so they do not get near as many toys and stuff. Now they get clothes, video games, and CD's. I do not have a problem in this area because my mom is quite conservative. I hope this helps...

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

Two things of importance with the above, FILLING A VOID, NEEDS COUNSELING. If mother is close enough I would suggest that you go with her to counseling. If not sit down with her at a quiet movement. Say that you love her and that you feel she should go to counseling on her own. COUNSELING IS A NECESSISTY. Regarding VOID, there was a lady who began, and became addictive, to shopping on line. You may have seen her on TV. Every nook and crany was filled with things she bought. The sad thing about this is that she should have been investing , and she will end up bankrupt, and or depending on her children.
God Bless

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

wow. hard one. when are their b-days? my kids are born around christmas, both of them, so it is about two months of constant presents. you might, in a general sense tell her that the kids get so many presents, from so many people, that you don't have room, and they don't end up playing with them, so that you end up giving most of them to charity. maybe if you don't specifically mention her presents.... we do this with lots of toys because either i dont think my kids will like them or are old enough, or i just don't like them (noise, batteries, messy, Barbies, princess junk, etc). i used to feel kind of bad about this, but i give them to a group here that gives them to foster children, so i feel better.

or you could save some of them back for their birthdays, instead of giving them all at once...

you might give your mom one of Dave Ramsey's books for her birthday or something. maybe confront the issue in a round a bout kind of way.

maybe ask her to do a donation to a charity (you said she was a social worker) in the kids names instead of gifts, or start a college fund, that way if she sees the amount all at once it might have an impact.

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answers from Tulsa on

Dear J., My husband and I also had this problem. The only time she would buy any Christmas gift is if we went to her state on the holidays. She then would go out and spend a ton of money she didn't have. Her husband, my husband's step-dad, didn't fill us in on her huge spending problem. It got so bad they had to remortgage a home they had already paid off. To make a long story short. Her husband passed away, she moved to our state, and my husband and I took over her bills. It was so bad!!! They reposesed her house and car. I talked to collection agencies for a year or so. Please get your mom some counceling!!! This is a real problem and it is getting worse in our society. Some people spend money to make themselves feel better. It's just like a drug, then they go into depression when they know they can't afford it. Take care and know your not the only one in this situation.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

Sometimes you have to listen to what people are NOT saying. She wouldn't say it verbally, but perhaps her overbuying is her way of saying, "Do you love me now?" People who feel they don't have enough to offer on their own sometimes try to compensate by buying affection. Maybe she feels insecure and unworthy and it's important to her to be acceptable to the most important people in her life -- you and your children. If you talk to her about her spending habits, be sure to answer that question -- "Yes, we DO love you now. You are a terrific mom and grandmother. You are enough. We don't need gifts, too." Make sure you address it in positive words, giving her the thanks and credit she deserves. And don't be angry. Everyone has issues to deal with. Hers are certainly easier than that faced by others.
S. B.

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answers from New Orleans on

My mother in law does the exact same thing. I get very angry with her because she should spend what she has on herself and second, boxes were piling in my house. Tell her to stop or you will start giving the things to the local thrift store. I did end up doing that and have not received one box since. Christmas is limited by me to one or two useful items. INEXPENSIVE items. As morbid as it sounds, I have asked her on many occasions "who is going to bury you". This pees her off and it does help my situation. I, of course, am not that rude, but the point is taken!!! Stand up--- you are the boss of your kids and out for her best interest. As for her financial situation, well, I know you love her and care, but----it isn't for you to get knotted over.

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answers from Baton Rouge on

Unless you have her credit card when you return them, returning them to the stores won't return the money to her account - it will give you a refund or a store credit.

You can refuse delivery and they'll be returned to her by the post office, but that's no guarantee that she'll go get her money back - she may just exchange them for other items and trot back to the post office with another package for you to refuse. Consistent refusal, along with the reminder every time you send a package back to her, "Mom, pay your debts instead of lavishing gifts on the kids." might eventually get through, but it could take a long time.

Bottom line is that she's a grown woman, and unless she is willing to give you power of attorney over her finances, there's not a thing you can do about how she spends her money.



answers from Fayetteville on

We dealt with this after-the-fact, which is why I feel so strongly about it. My mother-in-law was addicted to the thrill of buying through catalogs. Mostly she bought for herself. She died with many clothes that had never been worn and products never used: gourmet pans that were too heavy for her to use; fancy phones that she didn't understand the features, etc. She had already filed bankruptcy and lost the house in a reverse mortgage. Even though she was about $5,000 behind on one credit card, the same company sent her another one, which was adding to other debts.
The ultimate resort is you may have to take her to court and get her declared incompetent financially, then manage her finances. This would be hard to do, but could be the protection from herself she needs.
It's better if she will let you intervene, showing her on paper (even try visual aids) what will happen if she continues to overspend. I suspect it's not just an issue of the grandchildren, but of that addiction to buying. See if you can get her to substitute other traditions with your kids: if she's long-distance, taping stories or memories for the kids and writing about her own childhood; making them things with her own two hands to be handed down through your family.



answers from Montgomery on

What your mother decides to do with her money is her business. If she chooses to spend it all own your children that is her perogative.

You are not responsible for your mother's bills, she is.



answers from Huntsville on

We have had this problem too, from both sides.

For family who lives locally, we just had a sit-down, both hubby and I and told them lovingly that the kids don't need those things - they would rather "do" something with person X, like make cookies together, or paint, or have an "art day"... love and family is not about things you hold in your hand, and at least in our case, they wanted to buy the kids things so that when they played with the toys they would think of who bought it for them and "love them"... but we just shared that memories are what make love, not things.

For the other side - Persons Y and Z - lol - who live out of state, we told them our house does not have room. We told them the best way to keep them (X and Y) in mind is to send a card now and then to the kids. And they do - a card, with a sheet of stickers, or something. This past Christmas we reminded, reminded, and reminded, and we ended up with one gift per child from one side, and the other side sent just a few gifts, and for the gifts they couldn't refuse at the store because of prices or sales, they are saving for Valentines and Easter.

Just remind, remind, remind - let them know you love them for them, not for their gifts. If mom was a teacher her whole career, have her come up with something fun for them to do together that is educational. This might be fulfilling for her, and might fill that void others have touched on.

In the meantime (before the next holiday) suggest some ways for her to fill the emptiness that retirement can bring - volunteering at a local library, reading to children, or even joining a group of women that meet for book clubs, etc.

Good luck!


answers from Little Rock on

Maybe talk to her and tell her you just don't have room for all the things she is getting them and that you would like to buy them things also and see if maybe she will cut back a little bit. Let her know that you do appreciate it all,but your don't need all of it. I wouldn't say anything about the debt that way she doesn't get upset.



answers from Montgomery on

I think that I would approach my mom first with concern. Let her know that you are concerned about her future. Let her know that she's worked way too hard for way too long to let things get this screwed up. Maybe even bring the name of a financial counselor that can help her with her debt. Maybe even delve into the reason that she "needs" to overspend on the children. If all else fails, could you return some of the gifts that she has bought for a credit to her accounts?

Good luck,



answers from Tulsa on

Be glad your children have a Grandmother who loves them so much. It is disrespectful, unless she has dimensia, to tell your mother how to spend her money. I would never do such a thing. She raised you, and obviously, unless she's sitting in the dark, she does pay her bills at some point! My childrens grandmother was killed in a plane crash, and my husbands mother died when he was 11, so just let her live her life the way she wants to! Maybe that's her joy!



answers from Birmingham on

My mom is the exact same. I bet she shops every day either in a local store or online. It is very crazy to me because I am very cost conscience. When I try to talk to her she pretty much tells me to hush and she wants to do it for the kids, me, etc. I have a closet full of clothes and have only bought a few of the items because she'll say she bought the clothes for her but they didn't fit so she's giving them to me. She is very fashionable so I love having the clothes but I really hate her spending the money. When I tell her to take them back, she'll tell me that she's torn off the tags and can't. I have accepted that I can't do anything about it. If I try to give something back to her, she wouldn't return it and it would just sit in her house. Unless they realize the problem and want to change - sorry I think we're stuck with our shopaholic moms who for some reason need this to fill some void in their lives. They love us so much and want to give more than they really can/should.



answers from Fayetteville on

If it were me, I'd send them back or return them to the stores they came from, so she will get the money back. This will teach your kids financial responsibility. If you keep all of that stuff, your kids will have an unrealistic perspective on gift-giving, and on spending.

Of course, you could pick out a few items per kid or allow them to pick, first.

That's what I'd do. It might feel tempting right now to keep it (I don't know; you are understandably angry about what she's doing to herself and the example she's setting), but the more financial mess she creates for herself now, the more you will be asked to help later (especially because you accepted such gifts!). Another issue, though I hate to bring it up, is, what will your legal responsibility be in the event of her passing? Doesn't family have to pay the debts of the departed?

She sounds a little like my mom, who, after years of impoverished single motherhood, went nuts on spending spree after spending spree, lived too close to the edge and has been paying for it ever since. She still buys way too much and then without apology announces that we won't be getting Christmas presents because "they can't afford gifts." I think that what has been happening is, she got into a habit of overindulgence after spending so long working so hard and feeling want and living only to care for her kids. But instead of spending so much for so long, she could enjoy living her life as a free woman without so many responsibilities, and she really does that, too. Maybe this is what is helping her to reign it in a little, spending-wise - she's involved in local politics, her garden, some social groups. Maybe your mom could use a little encouragement in getting out and finding what is truly meaningful to her to take the place of so much spending.

Maybe do some legwork to get her into therapy. Give her some numbers to call of places near where she lives. Be very positive and encouraging. Tell her that there are ways she can direct her energies and feel that she is indulging without all of the stress that she is also certainly feeling over it.

I have to admit, I like buying stuff online, too. It's so fun when a package arrives in the mail. One way that this is turning out to be okay is, I'm starting a work-at-home business where, handily enough, I have to buy supplies to turn into products! Fun stuff, too, colorful fabrics that I'll be sewing into useful stuff that will make me profits. Maybe your mom could consider doing something like that (doesn't have to be online, of course, if she doesn't want to deal with a website; she could sell products to local stores or a farmer's market or such places). This way she can start to pay off her debts, too!



answers from Birmingham on

I sympathise with your situation. My Mom is on disability and can't afford to do what she does. It has been VERY difficult to get her to realize that she is hurting everyone buy spending beyond her means.

I used to accept what she sent because I needed a little extra help here & there and she already had the stuff left over from my neice & nephew. But with these "gifts" I discovered come obligations. I got sick of the guilt trips, unwarrented comments about my husband/child, and the piles of stuff that I couldn't give away because it had to be returned. I needed space. Besides, I wanted to buy for my child stuff WE liked, that was new, and that I didn't have to explain the damages of.

Eventually I had to do something. It was creating havoc for the family I was building.

I learned that what was motivating my Mom:

*Guilt over not providing as much to my child as she provides for my siblings' kids made her do more than she could to make up for a disparity I barely noticed. I had to help her understand that she wasn't doing anything wrong by giving more to them; they needed more than I do. Besides, it is her money/time/energy to do with as long as she is alive and able - how she spends it is not for me or my siblings to judge.

*Mom was feeling lonely and unloved. I was the "baby" and she no longer had me around. She was suffering an "empty nest" moment in her life. She just needed me to tell her how much I still loved her because she is my mom. I also had to help her understand that I love her just as much or moe for letting me live my own life as an independant adult.
(This was doubly hard for her because she got divorced the same year my husband and I got together.)

*She didn't know what to do. She needed to find other ways to spend her time now that she was reaching a new phase of life. She needed to find other activaties to participate in = church helped to meet that need.

TELL her what she is doing. Explain to her that you are concerned about her finances and that you do not want her to buy anything more for your family until she has learned to balance her spending/paid off her debts.

Take action... IE take her with you to a Dave Ramsey program at a local church. If she lives far away tell her you've purchased the program for her & encourage her to share what she is learning every week. Point out that if anything happens to her, you may have to settle her estate and it could ruin your & her grandchild's future... and that is NOT worth acepting all these gifts now.

Encourage her to get some psychotherapy. If she is hurting herself like this, there is probably something else causing her to keep buying too much stuff.

If all else fails; return the stuff to the store and invest it in your child's college funds or whatever. If she is sending that much stuff she won't be able to keep track of what she did/didn't buy anyway. You can pick and chose which items you want to keep and tell her thanks for those items.

Best wishes. Family is the hardest to deal with. You don't want to hurt thier feelings... but they are hurting you & you have every right to protect the family you are creating.



answers from Enid on

you received several great responses. my children's grandparents' NEVER spend any money on them. excluding Christmas and sometimes a birthday gift. i would be over joyed to receive toys, clothes, ect. i do realize there is probably too much, but don't forget to be thankful. have the kids write her a thank you ect. i think your situation is both a burden and a blessing. you should not feel guilt. it is her responsiblity as an adult to pay her debts. i hope she is not borrowing money from you, then this would be a completely different response. best of luck.



answers from Fayetteville on

I would tell her how you fell. Tell her your kids don't need these things and you don't want her to spoil them (or teach them her irresponible spending habits) firm. If this doesn't work refuse the boxes. You might explain to your mother that when she dies your family will be left with her det.

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