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Delaying Gratification – A Cautionary Tale


As most of you know, my cousin has been living with me since late December. This is the same cousin who bought a giant truck he couldn’t afford a few years ago, and the same one whose money I attempted to manage while he was in basic training for the National Guard.  I’ll just be honest – seven months of a messy, distractible, somewhat lazy 23 year-old guy living on my couch has just about driven me completely insane.

He moved into my house after losing his job. I actually had a lot of sympathy because he was good at his work, made plenty of money, and never called in sick in two years. He didn’t want to burden my grandfather, and I won’t get started re: his parents, so it fell to me to give him a place to stay while he got back on his feet.

Until he lived here, I didn’t realize that he was an even bigger slob than my son. That he owned more clothes than a mall, most of which I would find abandoned in various parts of my house. That he would be incapable of picking up after himself unless I had time to stand over him and direct every paper plate, napkin, and soda can into the garbage. My nagging (and subsequent refusal to let his girlfriend come over because of the mess) has definitely strained our relationship, though I didn’t know any other way to get through to him.

Now he has pulled a stunt (or series of stunts) so ridiculous I don’t know how he’ll ever recover. And while I’m thrilled to report that he moved out over the weekend, I can’t help wondering how long it will be before he’s knocking on my door again. Please, learn from his mistakes.

Impulse Control? What’s That?

Cousin got a job working in the mines in April. Naturally this was distressing to me because it’s hard, dirty, dangerous work, though you can’t beat the money if you lack a college degree in this area. He started out as a temp making next to nothing but has just earned his experience card and moved to a full-time position. Between regular pay, overtime, and royalty bonuses, he’ll earn a nice living if he sticks with it.

Naturally with all the friction between us he has been counting down the days until he could get another place of his own. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t counting down as well! However, given the fact that my grandfather and I have been splitting his bills for the past seven months, I assumed he’d take some time to catch up on all his payments before he was ready to move.

Instead, he just signed a lease on a newly built duplex that rents for $750 a month. Because he signed with 10 days left in the month, he has to pay 1/3 of June’s rent ($250), prepay July’s rent on the 1st ($750), and pay a $750 deposit. For those keeping up at home, that’s $1750, which is a mind-boggling sum for rural Kentucky. (By comparison, the first house my ex and I rented was $375 a month with a $200 deposit and no lease. Yes, that was 11 years ago but there are still plenty of decent rentals around here in that price range.)

He had to pay $750 – the $250 for June and $500 of the deposit – to get the keys to the duplex, so he did that on Friday. The problem? This wasn’t a pay week and he only had about $800 in the bank. So he’s currently broke and sleeping on an air mattress in an otherwise empty house. And when he gets paid again this Friday, he has to pay the other $1000 for July’s rent and the rest of the deposit.

But wait! There’s more! Cousin also has to have the utilities switched into his name, which will require deposits. And his car payment (on the brand new car he bought after he graduated from basic training) is due on July 10th. Not to mention his phone bill, student loan payment, and buying things like food and gas for his car. And we won’t talk about the $10 million or so he owes me and our grandfather. But he isn’t thinking about any of that stuff because he couldn’t get past the want.

Been There, Done That

My cousin’s decision-making skills remind me so much of myself at his age. I was slightly more responsible because I was married and had a child, but I used the same kind of messed up accounting to justify the things I thought I needed.

One thing I’ve learned in life is that, if you have to juggle and struggle and go without things you need to pay for something, you can’t afford it. Period. When you say things like, “Well, if I eat bread soaked in water for 3 days and don’t run the air conditioner in my car and as long as I can sell my worldly possessions on Craigslist by Friday, I can sign this lease,” what you’re really saying is, “I am an idiot and I’m reaching for something that’s beyond my grasp right now.”

What my cousin should have done is wait another month or two. He should have gotten reacquainted with the bills he hasn’t been paying, figured out how much he could pay in rent (not $750 plus utilities, in case you’re wondering), and saved up for his deposits ahead of time. And gee, I don’t know, maybe he could have saved a little money for things like furniture and food.

Instead, he let his desire to get his own place overshadow everything else. And while I completely understand him wanting to live on his own again instead of sleeping on my couch, it’s not like I was standing at the door waiting to shut it behind him. And I’ll likely have to help him clean up the mess when he inevitably runs out of money and can’t pay his bills again. :/

What You Can Learn From This

If my cousin’s situation seems all too familiar to you and you’re doing the “let’s find a complicated way to get what I want” dance, it’s time to stop. Seriously, just stop it. If you truly have no other options, your situation may be a little different, but generally there are always other options. They just may not be the ones you want at the time.

Dealing with money truly doesn’t have to be complicated. If you know what your bills are and what you can really afford (and have the income to back it up), you can get anything you want – as long as you’re willing to wait for the right time. You don’t have to run around like a lunatic trying to come up with $25 to buy sheets for your bed. You don’t have to eat ramen until you get paid. If those are the choices you have to make, you are living beyond your means, plain and simple.

As my friend Paula says, you can afford anything, but you can’t afford everything. And you definitely can’t afford it all at once. I know it’s hard to learn to delay gratification because it was nearly impossible for me. But once I got serious about getting out of debt and learned to control my impulses to overspend, it became pretty easy to stop throwing money away. I just hope my cousin learns the same things before he ends up back on my couch.

Do you know someone who refuses to take responsibility for his/her finances? Ever rent or buy more house than you could afford? I’d love to hear what you think about my cousin’s new living situation.

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web developer and mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!


  1. I know a couple like this. They are just horrible with managing their money. Their parents have always paid for everything and right now cover their food and vet bills. It is very annoying, especially since she says that she never takes help from anyone, when she actually does EVERY SINGLE DAY!

    • psychsarah says

      In my experience, people like this expect their families to help them, and don’t look at it as “help”. They just take for granted that others will take care of their needs.

  2. Oh geez, I’ve known so many people like this. Most of them I’ve just cut ties with so they would stop attempting to siphon off of me. It sucks that he’s family, because it makes it harder to do that.

  3. It’s troubling because as you said, this will fall back to you/grandparents eventually unless you turn the cold shoulder. Enabling sucks to both parties, but even more to the enabling side than to the enabled. He sounds like he has set himself up for a rude awakening or a very uninformed leap of faith, and may be fully aware you’re the backup plan.

    I know I just can’t afford a place of my own because of my debt (and desire to get out of it and save to move), so I put up with renting just a room and dealing with landlords’ quirks, free of utilities, do with basics and lots of cutbacks from wants. As they say, you can take the horse to water, but you can’t force them to drink.

    • The absolute worst part is knowing that my grandfather will have to deal with this if I don’t. He won’t cut my cousin off, so my only choices are (1) help my cousin as much as possible or (2) know that my grandfather is out a ton of money helping him. It’s really a frustrating situation… On one hand, my grandfather is perfectly capable of making his own decisions, but on the other, he would absolutely bankrupt himself if it meant trying to save my cousin’s credit. It’s a hot mess.

  4. Wow, good riddance! I take it your cousin doesn’t read your blog? 🙂

  5. I know a couple of people like this. They say that they can relate to me having no money because after they spent it on x y and z unnecessary luxuries, they have none left. Cry me a river, build a bridge and get over it.

  6. psychsarah says

    I don’t know your family dynamics, but is seems incredibly unfair that you should be expected to pick up the pieces for this adult who can presumably work and support himself if he made better choices. I’m sorry you feel stuck in this situation.

  7. I know quite a few people like this. Hell, I used to be one, but I have since learned the error of my ways. I now make sure to have a firm grip on my income and expenses and do the math before I make any changes. I think the only way some people learn is to fail. It is just about letting that person fall flat on their face that is hard for some.

  8. OK, so the “let’s find a complicated way to get what I want” dance is performed in my house daily. It might even be some kind of prayer/ritualistic worship dance. Your cousin definitely reminds me of me when I have blinders on..”I will get this/do this/whatever the cost.”. Right now my mind is tortured by what I am going to do with my finances when I am debt free and obviously I really want to buy a place, but I live in the California real estate bubble. So it’s hard to be mature and not let my “want want wants” get in the way!

  9. If you really want to help your cousin, stop cleaning up his messes. 🙂 As long as you and Grandpa protect him from the natural consequences of his decisions, there is no motivation for him to make better decisions.

  10. I good friend of mine recently purchased a pool (above ground). She lives in Maine where’s it’s cold 9 months of the year. But the bigger problem is she can’t afford the pool. If she gets a big tax return next year and her hubby gets a raise and they don’t have any emergencies they *might* be able to pay for the pool. Notice I said pay, not afford. Big difference. Trying to talk to her about said purchase so I just keep my mouth shut and smile (but it’s painful).

  11. I have to admit I haven’t always made the best decisions and I know that some people don’t always understand why I do what I do but I understand where you are coming from. I have a friend who buys things she doesn’t need with money she doesn’t have. She lived off a tiny amount of unemployment for over a year with her baby in her parents basement and was constantly broke. She has very few bills and wasn’t paying her parents any money but managed to buy an xbox and several new cell phones etc. Meanwhile her parents were buying diapers and other baby stuff. Sure she bought diapers and stuff too but if she would have been wiser she could have paid it all herself and saved money now that she is moving out and wants new things!

  12. My best friend still owes me a lot of money from our college days. It’s funny because for like 8 years he’s always “one paycheck away” from getting his finances in order. It just never happens. Sometimes it’s a want, other times it’s a need, other times his landlord raised his rent but he didn’t raise his payments and she didn’t notice for like 2 years, and then she wanted all the rent he owed from all that time.

    I don’t ever see him being great with money. It’s just not in his DNA.

  13. Sounds like we all know a lot of people, sometimes our own self in the past, who are not so responsible when it come to money. Bad choices, giving in to impulse and other reasons lead to debt. Sometimes there are those who keeps on pushing through a purchase even though they are aware that it is way beyond their income. Don’t know what to make of those.

  14. We all know people like this heck some of us may have been like this at one time or another. Some people get out of it others stay. There isnt really anything you can to do to help. Even helping sometimes seem to make things worse then they should be. The only I truly hate with the people who I know like this is that its never there fault.

  15. I can’t help but cringe even though I don’t know him. The waste just hurts! And I feel like he just callously sponges off of you two. I’m sorry.

  16. It sounds like you’d tell him where to go if you weren’t running interference to prevent him from sponging off your grandfather. It sounds like your grandfather is a good soul and wants to do what he sees as helping family. The intent is good, it’s just being wasted on someone who clearly doesn’t appreciate it and has come to expect it. Perhaps the conversation that needs to happen is between you and your grandfather, and explain that his determination to help/rescue an adult who’s irrisponsible is in fact hurting your finances. From his perspective he may just think you two are working together to help your cousin, but if he saw that by helping the cousin it was hurting you, perhaps he could be convinced to tell cousin that the gravy train has ended and it’s time he stood on his own two feet.

    I’m not rigidly against helping family, provided they are normally hard-working, responsible, and selfsufficient people who through no fault of their own found themselves in a bad situation. I know that my family would have my back if some unforseen chain of events put me in dire straights. I also know that I wouldn’t ask for help unless it was absolutely necessary for the health and safety of my children.

  17. I sounds like your cousin didn’t learn any lessons sleeping on your couch (at least not the lessons you hoped he would). I hope that you learned how to “just say no”. I know it’s difficult especially if your GF will take up the slack. But as you said, he’s a competent adult and gets to make his own decisions. If possible discuss it with your GF now before the need arises. Maybe you can get his on-board at least partially.

  18. You are a wonderful cousin…but, it’s time for him to learn from his mistakes. You are a mom and your first priority is yourself and your son. It’s time for some tough love. Your grandpa is an adult and will make his own decisions. Don’t worry about it. It’s time for your cousin to “feel the burn.” I am sure that you talked to your cousin about managing his money, saving, etc. He didn’t listen. If you and your grandpa keep rescuing him, he will never change. It’s hard when you’re dealing with people that you love.

  19. teinegurl says

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate here for a second – because i can relate to your cousin in many ways. Maybe it was hard for him to swallow his pride and come to live with you. And once he saw he could cobble enough money for a deposit and first month’s rent he went for it. As long as he had a couch/floor to sleep on the rest could come later. And maybe the stress of it was just eating at both of you and not to mention possibly his relationship (kind of hard to get it on with no where to get it on at except his truck) LOL

    Okay with that being said if he didnt have a plan of action he will surely fall on his face but i hope he has enough resolve to continue to live on his own. Hopefully his gf is on birth control so another mouth to feed doesn’t get thrown into the mix. i’m living with my mom- a lot longer than i expected. My credit issues are holding me back from renting place even if i did have money in place (and lots of other issues like transportation, childcare) but i do pay my share of the rent, i pay for cable , my own cell phone, gas, etc. I also make sure to be as clean as i can possibly be. Now im not going to be a maid and go through the entire house with a fine tooth comb but i will be decent and pick up my things. Good Luck andrea im sure you’ll need some

  20. Thankfully, we haven’t got anyone reckless int he family. 🙂 My brother has yet to hold down a job, but a good deal of that is the fact that he’s autistic–I mean REALLY autistic, not an antisocial jerk who’s decided he must have Asperger’s. 🙂 I hope to be hiring him soon!

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