My in-laws are not what I would consider rich, but they are comfortably upper-middle class. My MIL likes to put on the appearance of being wealthy, while simultaneously being notoriously cheap. She is also obsessed with keeping tabs on other people’s money – she can tell you how much her friends made, what their homes cost, how much they’ve sold businesses for. One of her favorite summer time activities is going up to her lake home, and then slowly driving her boat along the lake shore with her friends while discussing the worth of each house they pass by.
When Jack became an adult, MIL continued to handle his finances for many years. Once Jack and I got married, I took over the finances. He never liked handling them, and I do, so it just made sense for me to do it.
The handing off of the finances went fine at first, but after a while my MIL started to get twitchy about being out of the loop. She would occasionally inquire about the status of certain accounts, to which I would give her vague positive answers like, “Everything’s doing fine!”
After a period of time, her twitchiness at not knowing things escalated and she became obsessed with an obscure account of Jack’s. As the story goes, when Jack was a baby, his grandmother opened up a money market account and put $1,000 in it. Grandma was repeatedly assured by the banker that this account would be worth $1,000,000 by the time Jack turned 18 years old.
For some strange reason, this account became a hot button topic around Christmas every year. “How is that account doing?” MIL would tersely inquire. “It’s supposed to be worth well over a million dollars now!”
At first I was confused about which account she was referring to. I knew for certain that we did not have any accounts worth a million dollars (we didn’t have anything even remotely close to that). I told her this. I told her that I was pretty sure the account she was inquiring about was worth a whopping (get ready for this!) …
At first she was polite but cold when I told her this. “No, that’s the wrong account. Go back and check your finances,” she ordered.
So I did. And I confirmed that the $5,000 account was indeed the one that was supposed to be worth a million dollars.
The next year, this came up around Christmas again. “Did you ever find the paperwork on the account that’s worth a million dollars?”
“Oh yeah, I looked into it. I confirmed that it was the account I was thinking of, and it’s only worth $5,000.”
“NO. You need to get a better handle on your finances. You don’t know which account I’m talking about. It’s worth a million dollars!” she responded angrily.
And so this went on, for years and years. She would inquire about it, I would tell her I confirmed the account was only worth $5,000, and she would angrily respond that I didn’t have a handle on our finances.
After a while, I recognized this conversation was just going to continue repeating itself each Christmas. So when she would begin with her inquiry, “How is the account worth a million dollars doing? Have you figured out which one it is yet?” I would respond simply, “I’ll look into it.”
That finally shut her up. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t think she’s asked about that account in a few years.
By the way, the statement we got this year said its worth about $5,500 now.