Woe Is Me! “My Husband’s Family Expects Us To Pay All Their Bills. Are We Wrong to Refuse?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
My husband’s family states they don’t understand ‘online payments’ even though they’re comfortable with WhatsApp forwards and video calls. Due to this, my husband pays all their bills, including electricity, gas, and groceries. I insist on us saving that money instead, but my husband can’t say no to his relatives. I don’t want their earnings, not one rupee, I just want to save what’s ours. But whenever I raise this topic, my husband thinks it is not morally correct to say no to them and that he is willingly-obliged to give them whatever they want. I asked him to teach them online payments, but he says he tried and they wouldn’t learn. How do I make him stop paying their bills and save for our future instead?
— Stressed Super Saver
SK: It’s tricky, but no, you’re not wrong to refuse! It is great your husband wants to look out for his family, but if it has started to impact your economic well-being, there is a larger conversation to be had between the two of you. The money is yours, too, and how it’s spent should be a decision that has your say. If the family struggles to pay online, maybe the next time you meet them, he can teach them right in front of you and that could be a starting point where they handle expenses on their own. You can send them tutorials in the meantime or try teaching them via WhatsApp video calls?
It’s difficult to talk money with family, no doubt — and the moral obligation your husband might feel comes from a place of respect and care, too. But jeopardizing your own emotional and financial health for anyone — even your family — does more harm than good.
KB: This sounds really frustrating. I understand why you want to prioritize your own savings over supporting extended family, and I particularly understand why it’s annoying that the family seems to be going about this in a sneaky way. Why bother pretending you can’t figure out how to use the internet, and instead just say “we need some help with monthly expenses”? The trickery and fakeness of it is what rankles. I get it.
However, every family is different, and in many families, adult children support parents financially, especially after the parents have retired and are no longer earning a steady income. Think of it as part of the fiscal cycle of life — we are cared for and protected financially as children, and then we may have to care for and provide for those same people in adulthood as they become financially vulnerable. It is not your place, nor is it in the best interests of your marriage, for you to insist that your husband cut off his parents.
However, as half of the adult caretakers in this situation, you do have some agency and control. You can insist that your in-laws give you a clear sense of how much they will need each month, and you have every right to discuss this with your husband and come up with a fixed figure that you are both comfortable providing to them. Cutting off elderly people who need support is not a good look, so don’t fight for that. Instead, shape the contours of the arrangement — the amount, the terms, the frequency — and make sure your husband understands very clearly that you are an equal decisionmaker to him in these choices.
AS: By the way you’ve phrased this, it seems pretty obvious that your husband’s family is taking advantage of him basically just being more tech savvy than they are. I hope there’s no other serious financial strain that underlies their behaviour? That might need more significant intervention.
I think you’re 100% correct in wanting to save for your future, and I think there are limits to just how ‘obliged’ we are to our families. Of course, all earning members should contribute to expenses if a family lives together, and there’s nothing wrong with kids helping their families out in times of financial stress (and vice versa). But freeloading in this way doesn’t seem right. You say your husband has already tried to teach them online payments — maybe he or you could give it one more shot? I mean, paying bills has never been simpler than it is now. Almost everything can be auto-set, and all you need is one click, on one app.
Anyway, if that doesn’t work, the next time the bills are due, tell them your husband is just unable to make the payment, even though he tried. Would an ‘internet issue’ work as an excuse? Or a ‘blocked account’ at the bank? (You might just need something more plausible, haha.) Your husband being unavailable might force them into taking matters into their own hands. I know this approach is passive-ish and indirect, but that might be advisable so as to not spoil the entire relationship you share with them.
LG: I think you have to figure out what you’re really upset about — a lack of savings or your husband’s overall ‘moral obligation’ to your in-laws. They’re kind of two separate issues. For savings, you consider your income and your expenses (which in this case includes paying the bills of an extended family) and you set a savings goal based on the difference. If you want the goal amount to be larger, you have to figure out where to cut back on expenses. Maybe that’s some or all of the in-laws’ bills, but maybe it’s another expense that you and your husband decide to cut back on to achieve your goals. Paying his family’s bills from his own pocket is clearly important to him (there are ways to set up auto payments from their account, etc., that wouldn’t require him to use your joint money), so figuring out how to meet your savings goal might take some compromise. Maybe he stops paying one of their bills out of his own pocket — and maybe you cut back on an expense that’s important to you, too. Regardless, you two need to decide what your savings goal is and how to achieve it, together.
If it’s your husband’s kowtowing to family demands that’s really bothering you — well, chances are there are more examples than just paying some bills. This still requires a conversation. Talk to your husband about what behaviors/interactions bother you and why, and then the two of you could discuss setting some boundaries (which may or may not be might be financial) that satisfy your desire for independence, as well as his desire to be a dutiful son.
Ultimately, assuming you two aren’t destitute, it seems unfair to ask your husband to completely stop helping to support his family financially — just as it would be unfair if he asked you to completely stop spending money on something that is meaningful and important to you. So figure out a compromise.
DR: You’re sure it’s not an affordability concern, right? I don’t think it’s wrong to refuse unless it’s an affordability issue camouflaged as a digital literacy one. At the same time, I don’t see how you can convince your husband to not pay his parents if he really wants to.
There may, of course, be emotional manipulation at play: if he gives them an ultimatum saying the only help they’ll get from him henceforth are lessons on how to safely make payments online, and absolutely nothing else, it’s quite likely that they’ll guilt-trip him Baghban-style, and tell him he’s abandoning his parents. Quite likely, they’ll find a way to blame it on you as most Indian in-laws are wont to do (or, maybe, it’s just in-laws everywhere; Meghan Markle’s interview is making me think some form of exploitation of bahus by sasuraal waale might just exist in all patriarchal cultures — and very few mainstream cultures are not patriarchal). So, maybe, by giving in to their demands, he’s trying to protect you from all the negativity that would be unleashed at you by his family and his relatives, if he were to stand up to them.
While his parents may be of the mindset that they have the pehla haq (first right) on their son’s income, are you sure your husband doesn’t look at himself as an investment his parents made, and the money he’s paying for them, as a return on that investment? Moreover, he may also believe, perhaps as a result of growing up watching movies like Baghban that villainize wives with opinions, that it’s his responsibility to pay for them. If any of these apply to him, then in order to convince him to save for the future of the two of you, as a couple, there’s a lot of unlearning he will have to do, in terms of: (a) he’s a human being and not an investment; (b) wives aren’t villains. But this can take years of therapy, and I honestly don’t see how you can achieve this even in a matter of months.
However, there may be a shortcut-solution to your dilemma, provided you can convince him to be on board with it: perhaps, he can tell his parents that the two of you have had to make some investments, and will have no liquidity for a few months, beyond paying your own bills. This may convince them to make the switch to digital payments. The generation that has spent around two-thirds of their lives outside the digital world, may understandably be cautious or hesitant to making online transactions because unlike WhatsApp forwards/video calls, this involves money. So, in the presence of other options, their inertia in making this transition makes sense. At the same time, since they’re not offering to pay him that money offline, I’m leaning towards the idea that it’s the first-dibs-on-son’s-income problem.