Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Lillian, Athena and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
I live in the same city as my 75-year-old mother and provide her with a lot of informal care. As part of these responsibilities, I monitor his financial accounts and have access to his statements/expenses.
She has mobility issues which limits her ability to get out and I think she contributes to a mild to moderate addiction to online shopping. She has enough assets and income that it’s not really a financial problem, but she clutters her two-bedroom apartment with lots of unnecessary items. I tried to talk to him in the past about dealing with some of these issues, but gave up in the face of too much resistance. The problem now is that she’s having more and more trouble with online ordering mechanisms: she accidentally orders several expensive items, sends expensive orders to the wrong address, and thinks she’s ordered something she doesn’t want. did not press “confirm”. She blames it on the sellers – and I’m the one who ends up handling returns of, say, $400 worth of plastic cups. I suggested that she just provide me with lists of what she wants and I’ll place the order, but she’s very reluctant to that option. As an informal steward (albeit a formal power of attorney), I feel like it’s my responsibility, but I’m not sure of the best way to go. My siblings live far away and are not as active in her care.
—No more mommy issues
Dear Mom Problems,
People with reduced mobility often develop an addiction to online shopping, as it allows them to pass the time. If your mom is open to other hobbies, you might want to help her find an activity that’s accessible to her and helps ease her boredom: joining a social group for seniors (especially if there is transportation in place) or a low-impact exercise group, or find an at-home activity like knitting or puzzles.
Even if overspending isn’t your mom’s main concern, a prepaid debit card for online shopping could reduce multiple orders because it will stop working when it runs out of budget. You can also experiment with placing parental controls on its online shopping locations or even a teen-focused debit card like Greenlight that requires you to verify its purchases before they are made.
If it’s just “stuff,” consider hiring a housekeeper for your mom’s apartment with additional housekeeping duties. A cleaner and organizer would take care of the return and decluttering you handled. They can also warn you if your mom’s shopping habits are getting worse.
More tips from Slate
My husband has recorded an entire album, but doesn’t have time to do the baby’s dishes. What can a partner reasonably expect to participate? We have a 7 month old and I stopped working because we felt daycare was too risky due to the pandemic. Now my husband is the sole breadwinner and I’m home with the baby all day.