Family Banking Gone Bad

by admin on September 8, 2011

First, your site has helped me so much.  I was raised by a family who loves to step on toes and delights in being nasty to others.  My grandma, rest her beautiful soul, was my one example of etiquette and grace, and she gave me my first Emily Post when I entered high school.  Now that she’s gone, the stories on your site remind me to think of others and to leave an example of grace to anyone who may be watching.

Here’s my story.  About a year ago I began saving for a car.  After a few months of discipline, I had about $3,000 saved up.  My stepdad advised me that I should leave some money in his safe so I had cash in case some severe bank-closing catastrophe left me without money.  I thought about it, and decided to leave $800 in the safe.  I definitely didn’t have a safe place in my apartment where I could stash that much money.  I told him I keep my money there until I bought a car.

My mom started charging me $25 a month for my part of the family cell phone bill per my stepdad’s request several months later.  I didn’t mind paying the money, but it bothered me when she added that she knew $25 was more than my share, but I wasn’t going to find a plan that cheap anywhere else.  I paid $150 in two installments in advance so I wouldn’t have to worry about it for 6 months.

Fast forward to this month, when I moved to the next state with my boyfriend after I lost my job.  I intended to get our new house settled, buy a car with some money I had saved up and the money from the safe, and get a job.  We moved and made plans with my mom to get the money.  I came to my mom’s house on the day and time we agreed upon, but she told me the money was in my stepdad’s savings account now (which really defeats the purpose of having your money in a safe).  She promised to send me a check for several weeks.  Nothing came.  She planned a visit to my house last week.  I reminded her about a half dozen times in the day prior to and the day of her visit, “Please remember to bring a check or cash.  I really need my money.”  She promised she would.

Right before she left my house, she went to dig the check from her purse.  Surprise, no check.  I begged her to mail it when she got home.  She promised she would.

Then she dropped off the face of the earth for 3 days.  Didn’t return my calls, texts, e-mail.  Finally she called me and told me they didn’t have the money.  I forgot to pay my cell phone portion.  So my stepdad took my money and put all of it toward the phone bill.  My mom was incredibly sorry, but she didn’t even have the money to fix what had been done by my stepdad (although she had the money to go across the country on vacation for a week with my little sisters and my stepdad last month).

I was wrong to be late, I know that.  We had just moved, my mom or my stepdad never mentioned it and I completely forgot.  It’s not like other obligations, where you get a notification.  And if he had taken $25 from my money, I wouldn’t have blinked; it would have been convenient.  But $800 isn’t $25.  Even if he had used the money to pay my portion of the cell phone bill until the contract runs out, he would have only spent $450.  But he insists he is justified.  My mom has hurt me financially before, but this one is the one that makes me want to keep my distance for good. I’m heartbroken that my stepdad would do this and that my mom lied to me, and I really needed that money.  Is there any polite way to go about getting my money back?  Or was I wrong to leave cash in someone else’s possession?

You need to reconcile within yourself that you will never see that $800.00 again.  It’s an expensive life lesson that you cannot trust certain family members with anything of value.  I think you can still have a civil relationship with your mom and stepdad but if the subject of money ever comes up, you simply ignore the topic and decline to entertain any thoughts of transferring wealth from you to either of them.   One can smile pleasantly and talk about mundane things with family while inwardly thinking, “No way in Ehell you’ll ever get a cent of my money.”

If in your shoes, I’d be inclined to document the money transfers starting with the $800.00 “deposit” on the specified date followed by each month’s “bill” for phone service and then communicate this statement, in writing, to your parents with a note that says, “Just so we’re all on the same page, this is my understanding of what occurred in regards to my $800.00 I left with stepdad and my payments of my share of the cell phone service.  It appear from my records, that I am completely paid up through the end of the cell phone contract and I am due $350.00 upon termination of that contract.”

Don’t expect you’ll get a civil answer or see a cent of that money, however.

I’m sure there will be comments on this post encouraging you to file a police report or sue your parents.  People making those kind of suggestions have probably never actually done what they are suggesting you do because if they had, they’d know what a huge pain in the rump it is to pursue legal action and how much money it really costs.   Mentally write off the parents as your personal bank and move on.

{ 94 comments… read them below or add one }

Sabrina September 8, 2011 at 8:59 am

I generally agree with Admin’s suggestions. However, I’d like to add that I would be inclined to also discontinue my cell phone service with them. It may be a really great deal, but will probably not be worth the headache it will inevitably cause. I am generally really uncomfortable with any financial transactions among family members (or friends, for that matter.)

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Cupcake September 8, 2011 at 9:12 am

You could try sending a Letter of Demand or something like that, which probably wouldn’t get back your money but would make it clear that what they was pretty serious and you really aren’t okay with it. If it were me I would probably steal a few things from their house to even the score but of course I know that would be very wrong. I think I would struggle to maintain any kind of relationship with someone who had done something like that, not because of the eight hundred dollars but because they have been so… I don’t even know, I can’t think of a word appropriate for something like this but it is a really rotten thing to do to somebody you ought to care about.

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Twik September 8, 2011 at 9:17 am

I don’t think I’d have a “civil relationship” with people who cheat my out of money. I suspect this was intended from the time Stepfather started trying to convince the writer he would be more reliable as a bank than federally-insured institutions.

I would make plans, though, to get my own cellphone. Mingling finances like this, particularly when one party is forgetful and the other is dishonest, is only going to lead to much fighting.

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Clair Seulement September 8, 2011 at 9:19 am

I am so sorry, OP, this story gave me the chills. A similar thing happened to someone I’m related to–her parents gave her a used car for a high school graduation gift, and she went out and bought insurance, four brand new tires, and a brake job all with money she’d earned herself. Then mere weeks later, someone drove by the house while she wasn’t home and offered to buy the car, her dad sold it out from under her, and she didn’t see a red cent of the money (or another car).The way the parents saw it, they’d put a roof over her head until she was 17 years old and were justified; the way I see it, they used their minor daughter to flip an investment and got away with it by calling it a “life lesson.” Today my relative is strong and independent, but her parents have not changed a bit–all they talk about is money, and they are forever fleecing people and trying to make a buck above all else. Moving on is the best thing you can do.

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counselorm September 8, 2011 at 9:19 am

Having myself struggled with financial issues related to family members, and the difficulty of both loving your family and accepting a realistic view of who they are, I whole-heartedly agree with the moderator. It is sad and painful the day you accept that your family is less than reliable and not as loving as they should be. Talk it through with your boyfriend or a friend and truly take the time to mourn the loss of the relationships as they should be and move on. Don’t let it get you bitter, though. There are people you can trust in the world.

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Jay September 8, 2011 at 9:24 am

Family or no, I’m not sure I see the point of maintaining a “civil relationship” with a pair of thieves. I agree that a civil or criminal action would serve no useful purpose, but I’d be inclined to respond, “I’m sorry, but I really can’t trust either of you anym0re” to almost any overture from them.

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LeeLee88 September 8, 2011 at 9:32 am

I totally agree with Admin. Also, check into a pay-as-you-go phone to use after the cell contract has run out, and just until you can afford to get another cell contract on your own dime and terms. It sounds like that is the only thing holding you to them at the moment, and I don’t think you really want to be beholden to people who would steal any amount of money from their own child/step-child.

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The Elf September 8, 2011 at 9:34 am

Some things are worth the money. Having no financial strings to people proven to be manipulative are one of them. Your parents aren’t just etiquette-challenged, they are approaching toxicity. I like Admin’s idea to keep subtracting off the $800. Otherwise, your options are limited only to your future financial dealings with them, of which there should be none. If you must loan them money or accept a loan or go in a contract like a cell phone, then get everything in writing.

Oh, and I’d get a new cell phone contract (if possible) even if it means you lose even more of that $800. You’re never seeing a penny of it anyway, that much is clear. They money you lose in cell phone contract might be worth it in the peace of not having the same argument over money every month. I’m sorry you have such manipulative parents. I hope you can still maintain a good relationship with them outside of financial dealings, but I have to wonder how they behave with everything else in life if they so casually regard your $800 they agreed to safeguard.

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James September 8, 2011 at 9:36 am

A few years ago, a good friend of mine borrowed some money off her dad on a firm understanding that it would be paid back in a couple of years time. A few months later she had her step-mother banging on her door, making threats & demanding “her” money back right now – it turned out that her dad had taken money from the joint account he still shared with his estranged wife to loan to my friend.

I counselled my friend that this was her dad’s problem, not hers; she hadn’t entered into any arrangement with her step-mum; she was not responsible for finding this large sum of money right now (while she was unemployed for health reasons). Moreover, once her stepmum (of whom I have a very low opinion) found that she could get money from my friend like this, she would find some other excuse as to why she was “owed” money.

My friend, wanting to keep the peace, somehow scraped together the money (cancelling some trips, borrowing off other friends, maxxing out her credit cards) & gave it to her stepmum. The very next day, her stepmum was banging on her door again, making more threats and demanding more money she was “owed” – the money her dad had used to buy my friend’s present the previous Christmas.

I think, the important thing for the OP now, is to not get caught out again. Your mum & stepdad have proved that they can’t be trusted with money, so (painful though it may be) you have to stop trusting them. If they learn they can keep taking advantage of you financially, they will do just that.

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Coralreef September 8, 2011 at 9:43 am

When money is concerned, family is not family, it’s business. Contracts, writen IOUs and anything else to prove transfer and return of money is a must. Indeed an expensive lesson to learn, but I think the loss of trust between parent and child must be even more painful.

As for keeping a civil relationship with the family after such an event, I must admit that I would be very tempted in dropping them like a hot potato. If the letter writer can get over this, she’s a better person than I am.

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Xtina September 8, 2011 at 9:45 am

I’m sorry that happened to you, OP. Sometimes the people who you should be able to trust the most end up being the most untrustworthy. I hate to say it, but yes, you can probably kiss that $800 goodbye. You’ve just learned the unfortunate truth that family and friends are probably among the riskiest loans you can make, and you’re better off keeping them and your money separate in order to keep relationships intact. Several years ago, my husband loaned $800 to a close friend and we have yet to get any of that money back despite requests by my husband, and promises of paying it back by the friend–the money just never appears. I told him that he should just consider it a gift and forget about it, then it’ll be a nice surprise if we ever get it back.

At any rate, I guess your reaction here depends on your relationship with your family. If I had an otherwise good relationship with my family, I’d probably just strike it up to “never do this again” and move on. Yes, it hurts and yes, can certainly still remind them that they owe you and ask for the money back, but accept that it may never be returned.

You mention that this wasn’t the first time your mother had hurt you financially. Hopefully this second time you’ve been shown this lesson, you won’t be fooled again. Never, ever trust these people with your money again.

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Serenity S September 8, 2011 at 9:47 am

Wow, OP, I feel so bad for you. My first suggestion would have been to go to small claims court, but I think I would have said that in premature outrage over how you were treated. I agree with Admin that it would probably cost more than the money your step-dad stole to pay for court costs. I think that you should do what Admin said and send the letter detailing how part of that $800 covers the remainder of cell phone payments you would have had to pay, and that your mom and step-dad owe you so much of a balance. Send it certified mail and keep a copy for yourself of the letter. Also, I would never trust them with any amount of money ever again, though I suppose that is really quite an obvious statement. When I was younger I had a friend who was pregnant and a single mother-to-be. I foolishly let her live with me knowing that she didn’t have a job, as well as spending plenty of money on bills, baby items, and entertainment for her. I was really young and naive so I believed her when she said she would pay me back. She ended up owing me over $2000. And of course I never saw a cent of it. I did not take her to court, but like Admin said, it was a valuable life lesson for me about not to trust friends or family so blindly. So I have been through a similar situation. I know that it hurts to feel so used or taken advantage of. I hope that you were still able to get a car.

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Bane September 8, 2011 at 9:48 am

This is not a matter of etiquette; they stole your money! Document everything as suggested and send it to them with a request for reimbursement. If they refuse, that same documentation will get your money back in small claims court. Not sure where you live, but where I live it only costs $40 to file a case. That plus your time is your only cost. Just because they’re family, doesn’t give them the right to steal from you! Letting it slide is tacit approval of this criminal act and just encourages them to do it again

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Ken September 8, 2011 at 9:48 am

One lesson my aunt taught me from an early age, whenever you lend anything to someone, you lend it expecting to never see it again. So if it’s important, or valuable, you should keep it in your possession. I lost a lot of money and personal items over the years lending them out. And yes, putting your money into someone else’s safe to me is lending it to them. If I remember correctly, bank accounts are insured up to $100,000 if your bank is a member of FDIC. So even if your bank did have a financial downfall, there would have been no need to worry about the money you had in savings.
On a side note, when I got my first job at 13, my grandmother kept my money for me in a safe in her home. Although she never spent it, retrieving the money was difficult, because I started to be questioned about what I planned on purchasing. If it was something “frivolous,” I was denied access to my own money. Just another lesson in life on looking after your own finances…it comes with the whole adulthood thing.

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Bint September 8, 2011 at 9:52 am

You won’t get it back but I would keep asking. “I need my money. Yes, I know I didn’t pay my share but even paying until the end of the contract means you owe me X.”
“Why have you taken $450 from me of my money? That isn’t fair. I need it.”

And so on. This is theft. Your mother should be absolutely ashamed of herself for this, as should your stepfather. Disgusting.

I would like to add that a flatmate ripped me off once for money that I desperately needed when our lease came to an end. We left on good terms but that was it – she never paid, wouldn’t return my calls or emails, nothing. She had very wealthy parents who paid for whatever she wanted, but if she didn’t have the money she could have just told me and apologised. Instead she left me struggling.

I was a student, young, skint and pretty angry. Finally, I rang her at her parents’ house in Ehell moment and left a message saying, “This is for Jill from Bint. I realize you’ve decided not to pay your share of the flat costs and to rip me off instead, although I don’t know why. Enjoy stealing that money from me because I don’t ever want to speak to you again.”

We didn’t speak again. I don’t know if she was ashamed or afraid, but she never spoke to any of our mutual friends again either. We were halfway through university and she moved halls, dropped all her old friends and started all over. It’s really sad she did that for the sake of sixty quid.

The point is that your parents won’t get away with this. They have already hugely damaged their relationship with you and you can’t trust them. One day they’ll realize that $800 was not worth the pain they caused you and will cause themselves. I am sorry you have had to go through this.

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ElleWoods September 8, 2011 at 9:53 am

I’m sorry that happened to you. Yes, as a law student, I can think of a couple different crimes or torts committed, however, I’m thinking now of those cases that come up from time to time between family members. Obviously judicial opinion leaves the aftermath out of, but the obviously uncomfortab le and painful fallout is always the first thing I think of. Its an expensive lesson, but I think its worth it.

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Sarah Jane September 8, 2011 at 9:59 am

I don’t know your age, but it sounds as if you’re old enough to move to another state with your boyfriend, which means (hopefully) you are an adult. Get your own cell phone. Stop depending on these folks for ANYTHING.

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Margaret September 8, 2011 at 10:12 am

Just to be clear, the parents were not loaned the money. They stole it. Loaning it means they were to have the use of it until it was to be returned at whatever agreed upon date. As I read the story, the money was entrusted to the step father for safe keeping, but in no way was it intended to to used by the parents.

I’m all for suing in small claims court, but it might be difficult to prove, unless the stepfather gave you a receipt for the money. However, absolutely do write up the statement about the money and send it. Send monthly statements if you will. Should you decide in the future to pursue the money, the fact that they did not object to the statements would be evidence to support the debt. The only thing that I disagree with is to write in the statement that your cell phone bill is now paid until the end of the contract. If they took $800 to put towards the phone bill, they probably are not paying it and it will get cancelled before the end of the contract. Or perhaps you will get your own cell phone plan, in which case you won’t want to still be paying a share of theirs. In the future, if they pay for things for you that you would normally repay, just tick it off against the debt.

I can’t help but think thank goodness you did not decide to put all your cash into the safe.

I loaned $600 to a relative once. At the time, that was a big deal. However, having been well trained by my mom, I had the relative sign a promissory note. Unfortunately, unlike my mom, I did not insist on getting post dated cheques for all the payments before loaning the money. She gave me three cheques, the third one bounced, and then nothing. Without going into the whole story, it took almost two years before she resumed repaying it, and that was after a sharply worded letter that I sent her. I was also fully prepared to sue her in small claims court for the money, since I had documentation to prove it, and the letter was in part my insurance that if I did go to court, I could show that I had made every effort to accomodate her. I had also decided that I would rather be known as the person whom you MUST pay back, rather than the person who will lend you money and not collect on it. I’m sure it would have ruined the relationship to sue her, but as it turns out, the relationship was ruined anyway.

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Jojo September 8, 2011 at 10:17 am

Well OP’s family certainly must have had a nice holiday with all that money she gave them. I’m willing to bet that they decided that they were a bit short and to ‘borrow’ it with the intention of replacing it eventually. Then they got called out on it.
If OP wanted to make her point politely she could suggest $350 of time borrowing their car in repayment?
If I were the OP, however, I would assume my share of the phone bill had been paid and also take something of commensurate value as hostage until the remainder was paid – the family tv or computer perhaps? Anything that will, essentially, cause the most inconvenience to their leisure time and daily household routine. If she got a couple of large guys in, they would probably be able to lift out the whole safe for her to ‘look after’ until the return of her property in exchange for a couple of beers. Point made.

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Millie September 8, 2011 at 10:28 am

I am utterly perplexed why you’d want to have ANY relationship, civil or not, with thieves who stole your money.

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Missmolly September 8, 2011 at 10:39 am

Whether or not you choose to take legal action or not, certainly do not let them forget that they are a pair of thieves. Frankly I’m wondering if Stepdad’s initial motive was to con you out of the money when he suggested that you put money in his safe.

These people are not worthy of your love or trust.

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--E September 8, 2011 at 10:40 am

If your name isn’t on the cell phone contract (i.e. the phone company won’t come after you), then ditch the phone and get your own. You can get a cheap pay-as-you-go plan.

You’re in another state, presumably far away. I don’t think you would be remiss to minimize communication with them.

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Hemi Halliwell September 8, 2011 at 10:59 am

Friends, families and money do not mix. I’m sorry you had to go through this, but I would do a letter as Admin suggested, make several copies and send one a month. While you will never see the money again, maybe they will get the hint that you will not allow this to happen for a third time.
Stepdad suggesting you leave money in his safe in case of a bank catastrophe should have sent warning bells off in your head, especially considering your own mother has hurt you financially before. Theives are thick.
Get your own cell phone. You can get plans at Wal-Mart for around $30 per month.
If you can salvage a “civil” relationship with your mom & stepdad, do so. It will be hard considering how they treated you, but if you can’t, cut them loose. A mother and/or stepdad stealing money from their own child… I hope karma kicks them in the behind, hard.

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AS September 8, 2011 at 11:06 am

I am sorry this happened to you, OP. I totally agree with the admin’s suggestion. I was thinking of telling you about a written and signed-with-witness document regarding the money too. In the future, avoid having any monetary transactions with your mom and step-dad, and if you have to, keep a paper trail.

I also agree that taking it up in the court is a big pain. I was once charged twice on my debit card by a travel agent for an international trip that I took (it was a smallish travel agent, and the transaction was over the phone). I tried to get the money back, which was over US$ 2000 and I had all documentations, but I could never get it because the travel agent didn’t want to return it. I was new to the country at that time and didn’t know about small claims court; and even if I knew, I’d have had to go 2 states to where the travel agent’s office is to file a case. The legal system, IMO, is extremely difficult to work with for ordinary people.

I can understand that it is hard on you now as you were trying to save up for a car. But you probably can take the steps that the admin mentioned, and write off the money as the charge for a costly lesson in life. Try to avoid trusting anyone on face value regarding money (unless they have shown honesty before). Once you get a good job, which I hope you do, $800 is not too huge an amount in the long run. If you are going to live another 50 years for example, it would be only $16 a year.

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Amber September 8, 2011 at 11:11 am

Gosh, can I relate to this. I waitressed through high school. My parents let me keep my tips, and took my paycheck to “deposit into my savings for college” for about 2 1/2 years. When I turned 18, I asked if I could have the money to start my own savings account. A blank look and a “what money?” is all I got. At about 80 bucks a month, that’s over $2000 (or a semester of college) that I never saw again. Thank god I was super frugal with my tip money, or else I would have had nothing when I left my parents’ house. Never, never trusted them with my money again.

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J's Mama September 8, 2011 at 11:16 am

Your mother and stepfather needs a swift kick in the pants. I’m not sure I’d take it to small claims court, however until their theivery is paid off, I’d subtract their birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, and any other gifts you might buy them until their debt to you is paid off.

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Boca September 8, 2011 at 11:27 am

You gave that man your cash for safeguarding. The cell phone is a separate issue. Yes, find your own cell phone plan. I agree with others here. Your money was stolen. If you fell behind on the cell phone bill you display lamentable money sense but the $800 is still yours. He changed the rules after the game began. His conduct concerning the cash is actionable. Sue him in court. The relationship is wrecked anyway as others here have stated. You may as well have your money.

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LaurenP September 8, 2011 at 11:37 am

I had a friend in a similar situation. She’d gotten her mother to look after her £25ish Christmas money (this is big bucks when you’re 10) and planned to put some of it towards a Basil Brush toy. On the day she planned to purchase the toy, she asked her mother for the money, only to find that it had paid for part of her mother’s new coat. For this and a few other reasons, she’s not too keen on her parents.

I’m lucky that I can trust my mother with my money.

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Nicole September 8, 2011 at 11:39 am

Just a reminder that, if the OP is in the US, there is no need to keep any money outside of a bank in case of bank failures. If your bank fails, all money up to $250,000 is insured by the FDIC. In most cases, the bank is closed on a Friday and a new bank takes over on Monday morning and there is only a very limited time (over the weekend) when your money is unavailable. If no new bank is found to buy the failed bank, you may have to wait 7-10 days to get your money, but that happens in only a tiny % of all bank failures. Please don’t think you need to hide money under the mattress, it is safer in a bank!

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Stepmomster September 8, 2011 at 11:44 am

Is it just me, or does it sound like mom is rolling over and playing dead for step father? I think you might want to take a deep breath, realize they are dysfunctional and limit your contact to purely social. What I am interested in is if this has soured your boyfriend towards your parents, I know from experience that when a family member burns you as a couple, it will really cause a lot of strain between the couple whenever mom/stepdad wants your attention in the future.

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Enna September 8, 2011 at 11:54 am

I do mainly agree with admin – going to court could be a difficult process but there is nothing wrong with looking at as an option and no one needs to know especially your mum and stepdad. I’d say Stepfather and Mum have defiantly lost out on chtistmas/birthday pressants for the next ten years at least. If they ever ask you for money tell them that they have already had a loan in the form of the money that stepfather took when he so conviently advised you to keep some money in his safe in the first place. Like admin said you may not see your money again, however I think, and this is a bit selfish and manipulative, if you are civil and nice to them you might see your money again.

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alex September 8, 2011 at 11:58 am

Wow, I am sorry OP, I would be horrified and VERY upset if someone did that to me. I am not sure how late you were on your cell bill (you mention $25, so just one month?) and he feels justified taking $800??? That is unreal and very, very greedy. I wonder if he had that plan the entire time, to take your money.

Honestly, I can understand not dragging it out, going to the police etc. because I couldn’t do that to my parents but I would probably only maintain a civil relationship with them and nothing more. They essentially stole from you and refuse to give you the money back. You should tell them they can pay you back in installments. I would also defintiely document all of this just in case.

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icekat September 8, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I may be alone in this, but the lying bothers me just as much as the thievery. OP’s parent’s didn’t just take her money; they also lied to her about it. For months.

I’d do as the Admin suggests, OP, and write up a statement. Then, they either pay you back or they don’t; it’s out of your hands.

But I’d also have a pointed conversation with them about trust, and how they have lost yours. Not by taking your money, but by lying about it. You can’t trust them anymore–not about money, not about anything. Even if they end up paying the money back, there is no way they can “pay back” the lies.

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Abby September 8, 2011 at 1:21 pm

How horrible for the OP. I cannot imagine my parents doing that to me!

I get the feeling that $800 went straight from the “safe” and into the step-dad’s account the day the OP handed it over. The OP would have been better off just buying his/her own safe. To try to justify taking $800 to cover a $25 share of a phone bill is ludicrous. I agree with the other commenters — as soon as your “investment” is no longer covering your share of the phone bill, get the heck out of your mom and step-dad’s plan and either get your own plan or a pay-as-you-go plan. Good luck trying to maintain any kind of relationship with those two.

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Paige September 8, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I totally agree with admin while personally I can say that a civil relationship with the thieves would be an overstatement; I would limit all contact to an absolute minimum. Although, you do admit in your story that your mother “has hurt you financially before” so I am wondering why you gave her a second chance to do it again instead of just buying your own small safe…?

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Hemi Halliwell September 8, 2011 at 1:34 pm

As I’ve read through some of the comments, I’ve noticed a similarity of parents and/or family basically stealing money from their own children! Amber, Ken & Clair Seulement’s stories are particularly disturbing.
Why does money make people insane? I don’t understand how any amount of money makes up for losing your relationship with your child!

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doodlemor September 8, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Here is an idea to help your documentation that I once read in an advice column.

Send your mother an email stating that they owe you substantially more than the actual sum. She might be outraged enough to send you an angry email back with the actual sum that they do owe to you. Then you can take them to small claims court, with an email for extra documentation.

The behavior of your mother and stepfather is outrageous. As sad as it sounds, you don’t need these people in your life at all.

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LaurenP September 8, 2011 at 2:19 pm

$800 would cover the phone contract for 32 months, 2 years and 8 months. The OP says they paid 6 months in advance, so they have ‘paid’ for 3 years and 2 months.

I would personally consider the $800 as the parents’ Christmas/Birthday/Whatever gifts for the next few years, until its been paid off (e.g. if parent gifts are $100 per annum, no gifts for the next 8 years). Although I would be very tempted to maintain minimum civility with them for the rest of their lives.

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Marjorie Margarine September 8, 2011 at 2:32 pm

You can absolutely take your step dad to small claims court. You do not have to have an attorney (most people don’t) and the filing fee is usually about $50, depending on the state. That’s kind of emotional, though, but if it came down to it, you DO have options.

I would agree that you should stop using their cell phone service ASAP.

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Lurker September 8, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Wow, tough lesson about loved ones, OP. I am so glad you didn’t put the whole $3000 in the safe. much luck.

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Snowy September 8, 2011 at 2:49 pm

You say your parents took your little sister on a trip. You are almost certainly never going to see a dime of what you’re owed, so if it’ll help you feel a bit less horrible about the loss, visualize that your money went to pay for your sister’s costs for the trip. It might be easier to live with the loss if you imagine it was for something good like that, than if you imagine it going into step-dad’s pocket.

And if you want your little sister to learn to set up a bank account, privately talk to her about helping her set it up. YOU be the adult signer on her savings account, because if your mom and step-dad are, any money she puts in there she will probably never see again.

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Suzanne September 8, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Oh that’s terrible! I definitely know how you feel – my family is great and I love them very much but I had to learn the hard way to not let them near money unless I consider it a gift. My brother borrowed over a thousand dollars from me when we were younger and went so far as to use my credit cards to pay for concert tickets and my mom used to charge plane tickets to my credit cards with the promise to repay me and then only pay a portion and come up with an excuse as to why she shouldn’t have to pay the rest. Really the only thing to do in the end is take a deep breath, let it go and never trust them with money that you can’t afford to lose.
On a more helpful note (hopefully) I work in the cellular industry and I have a couple of ideas to make that 800.00 count for something. Bear in mind that I work for a Canadian company so things may be a little different but here’s what you could do. The cell plan is under one of your parent’s names which means that they are ultimately responsible for making sure that the account is paid of it could affect their credit and not yours. I’d suggest not paying another penny towards your service. This will leave them with two options; either pay out the cancellation fee on your line or suspend the line and still pay a monthly fee (in which case your service would be cut off). Either way it’s up to them. If your name is on the account then you might be able to upgrade your existing phone to something really nice – again this would be something that they would be responsible for paying for – and upgrade your service to something that gives you some nice extras. If they say anything then you can say that since you’ve given them 800.00 towards your bill and have been overpaying for a while they can consider everything fair and settled. If they cancel the account you should still be able to keep the phone (again check with your service provider becasue this is how Canada does things and I am not 100% on the US) and either use it with a new plan under your name or sell it for close to what it’s worth. This isn’t as agressive as going to court but it still makes a very clear statement that you aren’t going to let them pull stunts like this again. Again I’m not sure how this will work there but it wouldn’t hurt to look into :) Either way use your phone until they cut it off and don’t give them a dime becasue you’ve already paid too much. Hope it all works out for you!

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--Lia September 8, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I agree with the others who have said not to expect to see the $800 again and to cut off money ties with your parents. I’m trying to think of what other advice might help.

First, you need a course in money management from a reliable source. If you’re able to save for a car, you’re already ahead of the game, but it’s not like you were able to learn these things from your parents, so you do need some help. If you had it, you’d know that a savings account is still the safest place for money. That’s not because people steal. It’s because you earn interest. If you’re in the U.S., your money is insured. If you’re not in the U.S., banks can still fail, but that’s an unlikely scenario, more of a lightening strike historic event, not something you live in fear of day by day. You need information about budgets, banks, savings & loans, credit unions, IRAs, the stock market, interest on savings, interest on loans, mortgages, the works. While you’re at it, information on cell phone plans can’t hurt. There are better deals than family plans. Consider if you need a cell phone at all. I pay $100/year, and that’s good for every emergency.

Next, you need help in figuring out how to have a relationship with lying, cheating, thieves. I know I’m in the minority on this. Most are saying to write these people out of your life forever, but I think the relationship with parents is just too important, too exceptional to do that to. These might not be great parents, but they are the only ones you’re ever going to get. That doesn’t mean I think you should allow them to steal from you in the name of forgiveness, but do maintain some sort of contact. Since you’re living in another city now, phone or email once a week. When the subject of money comes up in any form, say that you don’t want to talk about that. Any form might be your mother complaining about how she doesn’t have any or how she’s sick and needs money. It might be your step-father saying that you “owe” him for this or that. Whatever it is, stick to your guns and refuse the subject. If you end up having to hang up, call again at the same time next week with another chance at a friendly chat. It will take a while, but your parents will eventually learn that whining, cajoling, manipulating, and lying don’t get them anywhere.

Since money is tight and these are hard economic ties, there may come a time when you want to help them out. (I’m guessing they drink. If they do, get advice from Al-Anon for this.) You can do this by dropping by with some groceries, stopping by for a chat or a meal, and leaving it at that.

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MollySue September 8, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I agree with Bane and others – why on earth are ye concerning yourselves with politeness? This is theft, pure and simple. And to basically mock the OP with performances such as rummaging in the handbag for the cheque. And THEN to go on holiday possibly part-funded by the same money!!! It would be far more the the OP’s line to toddle off to a solicitor and write a letter demanding the $800 (minus the 25 for the phone bill if it makes her feel better). Even the nastiest loan shark wouldn’t charge a $775 fine for a late payment of $25!
Give them 14 days to furnish the cheque and straight into small claims court. I realise that there is no guarantee of winning anything and there will be a small outlay, but the incubator (for she is hardly worthy of the title “mother”) and the scumbag she’s married to are only doing this because they know they can get away with it. This might put a stop to their gallop in the future.

(Oh and remember the mantra of “I’m afraid that won’t be possible” for when your “mother” finds out that the scumbag she’s married to is cheating on her and she wants shelter to lick her wounds. Let’s face it, if everything said here is accurate, he sounds the type – you won’t be thanked for it in the long-run).

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Heather September 8, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Was the OP in the USA? If so, then it’s pretty obvious stepdad meant to steal the money from day one. “safeguarding some cash”?! We’ve had federal insurance for money deposited in banks since the reforms from the Great Depression. The amount of money involved here is WAY under the insured amount.

There’s no way I would maintain a relationship with this man, and maybe not Mom, depending on how much she knew. It’s sad, but why have people in your life like this?

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AS September 8, 2011 at 3:43 pm

I had to pitch in once again as I have something to say about some of the comments people made sending mom and step-dad a “bill” or telling the constantly that they took your money.

If you want to nag them the rest of your life or until they return you the money (whichever is earlier), go ahead and do so. But IMO, you should tell them only about returning the money and nothing else. Which means do not tell them that such an amount goes towards cell phone bill, or other things, until you get a signed piece of paper from them. If you want to send them receipts, make arrangements to get them signed by step-father. The reason is because you don’t want to play all your cards at the same time, and if they try to sue you or something (or if you want to take things to the court), you’ll need some of your cards in your hands. Surprise is a very important thing in winning battles. If your evil mom and step-dad knows everything, they’ll have pre-made/fabricated replies for everything. After all, (my guess is that) the only proof you have about the money kept in the safe is the word of mouth. I don’t think the court would agree to that unless the mom and step-dad tell them so too (which they may not if it works well for them).

This is my experience from the law cases I have handled, and closely following the property battle I have seen my mother fight. I don’t have any legal degree (just had to handle a couple of civil cases on my own), and if someone has a better option for the OP, please do feel free to oppose me.

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Allie September 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Cut all financial relations with these people immediately, and don’t enter into any agreements with them even if they are well-documented in writing because they can still renege on them and then you’re still left with the option of a demand letter or lawsuit and the costs of collecting the money even if you win (I’m a lawyer and see these situations all the time). As for whether to keep up familial ties with them, that is up to you, but I personally don’t subscribe to the notion that blood is thicker than water. Just because people happen to be related to me doesn’t mean I will waste my time with them after treatment such as this. Sadly, when the tide is turned and the child becomes the caregiver to the aging parent, as so often happens, adult children can take advantage of the opportunity to exact revenge, and this is sometimes the motive for abuse and neglect of older adults. I am an advocate for the rights of older adults, and I absolutely am not making excuses for abusers who were mistreated by their parents, but the reality is that sometimes you reap what you sow.

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Leela September 8, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I’m so sorry that this happened to you, but glad you didn’t give him the whole $3000! I second what Nicole said, she’s absolutely right. I’ve never heard of a bank folding in this day and age and taking all its customers’ savings with it.

I also got a good ‘welcome to the real world’ fleecing from my parents. I began to work when I was in high school, at one point getting a pretty sweet internship that paid (to my naive mind) a lot of money. My stepfather regularly asked me to “loan” them some money to help them pay their bills. My mom would then crack these so-not-funny jokes about how I should charge interest and how I’m such a loan shark. I didn’t mind helping, it made feel grown-up to help my family.

By the time I’m out on my own (after college) they owe me around $2000. I got to a point where I really needed that money back, but by then my thieving step-father had split from my mother. She tells me to call him. He tells me that she accepted the debt in the divorce.

Incidentally, I wanted to use the money to pay for my wedding. When I mentioned that, he says: “Ask your father. It’s traditional that the bride’s family pays.” Which signaled to me that he no longer considered me family. I haven’t heard from him since, but I had heard that he’d taken my sister’s college fund.

As for getting that $2000? Four years later my mom gives me her used bedroom set and considers us squared.

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C. J. September 8, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Hi there, OP here. I am so thankful for all of your advice, and I’m even more thankful for your support! The phone bill was about 3 weeks late when my stepdad took my money, my mom says. I haven’t even spoken directly to my stepdad about the matter, as he’s a yeller. As I said, my mom had done other financially irresponsible things for which I footed the bill, but back then she was a single mother of three, struggling very much to make ends meet. Now, her husband makes enough money that she has the luxury of staying home, they vacation 1-2 times/year, and their cars are each only 2 years old. I thought they had my best interest in mind, although now I see how naive I was to leave money I needed in the hands of another.

I will send them a note just so they know I consider this a serious matter. And the Christmas and birthday presents are no more. It makes me feel awful and vindictive, but it’s the only way I can reclaim my money. Obviously my sisters aren’t going to miss out on presents, but they might be sent in the mail this year. Not because I’m so angry I don’t want to see them, but because it might be awkward.

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Sharon September 8, 2011 at 5:01 pm

At least the OP didn’t put her entire savings in the stepdad’s hands. $800 is a lot to lose, but it is much less that I lost to greedy relatives before I learned. (My parents and my sister bled me dry for years. Thank goodness for therapy!!!)

OP, you have to decide which is more important to you, the $800 or them. Your mom and stepdad have both already made it very clear that the $800 means more to them than you do.

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