Dear Margo: Almost Unbelievable

Margo-Howard_tall10Margo Howard’s advice

Almost Unbelievable

Dear Margo: I need some insight on the debate between selfishness and being focused. I am a recent empty nester who dedicated the past 25 years to family: an ex-husband, three children, an ailing parent and now my fiance. This physically and economically drained me, as I also was working as a full-time professional, just not in an area that allowed for huge savings or moving into higher pay ranges.

My fiance is a multimillionaire and prides himself on having been “focused” on his business, which came at the expense of his former wives and children. Recently, I asked him for some assistance in the amount of $145 — the second time in five years I have asked for anything. The first time was $1,400 for an air conditioner last summer, the hottest summer in history. I had to sign an IOU and give him a lien against my house, and he followed up with a lecture about how I should have been more focused on myself and not my family. He also said that I should stop paying into my 401(k), because I need the money now. I did not take that suggestion.

My family has never lived extravagantly. My children’s cars are as old as the children. Why is it that there’s a perception that men are focused when they step on others for profit and women are selfish when they ask for assistance in times of need? — Selfless

Dear Self: First, I must tell you that I have serious doubts that your fiance is even solvent, let alone a multimillionaire. If he really is rich, he is the stingiest, skinflintiest SOB I have ever heard of. And this is your intended, no less, demanding an IOU and a lien? Gotta tell you, this all sounds odd. Also, your mention of a lien makes me wonder if this letter is not concocted (or you are using the wrong word), because a lien can only be gotten through a court order to attach someone’s assets when they are in default on a payment owed.

Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I will assume your letter is legit for the purpose of answering your question. If you are not lying to me, I’m pretty sure he is lying to you. I think your question about focus pales next to this terrible man, whom I hope you ditch pronto (assuming this is a real situation). Taking all of this at face value, however, I will quote my colleague, “Miss Conduct,” who would say you are like Scarlett O’Hara, desperately making dresses out of the curtains while this dreadful man is ragging on you and demanding an IOU. We can philosophize about focus some other time. — Margo, disgustedly

On the Question of Tipping

Dear Margo: I am a working professional who often stops at local restaurants on the way home from work to get a carryout dinner. I consider myself a generous tipper when I dine in a restaurant or when I have food delivered to my house, but I have never tipped for a carryout order. Recently, a friend told me she always tips at least 10 percent when getting carryout food. Is this considered customary? And if so, what is the correct percentage to tip? Have I been wrong all these years? — Jen

Dear Jen: I wouldn’t say you’ve been wrong, because many people don’t tip when they pick up something to go. The waitstaff at this kind of place unfortunately often gets the short end of the stick because there is only one interaction between them and the customer. My own rule is that if all the person does is ring up something already prepared and grabbed from a case, no tip is required. If, however, they make something for you to take, a tip would be in order — and 10 percent sounds right for this. — Margo, thoughtfully

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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29 Responses so far.

  1. avatar TheTexasMom says:

    In regards to the first letter I disagree with Margo (big shocker).  A lien can be willingly be entered into by a debtor as it’s nothing more than an agreement by the debtor to secure a debt or another obligation.   As with anything there are different types of liens such as a judgment liens as to which Margo was referring. A mortgage is also considered a lien. Don’t know why Margo would think a multimillionaire wouldn’t want to secure a loan or even dole out some words of financial wisdom.  People who have money usually don’t just toss it away since it was most likely hard earned and was only trying to help.  Who wants to enter into a relationship with someone you do not respect their money principles?  I doubt this marriage will ever happen.
    While I do not regret helping my children, as a single parent, I had two in college at the same time then it was one in law school and another in graduate school.  So from time to time I have suspended or lowered my 401K contributions.  My thinking was, I needed to come up with another source of revenue and did not want to borrow from friends or family and they bank would probably only laugh in my face.   You do what you have to do and move on.  The juggling act will commence once again in 2014 when my youngest ventures off to college but at least this time I feel more secure…..I think…..I hope….I pray.

    • avatar Kriss says:

      I have to agree w/ you.
      I don’t have a problem w/ him asking for her to sign a loan agreement for the $1400, that’s just being smart w/ your money.
      I’ve re-read her letter & from what she wrote in the first couple of paragraphs, she’s gone to him for money on at least two occasions & he’s given her some good advice on how to straigten out her finances which she chose to ignore.
      granted he’s ruined several marriages in the pursuit of money (she wrote “former wives” not “former wife”) & I doubt any marriage is going to happen between them but she’s the one who sounds like she expects him to just give her money because he has it & yet Margo calls him all kinds of insulting names.
      I’m really disappointed w/ Margo lately.  she seems to be way off her game & I wonder if she’s under stress or if she’s ill.

      • avatar TheTexasMom says:

        Yes, calling him a “stingiest, skinflintiest SOB” was a very over the top reaction in my book. It’s his money to do with as he pleases, right or wrong.

  2. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  I’m not sure if the letter is real or not, but the man could very well have asked her to sign a mortgage type instrument which he then recorded with the register of deeds similar to a 2nd mortgage taken out often for home repairs or such from banks or other lending institutions.  This is not a judgment lien but is, in effect, a lien, in that she cannot sell the house without paying off the loan just as she cannot sell her house without paying off her first mortgage.  I am not going to be so hard on the guy for how he handled this situation as $1400 is not a paltry sum to loan someone who is living on a shoestring… as the LW must be if she needs to borrow $145 from him now. The relationship could fall apart, and he could be left holding the bag but maybe I watch too much Judge Judy. Or maybe the LW thinks that he owes her for services rendered and there is a name for that.    I’m more perplexed why she is engaged to a man who is so focused on his career that it has ruined a marriage and his relationships with his children.  Why did you think you would be treated any differently and why are you surprised when you are not? 
    On the other hand, if the LW was writing us and telling us that she had a fiancee who had no savings and was asking her for basic financial support, we would caution her that he sounds irresponsible and tell her to take steps to protect herself (like getting an IOU and security) before loaning him substantial amounts of money.   And, while the LW’s fiance may have done other things constituting *stepping all over people for profit*, I don’t think wanting to document a loan qualifies as such.  Nor do I think asking for a loan indicates selfishness.  But the funny thing is…when you ask people for money…you open yourself up to them telling you how to spend your money.  Sort of like adult children who take money from their parents and then complain because the parents criticize their spending habits. 

    • avatar Toni Jean says:

      BINGO! Completely on the money! Also the LW can borrow against the 401k instead of looking to others. That way she is loaning herself the money and doesn’t feel demeaned or need anyone’s approval. Neither a borrower nor a lender be. Also if he did log a lien she needs to obtain a sign off on it having been paid off and also log – or she’ll have issues if she sells her house.

      • avatar JCF4612 says:

        Bingo Buns, borrowing against a 401K is NEVER a good idea unless the circumstances are dire, and generally not even then. 

        • avatar John Lee says:

          LOL, the idea that “borrowing against a 401k is never a good idea” is as sound of an advice as real estate is always the most solid investment you can make.
          There are ALWAYS exceptions to the rule against borrowing from 401k.  While it is GENERALLY not a good idea, there are situations where it is a good idea.  For example, when the stock market is sky high, say in 2001, or in 2007, and you borrowed from your 401k, you probably saved a HUGE amount of money.  In fact, looking at the S&P 500 now, it’s at an all-time high as well, so borrowing from your 401k may not be a bad idea at all right now IF you NEED the money.

          • avatar Kriss says:

            he didn’t tell her to borrow from her 401k, he told her to stop paying into her 401k.  most financial advisors would offer the same advice.  it’s only temporary.  you’re not stopping paying into it forever, just until you can get a handle on your finances.

          • avatar JCF4612 says:

            Kriss, yes you’re right. Could be she’s been maxing out way over her company match. Not too smart if she’s got constant cash flow problems.

          • avatar JCF4612 says:

            Sorry, John. Check with credentialed experts and you’ll see the error in your thinking. And don’t forget the penalties involved in such loser loans if you’re under age 59 1/2.  

          • avatar TheTexasMom says:

            I’m not quite sure of any penalities involved in a loan aganist your 401K as you are not actually withdrawing the funds.  The biggest thing is you are not getting any interest on the loan amount until you pay it back.  Worse case is if you lose your job and don’t have the means to pay back the loan then it would be considered a withdrawal and that is when penalities kick in if you haven’t reached 59 1/2.  But as with most thing, I’m probably off base. 

          • avatar JCF4612 says:

            Downsides: To loan to yourself from your own 401K, you typically must begin paying back the loan during your next pay period, most often by automatic deduction from your paycheck. Unless you use the dough to buy a home, you must pay back over five years or less.
            The money you pull out for your loan won’t be invested, so forget about gains until you get it paid back.
            You’ll also have negative tax situation. When you pay back your loan, you’ll do so with post-tax (after-tax) bucks. That means a $100 loan repayment reduces your take-home pay by $100.
            Then when you take the money out of your 401(k) plan during retirement, you’ll pay tax on the same money again.
            Plus, if you lose your job or quit your job with your current employer, your entire loan is typically due within 60 days. If you don’t have the bread to pay it back, the entire amount you can’t pay is classified as a distribution, likely to be subject to significant federal income tax, state income tax, and early distribution penalties.  

  3. avatar Cindy M says:

    L #1: If this is a real letter, ditch him. And why so surprised by his money-grubbing attitude? He put it before his 1st wife and kids; he’ll do the same to you.
    L #2: I never tip carry-out, have never heard it discussed as being wrong or whatever. There is just the 1 interaction; no waitstaff coming by a table to see if you need a refill, another napkin, etc.

    • avatar Kriss says:

      that was “wives”  plural.  he’s ruined several marriages from being a workaholic.

  4. avatar JCF4612 says:

    1) Something’s phony here, the situation you’ve outlined, your fiance or quite possibly you.
    As Margo says, you don’t “give” liens. Suze Orman would applaud the IOU for the loan. But if this lout saw how steamy your home was, and he should have gifted the air-conditioner without being asked. As for insight on focus, you need to concentrate on getting this lout out of your life. 
    P.S. What were you hitting him up for with the $145 request?     
    2) I tip 20% or more at restaurants and for delivery. But it will be a cold day in July when I  tip a cashier to pull salads from a cooler or a pizza from a warming oven when I’m doing the pick-up.     

    • avatar Kate Olsen says:

      Having worked as a waitress for several years, I wonder why people feel pick up is different.  We still have to prepare the meal, wrap the bread, place the salad in a to go container, make sure any condiments are packed along with plastic silverware and napkins and bag it all up.  All of this takes time and is done by the servers, not the cooks or the owners.  While we are doing all of this, it also takes time away from our sit down customers.  Yes, it is a bit less work than bringing plates to a table but it is still time and work.  I feel 10% is very fair.  And of course, pizza or fast food is an entirely different thing than getting an entire meal or several meals.  I would never tip at McDonalds or picking up a pizza. 

      • avatar John Lee says:

        Well, so you talk about all the work you have to do to prepare a pickup, but you won’t tip for picking up a pizza?
        They have to fold/unfold the box, take the pizza out of the oven and put it in the box (often the cook and the server is the same person at a pickup place), put plastic utensils, napkins, parmesan cheese and pepper, then bag it while getting your change.
        By your own measure, seems like they deserve a tip too.  Heck, by your measure, McDonalds and every place gets a tip.

        • avatar martina says:

          Generally, wait staff get paid less than counter people because wait staff are expected to get tips and are taxed on expected tips.  Counter people generally get at least minimum wage. I worked in a bakery and would be baffled on the few occassions that someone would tip me as to why they were tipping me as I was doing what I was paid to do.  This was before the tip jars started showing up on counters.  I do not tip counter people as they are getting paid to do what they do and are not paid a wait staff’s wage. 
          I had never thought to tip when picking up at a restaurant (but then I very rarely ever do) and never thought of it as taking up the wait staff’s time and so, should I ever pick up from anything other than a take out restaurant, I will make sure I leave a tip.

  5. avatar D C says:

    I will never be rich unless I win a huge lottery, and maybe that’s why I always tip, even for carry-out.  I frequent two particular small restaurants near my work almost weekly.  I’ve gotten to know the people at the carry-out window because of it, and they always smile and speak in a friendly way when they see me coming.  Part of that is because I’m always nice to them and part of it is because I usually am easy — ordering the same thing.  But a big slice of it is because I tip when most people don’t.  The lady who takes my order at the TexMex place has a husband with a brain tumor, and I can tell the days when she hasn’t slept the night before.  Her life is falling to pieces (he’s terminal), but she’s there most days.  My $2 on a $10 order is needed by her and others who do that same kind of work.  If they had the skills to do the job I do and could make more money, they would.  Obviously I’m one of those damned liberals, so happy to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves.  But those people ARE working and doing the best they can.  And so am I — and I am blessed in so many ways.  If I can’t tip 20% on a meal, however it is delivered to my hands, then I stay home and make it myself. 

    • avatar Deeliteful says:

      DC:  I agree with you and have similar experience with places where I tip the person who hands me my order. I lost my well-paying job 2 years ago and am living off savings. I am blessed to have had the savings and even though I no longer eat out as much, I’m generous with tipping my servers. I may one day be in her shoes.

  6. avatar Donna Sampson says:

    lw1…ditch him….quickly. He sounds like he has his multimillions because he never spends money. He’s lost one family over it already, why would you be any different?
    My mother is like this. She is probably the world’s biggest miser. I could tell story on top of story about my miserly mother while I was growing up. I only got 5 new school outfits per year….and I had best take care not to tear them while playing at school. These outfits came from the cheapest dollarstore type of store she could find. I got 2 pairs of shoes….one dress and the other tennis shoes for gym class. I had best take care not to wear them out. Birthdays and Christmas gifts were clothes and 1 toy. I could understand if we were poor, but my dad was military and mom worked in the operating room in a hospital. A two income family during the 70’s…we were doing ok. When dad retired, she was a 4 year rn and he had his retirement and another job income. I still had to follow the same clothing “rules” even though they were both making more money than before. 
    Now she talks about how proud she is of creating a child who didn’t “need” things like other kids. She didn’t care about the ridicule I received from other kids because of how I dressed. She bragged that she didn’t retire until she had saved a million.
    My daughter wanted to attend a short school that didn’t offer student loans. We didn’t have the money to outright pay for the school at the time, so I told her to go to the bank for the loan. Instead she talked to my mother about it. Even though my mother has never loaned me or either of my children money, my mother decided to loan her the money even writing out a contract that described a payment schedule that was notarized. The cost was $2000…a drop in the bucket for my mother. As soon as we got our income tax refund she was paid off. I don’t want to owe my miserly mother or else I would never hear the end of it, even though it was my adult daughter who borrowed the money she would still consider it my loan.
    I say all of this because the letter writer could very well be real. There are some people out there that love their money much more than they love their family, as sad as that seems.

    • avatar lebucher says:

      As for Mr. Moneybags, if the letter is true, I suspect he’s had his fill of women who hit him up for money so he is using a different tactic.  The $145 seems pretty inconsequential but her hitting him up for $1400 several years ago is quite another thing.  I have had a decade of living at poverty or near-poverty levels yet I did not hit boyfriends, friends nor parents up for money… just would not think of it.  I managed on my own.  There are women who sacrifice their financial well being to bail out their kids time and time again, and if they wish to do so power to them, but don’t then expect someone else to cover YOUR expenses.  My fiance had that exact issue with his ex-GF and he put a stop to it.  She made the same $$ as him but kept covering her adult childrens’ excesses… then demanded money from him to cover her own. 
      Donna, my mother similarly rationed school clothing and shoes, 5 outfits and 2 pair, and demanded we take good care of them.  Ditto with groceries and luxuries.  I did not think anything of it at the time because I knew she was struggling to get by with raising 3 girls, mostly alone, and with little in the way of salary and child support.  I will never hold it against her.  She got a late start on retirement savings but diligently saved and thanks to the run-up of stocks in the 80s she was able to retire around age 60 or 62.  I do not hold this against her.  We 3 girls grew up self sufficient and good money managers… so much better than some other kids who let money fly thru their hands and still cannot keep ahead of bills.

      • avatar Donna Sampson says:

        I know that her behavior made me more independent, but there is a difference between learning to spend wisely and being miserly. I taught my girls that it’s ok to buy something of a slightly higher quality and it’s ok to wear clothes that help you fit into society, just try to get it on clearance or on sale, and don’t have a closet full of things you don’t need. I remember when I was about 13 or 14, my aunt had bought me a shirt from a store that was located in the mall. This store was on the level of Dillards. My mother folded the bag it came in, kept it, and treated it like it was a prized possession. When I was that age, I was brainwashed into believing only wealthy people shopped there. When I was married and away from home, I realized how people shopped there on a limited budget….they watched for sales and looked at the clearance rack. My mother wouldn’t have even considered walking into the store to even look at the clearance, even though you can buy clothes from there on clearance for less than you can at the dollar store if you watch the racks carefully.
        The interesting thing now that she is 70 years old is that she is obsessed with buying from the Goodwill store in our area. Now, I have nothing against that, and I have even purchased many  items there myself, but when she hoarded 56 pairs of blue jeans and 25 pairs of capris, 2 closets full of church dresses, and 1 closet full of everyday wear, I told her that was enough! She has problems and she doesn’t realize it. But, her habits have cost her from being close to her family because everyone knows that she is more concerned with keeping people away from her money than loving her family. None of us are expecting her to spend on us, nor do we feel that she must spend her money to show us love, but there is a difference in letting someone pull their own weight financially, and hoarding money. She’s falling into the hoarding money category. Maybe she will learn that she can’t take it with her.

    • avatar sdpooh says:

      Donna, I am the oldest of 4.  We all got 5 outfits, 2 shoes.  But, when I got old enough to want more I used my $5 a week allowance plus keeping score at the bowling alley (a lost art nowadays) which netted me another $7.50 a week.  With this princedly sum of $10.50 I bought lunch(I ate light), makeup, records, put clothes on layaway and paid by the week, and other things a teenaged girl MUST have.  This was in the mid ’60s, but I learned —do I need it or do I want it— Lessons that have stood the test of time.  I don’t buy the latest fads, I buy stuff that lasts,  I think twice.  Maybe more parents need to teach their kids that money is earned and how to budget it.     

  7. avatar voiceofreason says:

    LW1, I wish my multi-millionaire fiance would have the balls to ask me to sign an IOU for $145! I would not have asked for it in the form of a loan, I would have just said that I need some money, period!

  8. avatar Jennifer juniper says:

    There is something a bit odd about that first letter.  I realise that sometimes the bar is set a little differently when we’re older and looking for mates, but I’m really not sure what would be keeping these two together.  Whether or not this guy is a total SOB miser jerk or simply someone that is careful with his money around someone that actually has not been so wise, the dynamic between them is all wrong.  Perhaps he didn’t call her ‘selfish’ but she seems to think that someone IS calling her selfish for wanting a helping hand.  That’s an odd choice of words. I really don’t know anyone that would describe her life as she has said it is, as selfish. 
    There is too much missing from the letter.  Is this advice given somewhat contemptuously?  Or is it just a loved one trying to help in the way that he thinks matters?  I don’t think there is anything wrong with asking for an IOU for a loan, but there is something wrong with having to beg to borrow $145 from your multi-millionaire fiance, whom you have been with for 5 years?  ( BTW- 5?  What’s up with that?)  Maybe she didn’t have to beg, but she’s sure reacting as if she feels she did.  The woman obviously feels that she is being shamed by this man and his money.  She needs to sort out if that is coming from herself or him. 

  9. avatar BeanCounter says:

    REALLY?   LW1 was a men vs. women’s perception letter?  oh brother.  

  10. avatar JulMarieP says:

    Margo, I agree with you.  This is less about the money, sound financial advice, or her spendthrift or not ways than it is about his spirit.  How do you watch someone you love (as he should since they are engaged) struggle in a small financial way and not be generously willing to help out? 
    Sorry but $1400 and $145 is well in the range of normal gift amounts even for upper middle class much less for a “multi-millionare”.  He probably drops these amounts weekly on stuff for himself if he really has the money.  Why isn’t he helping her out, especially since she apparently hasn’t asked for much or often.  He sounds like he has no depth of compassion or generosity for people he supposedly loves. 
    This isn’t going to be popular either but if this letter is real, it sounds like he is creating a classical case of building up for psychological abuse if not already there since he has her doubting herself and what she believes about herself (that she isn’t selfish).  She needs to move on as she’s never going to get the love and support she needs and deserves from this man. 

  11. avatar NevelC says:

    I disagree with Margo too.  The fact that the significant other is a “multi-millionaire” does not obligate him to be the lady’s personal bank.  Just the fact that she throws this out right at the top smacks of entitlement and makes her sound like a gold digger.
    Unless he specifically promised to take care of her financially at this stage in their relationship, she should plan and expect to take care of her own expenses.  And, if this means she is going to hold him in thinly veiled contempt (“…there’s a perception that men are focused when they step on others for profit”), while she thinks of herself as the saintly femme self-sacrificing MARTYR, then she should just set him free to find someone who appreciates him for who he is and who isn’t expecting an ATM machine with a manly appendage.