It’s getting hot, which means our electricity bill is about to skyrocket. And that leaves me very, very worried. Not so much about the main house. We’re actually keeping it between 80-82 (sometimes a little warmer) and have been pretty comfortable.

No, the problem is the guest house, which just refuses to cool down. So Nadine and Marc got a portable A/C unit. And, in the first two weeks they used it — when it wasn’t even all that warm out — our electricity bill went up by $30.

So I shudder to think what the bill is going to be as the temperatures continue to rise. More importantly, I shudder to think how much of the electric bill we’ll have to pay.

Up until now, Nadine’s been giving me $50 a month. I wasn’t thrilled with it, but they were still trying to pay us back. So I didn’t make a fuss. But that’s done, and I’ve told them we’ll need to get more money for the bills.

I’m just not sure how much more. I need to come up with a percentage — no more set dollar amounts, that’s just so far from fair it’s laughable — that seems fair.

Tim’s worried about their budget. I am to a certain degree, but I’m also tired of our taking the brunt of costs to shield them.

I’ve spent the past year upending our financial stability for them. First, we bought a house a year or so earlier than planned. Then, we had to front them $2,000 to move everything down here.

I don’t want to destroy their budget, but I’m tired of sacrificing our financial stability for theirs.

We may bring in four times as much as they do, but we have more expenses and, perhaps more importantly, we NEED an emergency fund. And a savings account. By not shoring up our finances, we’re putting all of us at risk.

So, what’s a fair amount?

Honestly, if I had my druthers, it’d be 50/50. Why? Because I’m pretty sure they use MORE than half of the electricity around here, even without accounting for the A/C usage.

TV is their main form of entertainment, and they each watch different shows. So, no exaggeration, 12-14 hour a days, they have two TV sets running.

Meanwhile, Tim and I mainly watch TV at night. If our set is on during the day, it’s rarely for more than an hour.

I do have the computer on too much, whereas sometimes Marc and Nadine have theirs turned off. Still, I just don’t think any of that makes up for the double-drain boob tubes.

But they do make significantly less than we do. Also, we don’t want to penalize them for their place being harder to cool. They have no control over that. So 50% is probably out.

Tim suggested 1/3, since that’s about how much of the total square footage the guest house takes up. That would be his maximum. Problem is, that’s my absolute minimum. And a grudging one that that.

I’m betting that getting something other than a flat rate will help ease my resentment a little.

I know this situation and the resulting resentment is partially my fault for not addressing any of it sooner. The grown-up thing to do would have been to sit down and show them the bills and point out that it wasn’t fair for us to shoulder this much of the utilities. And to review their budget until we found a fair amount everyone could afford.

That’s what we should have done.

Then again, they’re adults too, and they’ve been more than happy to keep their head buried in the sand about exact amounts. They’ve yet to even ask how much their TV service tacks on to our bill. $30, by the way.

I also pay $79 a month for Internet, but I write that off as a work expense. So I don’t expect anything from them for it. That said, all up our regular utilities, our TV and our Internet and you’re looking at over $500 a month. And they’ve been giving us $50.

No wonder I’m so pissy!

I could really use some suggestion, folks. About what a fair share would look like. Not about learning how to talk about uncomfortable money issues. I have a therapist for that.

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Time Management Revisited | Funny about Money
April 29, 2012 at 8:23 am

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sherie April 25, 2012 at 10:57 pm

I would recommend that any upgrade made for them to a service you already had or wanted should be on your in-laws shoulders (i.e., $30 for television). Also, any service that is used strictly because of them or for them is their expense as well. Water, gas, electric and the like is a little more difficult. Perhaps your in-laws would be open to paying a percentage based on square footage with extra thrown in since they are getting a discount as an add-on to some services you already have, which is a cost savings to them.

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2 Guest April 26, 2012 at 9:01 am

Given they're on a fixed income, what are their fixed expenses? By that, I mean Medicare supplemental insurance premiums (if any), prescription costs, car insurance (if any), and so on. As Sherie wrote, $30 for television service seems a reasonable "fixed" expense for them, too. How much does it cost (if anything) for phone service to the guest house? That should be a "fixed" expense. As landlords, which you and Tim actually are in a sense, water and garbage could be covered by you, but 1/3 of your electric bill may NOT be fair (to you and Tim) if their usage is considerably higher than yours. Especially as cooling costs in AZ can be steep. The bigger question is if they have enough left over after "fixed" expenses to pay according to their usage. If not, you may have to settle with 1/3 and get them to practice some energy saving habits.

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3 Guest April 26, 2012 at 9:08 am

Oops, I forgot to mention… where I live (central CA), there's a weekly senior food program that most local grocery stores and the Farmer's Market contribute to. With ID verifying both residency and senior status, local seniors can go once a week to the center and pick up fresh produce, breads, non-perishables, and even (occasionally) meats. If your area has a similar program, it could help your in-laws out quite a bit–not to mention free up some of their budget to cover other things like 1/3 or more of the electric bill. Check with your local Senior Center.

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4 Laura P April 26, 2012 at 9:13 am

My in-laws live with us. They only get social security and never had an IRA, or 401 K. So, as with your in-laws, mine only get a small amount and have medical bills, prescriptions, and their snacks, food, cigarettes (won't stop no matter how much we ask) ,etc.

We pay all the utilities- electric for heat in the winter, and the air conditioner in the summer, cable, internet, etc.
They do pay for their cell phone, and they have a small truck that is payed for. They pay for their gas, but have occasionally asked for money if they run out before the end of the month. I resent it. When the truck broke down last year, they had to borrow ours until they had enough to fix it.

We have them eat dinner with us every night too. They don't eat right if left to themselves so we make sure they get a good meal everyday.
Asking for your in-laws to pay a percentage should be OK.
We are in a place now where we have a savings account, so I don't want to break into it for them. It's for our emergencies. I feel so much better with it….make sure to get yours going.
You are so right to make sure you and Tim are taken care of for emergencies, as you are the ones taking care of everything.

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seattlegirluw Reply:

Laura,

Sounds like we're in similar situations. Or will be, once the in-laws get a car. It'll be great not to have to drive them anywhere but I foresee most of their money going to gas, insurance and auto repair, especially since they won't be able to afford anything all that new.

I will say that my MIL cooks 2-3 nights a week. So we actually eat better because of them, whereas it sounds like yours is the reverse situation.

I do hate that they have cell phones. Their excuse is the cost of cancelling but compared to the $70ish a month they waste on a plan they barely use? It's just silly.

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seattlegirluw Reply:

Laura,

Sounds like we're in similar situations. Or will be, once the in-laws get a car. It'll be great not to have to drive them anywhere but I foresee most of their money going to gas, insurance and auto repair, especially since they won't be able to afford anything all that new.

I will say that my MIL cooks 2-3 nights a week. So we actually eat better because of them, whereas it sounds like yours is the reverse situation.

I do hate that they have cell phones. Their excuse is the cost of cancelling but compared to the $70ish a month they waste on a plan they barely use? It's just silly.

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5 Emma April 26, 2012 at 9:50 am

You know how on a plane they tell you that in an emergency you should put your own oxygen mask on before helping anyone else put theirs on? Well, in this case, you and Tim have 2 dependants. Yes they are adults, and yes they make their own living. BUT, they are dependant on the 2 of you for maintaining a functional level of living and comfort since they were about to lose their home before your intervention. As the "parents" in this situation, you need to take care of yourselves first. Because all of the financial burden falls on you and Tim (because if they can't afford something, who do they come to?), the 2 of you should have your backup in place before helping them with anything further. Take care of your emergency fund, build up some savings, and maybe when you're on a better financial footing you can afford to cut them some slack on their share of bills. For now though I'd be charging them half for the power, and a standard fixed rate for the rest of the utilities. I don't think square footage even comes into it, as far as I'm concerned YOU provided the living space,

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6 Emma April 26, 2012 at 9:51 am

YOU made their living space habitable, YOU paid for them to get out of their dire situation and come and live with you. YOU are the ones who pulled them out of their financial hole. They aren't even paying rent! They should be willing to cooperate and willing to pay their fare share. If they aren't willing to make sacrifice to help you guys out (when you guys made so many to help them), I'd re-consider the whole arrangement. There are 4 people sharing that living space (even if they have their own little apartment), there should be 4 people contributing equally to running that living space. Do they pay you for gas and for mileage in your vehicle? I'm thinking they probably don't. I think it's more than fair to ask them to contribute half just for electric, and then ask them for the nominal fees ($30 for cable! what a steal!) for everything else. I just don't know how much more you and Tim can give before they bleed you dry. I'm sure they're great people, and I've sure you love them to pieces….but don't let that cloud you on the fact that they are, in fact, tenants and you are the landlords.

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seattlegirluw Reply:

Emma,

Actually, to be fair, they do pay us $200 in rent. Which IS based on square footage. I suppose I could just suck it up and consider that most of their contribution toward utilities.

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Emma Reply:

I wouldn't consider their rent as a contribution towards utilities at all. Their rent covers the fact that they are ALLOWED to live there, versus on the street. It goes towards the mortgage, it goes towards maintaining the property (like, if your sewer system backs up, are you going to be asking them to chip in for a plumber? I doubt it), and it goes towards insurance and property taxes. The utilities are an entirely separate entity – and you should definitely treat them as such. You are bending over backwards for these people (and they're his parents, I totally understand why) but you're losing focus on the facts while you do it, and you'll end up hurting for it in the long run. Do you want to put yourself and Tim in the position where you're going to be in the exact same situation 30 years from now, living with your own kids because you cannot sustain or support yourselves?

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Emma Reply:

The best time to really help yourselves financially is NOW. They should understand that. They should WANT you guys to put yourselves first so you don't end up like them. Help yourselves and you'll be in a better position to help them without sacrificing your financial stability. What if you got laid off next week? Are his parents going to be there to help shoulder the financial burden? If you lose your job or are unable to do your job for some reason (God forbid), what happens to all 4 of you? Be the "parent" and set boundaries and expectations for them to live up to, because a healthy financial outlook for you means security for everyone else.

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Emma Reply:

I wouldn't consider their rent as a contribution towards utilities at all. Their rent covers the fact that they are ALLOWED to live there, versus on the street. It goes towards the mortgage, it goes towards maintaining the property (like, if your sewer system backs up, are you going to be asking them to chip in for a plumber? I doubt it), and it goes towards insurance and property taxes. The utilities are an entirely separate entity – and you should definitely treat them as such. You are bending over backwards for these people (and they're his parents, I totally understand why) but you're losing focus on the facts while you do it, and you'll end up hurting for it in the long run. Do you want to put yourself and Tim in the position where you're going to be in the exact same situation 30 years from now, living with your own kids because you cannot sustain or support yourselves?

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Emma Reply:

The best time to really help yourselves financially is NOW. They should understand that. They should WANT you guys to put yourselves first so you don't end up like them. Help yourselves and you'll be in a better position to help them without sacrificing your financial stability. What if you got laid off next week? Are his parents going to be there to help shoulder the financial burden? If you lose your job or are unable to do your job for some reason (God forbid), what happens to all 4 of you? Be the "parent" and set boundaries and expectations for them to live up to, because a healthy financial outlook for you means security for everyone else.

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seattlegirluw Reply:

Emma,

Actually, to be fair, they do pay us $200 in rent. Which IS based on square footage. I suppose I could just suck it up and consider that most of their contribution toward utilities.

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7 Emma April 26, 2012 at 9:51 am

And who knows…when you guys actually get on a better financial footing and you can afford to give them a break, maybe they'll be so used to budgeting for those expenses that they'll be able to just move that amount over into a savings account.

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8 Heather April 26, 2012 at 11:15 am

Agree with Emma… You need to lookout for yourselves first…

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9 CandiO April 26, 2012 at 12:16 pm

"Also, we don’t want to penalize them for their place being harder to cool. They have no control over that."

I am going to ignore the aspects you asked folks to ignore (even if I think you need a more aggressive therapist) and just address this part.. . WTF? Really there is NOTHING in the world you could do to make the guest house more energy efficient? No weather stripping all the doors and windows, caulking leaks too big to weather strip, no using a programmable thermastat (if applicable), no attic fan, no ceiling fan, no box fans, no light (and therefore heat) blocking window treatments (in a freakin desert no less). None of that is within anyone's control?! If I were going to start somewhere, it might be with some of that stuff that IS within everyone's control and mostly the above aforementioned stuff is AFFORDABLE.

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seattlegirluw Reply:

CandiO,

In a previous version, which I had to cut down for sheer length, I did mention that they're going to invest in some sun shades. The HVAC guy we had come take a look said once the south-facing windows heat up, the in-laws are essentially SOL.

But they already have sun-blocking curtains on the inside. It's not doing much. And they have 3-4 fans running in a 450 foot space. We might be able to install a ceiling fan, but I'm not sure how much more that will do that so many fans aren't already.

Also, we'd have to pay for professional installation because we have no idea where the wiring is. AZ homes are infamous for no overhead lighting. So locating wiring would be anyone's guess.

At some point, I would love to get double pane windows. But right now I don't think that's very feasible, even for just the guest house.

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Guest Reply:

Can you/they have a swamp cooler installed?

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Guest Reply:

Can you/they have a swamp cooler installed?

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seattlegirluw Reply:

CandiO,

In a previous version, which I had to cut down for sheer length, I did mention that they're going to invest in some sun shades. The HVAC guy we had come take a look said once the south-facing windows heat up, the in-laws are essentially SOL.

But they already have sun-blocking curtains on the inside. It's not doing much. And they have 3-4 fans running in a 450 foot space. We might be able to install a ceiling fan, but I'm not sure how much more that will do that so many fans aren't already.

Also, we'd have to pay for professional installation because we have no idea where the wiring is. AZ homes are infamous for no overhead lighting. So locating wiring would be anyone's guess.

At some point, I would love to get double pane windows. But right now I don't think that's very feasible, even for just the guest house.

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10 Guest April 26, 2012 at 5:40 pm

A swamp cooler + ceiling fans in the main living area and bedroom can help cut cooling costs by nearly half. Since your in-laws are seniors (aren't they?) some utility companies will give an incentive rebate on installation. With fixed income, $200 in rent, whatever they pay for supplemental Medicare insurance, prescriptions and other expenses, they may be limited as to how much they can contribute for utilities, so cutting the overall costs might benefit all of you. It was good of you & Tim to take them in and provide a home. It's certainly trying at times, and absolutely (as a couple) you need to prioritize your own future. Again, as mentioned, check into senior programs/services/discounts for them. It will help YOU by reducing the load you and Tim are carrying.

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11 Lisa April 29, 2012 at 2:34 am

Can you borrow a kill-o-watt meter? Our energy company loans them out and then you can see exactly what uses the electricity. There's also films you can put on the windows to cut down heat absorption at Home improvement stores.

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seattlegirluw Reply:

Lisa,

I'm going to be borrowing one from our local library. That should give us a better idea of what kind of electricity bills to brace for.

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seattlegirluw Reply:

Lisa,

I'm going to be borrowing one from our local library. That should give us a better idea of what kind of electricity bills to brace for.

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12 Funny about Money April 29, 2012 at 7:09 am

APS charges about $5,000 to install a separate meter on a guest house — at least, so a friend who asked says. It might be worth checking on that.

Even though it sounds like a hit, if you're going to be renting out the guest house indefinitely — whether to friends & family or to real-life renters — it might be worth it over the long run.

Fifty bucks? Say what? My friend gets $450 for her backyard studio, which is nothing but a converted garage with a shower, a toilet, and a sink installed. Sounds like you're allowing your generosity to let these folks take advantage of you.

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seattlegirluw Reply:

Funny,

The $50 was for utilities, not rent. We're getting $200 a month for rent. Not fair market, but we also want them to get their own car. So it's a balancing act.

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seattlegirluw Reply:

Funny,

The $50 was for utilities, not rent. We're getting $200 a month for rent. Not fair market, but we also want them to get their own car. So it's a balancing act.

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13 Carrie April 30, 2012 at 6:00 am

I agree with Emma that you keep their rent as part of the mortgage, insurance, property taxes, etc and it should be separate from utilities. I think halvsies on the water bill is fair since you are both a pair, but I agree with Tim on the 1/3 – at least for the electricity bill. Are there other utilities to consider?

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14 homens ricos April 30, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Electricity bill will be rise twice before and that is the truth. It is like online dating when you meet an interesting person you can't resist to stop using your computer.

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15 Practical Parsimony April 30, 2012 at 7:42 pm

things to use:
subsidized housing
Lifeline for free cell for them
sometimes the telephone company will have compassion if YOU explain the problem.
trellis and vines over windows on outside to cool
plant small trees for future cooling
you get a tax break when you rent to relatives for less than fair value.
Check services for seniors at local senior center

Before tree and vines grow, plan to make something to block the sun from the exposed windows–anything painted white or with reflective foil on OUTSIDE of windowns.

You did a good thing, but remember–"you can ride a good horse to death." I think they will ride you to death if you don't hold them back.
Shift key works erratically here….grrr.
Your excuses for them are just as much a part of the problem as their excuses. Since you rescued them, I suspect they expect you will still be the rescuer.

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16 Jessie May 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm

No wonder you're pissy indeed! I actually think you've been a saint in this situation so far. The major issue, of course, is that your husband needs to get on board with you in making sure that his parents aren't taking complete advantage of you, which it sounds like they have been doing. If you are fighting over this issue, or swallowing your resentment in order to not fight, they are hurting your marriage as well as your finances. You are giving them a tremendously low rent; the least they can do is pay their other expenses fairly, including gas and milage on your car as another commenter pointed out. Were you not kind enough to allow them to live with you, they would have to come up with a way to pay their bills. They still have a responsibility to do so.

For the electric bill at least, borrow or rent some equipement and measure the actual usage in both your houses for a day or two. Your electric company should be able to offer some advice on how to do so. Then use these numbers to determine an accurate percentage and split the bill accordingly. Same for every other bill – whatever they are costing you, they should pay, no question.

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17 B.D. May 1, 2012 at 1:19 pm

If they are really running two tv sets for 12+ hours a day, you should make sure they are at least energy-efficient models that do not throw off a lot of heat, which would only make the guest house even hotter. (Same goes for light bulbs – you can get cheap $1 compact fluorescents here in California that are a little flickery but don't heat your house up at all). This plus some blackout curtains on the south facing windows ought to help somewhat.

But they should still be chipping in at least 1/3 of the electric bill now, and 1/2 if you can show them that their energy use is at least as high as the main house. They should also pay 1/2 toward the garbage, 1/2 toward the water, and at least the extra $30/month they add to your tv bill. If this total is more than they can handle, maybe you can give them a discount because they do some of the cooking (although it sounds like they do less than half of that, too), or "pay" them an hourly rate for doing cleaning, yard work, or other house maintenance tasks.

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18 Ro in San Diego May 7, 2012 at 10:27 am

Hi. I'm kind of a new reader to your post so I may not have the full story here. I have a few suggestions for you that may sound expensive but turn out to be cheaper in the long run. I had a room in my house that absolutely would not cool down. I purchased a solatube (please excuse the plug – I don't get anything for it) solar attic fan. This was the absolutely best investment I could have ever made. I can't swear to the exact number of degrees but the attic fan has cooled this room down about 10 degrees in the summer. Another item that really helped our electric bill was a programmable thermostat. My electric bills have never been lower! I hope this helps..

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19 Ross May 28, 2012 at 4:28 am

I would recommend that any upgrade made for them to a service you already had or wanted should be on your in-laws shoulders (i.e., $30 for television). Also, any service that is used strictly because of them or for them is their expense as well. Water, gas, electric and the like is a little more difficult. Perhaps your in-laws would be open to paying a percentage based on square footage with extra thrown in since they are getting a discount as an add-on to some services you already have, which is a cost savings to them. APS charges about $5,000 to install a separate meter on a guest house — at least, so a friend who asked says. It might be worth checking on that. Even though it sounds like a hit, if you're going to be renting out the guest house indefinitely — whether to friends & family or to real-life renters — it might be worth it over the long run. Fifty bucks? Say what? My friend gets $450 for her backyard studio, which is nothing but a converted garage with a shower, a toilet, and a sink installed. Sounds like you're allowing your generosity to let these folks take advantage of you.

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