MoneySense Magazine, Dec/Jan 2010
An impossible choice
Samson and Laura have given to others their whole lives—they even donate $10,000 a year to charity. Now their investments have gone bad and they have to make a heartbreaking decision: should they put the kids through university, or support the mother they love?
This article was first published in the Dec/Jan 2010 issue of MoneySense.
Family means everything to Samson and Laura Vaez. And four years ago, it looked like they had it all. They were happily married, owned a lovely home in Winnipeg, and they had three wonderful school-age boys—Sam, Aaron and Jacob. Grandma lived nearby too. Both Samson and Laura had solid jobs: he worked as a dispatcher and manager at a small taxi company, and she worked part-time teaching night school. They were wise with their money, and over the years, the couple managed to save more than $200,000 in their RRSPs. They even paid off most of the mortgage on their $450,000 home. They felt secure and happy, and they had plenty left over to help those less fortunate then themselves, so every year they donated about $10,000 to several church-related charities.
But over the last three years, everything has changed. Samson, now 49, and Laura, 47, are finding their generous nature is tearing their comfortable life apart. In 2006, after attending some financial workshops, they made what they now realize was a terrible financial mistake, agreeing to put their life savings—more than $200,000—into four limited partnerships that invest in commercial and residential property. All of the partnerships ran into trouble and are now frozen. One is in bankruptcy, and another is being investigated for fraud by the provincial securities commission. “These investments may be worthless,” says Samson. “I knew they would be fairly illiquid—but we never imagined that we wouldn’t be able to sell them at all. How do you plan for that?”
Then, when they were at their most financially vulnerable, the Vaezes (whose names and other details we’ve changed to protect their privacy) were suddenly faced with a terrible decision. Like many other members of the sandwich generation, they were being squeezed hard by the simultaneous demands of looking after both their parents and their kids.
In addition to the regular costs of paying the mortgage and buying the groceries, the Vaezes have to take special care of their oldest son, Jacob, 16, who has suffered from an immune disease most of his life. Lately the cost of his weekly therapy treatments had been getting higher and higher. On top of that, the couple is supporting Samson’s 74-year-old mother, Jan, who lives nearby on just $9,000 a year in Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security payments. The Vaezes pitch in with $3,000 a year to help her make ends meet, and that money also indirectly helps Samson’s older brother Michael, 51, who lives with his mother in the old family home and helps to take care of her.
“We want to keep her in her own home as long as possible,” says Samson. “My brother works for a cleaning company and doesn’t make much money. My other two brothers are either in bankruptcy or in debt up to their eyeballs so they can’t help. We feel we have to do what’s right.”
Providing support for so many family members, plus donating $10,000 a year to charity, was already stretching them thin, but the final straw came earlier this year, when Samson’s mother slipped and fell on the stairs. She sustained serious hip and knee injuries that made it impossible for her to get to the second floor of her home, so Samson and Laura had to suddenly spend more than $6,000 to put a new bathroom on the ground floor. “Wherever we turn there’s another expense facing us,” says Laura. “And these are expenses that will be with us a long time.”
MoneySense Magazine, Dec/Jan 2010