On The Early Show Tuesday, financial author and radio show host Dave Ramsey answered questions from viewers in those so-called "blended families."
He remarked to co-anchor Rene Syler that a lot of "power plays" occur in blended families, with "a lot of extra emotions, a lot of family stuff you talk to your marriage counselor about going on. But what happens is that money gets draped over the top of those things, and the power play becomes a money play."
They key, Ramsey stressed, is "lots and lots of communication, lots of hugs. Don't let the 'Cinderella Syndrome' set in, where stepmom is evil and all that stuff. Don't get into that mess, because kids will try it. They try it in those of us who don't have blended families!"
The first letter is from Daniel, who writes: "My new wife sometimes has a hard time accepting certain expenses of my two kids. She thinks their mother should be helping out more. Any suggestions?"
"These are the kinds of things you've got to settle on the front end, going in," Ramsey responded. "If you're not Daniel, if you're someone who's getting ready to get married, then you want to sit down for sure and go ahead and lay those things out. Say, 'This is part of my life. The kids are part of my life. The ex is part of my life,' usually. Now, in this case, probably, those kids aren't at home. We don't know that from the letter, but they're probably staying with his ex. So just sit down in the budget and say, 'What is an appropriate amount that's reasonable,' and come to an agreement in advance and then stick to that. Don't let the guilt trips twist you and go over just to try to make everybody OK."
Syler pointed out that, in many instances, non-custodial parents feel guilty and send money to kids as a result.
"There's a lot of guilt spending" going on, Ramsey agreed. "But I had a dad tell me one time, he said, 'I tried it for years, but you can't spin your way out of guilt.'"
Larry writes: "I divorced after my children were grown, and they do not live with me and my current wife. We do have her children living with us at the moment. Statistics show my wife will outlive me. How can I be assured that, on her death, my children from my first marriage will receive my inheritance?"
"Well, that's called a will," Ramsey pointed out. "Everyone needs a will, and you need to update your will any time you have a major change in family status. When he got remarried, you immediately sit down and re-do the will. You can do whatever you want with your money, but most people in that situation would leave some to the new wife and some to the kids from the previous marriage. The percentages are up to you. But do a will, do it over, update it frequently. If you leave them money in a will, it's done.
"Everyone over 18 and breathing should have a will. There's other things (than money) involved, like kids, for instance, and little things. It just helps the legal process go through while you're dealing with the grieving of losing someone."
Andrew's note says: "Within the next year, my wife and I will not be dependent on child support we receive from my wife's first husband. Should we view the child support as the child's money, investing that money until the child is old enough to use it wisely, or do we use it to support the child now?
"They're supporting their children," Ramsey said. "When you buy a car, you give them transportation. When you buy electricity, they have heat. Child support is part of the household budget. It's OK to blend it into the budget, but if you have extra room in the budget, everyone blesses their kids by saving for their kids. This extra child support, free and clear, in effect flows through the budget and can end up in a good mutual fund for the kids."