John D. Spooner is an investment adviser, author and novelist. His most recent book is No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons for Young Adults. Here, he responds to queries from advice seekers of all ages. Send your conundrums to


Well, I have news for you. Sooner or later a man has to make a choice: You or his mother. When I was first married, I’d call my mother every day. And she would often call my wife several times a week. One day my wife said to me, “Does your mother think I don’t know how to take care of you?”

“Why would you think that?”

“Because she calls me all the time when you’re at work.”

My wife was raised in a fairly laissez-faire household: It was up to you to sink or swim.

“I’ll take care of it,” I said. I called my mom and set the ground rules. “I’m married,” I told her. “You gave my room to my sister. She’s my wife, for better or worse. And she comes first.”

It sounds tough, but every family needs ground rules. Every relationship does too, if it’s going to work. Your boyfriend needs to understand this and make his choice. Anything that gets on your nerves about a love interest doesn’t tend to improve upon marriage. Let him know how you feel.

And tell him to put down the seat, too.


If you’re not a weirdo or potential stalker, I think it’s sweet. And I definitely believe in being different or original in one’s approach to people. Buy her the most vanilla, boring valentine you can find because it’s about what you write, not about the card. This is the essence of what you should write: Margaret, don’t be surprised, furious, offended or shocked. I’m just an old-fashioned guy, trying to make my way in a digital world. So, in my analog way, I’m just saying “hi” to warm up a cruel, freezing month.

Happy Valentine’s Day. A prelude to spring. We’re all looking for love, no matter where we’ve ended up.


Sometimes in life, we have to do things that are good for us, even though we feel we can’t do it or don’t want to do it—like eating broccoli or eggplant, or going to the ballet or the theater, or being nice to your little brother or sister. Or saving money. I’m not going to say something stupid like, “You’re going to retire someday,” because you can’t imagine that at this stage of your life.

I had a few jobs in college. One of them was great, working as a counselor for little kids at 25th-reunion celebrations. I would say to a fellow counselor, “Look at these people. I’ll never be that old, or look like that.” They were 46 or 47 years old.

Time gallops by. You have to force yourself to save something. And the 401(k) plan may be the best perk you’ll ever receive, because very often the company that employs you will match the dollars you invest with dollars of their own. Typically, saving 4 to 6 percent of your income really adds value to you and begins to build your own net worth.

Start investing in your own 401(k) as early as possible, even if you contribute the minimum allowed. Anything is a good thing. And you can raise your levels as you grow in confidence about your own future.


This needs an all-night discussion, not a sound bite. But here goes: Sadly, we only seem to learn lessons from the bumps in the road, not from the triumphs. My guess is that sooner or later you will have new relationships, and even the potential for happy ones. There are at least a million kinds of love out there, and probably no such thing as one person for one person, unless you’re a swan. But never think that people are going to be delivered by UPS. You have to be out there, even if it’s tough to do. We are social beings; we want and need other people. And no matter how soured you may feel, we actually all long for love, no matter your definition of this term. Get up and get out there. Not all guys are children. Just most of us.

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