Today I am going to share tips and conversations for when other people need your money or financial help.
One day, I was working with a client, (we’ll call her Helen), who was in a bit of a financial pickle. Helen recently took on some of her parent’s monthly expenses, due to some painful circumstances beyond the family’s control.
Helen felt super conflicted about what to do and how to make it work. She obviously loved her parents and genuinely wanted to help, but it was causing her finances to spiral out of control.
Slowly, Helen was getting into debt, juggling bill payments to not overdraw, and starting to feel resentful. And, even worse, her money stress had started to put a strain on her relationship with her boyfriend.
She was looking to me to find a way for it to work.
While Helen’s story is all her own, the truth is that I regularly see people who are financially supporting others in some way.
- I’ve seen couples supporting parents overseas.
- I’ve seen elderly parents and grown children living together due to health and work circumstances.
- I’ve seen parents sacrifice their financial security to send their children to go to college.
- I’ve seen people help their siblings with monthly bills.
It’s remarkable how many ways our finances can be intertwined with those we love.
At first blush, it’s soul-satisfying to be able to support others. In many ways, we’re taught that’s just what you do.
Has this ever happened to you?
Here’s how the situation likely played out:
Someone humbled themselves before you, revealed a really intimate pain, and courageously asked you for financial relief. You responded in the only way you could—with compassion. You felt their pain and genuinely want to be the one to take it away.
Strengthened by your make-it-work attitude, you said, “yes, of course, I’ll help,” while your heart simultaneously whispered, “I’ll find a way to make it work somehow…I can do without A, B, or C for a few months.”
At first, giving them what they asked for felt like the only right answer.
What else were you supposed to do? Let them fall?
The reason we feel so compelled to help plays into the fact that women are natural-born givers.
This instinct comes from deep within our biology–from that genetic code that determined we were “future mothers.” Even if we never go on to have children of our own (out of desire or the circumstances of life), that sense of devotion to our loved ones runs deep.
And, even when we’re not necessarily ‘close’ to someone who needs financial help (say, an estranged relative), we can still feel some level of responsibility for the person’s situation and future outcomes.
So, when I see clients like Helen ‘giving’ themselves to the point of financial insecurity, I have an inner knowing as to why they’re doing it.
It just feels right.
As the giver, however, you must recognize the point at which self-sacrifice becomes financial self-neglect.
To keep the balance, remember the old airplane safety adage:
Put on your oxygen mask before assisting others.
What that means is that you must be able to sustain your present and future financial obligations before giving your money to others.
To that extent, give as you are able.
But if you can’t give money, try offering something else of value that will support the both of you.
Here’s a conversational script to try:
“I love and care for you so much, but the truth is that I’m not in a place to give financial help.
What I could do is, [offer another super specific way to help].”
You could continue that by saying something like, “here’s a book that’s helping me get my finances in order,” “if you’re interested, I can contact someone to see if there’s a job opening at his/her company,” or another really specific thing you can offer with your skills and talents.
In some situations, too, non-financial help may be an even better, more sustainable, long-term change.
But what if the situation is SO consuming that giving your financial support is the only option?
I do know there are situations where you literally may be the only financial resource for someone you love. For example, I work with a few clients who live with their elderly parents because, well, that’s the only option now.
It would be completely untenable for them to hire live-in help, pay for assisted living, etc.
In this case, there are a few thoughts:
- Communicate, Set a time to talk about money with all parties involved. That way everyone is “eyes-wide-open” to how they’re contributing. This should prevent resentment.
- Take a leadership role and set ground rules for your financial relationship. You may require that a child get a job, that you’ll review your live-in mother’s budget, or that you’ll give a certain allowance to the person you’re supporting.
- Do your research. If you’re providing the majority of someone’s care, you may be qualified for certain dependent care tax credits. You may want to talk to a financial planner about cash flow options (i.e. life insurance, annuities, mortgages, etc.) to help ease any financial burden on you.
- Accept that you may not make as much progress on your financial goals as you’d like. That’s okay! Life moves on, and there may be a season in your life where you need help and can turn to the person who helped you.
At one point or another, we’ll likely all have to financially support a loved one–may be a parent, spouse, sibling, or friend.
But remember, the ‘value’ of your relationship is a result of the love and loyalty you share–not the dollars you can give.