There’s nothing worse than seeing a boyfriend or loved one struggle with debt, and there’s nothing you can do to help. Well, maybe it’d be worse to see a him struggle with an illness — yes, that would be worse. My sister spends till the cows come home, and leave again, and come back home again. She doesn’t think twice about racking up the credit cards with $200 jeans, $150 haircuts, and $25,000 vehicles. And it’s not like she has the money — she’s in debtor’s hell.
I’m the cheapskate money saver in the family; my biggest luxury is getting my hair cut for $20 at Family Cuts. So when my sister needs to borrow money, I have it and I lend it…but only because she’s paid me back every single time. We write down exactly how much she owes me and when she’ll pay it back. It works.
Are you the sister who saves, or the sister who spends? Are you dealing with loved ones who are struggling financially? Maybe these tips will help…
1. Figure out if you’re contributing to the problem.
Sometimes we enable our loved ones by protecting them from the consequences of their actions, or continuing to lend them money even when we know they won’t pay it back. This doesn’t help them solve their money problems – it actually keeps them stuck! For instance, if you lend money and they don’t use it to solve their money problems (by getting a job, stopping the habits that led them to debt, etc) — then you could be enabling them. Setting your boundaries is a “tough love” action: you have to decide to stop lending money, or only lend money with clear expectations (for example, that it’s repaid within six months).
2. Avoid lending money to loved ones.
Lending money works for some of us — but it bombs for others. Instead of giving cash or writing a check, find out what your friend or family member needs to survive, and help with that. For instance, you could buy groceries, pay the electric bill, give a gift certificate for gas or a tune up for the car.
3. Draw up a contract if you lend loved ones money.
In Tips for Lending Money to Friends or Family Members, I describe the best way to help your loved ones financially. Don’t just give them money. Make it clear that this is loan is for a specific purpose (eg, paying the bills for a month, taking care of medical problems, etc).
4. Find other ways to help your loved ones.
If your loved one is struggling financially because of job loss, then find practical ways to support her. Offer to babysit so she can look for a job, help her update her resume, connect her with employment counselors. Help her set and achieve financial goals, by creating a spending plan or budget.
5. Offer a hand up – not a hand out.
“Providing a hand up – not a hand out” is the motto of the Harvest Project, an organization in Vancouver, BC that I once worked with. The best way to help loved ones with debt is to give them the tools they need to help themselves. Help them regain their footing and pull their lives back together. Don’t take ownership of their problems no matter how bad, guilty, or sad you feel.
6. Take care of yourself.
“We, the family, are constantly having to help them financially, and it is starting to take its toll on all of us financially, emotionally and physically,” says Sharri, a “Quips and Tips for Achieving Your Goals” reader who wants to help her family member who is struggling with money and limited job options. You need to stay healthy, strong, and happy for your own sake. Make sure that you’re giving yourself the emotional and physical space you need to stay centered.
Helping loved ones with debt comes down to setting boundaries: you need to find ways to help, but not become enmeshed in or contribute to the problem! You also need to step back, look at the situation objectively, and think with your head…not your heart.