How To Cope With A Family Member Who’s a Financial Burden

How To Cope With A Family Member Who’s a Financial Burden

Family bonds can be incredibly strong, but when money gets mixed in, things get complicated. It’s a sensitive situation when a loved one constantly needs financial help. You want to be supportive, but worry about draining your bank account or enabling bad habits. How do you navigate this without damaging your relationship and your own financial health? Here’s a guide to setting boundaries, offering constructive support, and knowing when to put your own needs first. Because sometimes, the most loving thing you can do is say “no”.

1. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room.

Pretending the problem doesn’t exist won’t make it magically disappear. It’s important to communicate honestly with your family member, even if it feels uncomfortable, WebMD advises. Sweeping financial issues under the rug only breeds resentment and makes the situation way worse in the long run. An open and honest conversation is the first step towards finding a solution that works for everyone.

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2. Set clear boundaries (and stick to them!).

You’re not a walking ATM, and that’s okay! Decide what level of financial support you’re realistically able and willing to give, and communicate those limits clearly. It’s okay to say “no” to requests that would strain your own finances. Setting boundaries protects your financial well-being and shows your family member they need to take responsibility for their situation.

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3. Figure out the root cause of the problem.

Are they terrible at budgeting? Did they just lose their job? Maybe they’re struggling with addiction. Understanding the root cause of their financial dependence helps you tailor the right approach. Once you know why they need help, you can find solutions that address the underlying issue, not just the temporary problem.

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4. Offer support, not just handouts.

Instead of constantly bailing them out with cash, empower them to become financially independent. This could involve helping them create a budget, offering job search assistance, or connecting them with resources like financial counseling. Teaching them the skills they need to manage their money in the long run is way more helpful than just throwing money at the problem.

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5. Don’t be their sole source of support.

You don’t have to shoulder this burden alone. Involve other family members in brainstorming solutions or look into external resources like government aid or social service programs. Maybe there are siblings or other relatives who can contribute financially or offer other forms of support. Sharing the responsibility can make things more manageable for everyone involved, Vox notes.

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6. Avoid enabling unhealthy patterns.

There’s a difference between being supportive and rescuing someone who refuses to help themselves. If their behavior doesn’t change, constantly fixing their financial problems can actually make things worse. Enabling unhealthy spending habits prevents them from learning how to manage their money responsibly.

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7. Be prepared for pushback.

They might get defensive or guilt-trip you when you change your approach to financial support. Remember, setting boundaries isn’t selfish – it’s essential for a healthy relationship (and your sanity!). Don’t let their emotional manipulation tactics guilt you into giving in. Stick to your guns and focus on what’s best for the long run.

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8. Suggest (don’t demand) professional help.

If you suspect addiction, mental health issues, or deep-rooted financial problems are involved, gently encourage them to seek professional help. These issues might be greater than your ability to tackle alone. A therapist or financial counselor can provide expert guidance and support to get them back on track.

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9. Avoid lending what you can’t afford to lose.

Be realistic about loans, and think twice before putting your own financial stability at risk. If you can’t comfortably consider the money a gift you might never see again, don’t lend it. Don’t jeopardize your own financial future out of guilt or obligation.

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10. Don’t feel obligated to co-sign.

Co-signing is a huge risk. If they default on payments, you’re the one on the hook financially, and it can damage your credit for years. Co-signing is a massive decision, so consider all the worst-case scenarios before agreeing. It might seem cruel, but refusing to co-sign could ultimately save your relationship from disastrous financial consequences.

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11. Refocus your conversations away from money.

Your relationship with this person should be about more than just money worries. Spend quality time together without discussing finances to help rebuild and maintain a healthy relationship. Let them know you care about them as a person, not just as someone you can hit up for cash. Show that your relationship isn’t just transactional.

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12. Practice saying “I can’t” or “Let’s explore other options”.

Saying “no” gets easier with practice. Have some alternate solutions ready to offer instead of simply closing the conversation with a firm no. Suggest helping them build a budget or offering guidance on cutting expenses. This shows you’re willing to help without offering a blank check.

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13. Remind them of their strengths.

People struggling financially often feel ashamed or worthless, which can make it even harder to climb out of their rut. Help them focus on their abilities and positive qualities to boost their confidence. Remind them that their current financial situation doesn’t define them as a person, and highlight their talents to empower them to find solutions.

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14. Know when it’s time to step back.

It’s heartbreaking, but sometimes you need to prioritize your own physical and mental well-being. If offering help is damaging your own finances or taking a serious toll on your mental health, it’s okay to set firmer limits for your own protection. This doesn’t mean you don’t love them, but you simply can’t pour from an empty cup.

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15. Take care of yourself.

Don’t neglect your own needs – financial or emotional. Dealing with this kind of stress can be seriously draining. Seek out support from friends, family, or even a therapist if it gets overwhelming. Prioritize activities that recharge you, whether it’s exercise, spending time in nature, or just a relaxing bath. You can’t truly help someone else if you’re neglecting your own health.

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16. Remember, love doesn’t always equal bailouts.

You can love someone dearly and still set boundaries to protect your own well-being. Tough love and healthy boundaries are sometimes the most supportive thing you can do. Remember, enabling their behaviors might feel like love in the moment, but it’s ultimately harming them and your relationship in the long run.

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Phoebe Mertens is a writer, speaker, and strategist who has helped dozens of female-founded and led companies reach success in areas such a finance, tech, science, and fashion. Her keen eye for detail and her innovative approach to modern womanhood makes her one of the most sought-out in her industry, and there's nothing she loves more than to see these companies shine.

With an MBA from NYU's Stern School of Business and features in Forbes and Fast Company she Phoebe has proven she knows her stuff. While she doesn't use social media, she does have a private Instagram just to look at pictures of cats.