Today’s post is somewhat of a continuation of last Monday’s post. However, this one is geared at helping family members with living expenses rather than end of life expenses. Additionally, I touch the difference between helping and enabling our loved ones.
I still stick to the basic rule that if you are convicted to help a family member financially, consider it a gift rather than a loan.
Gifts come with fewer expectations for both parties. Moreover, if you are gifting someone the money, you may be more inclined to be careful in considering how to help them.
That being said, I’ve thought of some ways, we can help family members who are struggling financially. These ideas will be more likely to make sure the money goes where it’s intended.
When Help is Not Help
With family members who are poor planners, it’s very easy to blur the lines between helping and enabling. Fortunately for me, my family members take care of their financial lives. Although, I have experience working with women in recovery where I need to be very cognizant of the line between helping and enabling.
So how do you know when help is not really helping? I believe that’s a simple answer. Basically, if the help provided postpones the other from learning how to be responsible for themselves it’s not helpful.
We all fall on tough times and that’s not what I’m talking about. If your loved one has fallen on unusually tough times and you are able to help, by all means, do it.
However, if they repeatedly display poor patterns of fiscal irresponsibility, giving them financial help may only delay them from learning how to change. One thing I know for certain is that we (humans) must experience our own consequences, to be inspired to change. This is how it was for me when I hit my bottom before becoming sober.
The Wealth Twins wrote an article about how learning to master our finances is actually a form of self-care. My plea with you is to take the time to practice careful consideration. Before you provide financial help to a family member who displays a pattern of poor financial stewardship, think and pray if your help will really only enable them to remain in this pattern.
None of this is easy and that’s why it’s called tough love. It’s probably the hardest thing we will ever have to do with our loved ones. There is a time to help and a time to step back and let them experience their own consequences. It’ll be incredibly painful to watch and they may even try to guilt you into “helping” them.
This is where you need to implement boundaries and stay firm.
Shari wrote a guest post in my inspiring women in recovery series (yeah, I know I need to start interviewing more women!!) that highlights how she practiced tough love. I highly recommend checking out her interview for a powerful example.
I believe that if someone is not managing their money well, it most likely is a symptom of a bigger issue. Although, if they were simply never were given the tools to manage their personal finances, you can always offer to teach them:
- How to budget
- set appropriate percentages for spending in the different categories
- Set up automation
- Build an emergency fund
- Formulate a debt payoff plan
- Set savings goals
If it’s truly a matter of them not knowing how they’ll take you up on your offer to learn these things. Why? Because when the student is ready, the teacher will appear (Chinese proverb). However, if their unmanageability is a symptom of something deeper, chances are they won’t stick to a plan until they deal with the root of the issue.
As I’ve said before, one has to suffer consequences and experience some pain and suffering before being willing to change. Nine times out of ten the best way to help is to let them experience the results of their life choices.
Safe Ways to Help
If at the end of the day, you’ve prayed and feel convicted to help, I’ve come up with several ideas of how you can help that loved one and hopefully succeed in the help going where you intend it to go…
Pay Bills Directly
If there is a concern of utilities being shut off, perhaps you can offer to pay some of these bills directly. You can even pay several months in advance. This can provide the family member with a cushion while they get their act together. Additionally, it may give you peace of mind that your loved one has heat, water, or electricity.
Another way to pay a bill directly is by paying several months of rent directly to their landlord and/or several months of their mortgage.
My recommendation here is to set an amount that you are willing to help with. Then communicate the amount with them (or length of months) and stick to it.
Buy Specific Gift Cards
Buying very specific gift cards to a gas station (for gas-only; Speedway has cards like this) or a grocery store is another way to streamline your help. I would advise against big-box grocery stores where they can buy gift cards though. The idea here is that you want to ensure your loved one has enough food to eat or gas to get to work.
Order Grocery Services
Perhaps you can buy your loved one a membership to Instacart which allows them to receive groceries delivered. This is currently a very useful way to help a family member who may be more vulnerable to COVID-19. Instacart Express is the membership option that allows the user to receive unlimited free deliveries for orders over $35. Additionally, orders can be comprised of groceries from multiple stores.
I was curious about this service and so I checked out the pricing:
- $99 for an annual membership
- $9.99 per month for a monthly membership
If you would like to provide more substantial help with groceries, you can consider a subscription to Blue Apron or Hello Fresh. As I understand it, food is delivered along with recipes for preparing meals. This might be a useful service if your loved one enjoys cooking and learning new recipes or just wants to learn to cook.
Open an Investment Account
If you are concerned about your loved one not having enough money saved for retirement. And if you are concerned their burden may become your burden, perhaps you can open an investment account for them.
You certainly can put it in their name and set them up with something simple like a target day retirement fund. Although, if they will be tempted to withdrawal the money early, you may want to consider keeping it in your name but making them the beneficiary. It can always be transferred to them at a later date.
Keep in mind that if you do the latter and are already maxed out on IRAs, you may need to open an after-tax account. If your loved one has no retirement account, putting it in their name will provide more avenues for tax savings, though.
I hope I’ve provided some valuable insights on ways to help your loved ones with their finances in very specific ways. If you have any other thoughts or ideas on how to help rather than enable please leave a comment for the good of all readers!
As you decide how to help your loved one, I highly recommend only giving them money you are okay with never seeing again. This will set you up with proper expectations. Moreover, really think, pray, discern, and even receive pastoral guidance on whether your help is actually helping them rather than enabling them.