That’s the sound of some people who I know falling flat on their faces. It’s also the sound of a lesson learned the hard way. And, in some ways, it’s the sound of a fair bit of guilt, but that too shall pass.
I’ve been sharing the stories of friends and family on this blog for years, as long as there is a financial lesson to be learned. I’m trying very hard to keep the anonymity of my friends and family going, so pardon me if I slip into third party jargon here.
It all began long, long ago. Some friends who I’m pretty close with have been helping their family members out financially for years. I’m going to say that this stretches back over twenty years. The parents had been financially supporting their grown daughter’s family – constantly bailing them out of financial woes time after time.
Once, the parents, who were retired and who should have been living the good life in their golden years, went as far as mortgaging their own home to ensure that the daughter’s family would be okay. There the parents were, elderly and paying a mortgage that should not exist, because a grown adult could not control their own finances.
Year-after-year this went on, and these same bad financial habits were passed on to the children. The children grew without a sense of individual responsibility. They had, afterall, watched the grandparents fund the lifestyle of their own parents their entire lives.
As things happen, the children come into a good bit of cash, but instead of taking care of their financial obligations, they chose to spend foolishly. They quit perfectly good jobs because they no longer needed to work, because this money, more than they had ever seen, would last for a long time.
Fast forward three years later and the money is gone. The children find themselves once again in a financial bind. What do they do? They look to the grandparents for a handout. This time though, grandpa has long ago gone to meet his maker and grandma is even more elderly and no longer in control of her own finances. Those in control say firmly, “No, it’s time to stand on your own feet.” The children are, after all, twenty and thirty year old adults who are fully capable of taking care of themselves.
The moral of this story is that sometimes you hurt someone by helping them too much. That old parable of teaching someone to fish holds true. If the individual who you are trying to help would rather eat only after you’ve done all of the fishing, cleaning, and cooking, then there is no helping them. Sometimes, they just have to go hungry.
If you find yourself helping the same people over and over again, and if they don’t seem to be learning a lesson, you are doing a disservice to yourself and you are reinforcing their behavior. Don’t be the one giving handouts all of the time. I know that it can be hard to watch someone fail, especially when you can help them, but sometimes it’s actually the best thing to do in order to make them learn.
If you’re on the other side and find yourself constantly needing help over and over again, stop being a leech. Evaluate how you come to be in the same situations time and time again. Remember, the people who you depend on might eventually tire of helping you and then you’re on your own.
Here comes the hate mail, but if you’re a stay at home parent, don’t depend on your spouse for 100% of your income either. I’ve seen this happen so many times where a stay-at-home mom is blindsided when the husband leaves. The last mom who I spoke with in this situation went from a six-figure income household to food stamps. Make sure that you keep your skills sharp and be on the lookout for something that you can do on the side as well. You never know.
Finally, if you’re helping someone financially, never lend money that you need to get back. Kiss that money bye-bye and say a prayer for the time that you spent together.