About three weeks ago, I had a long conversation with an old family friend who finds herself in a situation something like my own. In both of our cases, we are earning more than any of our siblings, and in both cases, we are the youngest sibling in a set of them. Since she’s substantially older than I am, I was asking her for advice on how to handle some of the issues that this causes – being the figurative “white sheep” of the family, in terms of being different in a good way.
Let me paint a picture of her for you to see, along with a few parallels in my own life; let’s call her Maggie. Maggie is the youngest of five siblings and her current salary is almost as much as her other four siblings combined. She lives about four hours away from her siblings, who all live fairly close to her parents. She’s about 40 years old. To parallel that with myself, I am the youngest of three siblings and my current salary is slightly more than that of my two older siblings combined; I also live about four hours away from my siblings, who both live fairly close to my parents, but I’m about 28 years old.
Here are a few key differences, however: neither of my siblings have ever asked me for a dime, though I did spontaneously (without request) aid one of my siblings in a serious pinch about a year ago. With Maggie, though, she has had requests from all of her siblings for money, though she said that the requests didn’t really start until she had been making good money for several years and everyone had become used to the fact that she was doing very well, which for me would mean that the requests would probably start a few years in the future.
What lessons did I learn from Maggie?
First, just say no. She loaned money to all of her siblings when they started asking, as she felt it was appropriate because she was in a better financial place. However, none of them ever bothered to pay her back a dime and the requests kept coming. She finally spent a day calling all of them and telling them that she wasn’t “lending” any of them another dime, and this resulted in some serious resentment that is still happening to a degree. Her advice? Never start, and if you have, call everyone and tell them that it’s over. If you don’t, they will “bleed you dry.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should shun them, either. Maggie advises to give on your own terms. She does a lot for her siblings, but only at her own discretion. She has given money to them, taken her siblings and their families on vacation, and other things, too, but only because she wanted to, not because she had to. She’s even been a financial angel a time or two, dropping a cash gift when it wasn’t requested but obviously needed. If they ask, though, she won’t do a thing.
She also suggests angel funds for nieces and nephews. Whenever a new niece or nephew has been born, she has started an angel fund for them that they don’t know about and put in a small amount each month. When will they receive it? It’s at her discretion – she’s bought cars on their sixteenth birthdays, paid for a year of college, and in one case helped by giving 10% of a house down payment. Why? Her family is really important to her and this is a way she can give to them when they really need it without any expectations.
In short, the best way to deal with family financial issues is to give on your own terms and never on their terms. If they ask for financial assistance, just give a very clear “no” and move on with life. If you don’t, they will consistently drag you down.