One of the most rewarding things I’ve done with money over the years it to give a little to struggling family members to help them out. Sometimes I give to a college kid just starting out; other times I give to someone who’s going through a rough patch. It’s nice to see their reaction to the unexpected gift and I find it rewarding when they come back and tell me about the difference it made to them.
Granted, I’m blessed with a pretty calm family. I don’t have to worry that someone’s going to take my money and put it into drugs, alcohol, or prostitution or in other ways abuse the gift. I don’t worry that some crazy relative is going to get jealous and kill me because I gave to their sister, but not to them. Some people don’t have that luxury and I realize that giving money to family isn’t something that everyone is going to want to do. However, if it’s something that you’d like to do, here are some helpful hints.
Make it a gift, not a loan
Family loans are tricky. If it’s not paid back, there are hurt feelings all around. Even if it is paid back, the loan puts some strain on the family dynamic. You’re no longer an aunt or sister, but a banker. If your gift recipient wants to pay you back that’s fine, but don’t make it a requirement. Just make it a gift and let it go.
Don’t put restrictions on the money
While you might assume that the person will put the money toward a car that they desperately need, they may decide they need something else more. Once you’ve given the money you’ve lost control. If you try to dictate their spending you’ll just end up making everyone miserable. Give the money freely and smile no matter what they do with it. If they squander it, you’re under no obligation to give any more.
Don’t discuss it with others
It’s tempting to sit around at family gatherings and whisper, “You know, I gave her $1,000 and all she did was buy shoes.” Or, “You know, that $1,000 was a great investment in my niece’s start up.” Other people don’t need to know why you gave, how much you gave, what the other person has done with the money, or whether you’re happy or mad about it. Keep it to yourself because if you recipient discovers you’ve been talking about him or her, they’re going to resent it.
Don’t give if you can’t afford it
This is true whether you’re giving to family or to any charity. If you don’t have the cash to spare, don’t give it. You have to put your needs first. Giving to family is only fun if you aren’t endangering your own plans by doing so.
Look into non-monetary alternatives
If you can’t afford cash but still want to help out, maybe you can make some meals and freeze them for the struggling twenty-something, or you can loan a car to someone while they save up money to buy their own. If you’re very good with money, you can educate and mentor the person. There are lots of ways to help even if you can’t give cash.
Be clear in your own mind when you will give and when you will not
Once you give to one family member, chances are you’ll get requests (or not so subtle nudges) from others, too. You don’t have to say yes all the time. Just because you gave to one does not mean that you have to give to everyone. If you don’t feel comfortable for whatever reason (i.e., you’re pretty sure the person will blow it, you know the problem goes deeper than simply needing money, you don’t like the person, etc.), don’t give. Set your terms and conditions for giving in your mind and stick to them. You don’t have to explain or justify them to anyone else, but being clear in your own mind enables you to quickly say yes or no to requests.
(As an aside, I don’t generally respond to requests for money, although I’ve never come out and said, “I won’t give if you ask.” I prefer to spontaneously surprise people. If I see someone struggling, I’ll sometimes give out of the blue. This actually tends to keep people from asking because they realize their chances go down if they ask.)
Helping a family member get on their feet or get a start in life can be a rewarding experience. Few things are more satisfying than seeing someone graduate from college, start a business, or turn their life around and knowing that you had a part in their success. But it can also be perilous if your family members are prickly, crazy, or relationships are strained. Give if you want to, but also feel free to say no.
(Photo courtesy of GrowWear)