In Personal Finance, lots of topics stir up some serious discussion– nice and not nice. And that makes sense, because Personal Finance is… Personal. One of the topics that always made me sort of uncomfortable to read about is in regards to loved ones helping loved ones financially.
I think it is fair to say that the majority of the advice says if you care about a relationship, don’t give or loan them money because financial dynamics have an often devastating effect on relationships.
There have been many times in my adult life where I have needed, and received, financial assistance from loved ones. There have been a few times where I have provided financial assistance to loved ones as well but that’s not what I want to talk about today.
Today, I want to talk about what it’s like to be the loved one that needs, and receives, your help.
I’d like to start by pointing out the obvious– this is a personal story and a personal experience. I don’t think I am the universal representation of people who need and receive financial assistance. I speak for me.
Hmm… this is turning out to be harder to write than I thought. Oh pride, you silly monster.
The thing that I want to say is that receiving charity is not an easy thing to do. I feel like I really should say that and that I should try and explain that.
I have received a lot of charity in my life. There have been little things and there have been big things and there have been the things in between. To put it bluntly, a big reason my kids and I have what we have is not because of me or their father but because of the metaphorical village.
It is my family that arranged a deal with their friend so that I could live in a 3 bedroom home in Coral Gables next door to my Grandmother while paying the equivalent of a 2 bedroom apartment in West Kendall. It is my family that pays for my children’s private school tuition, that bought me the car after mine died, and that pays for my kids to go to Karate class. Most of my nice clothes is birthday and Christmas gifts. It is my family that pays for our annual winter trip. It is my family that chips in and contributes a significant amount to, or outright buys, the children the more extravagant of the gifts they ask for– Walt Disney World tickets, tablets, Nintendo DS systems, a laptop, etc. Not to mention, there have been instances in my life where we have been given significant gifts by close friends, acquaintances, co-workers, strangers, and anonymously.
I am trying to explain to you what a giant conflict of emotions that creates in me. On the one hand, there is a major amount of guilt, there is a feeling of inadequacy, and there is a bit of humility.
On the other hand, on the other much more massive hand, is this insane overwhelming sense of gratitude. I am lucky. And I know that I am lucky. And I do not take my situation for granted at all, I promise you that. I might not be the best at expressing gratitude, especially as my family tends to dismiss any attempt I might make at saying thank you, but I can tell you that I feel it immensely. My family’s generosity makes me cry a lot and often. My gratitude is wet and salty.
But it’s sincere.
Now, that is one aspect of charity– nice extras. But there is one more, and that is help when there is a crisis.
When things are a mess, when everything that can go wrong does and it all goes wrong one after another after another, I fall apart. I spend a lot of energy worrying and thinking and calculating and stressing and timing and counting and adding and recounting. I sleep poorly. I eat poorly. I cry a lot of the not good tears.
I keep those moments close. Or at least I try. I really try and not let anyone catch on to how dire a month (or YEARS) might be for me. I’ll make a joke or two, ha ha money sucks, and I am freaking out inside. Eventually, one of my parents will finally figure out what is going on. They’ll get me talking and they’ll get me to slip up and before I know it, it’s all pouring out of my mouth– a vocal vomit.
And when that happens do you know what they do? They help me. And I fight it. I beg them to please not do that. I explain to them that it makes me feel worse when they give me money. I tell them that I hate that I’m like this and their helping me isn’t a solution. I compare myself to others and feel that I have failed my parents and my children, that I am not living as I ought to be.
Recently, this happened. Crisis level was reached. Help was offered. And I was protesting again. I was pacing my bedroom on the phone with my father. I was raking my fingers through my hair shaking it crazily, working it into a stress-induced frizz cloud. I was telling him that I am too old for this and that I feel like crap when they have to step in and I just need to figure things out.
My dad starts talking. My dad is a social worker. My dad knows what to do. I used to get annoyed by that, but now I appreciate it. Here are some of the things my dad told me to help me be ok with accepting financial assistance from them (again) and so here are things you can say to someone you want to assist financially (caveat: you must mean them because we know if you’re lying):
- This is something they have the means to do. They ran the numbers, and this is the number they are offering because this is the right number for their budget. This is not putting any pressure on them financially at all.
- They want to do something to help and in their situation, giving financial assistance is actually the easiest way that they can help.
- They see it as an investment in me and I am their daughter and therefore any investment in me is worthwhile.
- They see it as an investment in my children and they are their grandchildren and therefore any investment in them is worthwhile.
- If I win the lottery, the offer is off the table. [Humor helps]
- I am not expected to pay them back. It is a gift. If later on, I wish to make them a gift equal to the amount of money they gifted me, they will not say no. But if they do say no, I am welcome to plan and pay for a family vacation that is equal in cost to the amount of money gifted to me and they will be happy to attend. [No really, humor helps a lot.]
- And finally, in regards to how crappy this made me feel: They want me to think about what is better for everyone and that is more important than how I feel about the idea. They feel better doing SOMETHING. My kids feel better when their Mom feels better. The boyfriend and I feel better when I am not anxiety ridden. So, I’m just going to have to take one for the team.
Far be it from me to advise you how to spend your money. But if you know someone who is struggling financially to the point it is taking a toll on them physically, mentally, and/or emotionally and you have without question the ability to give X dollars to that person, I want you to know they will most likely appreciate it in a way they will never be able to properly express and if they try they will most likely make a mess of their face and hair. I want you to know that you might very well open doors they didn’t know existed and that you might give a gift so much greater than a bill paid on time. I want you to know that you are a good person, a kind person, and that you are appreciated. Even if it’s not by the person you gave money to, I can guarantee you that you are the kind of person that is appreciated by at least someone, likely lots of someones.
One final piece of advice– if you want to help someone but are unsure how to do so without making things awkward, here are some ideas:
If you see the person physically, you can sneak it to them. You can slip cash or a gift card into a purse for instance. If it’s a co-worker, you can have a bunch of co-workers sign a card and then slip in extra money. You can leave it on their desk with a typed note and sign it Anonymous.
If you don’t see the person physically, you can still be sneaky. You can mail, or email, them gift cards anonymously for instance. If your detective work turns up an Amazon list, you can peruse it for things that seem more need-type things than true Wish List items and have them sent anonymously.
In either situation, take advantage of special occasions to pad their accounts if you can. Sure, a manicure can be very relaxing and a good mood lifter, but it’s not going to do as much for her as a well-stocked kitchen. So get her a mani pedi certificate but throw in a more significant gift card for the grocery store.
If the person has children, you can tell the person you opened accounts for them when they were born and you’d like to see if any of the money that you have been saving can be of service now that the kids are older. Offer to pay for a Summer Camp program for them or extracurricular activities. If they have kids, and they live close by, you can ask for the kids one day and take them shopping for clothes for instance (and hey kids let’s get Mom and Dad something too).
There are many, many ways you can help a friend or a loved one who is in need. And when help is freely given the right way, the relationships don’t suffer. I think most people on the receiving end are bigger than that. I think that at the end of the day, the only one they blame for negativity is themselves and they know that they are lucky to have a genuinely loving person in their life. And I think that most of us on the receiving end eagerly wait for the day they can be on the giving end– especially towards those that were oh so generous to them.
So, on behalf of those of us on the receiving end, I saw thank you to the givers. Thank you for investing in us. Thank you for being patient with our shortcomings. Thank you for seeing us in a way we probably can’t see ourselves. Thank you for not judging us. Thank you for not holding us to standards. Thank you for loving us.