Dealing With Money & Family Guilt

Dealing With Money & Family Guilt


Used Car

I have previously written that my father lives on a fixed income in Wyoming. I have also mentioned that he borrows money from me.

It’s A Slippery Slope

Perhaps, I started it all. Every month or so, I would send my father a phone card so he could stay in touch. The $30 or so a month was not too much of a burden for me to help out my father who has a limited income. When I visited him two years ago, I bought him some groceries and asked if he needed anything else while I was there. Now, I do not have that much disposable income myself, but I do have more than my father and know that it is my responsibility as a daughter to take care of my parents.

Then, earlier this year, his old beat-up car really started having problems and he asked to borrow $600. I use the word “borrow” as he did but I am not expecting the money back very soon (if at all). I sent him the money.

Responsibility Vs. Obligation

It is no surprise that his beat-up car is still having problems to the point that I really feel it is unsafe for him to drive. Combined with him being so far away (2,077 miles to be exact), I would like him to have a more reliable car.

I had thought about buying him a cheap used car but would have to finance it and had not decided if that was a wise decision. Also, I do not trust my father’s taste in cars and fear he will purchase a cheap, used car that will just have further problems.

On the phone with him tonight, he mentioned badly needing a new car and that he was going to look at some within a certain price range. Then he flat out asked me for 2/3’s of the cost.

Scrooge McDuck

Sacrificing Your Financial Stability for Others

I have spent the last year and a half focusing on my debt repayment. Just earlier this year I finally paid off my last high interest loan and have since been focusing most of my extra money into my student loan. I have a small emergency fund but have not been able to set up a separate savings yet.

The amount of money my father originally asked for was actually more than I have in my emergency fund. I am afraid that the years of sending small amounts of money to help him out, made him think I am swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck.

He did not seem to believe me when I said I did not have that amount so he asked how much I could give. I caved in and said half of my emergency fund.

Familly Guilt

Immediately I began worrying. What if something happens to my car and I don’t have the money? Am I willing to risk going back into debt to help my parent? Am I responsible for taking care of my father like this, as he took care of me when I was a child? Is my father’s safety my responsibility?

On the phone, I felt like I couldn’t say no. I still am not sure I could say no, even though at this point, I do not feel it is my responsibility and if he cannot afford a car then he will just have to make-do like everyone else. But how do I say that to my father?

What are your experiences with lending money to family and dealing with the guilt associated with it?

photo source, photo source


36 Replies to “Dealing With Money & Family Guilt”

  1. Fortunately, I’ve never had to loan money to family. Like me, most of my family is too prideful to ask for help.

    Even though I know you love your dad and want to help, I don’t think you should put yourself in a bad position to help him. Without knowing the details of his situation, I can’t pass judgment on his budgeting skills or whether or not he could have saved up for a used car on his own. But I do believe that “helping” someone financially usually leads less to them developing the skills to help themselves and more to them depending on you to bail them out. Just be careful and don’t sacrifice yourself. It’s not selfish to consider your own financial goals and concerns in this process.

    1. I worry about that as well, Red, that he will take the money for granted and not spend it as wisely as he would if it were his own. That he will make a bad purchase because it seems like “free money.” I have tried to talk to him about his finances but 1) he is embarrassed of his limited income and 2) him being so far away makes it difficult to make any progress or actual budget.

  2. (sadface)

    So sorry for you being put in this position, it’s a difficult choice to have to make.

    We’ve lent two-digit sums to T’s sister, who always eventually pays up. We once lent a three figure sum to T’s mother (out of his own savings) which she didn’t repay but he was happy to write off. And I’ve lent T or paid for things on his behalf before he had the money, to the tune of four figures, and he’s on track with repaying me.

    I’ve bought things for them on my Visa (they all have awful credit) when they pay cash upfront.

    Money talks are awful.

  3. After about ten years of inadvertently teaching my family to depend more and more on me, I’d say that the only way to teach your dad to stay as self sufficient as possible is to avoid offering or handing over more than you can comfortably give before taking care of your situation.

    It’s much harder when you don’t have an “easy out” like being in debt and when you’re trying to save something substantial because you feel like an ingrate or feel guilty for not being willing to give up your goals but as your parents age, you have to find a healthy way to deal with it lest the guilt become the guiding factor in your decision-making. (Believe me, been there.)

    If that means separating out a “family fund”, so be it.

    The danger of these situations is that you feel so obligated to give your family what you are asked for that you find yourself being asked to cross lines you aren’t comfortable with simply because you have it and not because you have it to give.

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t give it, just that you have to be really conscious of how you’re going to handle this as you go forward in a way that you can be comfortable with and that you can sustain over time.

    Good luck with this, I know it’s really hard!

    1. Thank you for the wonderful advice! Especially, “because you have it and not because you have it to give“. I need to repeat this a few times! Clearly, my father is not the best with money and this is probably why! I am sure he sees me as being selfish if I have money but do not want to loan him any, but I just need to remind myself that it is not “free” money, but money I need to keep myself growing to be the financially independent and healthy person I want to be!

      As well, I bet since he already borrowed the money from me earlier which I did not have a problem with; asking for this was probably easier for him, and I’m sure will continue to be easier if I do not say something now. Hm.

  4. Wow, that is really tough :(

    One thing I’ve learned, though, is that saying “no” is a wonderful thing. Recently, I had to “loan” (give, basically) my brother money for a medical emergency. I didn’t have to, but I did. I had the money and even if he never pays me back, I’m fine. I had to come to terms with that before I gave him the money though, so that I wouldn’t harbor resentment or anything.
    You have to protect yourself because if your family is asking you to bail them out, who will be there to bail you out now that you’ve put yourself on the edge?
    It was a nice thing for you to do though :)

  5. I honestly don’t know what I’d do in that position. I know that any money given to family has to be considered a gift and not a loan. I admire your willingness to help care for your father’s needs, because not many people have any desire to help their parents during senior years. My folks know I’m not financially stable enough to assist at this time, but part of my financial goals are to be able to help care for my folks as they need.
    Since helping your dad is a regular occurrence, maybe adding him as a line item in your budget and then after you rebuild your emergency fund creating a second Dad Emergency Fund so you don’t feel panicked next time he calls. You have a good heart, and I rarely find anyone who feels bad for doing a nice thing, regardless of the outcome.

    1. Thank you for the advice Andi. I already do have $30-$50 budgeted a month to help him with the miscellaneous expenses. But I really like the idea of a savings fund just for him/family assistance.

  6. *hugs* This is a really hard situation. I’ve never really been in this situation, but I do lie about money to my dad. I never let him know how much money I have. I just don’t want him to know because I think he would take advantage of the situation somehow. I think if this is going to leave you in a hard place financially, is there any other way you can help him? Maybe bus passes?

    1. That is a good idea! I never directly let him know how much I have, but I do mention going out and doing things and, by default, everyone assumes the salaries in NYC are considerably higher than everywhere else… and they most definitely are not.

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  8. I first of all would like to say that I’m not envious of your position at all. I know that you want to help your dad and do whats best for him. You need to keep in mind what’s best for you as well, and there’s a lot of good ideas in the comments (a separate family emergency fund) but they can’t help you much because you need the help NOW not in 6 months. I know the area where you father lives, and Im fairly sure that there’s not a bus (although I could be wrong)and because of low population, even obtaining a used car can be difficult in the area (he’ll probably have to go to billings or somewhere else to get a reasonable selection).
    Anyway, last night I mentioned something that may help, and I found the article this morning, ( ) You can call The guy mentioned in the article or send him an email, but he’s very friendly. Just see if maybe he can drop some of what they were going to donate to your father. For right now, that’s all I’ve got. Sorry

    1. I really appreciate the information Jeff! Being so far away and Wyoming being such a unique place, really makes this situation extra difficult. I think there is a senior bus that may go to the grocery store (and a few other places around town) in Cody; Not positive about that or how much it costs. I think they will also provide transportation for his doctor visits in Billings but that is about it for public transportation in the area; it is very limiting and unfortunately he is very much a driver.

      You are definitely right about the poor selection of anything in Cody; I am sure that was part of the chronic car problems in the first place. The idea of him driving his not-so-safe car up to Billings to shop for a new car does not make me very happy either, but unfortunately he has little choice.

      Thank you again for the article and information, I will contact him and also see if he can point me in the direction of other resources!

  9. I’m in the same boat myself and don’t have any solid words of advice besides do what feels right for YOU, whether that means protecting yourself or helping him out where you can.

  10. wow, that is a really tough spot to be in. Luckily both mine and my husband’s family can handle their own finances but I know if my parents ever needed help, we’d try as much as we possibly could without hurting our own financial situation. My mom has had to let my dad’s damily borrow a lot of money over the years and it just creates resentment. I guess that’s why they say whenever it comes to family and money, always view it as a gift and don’t expect to get it back.
    I don’t think I would be comfortable giving my family half my emergency fund especially when we’ve worked so hard to build it up. What if something happened and we didn’t have anything to fall back on??

    1. Thank you for mentioning the resentment problem. That is something I fear at the end of this. Whether I give him the money or start a Family Emergency Fund for this purpose; I am afraid of becoming resentful that I am pushing my own personal goals aside to financially assist my father and will not be sure that he fully appreciates it.

      I probably do have more non-family support than my father, who might be able to help me out in a pinch if something terrible were to happen where I would need my own emergency fund; but of course relying on others is the opposite direction of financial independence.

  11. This is not an easy answer. I face something similar although not quite as dire.

    My parents and family hint all the time for me to hand over money but I just refuse to.

    I know they have the money but they’re just asking because they’re selfish and they think that it’s MY responsibility as a daughter to supplement their lifestyles.

    My rule is: I will only pay for food and housing, or you can come and live with me. Other than that, they’re all luxuries that you have to buy and pay for on your own.

    I don’t jeopardize my lifestyle and hand out money to my parents who earn a good income still and just cannot manage their money or learn good habits.

    Mine is not quite as bad as a situation, it is easier to say no, for sure… but I daresay I know the feeling to some extent.

    I like Revanche’s idea of a Family Fund.

    1. I definitely understand what you are saying. This makes me wonder if I could go about things in a different way: Perhaps offer to pay a portion of his rent, which might free up some of his limited income so he can put it in savings. Then he can purchase a new used car (or anything else) with his own money and will not take that for granted. Although, I am not sure I would like to be paying his rent indefinitely either.

      You are certainly making the right decision by not supplementing their wants!

  12. I’m in the same boat and I feel for you! It sucks… I just make sure I never let my family think that I am doing well financially. Also I have no problem with providing them with food, phone bills and medical/medicine financial help, but not with anything I consider a luxury (i.e. car or cable, etc)… you really have to draw a line somewhere, because it is hard to wean the family off once they are used to you helping them financially. You are not obligated to give them a lot of your income, especially when you are still struggling/ starting out.
    Best of luck on this hard financial decision.

    1. Thank you, Alice. I am going to be much more conscious of when I mention how I am spending my money (entertainment, travel purchases and the like) since it seems that is where he got the idea of my unrealistic finances.

  13. I have divorced parents (both of whom have very limited incomes) and often face this hurdle.

    My advice would be NOT to commit to ongoing expenses like the rent. I’ve done that and now have about $300 a month in recurring costs I’ve taken on. It’s manageable for me, but once they get it in the habit of you paying it (cell phones, utilities and car insurance for me) they almost forget it and that can lead to bitterness. And if your financial circumstances change it means you have to have a discussion with them about what you can no longer pay in the midst of your own personal adjustments and that’s a real drag.

    I think one-time gifts are better in this case. I don’t see how you get by without a car in WY or how you have a substantive budget talk over the phone. If I genuinely felt I could afford it, I would probably send the money (particularly since you’ve already committed)and then have a firm dollar figure max in your head for future requests so you aren’t blindsided.

    1. Thanks for the perspective Jessica! It seems that no matter how you go about it, helping someone out once, leads them to think you will always be there to help them out again. I currently do not have any obligatory recurring expenses that I pay for him and will keep in mind what you said, if that were to ever come up.

  14. I have a different feeling on this. I feel that i do not owe my parents anything. I didnt choose to be born. That was their doing. Of course if I borrow money from them I would owe that back. But for anything else if I am able to give I will. I dont feel that it is a good idea to lend money to family or friends. Once your bills are paid and you have 6 months of savings than you can help out. You should take care of yourself first. Jobs are lost so easily these days. I would cover yourself first..

  15. I completely get the guilt. It is an internal feeling of complete shitiness if you said no flat out.

    My parents make a lot but spend like it is THEIR JOB! When they get into a jam I feel horrible but at the same time I just want to shake them and send them to a few personal finance blogs

  16. I support my mom and am okay with it, but I also have the means to. I wouldn’t go into debt to do it.

    One family member asked for $6000 for an operation and I had to say no. First I couldn’t believe they asked.
    second, I couldn’t believe they thought I had that much cash lying around to give. That relative is going to sell some land they have to pay for the operation instead.

  17. Wow, you are in a difficult situation. You are caught between your love for your dad and your own financial well being. Is your dad smart with his money? Or do you feel like you always have to bail him out? Do you have any siblings who could pitch in and help? If these were circumstances beyond my parents control I see myself helping out, but if my parent was financially irresponsible no way. Thanks forthe great post! Very interesting.

  18. That is a really tough situation! You should not feel guilty about not giving your father the initial amount he requested. Remind yourself that you have been helping him along the way, and that you are not stingy! While it is nice you are able to help your father to some extent, you do need to remember to look out for yourself and your own future. I would not sacrifice my own stability for someone else. What if I lost my job the day after I handed over half of my emergency fund? While I don’t think you should guilt your father about what he asked for, you should find a nice way to let him know that this contribution to the car was pretty significant and that you may not be able to help out again for a while since you need to build up your own savings again. (I obviously don’t know your dad, maybe he wouldn’t do this) but otherwise he may think he can ask you for that kind of $$ for something else in the near future. Good luck to you and I admire your willingness to help out your dad. I hope he really appreciates your efforts! :)

  19. I’ve not had to assist my parents financially, but I’m sure I would feel differently as I do about assisting other family members. My spouse and I both have siblings that feel entitled to our money. We’ve helped them in the past and now they only phone for money. They both don’t work and manipulate family and friends into giving them money. My sibling voluntarily quit a very good job and told my parents he was laid off, so they feel obligated to support his family. My spouse and I eventually became doormats to our siblings and had to put our foot down. They now call and try to guilt us into giving their 4 and 6 yr. old kids monetary gifts. We always send the kids gifts….no money. We are no longer doormats. My parents provided well for me and I hope I can do for them the same if they needed me.

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