You get a phone call out of the blue. Someone you care about tells you that he or she is struggling. The story seems so desperate and painful. You want to help, so you end up sending money, whether they’ve actually asked for it or not.

A week, a month, a year later, the same thing happens. Same person, different circumstances, same painful struggling. You send money.

This time you’re not feeling as good about it. You’ve noticed that between the first time and the second time you sent money, this person is making decisions about spending money that you don’t agree with, given their struggling. For instance, clients have told me that while this recipient has gone on vacation, they themselves haven’t been able to afford it.

Feeling Uncomfortable

The third time you get the call, you may not want to give more money but don’t know how to talk about it. They really are struggling, the situation is very dicey, but now you’re aware that they make decisions about money in ways that aren’t working for them.

You start to wonder if giving them money is the answer. Are you accidentally colluding in the problem? If money had been the answer, wouldn’t it have worked the first time you sent it? Is there something else going on that’s causing this constant state of financial struggle?

These are all good questions. Whether it’s a family member or other loved one who is telling you these stories of woe, there comes a time when you need to talk with them about it. You’re not longer feeling good about giving them money, but don’t know what to do next. What is the loving thing to do?

It isn’t wrong for you to take care of yourself. You matter. Not being true to yourself for someone else doesn’t necessarily help them if you’re feeling uncomfortable about the relationship or perhaps causing yourself financial trouble later on.

Saying No

So how do you talk about it? Here are some ideas:

  1. “I love you and really want to help. I noticed, though, that there seems to be a pattern here. I sense there may be a glitch in how you’re setting up your finances that gets you to this place repeatedly and I’d like to help you fix that problem. What can I do to help you fix the problem rather than throw more money at it?” (Perhaps you could buy some classes for them or sessions with an expert that can help them get their finances on track. It’s the “teaching them to fish rather than giving them a fish” mindset.)
  2. “I hear how difficult this is for you. What solutions are you considering for helping yourself through this?” This way you’re helping them open up to other solutions other than your giving them money.
  3. “I’m not comfortable with sending you money again, but I am concerned and will be a listening resource as you go through this.”
  4. “I’m willing to send you $_________, but that’s the end of this particular option for you. I won’t be available for additional money in the future but I’ll always be a loving ear for you.”
  5. “No.” (As I’ve been told, “No,” is a complete sentence.) Sometimes a loving repetition of the word “No” with no wiggle room on your end is the only way you’ll be heard.

Decide Ahead of Time

In some situations, I’ve told clients to decide long before they get a phone call how much money they are willing to give each year. When that amount is gone, it’s gone. This method helps you feel like you’re contributing, but causes you to meet your own limit in the giving. Funding a separate account just for this purpose is a good way to keep clarity in these situations.

These aren’t easy interactions, but if you’re feeling uncomfortable about how you’re handling them, talk with an expert who can talk over what’s right for them and for you. That way you can have the peace of mind that what you’re giving with the best of intent is truly helping and not continuing to fund a failing financial system.

Susan Bross, AFC® (Accredited Financial Counselor®) and has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, 15 years experience in marketing and finance, and four years as an addictions counselor. She established her own business in 1993 and is located in Eugene, Oregon and San Rafael, CA. You can contact Susan by phone at 415-479-1290 or email susanbross@

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