Are You a Financial Enabler?

I used to be a financial enabler, big time.  In my twenties, I was engaged to a guy with horrible money habits.  He spent everything he made (and then some), was in and out of jobs, and even in and out of jail. 

I was young and in love, and I thought that with enough love and encouragement, I could help him be all that I thought he could be.  So, over the course of seven years, I cleaned up countless financial messes and bailed out my fiance, both literally and figuratively.  Unfortunately, the more I “helped” him, the worse things became. 

You see, my “help” wasn’t really helping him personally or financially.  I was shielding him from the negative consequences of his financial misbehavior, so he never learned his lesson.  I became bitter and resentful over always having to clean up his messes.  We were more like mother and teenage son than true partners in the relationship.

But it wasn’t his fault, it was mine.

As a Financial Lifeguard, I see this situation come up during my coaching sessions with couples.  Many times they are “helping” their irresponsible adult children and constantly bailing them out of their financial disasters.  Throw grandchildren in the mix, and the grandparents feel guilty for not helping. 

It’s definitely a sensitive subject that can cause a lot of drama and conflict for a family.  Fortunately, because of my personal experience, I’m able to assist people in breaking the vicious cycle of financial enabling.  

Listen to my interview on Parent Pump Radio on the signs of financial enabling and how to break the cycle!

Are You a Financial Enabler?

The first and hardest step to breaking this cycle is admitting that you are a financial enabler and you are part of the problem.  You have been shielding your loved one from the financial consequences of their behavior, which isn’t a good thing for either of you. 

Once you have reached this conclusion, you need to arrange a sit-down meeting to discuss the situation.  Be prepared for the other person to be upset. They might even accuse you of being unloving or uncaring. But you must allow them to face their own consequences.  Depending on the situation, you may need to set up a timeline for change. 

Breaking the Cycle of Financial Enabling

For example, if your 28 year old able-bodied son is still living at home. He’s not paying any rent or otherwise contributing to the household expenses. Have a sit-down meeting, and then set a timeline for change.

You might tell you son he either needs to move out or begin paying $X in rent to you within 60 or 90 days.  The difficult part for you will be sticking to your timeline NO MATTER WHAT.  It’s likely that your loved one will test you to see if you are serious, so be expecting it.

Now, please understand that I’m NOT saying that you should never help your loved ones when they are having a hard time.  The above guidelines are for the repeat offender who is always in financial trouble. This person seems to get worse – not better – when you “help” them. 

Let’s say your friend or relative who’s normally a very responsible person comes to you for help because of an unforeseen situation. By all means help them, if you can!  But only assist them if you can afford to GIVE them the money (not lend it). 

If they happen to pay you back later when they get back on their feet, great.  If not, don’t be offended by it.  If you think you’ll be mad if they never pay you back the money, then don’t give it to them. Period.  Many relationships have been ruined because of this very situation.

Are you a financial enabler? Or were you in the past? I’d love to hear your story of how you broke the cycle.

If you’re needing more help with this, pick up a copy of my book, Money is Emotional: Prevent Your Heart from Hijacking Your Wallet.

Comments 33

  1. I am definitely not. Luckily we have never had anyone trying to borrow money from us, but it would take a lot for me to loan it out. We are very frugal and I can’t imagine giving someone a huge ‘loan’.

  2. never loan money. you don’t get it back. we prefer to do without and spend smart so we have savings in case of emergency.

    i’ve been an enabler before. and lost thousands in the processs.

  3. Definitely connect with this! I’ve been there before, but I’ve grown up a lot since then and hopefully wouldn’t let it happen to me again!

  4. I am but I’m not… I think Hubby is more of one since he can never say no to me… I remember my grandmother used to bail my dad out all the time… he never learned how to handle money

  5. I’m not but my husband was when we first were married. He was particularly bad when it came to his mom but since having our daughter, he’s stopped enabling.

  6. I am probably the furthest person from being a financial enabler. I never give family money, but I will help them in any other way possible.

    1. Post

      That’s so frustrating, isn’t it? Here’s praying that your mom will see that her “helping” isn’t helping him!

  7. I think at some point everyone, especially young adults should see a financial planner of some sort to help put everything in perspective from your income, to bills and how to put money into savings.

  8. Wow. Did you write this directly to me?!? My hubby is the one with the bad spending habits and I try so hard to ‘lay down the rules’ but eventually I get sick of nagging or trying so hard so I give in. Thanks for all of the advise.

  9. We had to get tuff with my daughter at one point in her life. I am pleased to say she is off drugs and supporting herself and living within her means for more than 5 years now.

  10. A couple years back I helped out with a high school leadership club and I was TOTALLY a financial enabler to the girls who would attend. We’d go out to do something fun and none of them would bring money so I’d foot the bill with their promises to pay me back, which only happened half the time. It was such a bad habit for me and such a bad example for them. – Katy

  11. This was definitely a discussion my husband and I had to have after our first year of marriage. He loves going out, and we live in the city with so many fun options. I had a hard time saying no at first because I didn’t want to be the downer. Now, we are much better about setting budgets and sticking to them.

  12. Wow! I went through something very similar with my ex and it caused our relationship to basically collapse. My guy’s issue was that he eventually realized he wasn’t really being a man. Also, great advice. I personally don’t like to mix money with my friends and my family. If they say they need to borrow money from me, I am only going to let them borrow the most that I can give away because I know that it may or may not ever come back.

  13. My relationship to money is definitely a unique one… I have never been too worried about it, in general. I’ve seen so many people attach their emotions and self-worth to their money, and I couldn’t imagine allowing my life to be led that way. That being said, it is still a work in progress with my own husband as he is a classic case of arrested financial development… phew!

  14. My parents were my financial enablers; more specifically, my mother. It has taken years of work, trials, and even some Dave Ramsey education to get financially well. Even with all that sometimes it is still a struggle not to fall back into bad financial behavior. I work on it constantly.

  15. Pingback: Expensive Divorce Mistakes to Avoid - Christine Luken

  16. I am a financial enabler for my grown daughter. I can see that one mistake is to think that she will pay me back. There have been some financial situations such as returning to school, an injury with whim off from work without pay, and just recently vandalism to her property, so I am covering the deductible. I need to break this cycle. She is old enough to take care of herself and I can see that shielding her is not helping her.

    So Step 1. I can see myself int he situation.
    Step 2 . Sit down with her and talk this out.
    Step 3. Let her face the consequences.

    1. Post

      Marty, I commend you for recognizing this tendency for yourself. Be prepared that your daughter may be mad at you at first, but this is the first step in restoring balance to your relationship. Good luck to you!

  17. I am in a pickle. I began giving money to someone who lost a loved-one AND does not make enough money to live comfortably. Because this person lost someone dear to her heart, I wanted to give her money to relieve the stress of money problems. My thought was, “I can’t bring so-and-so back for her, but at least I can make this person suffer a little less by having enough money for whatever she’d like.”
    The giving of the money is now on-going. Whenever my friend needs money she asks and I give it to her. We are not close friends, as in we don’t see each other regularly. I would like to ‘be there’ for her when she needs someone, but I feel like our connection via monetary aid has gone too far. I am suspicious that she remains in touch with me for the sake of the money. It seems all conversations/text messages somehow always lead to mention of being broke or needing $$ until the next payday. This has been going on for about a year now. Solid advice as to how to stop this game would be SO appreciated.

    1. Post

      Ann, I commend you for wanting to help your friend when she was going through a rough time. Unfortunately, you’ve allowed the help to continue beyond your original intention. The first and hardest step in breaking this cycle is admitting you are a financial enabler and you are part of the problem. The good news is that the solution is within your power. You have taught your friend that it is okay to ask you for money because you always say yes to her requests. You will need to arrange a sit-down meeting or phone call to discuss the situation. (Do NOT do this via text or email!) Be prepared for the other person to be upset and even to say that you are unloving or uncaring for allowing them face their own financial consequences. The person will likely test you, so make sure you are mentally prepared to stick to your guns.

      I would say something like, “Jane, I know that I have helped you out financially in the past. When your loved one died, I thought it was a good way to show my love and support to you while going through that hard time. I treasure our friendship and want it to be based on our spending time together, not on me giving you money. In order for me to be financially healthy, I need to direct my money towards my obligations and long term goals. I will no longer be giving you financial support, but you can always count on me for friendship and emotional support.”

      Also, I highly recommend watching this training on healthy boundaries. It is for small business owners, but what she’s talking about applies to both personal and business relationships:

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