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Ask Dave

Not Wanting to be the Safety Net

Rose is concerned that she will be paying for the irresponsibility of her in-laws money behavior.

QUESTION: Rose in Utah is worried her in-laws aren't handling their money well. They don't budget, and they struggle with savings. They often borrow money from family. She's concerned they will rely on her and her husband to support them later in life.


ANSWER: It's hard to work with people in your family who are misbehaving. It's potentially painful and potentially volatile. You may not get a good reaction because they don't think there's a problem. You really can't fix a problem for someone who doesn't think there's a problem.

You can work on this at whatever point you choose. You don't have to work on it today, and they haven't asked for help. Until the problem is serious, you don't have to deal with it if you don't want to. I'm all right with just stepping back for now because they are very unlikely to listen to you. You'd need to have a very unusual relationship, and these people don't seem to be people that are built that way. They are just irresponsible.

Let's pretend that your mom weighed 500 pounds. Obviously, she's killing herself with that level of extreme obesity. If she wants to lose weight, the motivation has to come from within. It doesn't come from the outside, even though you know she's killing herself and she knows it. If she just thinks she's large and jolly, then it's hard to get them to change their eating habits.

It's the same kind of thing here. This is a habit pattern; it's an issue of discipline. I don't know that you're going to change it for them. Now, I might approach some of the sources and try to get them shut off. That would be people like your brothers and sisters and anyone they are getting money from. I might talk to them and say you're worried about mom and dad and that when people give them money, it enables their bad behavior.

You are giving a 500-pounder a bag of chocolate chip cookies. You have to stop that. You're killing them because they'll come to the end of this and none of you will want to support them. You could talk to some of the brothers and sisters because they probably don't like it, they are just guilted into it.

A great book to hand out for Christmas is Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud. These people violate boundaries and just think that their kids will take care of them. How sad of a statement is that? What that says is that they are doofuses. It's not funny–it's heartbreaking. I think that's how you approach it.

I'm not sure you can get to them. If you guys are working our plan, you can just give out The Total Money Makeover to everyone including your parents and tell them all that it's what you're doing and you know it's working for you and that if you can ever help them with anything, you'd love to. Give the books to the other kids too, so they'll stop giving the parents money.

If we can shut off the parents' supply, that's good because I want them to have some problems. I want to create problems for these people so then they know something's wrong. They don't feel any pinch right now, and I want them to feel it. When they feel it, they'll stick their head up and realize that it's painful. Then someone can help them and advise them and show them what to do. But I don't spend a lot of time with people, even in my profession, trying to help people that don't want to be helped.

Get those books and continue to live your life in front of them. Also pray for them and try to find someone that they trust and they think a lot of who might speak into their life. But it's very difficult to hear life advice on this level from your 23-year-old. Very few relationships allow that. We call it the powdered-butt syndrome: Once someone's powdered your butt, they don't want your opinion about money.