What to Do When Someone You Love Makes a Bad Money Decision

5 Minute Read

The text came out of the blue. It was from her sister, a college freshman who’d just moved onto campus and into the collegiate life. Expecting to hear about freshman orientation or being homesick, she was surprised at the short note that flashed up on the screen: "Got my first credit card! #adulting"

What’s an older sister supposed to say?

You’ve been there. A coworker brags about the new car they leased with "a great deal." Or your best friend talks about that amazing cruise she and her hubby booked—even though they can’t afford it. Maybe your cousin tells you he’s taking out student loans to pay for college.

What do you do when that friend or relative makes a horrible financial decision? Here are a few suggestions.

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Don’t Go There

Even if you have the best intentions in the world, you can do more harm than good if you come across harsh and judgmental. You don’t want to make the other person feel defensive, so avoid harsh tones and negative labels, like "That was really dumb!" or "I can’t believe you got scammed like that!"

Also, remember that this conversation isn’t your chance to work on your debate skills. You’re not trying to win an argument. It’s about helping the other person think differently about money and debt. When your goal is to win, you both lose.

Never, ever begin your sentence with, "Well you know, Dave Ramsey says . . . " That just makes you sound like a know-it-all.

One last thing: Don’t launch into a long lecture about the horrors of debt and other poor choices. Nobody likes being scolded—especially adults!

Do This Instead

When someone surprises you with a money decision that you don’t agree with, the first thing to do is simple: Take a deep breath. Then take another breath. Seriously. This will keep you from popping off with a comment you’ll regret later. Stay calm!

The most helpful and positive thing you can do is to tell your story.

The most helpful and positive thing you can do is to tell your story. Talk about your own experiences with money—the good, the bad and even the really, really ugly. You could say something like:

  • "I got a credit card in college and I regretted it because . . . "
  • "I used to take out loans for cars, but now . . . "
  • "I had to sell my computer so I could pay the electric bill."
  • "We want to go on a cruise like that. In fact, we’re saving up."
  • "I know staying on a budget sounds horrible, but it really helped us."
  • "We got in such bad debt that . . . "
  • "I never thought we’d be able to get out of debt, but . . . "

When you tell your story, you’re being honest, open and humble, and that tears down walls between people. It shows that you’re willing to talk about your mistakes because you care about your friends and don’t want them to fall into the same trap. And your story can offer hope to people who think being broke is a permanent condition.

Your story can offer hope to people who think being broke is a permanent condition.

If Someone Asks for Your Opinion

There’s a good chance that a family member or friend will ask for your opinion, especially if they’re making a big financial decision. If this happens, feel free to tell them what you think. Nicely. Gently. Respectfully. For example, you can say, "I don’t eat veal," or you can say, "People who like veal are baby cow killers." See the difference? One opens the door for conversation; the other shuts the door and puts three padlocks on it.

People you care about will make money decisions that you don’t agree with. You can’t control what others do, but you can control how you respond. Getting ticked or acting holier-than-thou won’t help the situation—or your relationship.

You can’t control what others do, but you can control how you respond.

So the next time a friend or family member makes a bad money move, remember what Mary Poppins says: "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." You can still share your opinion, but leave the boxing gloves at home.

It can be hard to stay strong when people around you celebrate debt. If you need some encouragement, check out these debt-free screams from The Dave Ramsey Show channel on YouTube. They will remind you why it’s so important to stay on track with your smart money choices.

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