How to help without enabling bad behavior.
We all know that one person. It might be a family member….your broke brother-in-law, second cousin, or uncle. Sometimes it’s even a close family member, like your grown son or daughter, a sibling, or your parents. Or maybe it’s just a friend or neighbor. They keep asking you for money, and it’s always for some “emergency”, well, in their mind anyway.
How do you help someone who asks for money? Do you just give it to them? Or do you pay a bill for them?
What if you can’t afford to give them money without causing a problem in your own household budget? Will that person become a travel agent for guilt trips if you say no?
I try to separate giving scenarios into two different camps: giving to those who ask, and giving to those who don’t ask.
Let me get the second category out of the way first. When I see someone in need, and I know them well enough to have some idea of their circumstances, and therefore I know they aren’t being wasteful, neglectful, or engaging in stupid behavior with money, I go ahead and give to them. I try to do it anonymously whenever possible, for a few different reasons.
For one, if they are truly struggling and have not asked for help, then there is probably some element of dignity involved, and I try to honor that as much as possible. The second reason is that when we give we should not do it to receive thanks in any way, but simply for the joy of seeing that person be blessed by our gift. So I’ll usually buy a gift card to a major retailer that I know they would use, then mail it anonymously in a nice card with no signature. I’ll even take it to a different post office than my usual one, just to be sure they don’t guess who sent it.
But another big reason for giving anonymously to those who don’t ask is that it completely prevents me from interfering in how that gift is used. I might have an opinion of the best use of that money, from what I know of that person’s financial situation. But if I don’t reveal myself as the giver, there’s really no way I can even be tempted to tell them what to do with the gift. And if they didn’t ask me for money to begin with, then I have no business telling them what to do with it.
So back to that first scenario….that family member or friend who actually comes to you seeking a handout. That’s a TOTALLY different situation. In that case, you have every right, in fact you have an obligation, to ask a lot of questions about WHY they are asking for money, what they intend to do with it, and what OTHER things they are doing with money that caused them to not have money for this one thing now.
Failing to find the root cause of their money problems before giving to them makes you complicit in their financial misbehavior. Even if the immediate cause is something beyond their control, like perhaps the loss of a job, there is nearly always a deeper cause, like failure to prepare by getting out of debt and building an emergency fund. So if they come to you asking for HELP, you have to be careful about what the definition of help really is. It is YOUR responsibility as the giver to determine what would actually be most helpful. That might be money, but it might also be teaching them how to budget, get out of debt, and the like.
I’m not saying to never give money to those who ask, but it’s vitally important that you ACTUALLY help them, not just now but for the foreseeable future, by addressing the root cause of their money problems. If you’re not willing to go the extra mile to do what is really needed, or they are unwilling to discuss it, then you’re better off just saying no altogether.
It was actually a few specific scenarios like the above (both those who asked and those who didn’t) that led me to finally get training as a financial coach so that I could teach people (those who ask, mind you) good, biblical money management principles, so they can help themselves and never find themselves in that situation ever again. If you have a heart to help others in your life, and want to learn how to do that effectively, give me a call. It’s what I do.