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Giving Until It Hurts

Posted by idawrites on April 24, 2008 in Family, Finance |

While prepping a guest post earlier in the week, something was niggling at the back of my mind. The post was about helping a family member financially, even when he was making bad decisions. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to the story.

Just a bit ago, it hit me. Mark and I are charitable to a fault, at times. Yet, until recently, we never really stopped to think about our own long term financial situation. Even now that we’re watching every penny, I find that we’re still in that Giving mindset.

Money has never been much of a top priority to me. I’ve been dirt poor the vast majority of my life. Until four years ago, when I met Mark and we eventually combined our houses and incomes, I raised 3 daughters, with no child support, first well below and later just barely above what the government considers poverty level. Even when I was destitute, my door and kitchen were always open to family and friends. What is mine is yours. It’s just how families do things where I’m from.

Although the debts were there, and accruing interest, and not going away, Mark and I ignored them. They were just insurmountable, so we just let them be the elephant in the room.

Mark enjoys giving to our friends and family as much as I do. We just do it in different ways. He insists on picking up the bill whenever we’re out with friends. In fact, he does this so often that it’s made a few of our friends uncomfortable.

Over the years, I have allowed people to live with me and not pay any expenses, although I was barely making it myself. I’ve hired family members who were in a rough place financially to clean my house, or groom my pets, or work on my car, even things I was perfectly capable of doing myself. I’ve found reasons to “just have this lying around” when someone I care about has a need. And, yes, I’ve even loaned out money to the tune of hundreds (adding up to thousands) of dollars that I knew I’d never be repaid. It didn’t matter… I was just helping.

When I finally decided that it was time to take control of our finances and get this debt handled, it required a large shift in the way we responded to those around us. My extended family has gotten accustomed to treating us as the Bank of Mark and Ida. Mark has offered to “be the heavy” and let them be mad at him for saying no, but I’ve learned to say no on my own. I’ll continue to do so until our debts are paid, our retirement accounts are fully funded, and our children have college educations.

I no longer say “Yes” when people call me for money. I do, however, offer to help them with a budget. When the conversations start to angle around to how tough their financial situations are, I nod my head and agree that we’re all having a tough time. Mark and I go out far less with friends, and try to make sure that the time we DO get to spend with friends is about the relaxation and enjoyment of their company. Since we know that we’re likely to insist on paying, we have decided to entertain at home more.

We still give when we can, and when it’s important to us. We still live under the belief that if you’re family and you’re in need, we’ll do all we can. We’ve just adjusted our priorities a little and shifted the ways we give. At least until all this debt is gone.

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