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5 Tips for Setting Financial Boundaries with Family

It’s that time of the year in which many Americans gather with their family and spend money on them. We are hit with Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas, and other commercialized holidays. The NRF is already predicting we will shell out a lot of cash this season. While we are shelling out that cash, and hopefully not replacing money with meaningful bonding, I have been thinking of how money can often impact relationships, especially for those who are financially arriving. 

Sometimes being the first or main person in your family to earn a higher wage can cause stress on the relationships you have with family members. There may be expectations of helping them out financially, while you are struggling to get your own finances in order. Here are 5 tips that I have found to be useful in setting financial boundaries with family members. 

Tip 1: Don’t tell your family your exact career position or financial standing

This first point seems very basic, but so many people will do the exact opposite, including myself at first. When I got my first job, I was so excited. I told my mother. I created a long Facebook post about how I landed my first real job, made my company sound as large as I could, and tried to make my role sound important. I was painting a picture of how a girl who grew up on public assistance transformed into a professional woman.

I was proud of myself and wanted to celebrate my minor success with my friends and family, and provide encouragement to others. The problem with these kinds of announcements is that they put the announcer in a predicament where everyone knows their new financial status and opens them up to solicitation. If they are announcing how they have it like that, then they must have enough to share! Save the rags to Nordstrom Rack stories for your diary. I wouldn’t even recommend giving your position title because salaries for job titles can be Googled.

Tip 2: Act broke, exaggerate bills

This leads into my second point, always act broke and exaggerate your bills! One of the easiest ways to combat a “how can they live like this while their family is struggling” is to give the illusion that you are in fact not living the way they believe you to be. Don’t show up to the family event with that modestly expensive bag that you really shouldn’t have bought because you can’t really afford it. Think before you flood your social media with your vacation pictures of you living it up, even though you had to find every discount possible to take this trip and are eating on a budget. Be aware of the subliminal messages that your lifestyle can send and apply correction based on your audience.

Taking it one step further, if you went to college, thow in a “these student loans are just eating up my paycheck (they do)” line every now and then. Suppose you were a lucky full ride recipient? Why did people need to know that? See tip one, keep your finances private. I used to enjoy, “just trying to save for this down payment” response when asked how I was doing. Now I can use, “man, I didn’t know being a homeowner would be so expensive.” The goal is to get the point across that you don’t have it the way they may think you do, which is honestly the truth. 

Tip 3: Avoid substituting bonding with gifts

Part of down playing your new income bracket also means avoiding very generous gift giving, which leads to my third point. There can be times when you may feel like your connection to a family member is not as strong, so you look to giving them a pricey gift for their birthday or Christmas. Perhaps, a family member is having a baby shower and you feel the pressure to get one of the top expensive items on their registry?

Understand that gifts do not enhance relationships. Making an effort to call or check in with a loved one is more valuable than any gift that would probably be forgotten several weeks to several years later. Gifts only set the expectation for more gifts, grander gifts. This is not to say that you should never give your loved ones anything, just be mindful of the reason for the gift, your budget, and any expectations you may discern in terms of the gift, whether it’s internal or external. 

Tip 4: Recognize financial coercion

My fourth tip involves understanding when you are being financially coerced into something. The Oxford definition of “coerce” is to “persuade (an unwilling person) to do something by using force or threats.” So what does this look like? An individual questioning your love for them because you said no is a sign. Someone attempting to make you feel foolish for not recognizing an “investment opportunity” is a sign. A person ignoring or icing you out for a period of time because you said no is a sign.

Someone raising their voice or coming off as aggressive in response to your no is a sign. A person making it seem like if you don’t help them, you are responsible for something really bad happening to them is a sign. I do not recommend arguing with the person or beating a dead horse in trying to get them to see your side. Get some space, so that you can make the best decision for yourself. I would also recommend seeking a therapist to help you get a better handle on your relationships. Here is an article that better helps spot the signs of financial abuse.

Tip 5: Set a budget 

In a perfect world no one would be put in the position of having to start their own life and family while financially helping out another family member. What if you feel like you just cannot say “no” everytime? I will be doing a separate blog post dedicated to this issue, but in the meantime, my advice is to never be caught by surprise. Be realistic about your immediate family member’s financial vulnerability, if you have helped them in the past, and set a budget and don’t exceed your budget. 

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