Imagine how smooth family life would be if your parents, siblings, children, extended family and in-laws thought the way you think, and made decisions the way that you make them. Now, snap out of that daydream, because the world doesn’t work that way.
Sometimes the people that we’re closest to can do things in ways that baffle us. When money is involved, that can create some really sticky situations.
Money issues can be real trouble for families, and especially for adult families. When you’re dealing with older parents, grown children and siblings, there can be a ton of emotional baggage and interpersonal history that can color the way we make financial decisions. And while your family life is certainly more than money, financial issues do arise from time to time. Often, they come up around very emotional circumstances, such as weddings, births, medical issues and end-of-life decisions. If we’re not careful, we can let financial conflict harm our relationships with the people we love most.
So, how should we handle financial issues when they come up with our families? It’s starts with making sure that we’re prioritizing what is truly valuable — the family relationships themselves.
Every family is going to have its own unique financial circumstances to work through, and there’s no single template to always getting it right. But there are some guiding principles that can help us navigate these issues when they come up.
1) Always honor, always encourage.
As Christians, we have a mandate to always honor our parents — even long after we’ve left their homes. So no matter what kind of financial decisions your parents make, you have a duty to honor them. If your parents spend wildly, borrow pathologically and make a mess of their financial lives, that’s certainly a shame. From time to time, you may get a chance to advise them, help them or encourage them. When those times come up, though, remember that honoring them is still your first priority. You may never agree with the way that your parents handle money, but you should never cease to honor them as a result.
With siblings and other family members, similar principles apply. Our priority in these family relationships is to encourage and love. If someone in your family is making bad financial decisions, you can pray for God to give you an opportunity to share some wisdom and encouragement with them. But no matter what happens, don’t let their bad financial habits ruin the relationship that you have with them.
2) Be a generous giver and a gracious receiver.
There may be times in your life when people in your family give you a lot of money, or when you give a lot of money to them. In either instance, attitude is crucial.
Big life events such as weddings or graduations come with lots of financial implications. If your expectations about those things don’t jive with reality, this can create a lot of conflict and hurt feelings. So the best course of action is to be gracious no matter what. Your family may give you tens of thousands of dollars for a lavish wedding, or they may not contribute nearly as much as you hoped for. No matter what happens, be grateful for any gift that you receive, and determine to make the best with whatever you’ve got. After all, it’s not the quantity of the gift that matters, but the heart behind it.
In a similar vein, it’s important to be gracious with matters of estate and inheritances. Remember, your parents’ money belongs to them — just because you expect to inherit it one day doesn’t mean you have a right to it. It’s not yours until it’s yours. Don’t tarnish sensitive family events by arguing about inheritance or heirlooms. And if you do receive an inheritance from your family one day, honor their memory by using the money with wisdom and responsibility.
3) Don’t borrow from or lend to family members.
When times get tight and people need financial help, they often turn to their family members first. It may seem easy to ask your parents, siblings or in-laws for a loan (especially if they are well off), but this is a recipe for trouble.
Remember, debt is slavery, and borrowing creates an unbalanced dynamic between two people. No matter how close a relationship you have with someone, an outstanding debt will change that relationship. If you borrow from someone, you’re going to feel a little bit embarrassed about it every time that you see them. If you lend to someone, you’ll find yourself sitting across the table from them at Christmas, wondering when they’re going to pay you back.
We don’t believe that borrowing money is wise, and we’re certain that it’s not wise within families. If you have a family member in need, try to find ways that you can give to them to meet their needs, without expecting anything in return. After all, giving is an act of love, which is what family is all about. There is no love in debt.
4) Plan well and communicate clearly.
Above all else, family conflicts are caused by misunderstandings and poor communication. You can help avoid unfavorable situations with your family by making financial plans far in advance, and making sure that everyone clearly understands what is happening. That might mean telling your kids from a young age what you can do to help them with college, or being open with your family in talking about how to handle wedding expenses. Later in life, this also means having good insurance, drawing up a will, and making sure that everyone in your family understands what will happen to your estate once you’re gone. Remember, communicating well now can save your family from a lot of financial strife later.
In the end, our family relationships will be the most valuable thing that we ever have in our lives. If we let money dictate the way that we relate to the people closest to us, then we become slaves. So guard those family relationships like the treasures that they really are, and do your best to make money work for your family, rather than against you.
Photo by kmdpf. Used under Creative Commons License.