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Before You Give

by Shawanda Greene

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So you’re frugal? Do you have a three to six month emergency fund? Did you say you were totally debt free? Perhaps you’ve amassed a decent chunk of change in your investment accounts. Well, don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. There’s an obstacle you must still overcome. Being that you’re so tuned in to what’s going on in your financial life, you know exactly what’s not so slowly leading you back into a life of barely getting by. It’s you. It’s your inability to say “no.”

I’m not talking about saying no to your frivolous desires to buy some junk you don’t really need. If you’ve scraped, scrimped, and sacrificed to save up a little money, then it’s okay to buy some junk from time to time. You’ve earned the right. But for many of us, there are some lurkers in our life who have not earned the right to benefit from our sacrifice.

One of the biggest drains on people who are otherwise responsible with money are financially irresponsible family members. They always need something. They’re in danger of getting evicted. The car is about to get repossessed. There’s no electricity in the house. The baby got sick. The excuses are limitless.

So before you give, I want you to require them to undergo the same transformation you went through. If their emergency is so life threatening or inconvenient, then they should be the ones to give some junk up.

A family member recently asked to borrow $1,000 to help buy a car to get to and from work. To protect the innocent, let’s just call this person Larissa. Since I don’t loan money, I declined Larissa’s request. I’m embarrassed to admit, but I eventually agreed to give her the money. Shortly thereafter, I learned Larissa was planning a weekend getaway with her boyfriend in the coming weeks. Then I remembered Larissa takes frequent mini vacations. I was enraged.

This is exactly why Larissa didn’t have the money to purchase a vehicle. The only reason I have any money saved is because I don’t buy things or pay for experiences that leave my bank account empty. I ended up not giving Larissa the money, but the entire ordeal made me think.

As indicated in the opening paragraph of The Case for Frugality, I’m not a miser because I enjoy denying my natural urges to consume. Shelling out cash to benefit someone who is more clueless than they are disadvantaged, does not bring me closer to my desired goal, and it does nothing for my soul. Unlike a hot new pair of heels or semi-fine dining, I don’t derive any satisfaction out of giving money to a person whose house is bursting at the seams because it’s so packed with stuff.

Before you give, those requesting a handout need to do everything in their power to solve their own problems. If the new flat screen television is the reason they can’t pay their rent, then suggest they sell it. If a new toy isn’t what got them in a pinch, then it could be something more sinister.

They might be locked into a contract they either couldn’t afford from the outset, or no longer can afford due to changing circumstances. Their changing circumstances aren’t your problem. If their mortgage is a financial burden, then they can take in a roommate, pull the kids out of private school, stop taking vacations, get a second job, cut off their cable, sell their house. Whatever it takes, they need to do it BEFORE you give.

It’s easy for people to spend money that isn’t their own. While you’re preparing your budget and cutting out things you genuinely enjoy to achieve your financial goals, the people around you are living it up. Make sure your money is available when you feel like living it up. If you’re not careful, you’ll subsidize another person’s life with your sacrifice.

This article was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance: New Zealand Edition! Check out the other articles at ManVsDebt.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

hustler July 9, 2009 at 3:33 AM

I couldn’t agree more. As I’ve sacrificed and saved to achieve my goals, I’ve seen others simply do what they want when they want and then wonder why they have no money left over. I don’t mind giving to those who truly need it, but it really gets under my skin when someone who already spent their money on frivolous things comes to me with some sob story about how they can’t pay rent or buy food.

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Carla July 9, 2009 at 1:04 PM

Its a good thing family members never ask me for a dime. Probably its because I already have “no” written all over my face – a trait my mother is so good with. Giving money to some of these people will only enable them in whatever addiction they have (alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc) and I will not be a part of it.

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Shawanda Greene July 9, 2009 at 10:54 PM

@ Hustler – “It really gets under my skin when someone who already spent their money on frivolous things comes to me with some sob story about how they can’t pay rent or buy food.”

If people actually believed hunger and homelessness was a possibility, they’d be more responsible. Last weekend, I overheard a guy at the airport talking about a friend who claimed he didn’t have any money for lunch. After he paid for his friend’s lunch, the friend turned around and bought a pack of cigarettes. How frustrating!

@ Carla – I’m usually cold as ice. I don’t know what came over me.

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