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For Piggy so loved her readers that she gave them unfettered permission to do with their own money as they damn well pleased.

Ask the Bitches: How Do I Say “No” When a Loved One Asks for Money… Again?

We got a question recently that I just had to share with the whole class. It evokes one of the purest reminders that personal finance is indeed personal.

Our anonymous letter writer is dealing with a common problem: what to do when relationships and money meet? In this case, it’s a family relationship. And this is only the latest in a long pattern of clashes on this issue.

“Hey Bitches. My cousin just lost his job, which means my aunt is gonna start giving him money again, which means she will very likely ask me if she can borrow some money to give him. I don’t want to help her enable him anymore and I also just don’t want to give them money. It’s hard enough to save money for myself. I can’t say I don’t want to help her enable him because she’ll get angry and say I’m being disrespectful. But if I tell her I don’t have money to spare I know she’s gonna bring up the iPad I recently bought. Honestly, it’s a lose-lose situation, but what could I say to tell her no?”  

FULL. BODY. CRINGE.

Oh the secondhand familial guilt! The magnetic pull of deeply ingrained elder respect! The weight of an elder asking—nay, telling—you to do something! Years of CCD and generations of elderly Italian relatives are bearing down upon my tender soooooul!

Can’t you just feel the dread wafting off this question like the putrid stench of Aunt Bertie’s perfume as she leans in to demand a kiss on her cheek?

Boil off the details and this question becomes sadly common: “How do I say no when a loved one asks for money… again?”

I’m not going to bother justifying the letter writer’s reasons or dissect the problematic family dynamic of an older relative asking a younger relative for money to give to a second younger relative. That’s not the point. Here’s what’s relevant:

  1. The letter writer does not want to give their money to someone else. Full stop.
  2. There are deep, deep emotional currents running through the scenario of one relative asking for money from another.

Now, is that relatable af, or is it just me?

I suspect this answer is going to be controversial, that there will be readers out there who think our darling letter writer should give their relatives money because of some loosely defined familial obligation. Perhaps some of you have been in this situation and firmly believe we should help relatives financially whenever we can, no matter the circumstances.

I’m also sadly positive that someone reading this has experienced financial abuse, or has been used for their money by family members more times than they care to count.

Yet it’s not ok to be treated like an ATM by people who are supposed to care about and support you. It’s not ok to be pressured into doing something you don’t want to do. We desperately need to talk about this situation.

So I’m going to proceed with the premise that our letter writer don’t owe them shit.       

“No” is a complete sentence

Remember that “no” is a complete sentence.

You don’t owe anybody an explanation. Nor do you have to account for yourself, give a reason, or negotiate. You don’t want to do something? “No” is answer enough.

In an ideal world, we’d have proper social safety nets preventing children from living in poverty and responsible environmental policies stemming the tide of climate change people would give “no” the respect it deserves. They wouldn’t press for further explanation. Yet we don’t live in an ideal world.

Instead, we live in a world where far too many assholes view “no” as an invitation to debate. Wheedling, cajoling, wearing down, convincing, negotiating, guilting, manipulating, or intimidating someone out of their perfectly valid “no” is a dick move. In some cases, it can even be abusive, violent, or illegal. At the very least, it causes unnecessary heartache and mental anguish.

I get it! I have some pretty overbearing family members. Personal decisions and opinions are constantly up for judgment and debate in my family, and handling the emotional ramifications of disagreeing with the family* is extremely emotionally taxing. My own parents don’t know that I’m an award-winning personal finance writer who’s been interviewed by The New York Times. It’s not that I’m afraid they’ll ask me for money… it’s that I don’t want to deal with the emotional burden of explaining my decisions to them.

So I truly feel the pressure of familial obligation. Our letter writer is dealing with a pattern here. This isn’t just a one-time thing. They’ve been through this before and they know what’s coming. “No” just isn’t going to cut it this time.

Your money, your call

It’s your money. You’ve earned it. You can do with it what you want and you don’t owe anyone else an explanation for your decisions.

If you want to spend it on ten iPads and a dozen designer dog collars, that’s your prerogative! If you want to buy Mace Windu’s lightsaber and fencing lessons with your own goddamn money, then may the motherfucking Force be with you!

(Note to the smartasses: you still have to pay your taxes and your bills before ordering custom lightsabers, don’t @ me.)

The point is that you are in control of your money. Our letter writer may choose to support extended family with their money. They also may choose to ignore the request every time it comes. This is allowed.

For anyone struggling in this situation, we give you full permission to keep your money to yourself! You don’t need it, but by god, you have it!

I’m assuming the letter writer doesn’t live with their aunt and cousin and they’re not reliant on them for housing, food, transportation, or other necessities. They therefore don’t owe them anything!

They can give them money out of love or kindness only if they want, but it’s absolutely not a requirement. Their family is welcome to earn the money from them, whether through non-monetary help or some other means, but again: only if the letter writer wishes it.

You are not an ATM for your less fortunate or less money-savvy friends and family. Don’t let them treat you like one.

Cold-hearted? Maybe. But it also has the advantage of being real goddamn true.

Breaking the cycle

I spoil the fuck outta my dog. I know I do this, and for the most part I’m ok with it. But we have certain hard rules that are not to be bent or broken. Because once we bend the rules, all discipline and civility goes out the doggie door.

For example, he’s not allowed in our bed unless invited. If he gets in the bed without being invited, he’s immediately scolded and not allowed on the bed that night.

There was a time when we got lax about this rule. We let it pass a few times when he jumped up without being invited. We stopped punishing him for violating the rule. And then we sometimes came into the bedroom to find him already on the bed, permission be damned! We let it slide because we are weak and he is cute.

And then he peed on the fucking bed.

Your relatives aren’t dogs, but people can just as easily be trained to social patterns. You can train them to treat you like crap, or you can train them to respect your wishes.

If you say “no” when they ask for money but eventually cave to their pressure and guilt, they’re going to learn that all it takes to get what they want from you is old-fashioned familial guilt. They’re going to learn that your “no” is actually an invitation to pee in the bed.

This is why it’s essential to stick to your guns. You can’t give in. This is your bed goddammit, and you’ll not have some entitled mutt pissing in it!

Get to the root of the problem

What’s really going on here? Why does the letter writer’s cousin keep losing jobs? And why does the letter writer’s aunt need to borrow money to support their son? Why does she believe the letter writer has money available for this purpose?

When a loved one keeps asking you for money, you need to ask yourself why. Interrogating the underlying problems could help you to stop the pattern from repeating.

If you give them money, yet they keep asking for more… is the money really helping solve their problems? Or is there a better way you can help? Some other way you can solve the problem so it won’t keep repeating?

This is the generous and charitable way to get out of the situation. But again: you are not obligated to help if you don’t want to. Not your circus, not your monkeys.

Just be aware that if you don’t take proactive measures to stop the unhealthy pattern of your relative asking you for money… it’s almost certainly going to happen again

We generally love giving advice about shitty family members. Here’s more if you’re interested:

Alternate answers and battle tactics

I know I began by reminding you that “no” is a complete sentence. But let’s also acknowledge the real issue here: Sometimes people don’t take no for an answer. Sometimes they pressure you and cause undue psychological stress. They make you feel guilty, heartless, like a putrid corn on the big toe of humanity just for saying no.

This is when your “no” requires backup. At that point, try some of these tactics:

“Cousin is welcome to ask me directly if he needs money.”

This answer is specific to the letter writer, but the point is to address the power imbalance between an older relative (the aunt) asking for money from a younger relative on behalf of another young relative. Because the power imbalance of age is how the aunt is able to guilt the letter writer.

Cousin-to-cousin there is no power imbalance. And that’ll make it a fuckton easier for the letter writer to say “no.”

It’ll also make it easier to address the question head-on. And perhaps the cousin doesn’t even know what his mother is doing here! Perhaps he’ll be too ashamed to pressure the letter writer into this loan unwilling gift.

And if he does have the cajones to ask? Mad respect… but still no.

“I’m on a really tight budget right now and this sudden expenditure doesn’t fit into that budget.”

This answer has the benefit of positioning you as a financially responsible person. You are someone with a budget and carefully laid financial plans! You keep track of your money to prepare for emergencies! Your money is earmarked for important things! What important things? None of your damn business, that’s what!

Bonus round: you can get indignant when your demanding relative questions your budget. That’ll show ’em.

“The last time I gave you money you never paid it back. Can we agree on a schedule and interest payments this time around? If not, I’m afraid I won’t be able to help.”

In other words: there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, motherfucker.

Conventional wisdom says that you shouldn’t give a loved one a “loan,” even if they ask for one. If you give them money, you should consider it a gift and never expect to see that money again. That way if they don’t pay you back (and let’s be real: they’re not paying you back), you won’t be resentful.

Answering the request with both a reminder of their past failures and respectful, fair terms for a real loan rather than a gift addresses the problem with family loans. It’s a great way to blow up their plans to guilt you into succumbing to their wants with a giant truth bomb!

“I’m happy to help you look at your own budget and income streams to see if we can adjust things to find the money elsewhere.”

This is a way of sincerely offering useful help without putting your own money on the table. It’s a way of offering time and expertise, rather than money. So you’re still helping… but on your own terms.

If they turn down this offer, you can rest assured you genuinely tried to help.

“My financial advisor tells me I can’t afford this. I’m afraid to go against her recommendation.”

Hi there! I’m your financial advisor… in that I give advice on finances. For free. On the Internet. And I’m telling you you can’t afford to give your overbearing relative this dough.

Go forth, absolved of guilt. I’ll take the burden of this responsibility on my own well-toned and tanned shoulders.

“For Piggy so loved her readers that she gave them her unfettered permission to do with their own money as they damn well pleased.” -The Book of the Bitches, 3:27-28

“It concerns me that you’ve asked me for money for this purpose multiple times. What’s going on in your life that you can’t regularly afford this expense? Is there some way I can help that doesn’t involve money?”

As Kitty can tell you, one of my favorite weapons is kindness. No death blow is more devastating than meeting a nasty, entitled comment with compassion and sincerity.

Meeting a request for money you don’t want to give with concern and sensitivity is a great way to stop a guilt trip in its tracks. And not for nothing, but you may even make them feel guilty for guilting you.

“I’m feeling very used in this relationship. I can’t remember the last time you checked in with me when you didn’t want something. I can’t remember the last time you did anything for me out of the goodness of your heart. Without that reciprocal kindness, it just feels like you only want me for my money.”

Your relative is guilting you into giving them money? Fight fire with fire, baby! Shoot those guilt cannons over their port bow and prepare for boarding!

While this direct approach might not be easy, it does have the benefit of getting everything out there in the open. Addressing your uncomfortable feelings head-on with the person causing that discomfort is not for the faint of heart. But this fainthearted Bitch with a prescription for anti-anxiety medication can confirm that it’s often the best way to get through difficult interpersonal conflicts.

“No” is still a complete sentence. Repeat it as long as it takes before you feel like you need another explanation. Then try one of the above tactics.

Have you ever dealt with a loved one repeatedly bugging you for money? How do you handle it? And do you think our advice here is totally off-base and we should all give out money to every loved one whenever they ask? Give us them opinions in a comment below!

*My family, not The Family. Forget every stereotype you learned about Italian Americans from The Sopranos.

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11 thoughts to “Ask the Bitches: How Do I Say “No” When a Loved One Asks for Money… Again?”

  1. If you’re blindsided by the request:
    “Let me go home and look at my budget. I’ll let you know tomorrow whether I can afford to lend any money.”

    If that person responds with, “But I need to know RIGHT NOW!”:
    “If you need an answer right now, then it’s ‘no.’ I can’t commit to a loan without checking my own finances.”

    Then you contact that person the next day and say, “Nope, my budget doesn’t have any wiggle room/my financial advisor told me I can’t afford this.”

    If s/he then says, “But faaaaaamily!”:
    “I cannot and will not set my budget on fire to keep you warm. But I’d be happy to look over YOUR budget/suggest a personal finance book.”

    For a repeat offender:
    “I’ve already told you my feelings on the subject of loans. If you start to talk about anything money-related, this conversation is OVER.”

    If you DO lend somebody some cash, ask for a signed and notarized contract with a “this loan will be repaid by X date in X increments of X dollars.” Ask for collateral, too, and include it in the contract. Surely there’s SOMETHING in that person’s possession (collectibles? a pricey purse? a motorcycle?) that means enough to ensure that the money will be repaid.

    And if it isn’t, you’ll be free to unload that item in order to get repaid. Bonus points if you get more for the item than was owed you!

  2. I’ve developed an amazingly effective tool to avoid this problem (and many others) now and in the future. I simply say “oh I’ve got a personal policy against XYZ.” So in this case “Can I borrow $20?” is answered with “Sorry no, I’ve got a policy against loaning money.” And that’s the end of the conversation. Because I’m not saying no to you, its just a boundary I’ve already set up. It kind of removes me from the situation, a little bit. And it works with not attending baby showers, either. Or not jumping out of airplanes. Or what have you. 🙂

    Healthy boundaries are priceless.

  3. Great post and comments. I will add there’s a 2-part episode on the now-defunct “Dear Sugars” podcast, by Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, where they interviewed Oprah to ask her about how she handles this exact problem. Even though the podcast no longer exists (sadly) you can still listen to the old episodes, such as those two. Highly recommend it!

      1. She totally agrees with you to say no but she talks at length about how long it took her to get comfortable with it, and how hard it was and how she overcame that, which I found so helpful. Hope you like it!

  4. You don’t want to borrow money from me. Ever. I’ll loan it to you but you will sign a notarized and witnessed promissory note and if you miss a payment I will haul your ass into court so fast your lawyer will vomit. You’ll be forced to pay all court costs, interest and penalties as well as my lawyers gigantic fees. You’ll also become a well known disgrace to your friends and every one in the family. Needless to say I only loaned money out once. No one has ever asked me again.

    Next problem?

  5. When I was moving to Paris, I opened a checking account with a local credit union that did not have Foreign Transaction fees (YAY) and in case of emergencies…my mother was put on this account.
    All was well for several years, and even after my reluctant return to these United States, I never bothered to take my mother off the account, and it served as my main checking account.
    UNTIL.
    My mentally ill brother moved in with my mother. In order to support him, she has gotten into severe credit card debt. So, naturally, she started asking if she could borrow money from moi.
    At first, I said yes…and this may surprise you all, but she repaid the money! She continued to borrow money on an increasingly and disturbingly regular basis. And then she took money WITHOUT asking. And I had to find out from my statement.
    I have since closed the account, telling the white lie of “My financial advisor at the credit union told me a different account would suit my needs, so I closed this one.” I have informed her that if she needs funds, she can ask me directly for money and if it suits my budget, I can transfer money to her.
    This story has a happy ending, mostly because my mother always paid me back…but as it was a joint account, there would be no legal repercussions if she decided not to. If you find yourself in a similar situation, please go talk to your financial institution, especially if it’s a credit union! You can always take steps to protect yourself.
    Love you, bitches!
    xoxoxo
    A Lizard Kitten

  6. I lent some money to my Dad few years ago, we agreed on paying back in monthly increments. There were no issues, delays, he paid everything back, but I doubt I’d do it again. However, I have bad experience with lending money to boyfriends and never seeing it again. But that’s a different story.

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