Enabling the Perpetually Poor
Photo by: Kevin Saff
This is a guest post from Momma who blogs at Tales from the road less traveled. Momma and her family are on the road from debt to financial independence and she writes about the journey on her blog. If you what you read, make sure you subscribe to her blog via her RSS feed or via email.
Donna Freedman at MSN Moneyblog wrote a piece highlighting Frugal Dad‘s post Language of the Perpetually Poor. This post really resonates with me, but not because I myself have spent carelessly and lived outside my means, but because I’ve been an enabler of that mentality in those I care about.
I come from an extremely close knit extended family. I’m the eldest of four children and have always done my best to take care of them. My middle brother, Jimmy, has had a pretty rough life. He got in with a tough crowd in high school, didn’t do well in school and dropped out, was in and out of juvenile detention centers, did drugs, drank, and a whole other laundry list of things.
Over the years, he’s gotten his act together. He has worked steadily, kept out of trouble, and met a wonderful woman that I am proud to call my sister. Along with her teenage daughter and their little boy, they’ve built a family.
In the beginning, they both had jobs and shared living space with her sister. After they had the baby, she quit work and things were tight. Then, Jimmy got a better job and they got a nifty new car (payment). Several months later, Jimmy was doing such a great job, they gave him a raise. They moved out onto their own and got a nifty new (half his take home pay) rent payment. Jimmy got another raise six months later, so they got another car (payment).
Over the last several years, they have steadily upgraded their standard of living with every pay increase, even though they weren’t able to afford the current standard of living they had. The marital problems from the stress over money caused a lot of sleepless nights for both of them… and for my husband and I.
For more than two years, Jimmy or his wife would call me and lament that a utility was getting ready to be turned off or they needed groceries for the week. Although I brought up the suggestion that Jimmy’s wife get a job, there were so many excuses. “Daycare costs more than I would make.” “If I put him in daycare, he’ll just be sick all the time and I’ll have to leave work to take care of him anyway.” “I’m not skilled and can’t do anything.” I wrote the checks anyway.
I’ve written checks for utilities, groceries, gas for the cars, auto insurance, and a dozen other excuses. I’ve hired Jimmy’s wife to do jobs I am perfectly capable of doing, just to make sure that my nephew had food and diapers. But then, an amazing thing happened.
They called in December and said that both cars were going to be repossessed in 3 days if they didn’t come up with $800 and fast. My husband and I sat down and had a long talk, and then we called and told Jimmy and his wife to come over. We sat them down at the kitchen table with a blank sheet of paper and I wrote down all of their expenses. Then I wrote down his income. They had NO idea that his income was $1000 less every month than what they were sending out the door. $600 of that was for car payments on vehicles that weren’t worth it. That was a real shake-up for them and their faces showed it.
We were very frank with Jimmy and his wife. We said we’d write one LAST check to pay off one vehicle completely if they let the other one be repossessed, but with two requirements. First, Jimmy’s wife had to get a job and contribute to the family’s finances, as there was no real way for him to increase his earnings or decrease their spending. Second, they had to provide us with a plan for keeping this from happening again in the future.
It’s been five months and they’re doing ok now. They’re managing on one car, though it hasn’t been easy and they will be purchasing another one soon, without payments! They’re both working and are, as they put it, getting into a place where they’re comfortable. Their stress levels are considerably lower and the marital problems seem to be easing.
Looking back, I can see how everyone in our family contributed to their entitlement and victim mentality by always bailing them out and handing them cash. When the Bank of Wes and Momma closed its doors, it’s amazing how quickly they were able to get themselves on the right track. I also feel a twinge of regret that we spent so many thousands of dollars bailing them out of tight places instead of trying to pay off our own debts. I’m always going to follow my instincts to help my loved ones as much as I can, but now I know better than to consider enabling irresponsible behaviors “helping”