Are You a Financial Enabler? How to Break the Cycle

financial enabler

I used to be a financial enabler, big time.  In my twenties, I was engaged to a guy with horrible money habits.  He spent everything he made (and then some), was in and out of jobs, and even in and out of jail.  I was young and in love, and I thought that with enough love and encouragement, I could help him be all that I thought he could be.  So, over the course of seven years, I cleaned up countless financial messes and bailed out my fiance, both literally and figuratively.  Unfortunately, the more I “helped” him, the worse things became.

You see, my “help” wasn’t really helping him personally or financially.  I was shielding him from the negative consequences of his financial misbehavior, so he never learned his lesson.  I became bitter and resentful over always having to clean up his messes.  We were more like mother and teenage son than true partners in the relationship.

But it wasn’t his fault, it was mine.

As a Financial Lifeguard, I see this situation come up during my coaching sessions with couples.  Many times they are “helping” their irresponsible adult children and constantly bailing them out of their financial disasters.  Throw grandchildren in the mix, and the grandparents feel guilty for not helping.  It’s definitely a sensitive subject that can cause a lot of drama and conflict for a family.  Fortunately, because of my personal experience, I’m able to assist people in breaking the vicious cycle of financial enabling.  (I have to add here that personal counseling may also be needed to work out these issues in a family or relationship.  I also highly recommend reading the book

How to Stop Being a Financial Enabler

The first and hardest step to breaking this cycle is admitting that you are a financial enabler and you are part of the problem.  You have been shielding your loved one from the financial consequences of their behavior, which isn’t a good thing for either of you. 

Once you have reached this conclusion, you need to arrange a sit-down meeting to discuss the situation.  Be prepared for the other person to be upset, and even to say that you are unloving or uncaring for letting them face their own consequences.  Depending on the situation, you may need to set up a timeline for change.  For example, if your 28 year old able-bodied son or daughter is still living at home, not paying any rent or otherwise contributing to the household expenses, then set a timeline that they must either move out or begin paying $X in rent to you within 60 or 90 days.  The difficult part for you will be sticking to your timeline NO MATTER WHAT.  It’s likely that the person will test you to see if you are serious, so be expecting it.

Now, please understand that I’m NOT saying that you should never help your loved ones when they are having a hard time.  The above guidelines are for the repeat offender who is always in financial trouble and seems to get worse – not better – when you “help” them. 

If you have a friend of relative who’s normally a very responsible person come to you because of an unforeseen situation, such as a job loss or divorce, by all means help them!  But only assist them if you can afford to GIVE them the money (not lend it).  If they happen to pay you back later when they get back on their feet, great.  If not, don’t be offended by it.  If you think you’ll be mad if they never pay you back the money, then don’t give it to them. Period.  Many relationships have been ruined because of this very situation.

Are you – or have you been – a financial enabler? I’d love to hear your story of how you broke the cycle. If you’re needing more help with this, pick up a copy of my book, Money is Emotional: Prevent Your Heart from Hijacking Your Wallet.

Spread the Word!
Christine Luken

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 31 comments
Robin (Masshole Mommy) - April 8, 2014

My parents have helped me several times when I have been in a real bind, but I am one of those people that feels guilty about it, so I pay back ASAP!

Allyson - April 8, 2014

I am definitely not. Luckily we have never had anyone trying to borrow money from us, but it would take a lot for me to loan it out. We are very frugal and I can’t imagine giving someone a huge ‘loan’.

Jennifer B - April 8, 2014

No one has tried to borrow large amounts of money from us LOL but I do see how this can become a big problem!

brett - April 8, 2014

never loan money. you don’t get it back. we prefer to do without and spend smart so we have savings in case of emergency.

i’ve been an enabler before. and lost thousands in the processs.

Krista - April 8, 2014

Luckily I am very on top of our finances. I went to college for accounting and I budget our finances down the the last detail!

Lois Alter Mark - April 8, 2014

I am not a financial enabler at all but this is a great wake-up call for anyone who is!

Pam - April 8, 2014

I am not a financial enabler, but I know many people who are. It can be so devastating to relationships.

Rosie - April 8, 2014

Definitely connect with this! I’ve been there before, but I’ve grown up a lot since then and hopefully wouldn’t let it happen to me again!

Shauna - April 8, 2014

I am but I’m not… I think Hubby is more of one since he can never say no to me… I remember my grandmother used to bail my dad out all the time… he never learned how to handle money

Trisha - April 8, 2014

I’m not but my husband was when we first were married. He was particularly bad when it came to his mom but since having our daughter, he’s stopped enabling.

Robin {Mom Foodie} - April 8, 2014

To a point I am, but never let it put my daughter and I in the hole.

Lisa Jones - April 8, 2014

God No Never Have Been Never Will Be Thank GOD!!! LOL!

Amy Desrosiers - April 8, 2014

I am probably the furthest person from being a financial enabler. I never give family money, but I will help them in any other way possible.

Liz Mays - April 8, 2014

My mom totally enables my brother and has been doing so for years. He manipulates her and she can’t see it.

    Christine Luken - April 9, 2014

    That’s so frustrating, isn’t it? Here’s praying that your mom will see that her “helping” isn’t helping him!

Amanda A - April 8, 2014

I think at some point everyone, especially young adults should see a financial planner of some sort to help put everything in perspective from your income, to bills and how to put money into savings.

Sandra - April 8, 2014

We were in a situation where we needed help and it was nice that – we could repay them back right away.

Danielle @ We Have It All - April 8, 2014

Wow. Did you write this directly to me?!? My hubby is the one with the bad spending habits and I try so hard to ‘lay down the rules’ but eventually I get sick of nagging or trying so hard so I give in. Thanks for all of the advise.

Debbie Denny - April 9, 2014

We had to get tuff with my daughter at one point in her life. I am pleased to say she is off drugs and supporting herself and living within her means for more than 5 years now.

Janeane Davis - April 9, 2014

There is a fine line between enabling bad behavior and giving needed assistance.

Claudia Krusch - April 9, 2014

I agree with so many things you’ve said! I think you should always think twice when money is involved!

Wendy @ ABCs and Garden Peas - April 9, 2014

yes, yes, yes. I’ve always been in relationships with men who I thought I could inspire to practice better money habits. It’s such a drag to be the only one who feels a sense of responsibility!

Mama to 5 BLessings - April 9, 2014

Thankfully my husband and I are good with money, we are very frugal. My husband takes care of all our finances and he makes good decisions for the now and the future of our family.

KatyRose - April 9, 2014

A couple years back I helped out with a high school leadership club and I was TOTALLY a financial enabler to the girls who would attend. We’d go out to do something fun and none of them would bring money so I’d foot the bill with their promises to pay me back, which only happened half the time. It was such a bad habit for me and such a bad example for them. – Katy

Maggie @ The Love Nerds - April 9, 2014

This was definitely a discussion my husband and I had to have after our first year of marriage. He loves going out, and we live in the city with so many fun options. I had a hard time saying no at first because I didn’t want to be the downer. Now, we are much better about setting budgets and sticking to them.

Lexie Lane - April 9, 2014

Wow! I went through something very similar with my ex and it caused our relationship to basically collapse. My guy’s issue was that he eventually realized he wasn’t really being a man. Also, great advice. I personally don’t like to mix money with my friends and my family. If they say they need to borrow money from me, I am only going to let them borrow the most that I can give away because I know that it may or may not ever come back.

Danielle - April 10, 2014

My relationship to money is definitely a unique one… I have never been too worried about it, in general. I’ve seen so many people attach their emotions and self-worth to their money, and I couldn’t imagine allowing my life to be led that way. That being said, it is still a work in progress with my own husband as he is a classic case of arrested financial development… phew!

Elizabeth Towns - May 1, 2014

My parents were my financial enablers; more specifically, my mother. It has taken years of work, trials, and even some Dave Ramsey education to get financially well. Even with all that sometimes it is still a struggle not to fall back into bad financial behavior. I work on it constantly.

Marty - December 28, 2017

I am a financial enabler for my grown daughter. I can see that one mistake is to think that she will pay me back. There have been some financial situations such as returning to school, an injury with whim off from work without pay, and just recently vandalism to her property, so I am covering the deductible. I need to break this cycle. She is old enough to take care of herself and I can see that shielding her is not helping her.

So Step 1. I can see myself int he situation.
Step 2 . Sit down with her and talk this out.
Step 3. Let her face the consequences.

    Christine Luken - December 28, 2017

    Marty, I commend you for recognizing this tendency for yourself. Be prepared that your daughter may be mad at you at first, but this is the first step in restoring balance to your relationship. Good luck to you!


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