I wanted to write a short personal post about my experience with money and family, and try to think through why this can be tricky and what can be done about it.
In a lot of what I read about financial independence the only role a family ever seems to play is in providing wealth through inheritance, or as an alternative to rent for people who want to save up for a house deposit.
I’ve found it hard to identify with this.
In a previous blog post (Why I want to be financially independent) I mentioned that I was financially exploited by a family member.
A more blunt way of putting it would be that, when it comes to family, I have this fun mix of guilt and awkwardness about money that makes me a bit of a push over.
I also explained that my own FIRE obsession was sparked by a lot of thinking about my life goals.
Perhaps this makes my journey seem more purely intellectual than it is.
The fact is, my very strong desire to take control of my finances was wrapped up in another personal epiphany: I was being financially scammed by my older brother.
I’ve also loaned thousands of pounds to my mum, stepdad, and one of my siblings. I’ve separated these two cases out in this post, because they feel very different to me and probably have different solutions.
The fraternal rent scam
I’m owed several thousand pounds by a brother I rented with. Over the course of more than a year he always either paid late or not at all, mitigating it by paying reasonable amounts a couple of months in a row before the tenancy renewal so that he could convince me that things were back on track.
How did I end up losing so much money in a fraternal rent scam? How did I let it happen for so long?
As stupid as it sounds, I really didn’t think at the time that the pattern would continue as long as it did. Each time we spoke about it I felt that it was finally sorted.
Now that I reflect I think this was because I hadn’t appreciated that I was being manipulated.
The thing is, people don’t say to your face ‘I’m manipulating you’. Someone you grow up with (we’re two years apart in age), and who is in fact your older brother, wouldn’t exploit you – would they?
I think the family context might be important too – I grew up with a powerful myth of ‘family first’.
My mum had some pretty hard times bringing us up, and we had no extended family other than some distant members who we met every now and then.
It was in this context that my mum, very often and in the strongest terms, preached a message of solidarity between us.
Even as young kids, me and my brothers talked a lot about how the first of us who made money would buy houses for each other and for mum. We felt special and there was a sense of family mission. I can’t quite explain that, maybe you had similar feelings growing up?
I think that sense of family solidarity in a way made me more vulnerable to being exploited.
Even now I feel pretty frustrated that no one else in the family seems to take what happened very seriously. More than just anger at losing money, I feel upset because it shook my sense of what family was all about, like my brother had broken a family contract.
Back to the other family money issues
In a way dealing with the money owed me by other family members is even more awkward.
Partly that’s because of the way that money has always been asked for.
I get no warning, just a phone call out of the blue, and it’s always an emergency. If I don’t lend a few hundred pounds (it’s never more than that) or guarantee a loan today then the family business will go bust or the house will be repossessed.
Then all is quiet until the next emergency.
To stop this I have to find a way to talk to my parents about their lifestyle, their spending, their finances.
My upbringing was extremely hierarchical (I was grounded for entire summer holidays at a time), but now I have to invert that and be the precocious 26 year old bore who tells their parents off for eating too many takeaways instead of saving up for emergencies.
Still, instead of being a complainy pants I’ve made that my new personal life goal. Here’s the approach I’m going to try out:
Getting money back
- Make a payment plan for each person who owes me
- Talk to family members about my own financial goals and why I can’t lend any more money
And then try to change behaviour (the harder part)
- In talking to family members about my new financial goals, ask them about their own; what do they do to save money? Try and get them thinking about the topic
- In general take more care to talk to family members – ask them how they’re doing more regularly so I feel less guilty about my relationship with them if they ask for money
- Forget about and move on from the money lost to my older brother
Honestly, I don’t know if I can achieve the second part. But if I do the above I feel confident at least that I’ll find it easier to turn down future requests.