Finding a way to say no

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Things have been a little rough around here lately.  In the past, I’ve alluded to the fact that my parents have never had a lot of money, especially in the eyes of our relatives.  It’s only gotten worse over time as debts add up and bills kept going unpaid.  I think it’s reaching a breaking point.


Photo Credit: George Self via Flickr

My philosophy with money and family is much the same as my general gift-giving philosophy – if I am able to give it and I want to give it, I will.  Any gift from me is always freely given, I have no regrets in that regard.  As such, I’ve tried to help them out with bills and groceries each month.  They might say that they’ll pay me back, but I don’t expect to receive the money back, and quite frankly, they’ve never ever paid me back for a debt in full.

Sometimes though, what people ask for is too much for a person to give.

My parents have reached the point where it is truly impossible for them to ever repay all their debts.  I know this.  Thanks to a series of home equity line of credits and refinancing schemes, they owe approximately $750,000 on a house originally purchased for $420,000 ten years ago.  Their monthly bills and debt repayments total nearly $6000.  And that’s not including all the personal debts that they’ve accumulated with family and friends, nor the numerous tax assessments that have come and gone.  The amount and scope of their debt is both staggering and frightening to me.  And my dad, the only income earner, is on disability leave from work.

They’re in the middle of trying to sell their home, but in the mean time, the bills keep adding up.  Just last month, they asked me for $3000.  They asked me to put it on my credit card, to take it out of my RRSPs or my employee stock plan.  I said no.  I gave an excuse – we were in the middle of paying for a re-piping project on the rental condo.  This month, they asked me for $5000.  Again, I said no – I’m still paying for the piping project and now our tenants are moving out.

The truth? There is no way in hell I would ever lend them that much money.  I don’t have that much to give and despite all that they have said, I know that they will never repay me.  I can enumerate all the times that I have given them money and never seen it again, and it totals nearly $10,000.  I believe their good intentions, but at the same time, I can see the reality that they are choosing to ignore – there is not enough money and there won’t ever be, unless they finally decide to make drastic changes.

It bothers me that I am unable to tell them this to their faces.  I try to be honest, brutally honest, with everyone.  But I can’t bear the thought of disappointing my parents.

I’m not sure what will happen next, but I will try to write about it.  I would love to hear any suggestions that readers might have.

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Posted in: Credit and Debt, Family, Money

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  1. Wow, those are some hefty numbers that I can’t even fathom, especially for my parents. My parents have always been very money concious so I couldn’t even imagine them in that kind of trouble, but I think you’re doing the right thing by saying no. The thing is, unless you address it in a broader context, they’re going to keep coming to you and it’s just going to cause more and more tension. Unless you clearly outline that you won’t help them, the requests won’t stop (and even then they might not, but at least you’ve already established your position and can go back to that).

    • CF says:

      I wish that my parents were money conscious! I know that it would be best to be upfront, and usually I am pretty honest and direct with people… but I am having such a hard time with the idea of disappointing my parents.

  2. I have a similar dilemma. My parents aren’t very well off. Although unlike your parents they do not have debt, or an extremely expensive house. They live in a house that’s worth about $40K. I would really like my mom to have a nicer house. Not a super expensive house. Just maybe a pretty house in the $100K range. They do not have a retirement plan because they have never made enough money to even invest anything. Let alone have the knowledge to do so.
    I want to help my mom financially, but it’s definitely a huge weight on my shoulders as I plan for my future.

    • CF says:

      At least they do not have debt 🙂 As long as they continue to stay out of debt, their money situation can be improved, slowly.

  3. That’s such a hard reality to live with. My mother is the same way, but fortunately she hasn’t been able to dig herself in that badly yet. She’s currently burning through her divorce settlement and I’m not eager to find out what’s going to happen when that’s disappeared. I think you’re doing the right thing by refusing to allow yourself to be dragged down with them.

    • CF says:

      The more I share my story through the blog, with friends and with co-workers, I’ve been amazed at how many people are facing similar situations with their own parents. It’s a sad reality that a lot of people are having to deal with.

  4. Mackenzie says:

    I think you’re making the right decision, even though it’s a tough one. Hang in there!

  5. Ouch. That sucks to deal with for you. Here’s hoping that things semi-resolve themselves for you.
    At the very least, I am sure it strengthens your resolve to take impeccable care of your own finances!

    • CF says:

      My family’s finances has always been a huge reason why I am so single-minded when it comes to building wealth and keeping a sound financial house. I don’t ever want to be in their situation. :S

  6. Wow – that’s hard. What are bankruptcy laws like in Canada? Is it a viable option to start over? Their burdens should not be your burdens and it sounds like its gotten to that point.

    • CF says:

      I’ve started to look into the bankruptcy laws, but not sure of the details. The problem is, they still believe that borrowing more money is the answer. They haven’t hit the point where they accept that they need to let go of the house, the stuff, the debt and it’s hard to get them to make the drastic decisions required in order to start over.

  7. That is a tough situation to be in. Though you don’t want to disappoint your parents, I think the truth needs to be told. They won’t ever be able to pay off their debt, but at least they can stop borrowing if they hear it from the right person. Good luck with this sticky situation.

    • CF says:

      Thanks Grayson. I am trying to be firm with them and point out alternatives… They haven’t reached the point where they are willing to make drastic decisions yet.

  8. Wow. You’re in a really tough situation but I agree with everyone else — you’re making the right choice by saying no. It might be best to admit you can’t afford to lend them any more money so you don’t have to think of excuses when they ask again. Would it be possible to help them find a debt counselor or some other professional to assist them out of this situation? Hang in there!

    • CF says:

      Thanks Kendal. The problem is, even when I tell them I can’t afford to lend them money, they seize upon my savings and credit – can I lend them $5000 from my credit card, can I take $5000 from my RRSPs, etc. They are so desperate, it breaks my heart to keep saying no.

  9. Sorry to hear that. Family and money is always tough, we’ve got some stuff in my extended family too 🙁

  10. eemusings says:

    Argh. Those are some big numbers. I can empathise in many ways – T’s family comes from a cycle of welfare and poverty and show no signs of breaking out. As painful as it is (especially when you live close to them) you HAVE to put yourself first. Nobody else will. Stay strong.

  11. MG says:

    Hello Outlier,
    You are in a very tough situation and I commend you for sticking to your guns. Having said that, your parents are in a dire situation and need help – something like an intervention. Not sure if you have any siblings (I suspect not) but they need credit counseling IMMEDIATELY. They may be able to arrange “interest only” payments for their debts (meaning no principal payments) until they sell their house. There are non-profit agencies that will do this for free. Your parents need to face facts and take some drastic steps.
    Good luck!

    • CF says:

      I am not sure how they would react to a suggestion for credit counselling, but it’s a good idea. It may be that they would listen to someone other than me.

  12. That’s a really hard situation. It’s always hard to say, “no” to loved ones, but if that’s what’s best for you (and then), it’s what you have to do. Hang in there!

  13. Sorry to hear you are in this situation and that your parents are in the situation they are. Selling the house is likely their best bet because clearly they don’t have a leg to stand on. Like you I don’t mind giving money with no expectations to family but when it starts getting heavy and you know that you will never see it back there is a fine line that has been crossed. Only you can decide if you’ve made the right decision because you’re living it, they are your family. Best of luck, sending strength your way. Cheers

  14. Sorry to hear about this situation. I’d agree with everybody else as well. It is tough to say no, but you have to take care of yourself first.

    • CF says:

      I always tell Brian that, but it’s a lot harder when I have to tell my own parents no. It seems to be the best solution though.

  15. Brian says:

    While it is hard to say no, maybe you are just going to have to do it and tell them the truth. Someone has to be the “grown up” in this situation and unfortunately it sounds like you have to do it. While it may dissapoint your parents, they should get over it and realize they are disappointing you at the same time by setting a poor example.

    I know this all sounds very harsh, and it is, but sometimes tough love is the best kind of love. Good luck with this whole situation and remember whatever you choose to do is the right decision.

    • CF says:

      I completely agree with you – it’s the execution that I struggle with. My parents have never hesitated to be there for me, so a part of me really wants to be there for them. But like you say, I can’t keep giving them more money, it is not helping either of us.

      I think if they call again to ask for money, I will need to be firmer about not being able to lend/give it to them and hope that they can respect that.

  16. It does sound like bankruptcy might be the only option for them. I’m so sorry you are having to go through this. I can’t imagine my parents asking me for money and not sure how I’d handle it. And if you could help I’m sure you would but you are in a tight place as well, or at least you want to be smart about where your money goes. I might offer to help them figure out the best way to get out of the mess, even if that means bankruptcy.

    • CF says:

      Yeah, I’ve suggested some drastic measures, like moving in to a cheap rental and renting out their house for a profit. They could easily do that and end up with money left over each month. But they refuse to entertain the idea of living in a rented suite again… they haven’t hit the point where they are willing to give up on home ownership.

  17. Tough spot to be put in. Honestly, unless they can do a short sale I don’t see why they wouldn’t declare bankruptcy. That’s a huge difference between purchase price and asset value as far as their home is concerned. Yes, they got burned by the real estate market, but unless they plan on staying in this home forever (which it sounds like they aren’t) it’s probably best to declare bankruptcy, clear away all the debt, and try to live under their means and aggresively save for retirement. Easier said than done 😉 But you are making the right choice. Unless they are willing to sit down with you and make a solid plan for their finances, I wouldn’t lend them any money.

    • CF says:

      Well, in this market, the house is worth somewhere in the 700,000s. So theoretically, they’d be able to cover their debts with a sale. The hard part is getting them to avoid additional debt between now and then, and to make the tough decisions, eg. bankruptcy, if necessary.

  18. Daisy says:

    I’m sorry you have to deal with this and that your parents are going through this, too. This must be difficult for everyone involved. You are doing the right thing saying no, even if it doesn’t feel too good!

  19. agentfang says:

    I totally understand where you’re coming from. I have a brother who I bailed out countless of times, yet have I seen a single penny back from him. He owes me a few thousand. Now, he has a steady way higher job than me, but still he always finds excuses to not pay me back.

    It’s hard to say no, but there are a time where you just have to stand your ground. Some people just doesn’t understand managing their own money, in turn, they look for quick solutions by asking from others. They need to learn how to live below their means and repay their debts.

  20. Vicky says:

    Even though my parents haven’t asked me for money, I definitely still give them some each month. Fortunately, they are quite money conscious, and I also have the advantage of a couple other siblings to help with the burden. Where I can relate to the problem is that the boy’s parents are in a lot of debt, and even though I have tried to work with them to help them set up budgets and stuff, it is all “TOO HARD” and “We don’t want to die before we can go on vacation.” This definitely impacts our financial future, and the boy and I have had discussions about how to help, and we’ve decided that we’ll help them by buying groceries and such, but we won’t just give them cash. But I can definitely relate to the feeling of disappointing them by saying no. 🙁

    • CF says:

      It’s tough when people put up blockers like that. If they’re of the opinion that something is “too hard”, I imagine you won’t have much luck changing their minds until they’re ready to be a bit more open.

  21. jim says:

    Oh, spouse and I are in the exact same position as you are – only it’s the flip side of that coin. Our kids (even tho fully grown an educated and way off better than we ever were at their age – just continue to ask for $$$$$$). We’re about ready to say,”HELL NO!”

    Once I figure out just exactly how to do that, I’ll let you know. Setting boundaries is very difficult with the ones you love. BUT, I will tell you this – your parents are the ADULTS and they should NOT be leaching off of you – AT ALL. Stay stong!

    • CF says:

      I must have missed this when it was posted – my apologies! I totally sympathize with you – getting asked for money is no fun, especially when it’s family.

  22. Sounds like you’re taking a courageous stand here, and I applaud you for it. It can’t be easy to say no, especially when they’re your parents. It’s hard for me to say that, because as a parent, I couldn’t imagine my kid saying no to me after all I do now. However, I also couldn’t imagine burdening my kid with massive debt like that, so in the end I swing over to your approach on this.

    It sounds like they need to get some financial counseling to accept reality, and change their lifestyle. Maybe that’s a direction you can go to help?

    • CF says:

      It’s tough, definitely. English is their second language, so it’s also hard to find professionals that they are comfortable with. They mistrust other immigrants (haha) but they have a harder time communicating with English speakers. Still trying to help them plug along though… we’ll see where this ends up.

  23. :-(. This brought tears to my eyes, as I’ve recently watched my dad and stepmom go through a similar situation. My parents have never asked us for money, but it’s just so hard to watch your parents’ finances go down the tubes. I think you’re doing the right thing, saying no. It’s just like with kids: They’ll never learn if they keep being bailed out of their mistakes.

    • CF says:

      Aww, I’m so sorry to hear about your dad and stepmom. It is a very stressful situation for everyone involved. I am trying to be supportive while continuing to say no to money, but it is hard.

  24. Dear Debt says:

    I am so sorry you are put in this situation. I have no advice, but can sympathize. Money and family is a hard road to be on, especially when you are on different paths!

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