Dispensing Money Advice (or not) to “Help Resistant” Family and Friends

December 3, 2008 by  
Filed under Money and Behavior

The holiday season is known for joyous celebrations of extended family members who may not see each other often.   At least they are supposed to be joyous celebrations.  Unfortunately, these holiday get-togethers are often catalysts for the emergence of dysfunctional behaviors which plague some families.  There is something about the emotions and stresses associated with the Christmas season that can bring out both the best and worst of certain people in our lives.

Money can be a “hot button” issue in families at any time and particularly at Christmas gatherings where the “haves” and “have nots” perhaps can be identified by levels of gift giving.  If your husband gives you dangly diamond earrings and your sister gets a new hair dryer, the green-eyed money envy monster can get unleashed in a hurry. 

Perhaps after a little adult beverage lubrication, family (and friends) will sometimes whine and complain to you about how lousy things are in their financial lives.  You the listener are then caught in a potential trap:  Do you ignore the complaints and appear to be insensitive?  Or do you hand out financial advice knowing that it will be resisted or ignored?

I have written before about family finance meltdowns and responding to loan requests from family membersBut what happens when you are confronted by a complaining family member or friend who could benefit from some real financial advice but is resistant to receiving it?

This brings me to something that I read this week at Oprah.com.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Mr. (Know-It-All) ToughMoneyLove found something informative in the Oprah domain.  The article is “Dealing with Complainers who Resist your Help.”  I don’t know anything about the credentials of the author but the article made a lot of sense to me.

To summarize, the author outlined three possible “loving it, leaving it, leading it” techniques for dealing with the frustrations induced by someone who loves to complain but hates actually getting advice in response to the complaints.  I’ve adapted those concepts to the more specific area of giving financial advice to a whiny but “help resistant” family member or friend.  See what you think.

1.  The “Loving it” Response.  This is what I would call the diplomatic “cop-out” technique.  Let’s assume that a family member or friend is, say, complaining about being broke all of the time.  Maybe you know this person quite well and from that you are certain that she is “broke all of the time” because she is a compulsive clothes shopper with a smokin’ hot credit card.   You also know from past experience that this person is highly resistant to having that explained to them.  So, your “loving it”  response is along the lines of “wow that’s a problem but I’m sure you will know how to fix it.”  Then you quickly move on to another topic without dispensing any advice at all.  The complainer can’t justifiably be upset with this response because, after all, you expressed sympathy for her money problem followed immediately by a clear affirmation of the complainer’s ability to solve the problem on her own.   Case closed.

2.  The “Leaving it” Response.  Also known as the “guy” response, I have to confess that I have used this technique without even realizing it.  If this help resistant family member wants to tell you all about his ginormous credit card bills or escalating mortgage interest rate, you respond with something like:  “Yeah, you’re in real trouble there.  Say – I think the game is on TV now so I’ll catch up with you later.”  Then you leave the conversation.  You won’t get any sympathy points using this technique but it’s all about getting out of there ASAP and this works.  Depending on how close you are to the friend or family member, you might throw in a little hug or pat on the back before you scoot.  That might take some of the sting out of the whole episode.  Not the huggy type?  At least toss out a “Merry Christmas” before you walk away.

3.  The “Leading it” (Constructive) Response.  This technique is used when you believe that (a) your friend or family member has a correctible money problem and (b) there is still hope that he or she may actually be receptive to financial advice to address the problem.  The key is finding out what kind of feedback the friend or family member is really looking for.  So, you must “lead” that person towards revealing that need to you before you actually give any feedback.

Let’s assume that your family member is complaining to you about his car, it’s old, not running well, and he is thinking about replacing it with something new but money is tight.  You are eager to explain to him that he should be looking not at new cars but at more affordable late model used cars.  Your brain is telling you to blurt out something like “look moron, if money is tight it would be crazy for you to compound the problem by adding another car payment to your cash flow.”  Not even Dr. Phil would like that blunt honesty.  So resist the temptation.  It’s time to bring out your more sensitive side.   (I know – it would be hard for me too.) 

Applying the “leading it” method, you gently tell this person that you feel bad for their situation and want to support them if possible.  Then you “lead” that person by asking them what kind of help you can provide:  “Do you want just my understanding of your problem?  Advice on ways to pay for another car?  Information on what kinds of cars would make sense for you?  Tell me how I can help you with this problem?”  Now the ball is back in their court and you are in good shape.  Your help-resistant family member or friend might then say “well I need to do some more evaluating on my own but thanks for the offer.”  Or perhaps you will have made a breakthrough and the come back will be “Sure – I would like to hear your ideas on how to replace my aging car with something more reliable.”  Bingo!  That’s when you can feel comfortable dispensing that “buy a used car” advice because you have led that person to telling you what they want/need to hear.

Note that these techniques are designed to generally protect your relationship with your friend or family member while minimizing your own frustration level that would be created by giving advice that would be resisted. 

So thanks to Oprah.com for giving us these ideas.  Maybe you will have an opportunity to apply them at an upcoming family event.  If so, let Mr. ToughMoneyLove know how it goes.

Feed Mr. ToughMoneyLove

FREE UPDATES: If you enjoyed this, please subscribe to receive the newest hard truth from Mr. ToughMoneyLove automatically by RSS feed (what is RSS?) or by spam-free Email.

  • Banner


6 Responses to “Dispensing Money Advice (or not) to “Help Resistant” Family and Friends”
  1. Flexo says:

    In my experience, most of the people I hear complain about money aren’t looking for solutions or adivce. Most of the time, they just want to vent — even if deep down, they would like their problems to be gone. I never offer advice. If someone wants to hear my thoughts on their money situation, I wait for them to ask. Even then, I’m often reluctant, because I don’t want to fill that role for friends and family. If a stranger has a question, I will always do my best, but I’d like to keep my relationships with friends and family pure without bringing a level of “I know more about handling money than you do” into it.

  2. Flexo – Thanks for the comment. It sounds like you subscribe to the “loving it” and “leaving it” response strategies. I think I agree with you. Recently a young family member who has a lot money invested (and who is about to get a lot more) contacted me for portfolio advice after the market crashed. I made some initial “hold the fort” type recommendations but then encouraged him to connect with a personal financial advisor.

  3. Slinky says:

    I usually follow the person’s lead. They say something, I throw out a tidbit. If they don’t respond to it, I drop it. If they do I’ll throw something else out there.

    – For example –
    Sister: I need to get my taxes done.
    Me: I filed mine online for free.
    Sister: Could you help me do my state?
    – While helping with state taxes
    Me: Do you have any student loan interest?
    Sister: Yeah, here. I need to sit down one of these days and figure out exactly what I’ve got.
    Me: There’s a web site that will show you all of them.
    -I send the website later and get “Thanks” in reply so I drop it.

    This method always goes just one step farther than they’re willing to go. It pushes a little towards smart decisions, but it’s not really being pushy. The key isn’t to throw out advice, but more like information. I did this, I use that, I know of a site/program/etc that does that. That way you’re helpful, but not judgmental or anything. If they’re interested, they’ll ask. If they could care less, they’ll ignore it.

  4. Slinky – I like your technique. I have done the same with my sons – send them info and hope they read and react to it in a positive manner.

  5. How about the intervention? For those how aren’t interested but are ruining their lives and you care enough to be uncomfortable and try and involve yourself. This one isn’t designed to protect the relationship though, as it could spell the end or a great new beginning.

  6. Happy Rock: A money intervention isn’t likely to work well with most people. At least with an addiction, the addicted recognize they have a problem. People with money problems seem to think they are normal.

Speak Your Mind

Please leave a comment and tell us your version of the hard truth...

You must be logged in to post a comment.