3 Specific Boundaries That Save Me From Becoming My Family’s Personal ATM

By | Thursday, November 01, 2018

While speaking about money wasn’t exactly taboo in my household when I was young, my mother tried her best to avoid talking about it with me or family members whenever she could, even if a situation necessitated it. The most she’d share with me or my grandparents, in particular, was how little she had of it. No one really knew how much she was making — just that it wasn’t enough. Thankfully, I was brought up in a family that doesn’t believe in shaming anyone for their money troubles. In fact, I was raised in an environment where everyone felt really comfortable reaching out to another family member if they needed help paying something like their rent or electricity bill. That’s partially how my mom was able to make ends meet and maintain a roof over our heads. For that, both my mother and I are incredibly thankful for the monetary support we’ve received from immediate family over the years.

Now that I’m older and in a pretty decent place financially, I try to pay it forward by helping out those who lent a helping hand to my mom while she was raising me. That said, if I’m not careful with how much I give and who I give to, I can easily get taken of advantage of — and I have, a handful times (as has my mother). You see, I’m a big people-pleaser, due to the fact that I really dislike confrontation, something I’ve spoken about previously on TFD. I’d much rather do whatever is necessary to placate someone and their wishes than get into an argument with them, even if what they are asking for is unreasonable. But taking the approach when dealing with people in my family who would reach out asking for money for a variety of reasons (from help paying off the usual household bills to funding their birthday parties) started adding up.

After extending favors one too many times — some of which involved situations I shouldn’t have agreed to, like helping bankroll someone’s birthday function in another country — I actually started running out money for myself. That’s when I decided enough was enough. While I’m not completely against the idea of giving people in my family money for things they really can’t afford or really need help with, I’m very strategic about my giving now. Here are the three boundaries I’ve since established to ensure I no longer overextend myself.

1. I do not give money to people who only contact me for money and money alone.

I have certain cousins and aunts who I only hear from whenever they need money, which is imaginably annoying and frustrating. Since I’ve grown a backbone for myself, I’ve since spoken to a lot of them about it, and for the most part, they have stopped their habit of only messaging me when they need $100. However, there are still a few people in my life who operate this way. So now when they reach out solely with the intention of getting something from me, I politely let them know I do not have the room to extend any help in my budget. The first couple of times I did this, I felt super guilty, but after doing it over and over again, I started realizing the importance of saying “no” to people who clearly don’t care about how you’re doing, just what’s in your bank account.

2. Unless it’s a holiday or I’m feeling generous (and I can afford to), I don’t help people buy material items they don’t need but merely want. Just like the first point, I have cousins who solely reach out whenever they want some new clothes, sneakers, gadget — you name it. It’s like I don’t exist until the new pair of Jordans drops. I’d have no problem getting it for them for Christmas or a birthday, if it’s in my budget, but I’ve officially stopped doing it out of generosity. At the end of the day, we can all benefit from accumulating fewer material possessions.

3. I try and find alternative ways to help family members if I can’t offer them monetary help.

While I have no problem helping someone in my immediate family with paying for certain responsibilities if they are running low on funds, I do recognize that I’m not in the financial place to do so on a regular basis. When I really can’t afford to lend money to someone, I try and help in other ways to the best of my my ability, whether that’s working with them to build a résumé to send to prospective employers, tweak their cover letters to match specific job listings, or even teaching them certain skills, like how to use different functions on Excel.


Some may think I’m a being a tad mean for having such strict rules around my money when it comes to my family. But I personally believe they are necessary for self-preservation. If there’s one major lesson I learned from the time when I would constantly dish out money to family as if I had a bottomless bank account (spoiler, Shammara — you don’t), it’s that when you constantly enable a certain behavior in someone — in this case, asking for cash whenever or whatever even if they don’t need it — they won’t stop until you set some boundaries with them.

Have some family members been upset at me because I didn’t immediately Cash App them funds at a moment’s notice for their silly whims or wants? Yep, they sure have. But I can no longer act as other people’s personal ATM. I much prefer to save that money they’ve asked me for in a safe savings account that I can tap into when, and only when, they are in crisis and truly need it. (And I’m sure, deep down, they’d agree with my decision, too).

Shammara is the editorial assistant at The Financial Diet. When she’s not copy-editing or writing about her financial woes, you can find her on Twitter sharing her thoughts on beauty and fashion trends and pop culture.

Image via Unsplash

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