The Struggle is Real (Dealing with Financial Pressure from Loved Ones)

One of the most powerful aspects of being part of Onyx is the ability to learn from other’s experiences. October’s Sunday session, “The Struggle is Real: Facing and Resisting Financial Pressures from Loved Ones,” was no different. So thank you to everyone who joined last month and an extra note of gratitude to everyone who shared a personal story. The overarching theme was that we all need to feel empowered to prioritize our well-being when faced with pressure from loved ones. Setting boundaries and saying no when necessary will not be easy. You should anticipate friction since people will respond unfavorably to changes in the relationship dynamics. But the financial peace of mind you’ll have afterward will make up for any conflict that arises.

Since setting boundaries around time and financial resources will look different for each person, this recap will share three general areas where it’s important to set emotions aside and be more intentional about how you engage with others: holiday spending, co-signing for others, and thinking strategically about the ways we provide financial support.

Don’t let the holidays blow a hole in your budget.

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, monitoring your overall spending is essential–especially regarding gifts and holiday travel. 

  • Some Onyx members advocated for drawing names and having a gift swap instead of their families’ past gift-giving traditions. They were pleasantly surprised with how quickly their family members came on board.
  • Holiday travel was trickier to navigate. While flights are expensive, car travel also becomes burdensome for some who want to spend less time, energy, and gas driving. These conversations can be more emotionally fraught because wanting to see loved ones during the holidays is natural. But if they genuinely care about your well-being, your loved ones will understand the desire to visit another time to alleviate stress and financial strain.

Understand what you’re committing to before becoming a co-signer.

If possible, avoid co-signing if a family member asks for help financing college, purchasing a car, or securing a place to live. Agreeing to be a cosigner can have long-term repercussions.

  • One Onyx member couldn’t purchase a home because her debt-to-income ratio was too high after co-signing a sibling’s student loans. 
  • Another member couldn’t obtain financing for their last year of grad school because a loved one didn’t repay a loan they co-signed years earlier. This situation led to the cosigners’ assets being frozen and almost seized to fulfill the other person’s financial obligations. 
  • Some members only agreed to co-sign because lenders said they could be released after three years of on-time payments. However, lenders rarely mention that the other person must have good credit and enough income to qualify for the loan independently, which can be hard for recent college graduates. Now the cosigner is on the hook far longer than anticipated.

Be intentional when you do decide to provide financial support.

Whether your support is one-off or ongoing, people underscored the importance of having straightforward conversations and being strategic in how you approach the situation.

  • One Onyx member realized their grandmother was behind on mortgage payments even though she’d been providing money specifically for that purpose. She decided to submit payments directly to the company to ensure the mortgage was paid (and not redirected in response to financial entreaties from less fiscally responsible family members). 
  • Other members have added themselves as authorized users to their parent’s account to better understand their monthly cash flow. Initiating these conversations can be awkward because some folks may bristle at the intrusion when they’re used to having more autonomy. However, as the person with the money, it’s not unreasonable for you to expect a level of financial transparency for them to continue receiving financial support.

When facing financial pressures from a loved one, knowing whether–and how–to say yes will depend on many factors. The first imperative is to ensure that you’ve put your mask on first, financially speaking. That may mean saying no to co-signing but deciding to contribute X amount toward whatever cause your loved one seeks help for. It could also look like drawing up an agreement that delineates expectations; that way, people aren’t surprised if they don’t follow through and you say no to future requests. Developing a standard process for considering these requests can also be helpful. The decision ultimately falls to you, and your tolerance for setting boundaries and having uncomfortable conversations will heavily influence the outcome.


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