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When Not to Give Money to Family

By Hanna Morrell December 19, 2023 Managing Money

There is a wonderful kind of privilege that comes with working hard for the last three or four decades… Savings are finally growing, the debt and/or mortgage is being paid down, and finally it feels like we can breathe just a little and enjoy life!

And sometimes this means we are fortunate enough to be in a position to help our families. This generosity can be a beautiful expression of our love and support.

But it’s important to approach the decision to give or lend money thoughtfully, considering both your own financial security and the potential impact on your family relationships.

Let’s talk about five reasons to NOT give or lend money to family (and what I encourage doing instead, as a holistic financial coach).

Reason #1: You Feel Guilty

I’m a parent myself, and I clearly remember denying my child a toy in the grocery store because our finances were right on a razor’s edge. That was 20 years ago, and I still recall it. I have the image of that little heart-broken face burned in my mind.

Guilt motivates us in unexpected and far-reaching ways. And, frequently, choices made from a place of guilt do not serve us long-term. It’s very rare that we consciously follow the cause and effect of “I had to say no to you when you were a child, and it broke my heart… the least I can do is make it up to you now.”

What you might consider if you’re giving or lending from a place of guilt:

First, be gentle with yourself!

Then examine the purpose of giving or lending money to your family member.

I’m not saying anyone should or should not lend or give their loved ones money, but it’s important to slow down the decision making process and understand the purpose of this money.

What is the purpose of giving/lending this money FOR YOU? What will this act provide to you? Peace of mind? Assuaging some long-held guilt? Ending an argument? Something else?

What is the purpose of giving/lending this money FOR THEM?

Reason #2: You Want to Make Their Lives Better Than Yours

I get pushback on this because isn’t that OUR JOB as parents?

Of all of the lies we’ve been told about our responsibilities as parents, this is probably the one that undermines our wellbeing the most. Specifically because how most of us heard that expectation is that our family should have nicer things, a better education, eat better, and have more opportunities than we did. But how do we actually define “better”?

Of course, I’m not saying we shouldn’t want our children and family to be happy, but it’s too easy for us to see our family’s lives (belongings, lifestyles) as a commentary on us as parents. And it’s difficult to know when we’re no longer on the hook for that.

How much of your family member’s life and lifestyle do you hold yourself responsible for?

What you might consider if you’re giving or lending from a place of expectation and responsibility:

  • First, be gentle with yourself! (Ya, that’s going to be my first suggestion for each of these.)
  • Then consider these questions:
  • How do you define being a “good parent”?
  • How do you know when you’re no longer responsible for your family member’s lifestyle, happiness, or comfort?

Reason #3: You’re Expecting Filial Piety

Filial piety isn’t a phrase we throw around too much, but this expectation lingers throughout our culture.

The expectation is that at some point, our family will financially support us as we age. Maybe you did that for your parents, and they did the same for their parents. It’s a subtle expectation that has an outsized impact. How often have you heard that assumption spoken? How often have you thought about it?

If you had to guess, how would you think that expectation feels to your child(ren)?

No one wants to think of their relationship with the people they love as transactional, but now might be a good time to explore this expectation.

Another element to filial piety is its inherent codependency. If you’ve at least at some level built your financial life with the implied expectation that your children will care for you later and then they are unwilling or unable to do that, you’ve exposed yourself to a huge amount of risk.

By supporting your family now, are you expecting them to repay that later?

What you might consider if you’re giving or lending from an expectation your children to care for you in the future:

  • First, be gentle with yourself!
  • If you have even the slightest suspicion that filial piety is lurking around, spend two minutes (and only two minutes) exploring what kind of specific risks this mindset has exposed you to.

Reason #4: You Feel Forced or Obligated

Any time you feel like you don’t have a choice, whether you are making yourself feel like you are out of options or someone else is encouraging that feeling, it’s time to take a pause.

Our brains don’t make good choices when we feel cornered, and often these quick, reactive, emotional decisions end up being something we regret later.

How much of the motivation for giving or loaning this money is accompanied by thoughts like “I don’t see any other way”?

What you might consider if you’re giving or lending from a place of feeling like you don’t have any other choice:

  • First, be gentle with yourself!
  • If you can take some time to consider the details of giving or loaning your family money, take it. What would be some other possible ways to get some of the values/positives of giving this money without some of the risks?

Reason #5: You Are Concerned About Appearances

We might be loath to admit it, but our family is a reflection of us.

Sure, we’d all like to say it doesn’t matter to us what our larger communities think of us, but in reality, we humans are a social bunch. Being seen as part of a community means safety.

How much of your motivation to give or loan this money is tied up in the potential that others will see you a certain way?

What you might consider if you’re giving or lending because you’re concerned about appearances:

First, be gentle with yourself! (Seriously!)

  • Try this thought experiment: If your family member’s financial choices were suddenly made public to your close social group, how would you feel? How would you feel like you need to protect yourself from others’ perceived judgment of you?
  • Be brave! No one will see this except you, so it’s safe to be honest!

One last element to consider:

How Emotions Impact Decision Making

As humans, we use emotion in our decision making.

We should NOT be working to actively remove emotions from decision making, but we should be thoughtful about HOW we use emotions.

Emotions are tools, but sometimes our emotional brains can get caught up and make decisions from a place of emotion, not just using them as tools.

Emotional decision making is typically fast. It’s a flood of emotion and activity, and in some cases can be kind of satisfying. Decision making from a place of emotion also solves for just one thing.

By including emotion in decision making, understanding why it’s there and slowing down the decision making process, we are more likely to make a good long-term decision.

Including competing emotion into decision making slows down the decision making process. That’s good! That complexity is there to help.

Now instead of solving for just one thing, we’re solving for two or maybe three things.

Slowing down decision making means we can look for and take advantage of other possible options.

Emotional decision making is lightning fast, reactive, and simplistic (solving for just one thing).

In short, none of us wants our family relationships to be transactional. Many families can manage gifts and loans beautifully, others end up in resentment, pain, and strained relationships. The biggest thing you can do here is to deeply understand your own motivations and slow down your decision making.

Making this decision less about the money and more about the act of giving or lending.

Every decision we make has echoing impacts in our lives, and while we can’t be aware of every eventuality, slowing down helps us make better informed decisions while prioritizing genuine connection with those we love the most.

Making informed and thoughtful decisions about your finances is a gift you give to yourself and your loved ones. By prioritizing your well-being and fostering open communication, you can create a foundation for a stronger and more fulfilling family life.

Ready to explore a bit more? Download the companion worksheet to this article here, exclusively for Sixty and Me readers!

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you often give or lend money to family? What are your reasons to do so? Do you have any return expectations?

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Rose J.

Great insights here regarding when not to give money to family. I have given and loaned money to family AND friends over the years with varying degrees of gratitude and payback. About 10 years ago, I decided that if and when I gave any more money, I would just consider it a gift, with no expectations for getting it back. I don’t tell people that I’m considering its a gift when I give, and I always get the “I’ll pay you back” response with a timeline attached. But now when the recipient swears that I will be paid back, I just never expect it to really happen, so I’m not disappointed. This is my way of viewing giving money to family and friends. Of course, now I’m also more definite about NOT giving/loaning money if I don’t want to when asked, and I don’t really feel bad if I don’t. I give when I want with no expectations, and don’t give if I just don’t want to. No feelings of guilt, either.

Hanna Morrell

Rose thank you for your story! And I LOVE this mindset! I can imagine it feels pretty good to be free of the potential for guilt. And that you only give when YOU want. Wonderful!


Loaning money to family or friends is rarely a good idea in my opinion.

My husband’s sister and her partner are no good with finances and husband loaned them a sizeable 4 figure sum when they missed mortgage payments. They were normally bailed out by my in laws but this time felt they couldn’t ask as my in laws were elderly. The money was loaned in October of one year with a verbal agreement we’d get it back in February as my sister in law would be paid a bonus (ironically she works for a global bank). February came and went, then we bought a new house and I had to revise down what I could spend on things like carpets and curtains. Husband’s sister had 3 teenage kids and I was annoyed to see on their FB pages they’d all had gifts like new iPhones and laptops for Christmas.

By this point sister in law had made it difficult for my husband to contact her – she was always too busy, didn’t have time due to various excuses etc. Then she cut off contact completely for a bit.

It eventually came to a head when I wrote to her nearly 2 years after the money was loaned. We’d moved overseas with work and were having to furnish a rented flat for ourselves so I just thought enough. She was absolutely furious with me but she wasn’t getting away with it, I felt she had no intention of paying us back.

She’s borrowed thousands from parents in the past 35 years without paying it back, has had new cars bought, taxed and insured by her father who is now nearly 90. Everything is being left to her and a younger brother, my husband is cut out of the will because he didn’t have a good relationship with his parents. They are welcome to it as far as we are concerned because they are not nice people.

Hanna Morrell

Wow, Linda it sounds like lending/giving has really disonnected you and your family! I’m so sorry!


I was already disconnected from them. My in laws stopped speaking to me in 1985 a year before I got married. My late mother in law didn’t think I was good enough for her son and encouraged other family members to side with her. She was a very matriarchal and controlling woman.

They aren’t important to me, OH had a very difficult relationship with his parents because they didn’t want him to go to university. He hasn’t spoken to his younger brother for over 30 years and they didn’t even speak at their mother’s funeral. As I said, they’re not particularly nice people.

Catherine Vance

A tough subject, for sure. Well, Mom, you’re 91. Someday when you’ve passed, Bank of
Cathy is closing her doors to the siblings. Yeah, I worked HARD for my money, have been thrifty, save, do not drive luxury cars, do not wear high-end clothes. I will never forget being a struggling 20-something when Mom & Dad bought new tires for my sister’s car and a year of auto insurance because she was “going without.” Bit my tongue until blood ran down my throat. She was NOT going without monthly massages, nail salons, hair salons, high-end cosmetics, etc. Now she wants me to “lend” her money for teeth veneers. I ain’t doing it.
My Mom just inherited just barely enough to live out her life on from her deceased brother and I swear to GOD, if my sister asks Mom for it——-well, as I tell my only child son,
“Sometimes, siblings are over-rated.” Thanks for letting me vent. Bank of Cathy

Hanna Morrell

We have all sorts of reasons for giving/lending. It sounds like you’re just trying to protect yourself.

Renee Lovitz

Gave money to a grandson who later stopped communicating with me.
Sorry for every penny I gave. Don’t add money to the equation!! Live and learn!!

Hanna Morrell

I’m so sorry that happened to you, Renee! No one deserves to be taken advantage of!

Catherine Vance

I know! I’m about ready to send my nephew two gifts–one a gift he wants and the second, a box containing thank-you notes, address list for our family, and a roll of stamps. Good
parents??? Where are you??? Kids old enough to text and talk on the phone can do
SOMETHING by way of saying thank-you. Signed, Auntie Cathy


Love it.

The Author

Hanna Morrell is a holistic, trauma-informed financial coach who helps people trust themselves with their money. Her adaptive curriculum respects that every decision we make is either directly or indirectly a financial decision. Hanna delights in teaching her clients how they can build and customize their own money systems.

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