(This post originally ran on Brad’s Enemy of Debt blog. I thought it was interesting and Brad agreed to share it with us today:))
I know what you’re thinking. “How in the world can an in-flight safety handbook help me financially?”
I want to focus today on one specific part of those instructions. Skip ahead to the part about securing your oxygen mask in case of changes in the cabin pressure. Now I know you’re really confused, but bare with me. After hearing many stories of financial struggle, and dealing with the raw emotions that come with it, I want to discuss something that seems to be a pretty common issue among struggling families. I have received more than a dozen comments about this issue just over the past six months, so I finally decided to write about it.
Do you tend to worry more about those around you? No, I’m not talking about your husband, your wife, or young children. I’m talking about other family and even friends. One of the most common reasons I hear for people not being able to save an emergency fund, or keep one once they have it, is that they are constantly helping others. Every time they turn around, they see someone in need and feel obligated to help. Their compassion and guilt will not allow them to look the other way. They feel there is no choice.
So if we have figured out that the reason we cannot help ourselves, is because we are too busy helping others, then at least we recognize the problem. You have two choices—you either keep helping or stop helping. Here is where the rest of the oxygen-mask instructions come in handy.
“Remember to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others with theirs.”
Why do they tell you to do that? It’s not because they don’t care about the person you may have to help. It’s because you have a better chance at helping them once you are sucking back some oxygen. You are no good to anyone, if you pass out. Secure your own mask, and then be compassionate! You will be in a better position to do so.
Secure Your Own Mask First!
So how can you apply this to your financial situation? That’s easy! Save an emergency fund for yourself before you start passing out money like you don’t need it. Secure your own future first because before you know it, that oxygen mask won’t be enough, and retirement will be right around the corner.
Wait just a second though. Once you have that Emergency Fund in place it doesn’t mean you’re home free. Your oxygen mask is not yet properly secured. There is more work to be done. Your emergency fund is to be used when YOU have an emergency. If you have extra money in your budget to help out that month, and it doesn’t require the use of your security fund, then by all means help out. Using your emergency fund to help out, is like putting your oxygen mask on someone else. Where does that leave you? Think about it. You want to help, and Lord knows I want you to help, but you have to do it right—so you can be the most effective.
What about Compassion?
Am I asking you to let your elderly parents starve to death? Absolutely not! What I am asking you to do is consider other alternatives. Is there another way to help that doesn’t include playing financial roulette? Sure there is, you just have to find it. You certainly won’t find it if you don’t look for it.
I volunteer with my church’s Mercy team, and when someone needs a financial push in the right direction, I’m right there. That’s not all they do though. They help people with rent/mortgage, groceries, electric bills, other utilities, and more. I also happen to know that there are so many other churches and organizations that are ready to step in and help out in tough financial situations. If your elderly parents fail to pay the rent, call around. Someone, somewhere will help you!
Dealing With Leeches
There is another component to this topic. Leeches should be the easiest to deal with, just for the simple fact that they live off of the sweat of others, which sometimes makes it easier to pull the plug. They most often are kids, which makes it tough for the parents because they feel even more guilty. Leeches play off of that guilt, and will suck it dry until it’s time to find their next unsuspecting host. I’ve seen it so many times—heck, it’s in my family. I’ve sure been irresponsibly immature with money before. I was always broke too.
Typical story: child/adult is bad at managing his money. When he does have money, he is too busy buying things to make him happy instead of acting responsibly. Perhaps said kid, still lives with mommy, and mommy continues to wipe his mouth every time he makes a mess. The parent in that situation is enabling bad behavior and even encouraging it. What that kid needs is a job, and some financial management classes, not someone to coddle him in the name of “helping” him.
One of the best books you can find on setting boundaries in your relationships, was written by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend and it is called, you guessed it—BOUNDARIES! This book will show you how to help in the right way, at the right time, and as you see fit. You must set boundaries!
P.S. Boundaries are not having your 40 year old son, who still lives at home, running to “mommy” every time he gets a cell phone bill!
You cannot be there for everyone—all of the time—no matter how hard you try. Sometimes you just have to take a step back, and find another way to help those in need. Sometimes people need to be allowed to help themselves, you know….LIKE YOU for instance! :D
You are not blessing others by destroying yourself! If you don’t have the money then you just can’t do it, and I would personally qualify not having your own emergency fund as not having the money. You need that first, then you need some extra money to help save those around you. It’s equally important to know when you’re hurting someone rather than helping them.
Work harder at getting yourself in a position to offer assistance. As they say, “SAVE YOURSELF!” Now you can save the world. Until then, learn how to say NO. Give it a try. I bet you will make great progress, and you’ll feel a lot better about your situation after you do.
Since this is such a common thing, I was hoping to hear your thoughts and comments on this issue. Have you been there? How did you deal with it? What’s your story?
Guest Post by Brad of Enemy of Debt – a personal finance blog motivating and inspiring financial discipline by focusing on behavior and truth. Brad hopes by teaching personal responsibility, debt free principles, and the importance of planning, people can learn how to take control of their finances one step at a time.
(Photo by markhillary)