[Morning! I’m still chillin’ at FinCon this week (if you’re around – come find me!), so here’s another great post in my absence today, this time courtesy of The Financial Lifeguard, Christine Luken. Hope you find it as fascinating as I do! You can’t make some of this stuff up!! Haha…]
My Ex-Fiancé Spent our Rent Money on Weed
So, yeah, that really happened to me back in the late 90’s. My then-fiancé, Jeff, told me he would give me $300 towards our rent when he got paid that week. But when it came time to pay the rent, he didn’t have it.
Why? He spent the money on weed. Evidently, he prioritized getting high over having a roof above our heads. But he had a plan… to sell part of it to his friends and make a profit. So, he’d get his weed for free and have the money I needed for rent. Sounds like a sure-fire plan, right?
Unfortunately, his friends were under-motivated and under-employed, just like Jeff. Only one of them paid his full share. The others made partial payments with IOU’s for the rest.
Sadly, my landlord only accepted cash or checks for the rent. I scrambled to come up with the money before the grace period expired and late fees kicked in. This situation began my saga with payday lenders that I previously shared on this site.
I spent seven years with Jeff, from ages 19 to 26, most of them brimming with tales of financial misadventures and downright horrors. To be clear, I possessed a skill for money management and majored in accounting in college. So what was my problem? I was a financial enabler.
Financial enabling occurs when you relieve someone of the natural consequences of their behavior and take them onto yourself. It’s a form of co-dependency.
According to PsychCentral.com,
“Codependency is characterized by a person belonging to a dysfunctional, one-sided relationship where one person relies on the other for meeting nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. It also describes a relationship that enables another person to maintain their irresponsible, addictive, or underachieving behavior.”
This described my relationship with Jeff to a T.
I didn’t just pick up the slack for him in the bill department. I called in sick for him when his massive hangovers kept him in bed. I made his doctor and dentist appointments for him. I bailed Jeff out of jail on more than one occasion. It’s like I was engaged to a juvenile delinquent in a man’s body.
It’s easy to judge this situation from the outside, looking in. “You should have kicked him out of the apartment or broken up with Jeff for not contributing!” Yes, you’re right, I should have, and I eventually did.
At the beginning of our relationship, Jeff acted irresponsibly, but in smaller ways. The longer we dated, the more he pushed the envelope and tested my wimpy boundaries. I hid money from him because if Jeff knew I had any, he’d figure out a way to talk me into giving it to him. His favorite method was escalating arguments into fights which, being a pacifist, would cause me to cave.
I swear that man could figure out how to squeeze $20 dollars out of ten, then go blow it on something worth $5.
Money is emotional, even more so when financial enabling is involved. This behavior can happen between partners, friends, or relatives. What starts out as someone wanting to genuine help the other person can devolve quickly into dysfunction.
As a money coach, I see this situation come up during my coaching sessions. Many times, parents are “helping” their irresponsible adult children and constantly bailing them out of their financial disasters. It’s a sensitive subject that causes a good deal of drama and conflict for a family. Fortunately, because of my personal experience, I’m able to assist people in breaking the vicious cycle of financial enabling.
Here are Some Signs You Are Enabling, Not Helping:
- The person expects you to help, and uses guilt to try to manipulate you
- The person makes the same kinds of financial mistakes over and over again
- The person seems to get worse, not better, after you help them
- You are suffering financially as a result of helping the other person
- The situation is a constant source of stress — and you feel bitter and resentful
The first and hardest step in breaking this cycle is admitting you are a financial enabler and you are part of the problem. You have been shielding your loved one from the financial consequences of their own behavior, which isn’t a good thing for either of you.
Once you have reached this conclusion, it’s good to arrange a sit-down meeting to discuss the situation. Be prepared for the other person to be upset and even to say that you are unloving or uncaring for allowing them to face their own consequences.
Depending on the situation, you may need to set up a timeline for change. For example, if your 28-year old able-bodied son is living in your basement, you’ll want to give him a short, yet reasonable time frame (say 60 to 90 days) to find an apartment before you start charging him rent. He will likely test you, so make sure you are mentally prepared to stick to your guns.
It’s important to understand that financial enabling exists on a spectrum. The situation might be as simple as a parent spoiling their grown child a little too much. However, financial enabling could be much more severe and complicated if it’s intertwined with substance abuse or other types of dysfunctional relationships. In this case, it’s a symptom of a much deeper problem.
There is no shame in reaching out for the help of a trained mental health professional to help deal with financial enabling and co-dependency issues. In fact, I encourage it. One of the very best things I did after I broke up with Jeff was seeking counseling.
Money is emotional, and for issues like this, a simple budget template isn’t going to solve the problem. The most important thing my counselor, Dave, taught me, was how to create and enforce healthy boundaries in all areas of my life, not just money.
My boundaries were almost non-existent when I left Jeff, because I had become such a people-pleaser to keep the peace. I distinctly remember my counselor asking me, “What’s your favorite ice cream?”
“Cookies and cream,” I answered right back.
“Was that Jeff’s favorite ice cream?” Dave asked, narrowing his eyes.
“Yeah, so?” I countered.
“You don’t even know what kind of ice cream you like!” Dave exclaimed. Then he gave me a homework assignment: go to the grocery, buy five pints of ice cream that sound good, and figure out which one was my favorite. (Mint chocolate chip, in case you’re wondering.)
Repairing my boundaries and overcoming codependency was a long, but worthwhile journey for me. Now, I joke that my poor husband, Nick, doesn’t get away with anything, because my boundaries are strong like bull, lol!
So, what happened to Jeff? Did he learn from his mistakes and turn over a new leaf? Sadly, no. Last I heard, he found and married the first woman who would take care of him financially, had a couple of kids, and moved into the cozy trailer right next to his mom. (OMG… that could have been me!!)
I have no hard feelings about the situation anymore. It’s because of what I went through that I now have a career as a personal finance coach. There’s one thing I’ve learned when it comes to financial enabling: you’re only responsible for YOU and your own behavior. You can’t control or fix the other person, unless they truly want to improve themselves.
Have you ever been in a situation like this? How did you handle with it?
Christine Luken, the Financial Lifeguard, is a Certified Financial Counselor, speaker, and the author of Money is Emotional: Prevent Your Heart from Hijacking Your Wallet. You can find her at her website at ChristineLuken.com, where she empowers people to rescue their financial dignity by showing them how to create a personalized prosperity plan.
Previous articles Christine has written for us over the years:
- 6 Things I Don’t Agree With Dave Ramsey On
- Financial Confessional: “I Was a Check-Bouncing, Collector-Dodging Accountant!”