By Dr. Joshua J. White, Guest Writer

As physicians, dentists, or other high-income earners, we might experience times when others will come to us seeking financial help. This is difficult for many reasons. High-income earners are targets; after all, many people assume that with a well-known high income, there should be more disposable income and fewer financial troubles. To make matters worse, it is difficult to say no to others, especially after prolonged education and training when we were less able to help.

This is even more challenging when it is your own family that is asking for money. If I say no, what will Thanksgiving dinner be like? Will this corrode our relationship? Of course, this is a very personal decision, and every individual circumstance is different. However, without intentional preparation, many of us will find ourselves in difficult conversations with high stakes. Just as it is essential to create your own financial plan, I propose that it is prudent to consider how you want to respond to these requests when they come.

Here are some points that may help you prepare for these difficult conversations:


Have a Plan Before Being Asked to Give Money

As an emergency medicine physician, I am expected to handle situations that I will rarely encounter in my career. In rare cases, this may involve performing a C-section to deliver a baby. I am not a surgeon, and I don’t like the idea of doing this. However, when the time has come and when people need my help, my time for preparation has passed.

How do I prepare? I mentally practice. I rehearse in my mind what I will do when these difficult cases arrive.

Likewise, I recommend each of us develop a plan of what we will say when family asks us for financial help. What will you say to your parents? Your siblings? Your children? When do you think it is a good idea to loan or give them money? This takes significant mental energy, but I have found it to be immensely helpful when needed. It might be as simple as deciding to say, “I’m sorry that times have been difficult, let me get back to you about how I might be able to help.” This gives you time to evaluate the situation before prematurely committing to give money.


Can You Afford to Give Money to Your Family?

Each family dynamic and culture is different, and in some families, children may be expected to help support their parents or even other members of the family. An essential part of our ability to help others depends on the ability to meet our needs first. That’s why, on an airplane, we are encouraged to put our oxygen mask on first before helping others during an emergency. Based on the same principle, you and your spouse need to determine if you can afford to help your family. If so, how much can you afford? This amount may change over time, and it should be evaluated when you evaluate your financial plan.

This also makes it much easier to say no to others if you have already made the decision that you can’t afford it. Many of us have financial circumstances that others might not understand, such as hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans, being behind on retirement contributions, etc. Sharing some of these details may make setting financial boundaries easier. This is also a more credible explanation if we are choosing to not live a financially extravagant life.

More information here:

How to Handle Making More Money Than Your Friends


Is This a Financial Gift or a Contract?

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The standard way people tend to ask for financial help is to ask for money. I have often heard the advice not to mix business with personal because it rarely ends well. One of the reasons is that there are repercussions that affect personal relationships when business ventures don’t go as planned. When being asked to lend money, consider if this is a gift or a contract. If it is a contract, it is a business deal, and you should evaluate it on its merits. Does it have good potential? If this wasn’t a family member approaching me, would I invest in this? Another important consideration is to think about what will happen if the person to whom you lent money doesn’t pay you back. Will this cause resentment? Will this change your interactions during a future family reunion?

If this is a gift, then it is easier to set clear expectations. If it is a gift, there should be no expectations of being paid back. Furthermore, others don’t dictate what gifts to give so I think it allows more creativity. If a family member is in need and asks for money, there are other ways to give and potentially satisfy the need through a different way, such as giving food, financial advice, opportunities to work, etc.


What Is Their Financial Track Record?

Before giving money to a family member, it's important to consider their track record. Are they continually asking for help or always seem to be in different crises? Or are they conscientious and dependable? The times I have regretted giving money to others is when they have had a pattern of being financially irresponsible.


What Is the Quality of Your Relationship?

I have seen people who try to compensate for the poor quality of their relationship with a family member by giving financial gifts to “win them over.” This rarely seems to produce any long-lasting relationship benefits. Rather, it creates an unhealthy dependence. In contrast, the more my relationship with a family member is based on quality time and regular contact, the less likely a financial gift will have a negative impact. Because of this, I am more likely to give money to a family member if we have a close, high-quality relationship.

More information here:

The Right Way to Borrow Money from Family

Helping Family When They Are Bad with Money


The Consequences of Giving and Not Giving Money to Family

It is easier to give people what they want, and it temporarily appears that it helps them and strengthens the relationship. But does it really? In his well-known book The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas Stanley elaborates on what he calls economic outpatient care. He says that when affluent parents give money to their children:

“The intent may be to help their children ‘get started on the right foot.' The parents assume that such gifts are a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon . . . They assume that the recipients of their kindness will be able to ‘do it on their own' in the near future. Nearly half the time, they are wrong.” He goes on to say that even the gift of a full or partial down payment “can place a recipient on a treadmill of consumption and continued dependence on the gift giver . . . Many gift receivers in such situations become sensitive to the need for continued economic outpatient care. Their orientation may even dramatically change from a focus on self-generated economic achievement to one of hoping for and contemplating the arrival of additional gifts.”

giving money to family

This is a striking warning of what can happen from well-intended monetary gifts. In contrast, when we don’t give money to family members when they ask, this can cause division and uncomfortable situations.

In the book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, they make the claim, “We can't manipulate people into swallowing our boundaries by sugarcoating them. Boundaries are a ‘litmus test' for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can't respect our boundaries are telling us that they don't love our nos. They only love our yeses, our compliance. ‘I only like it when you do what I want.'”

This can be difficult when our loved ones don’t accept our boundaries. What can we do to strengthen relationships while saying “no?”


Emotional Bank Account

Author Stephen Covey teaches us that relationship capital can be compared to a bank account.

He says, “If I make deposits into an Emotional Bank Account with you through courtesy, kindness, honesty, and keeping my commitments to you, I build up a reserve. Your trust toward me becomes higher, and I can call upon that trust many times if I need to.”

If you decide that you can’t afford to give help and you set a boundary, it is even more essential to build up a relationship reserve through other ways of showing a greater measure of kindness. It is common for others to feel less loved, neglected, or more distant when rejected. Even though it is not one’s responsibility to prevent others from feeling offended, I have found even a small amount of intentional kindness can go a long way. It would be a tragedy to make the right financial move at the expense of a cherished relationship.

I want the people I love to know that I am there to support them, even if it’s not in the way that they were hoping or expecting. If you don’t feel like giving money is the right decision, I’d invite you to consider small ways that could build your relationship. A heartfelt phone call, an invitation to dinner, or making them cookies are all small things that might make a big difference.

More information here:

Finding Your ‘Why’ for Your Desired Financial Behavior


My Experience with Family Members Asking for Money

I have had many family members ask me for money. My initial plan that I implemented was to ask if they were willing to accept my financial advice and see the financial details of their life in exchange for my help. This initially worked, but I had an experience that changed the way I make my decisions.

My mom was in a difficult financial situation and asked me for money. I followed my predetermined plan, and I asked for some personal financial information in an effort to help with a needs assessment to see how I might be willing to help. She refused to give me this information and then asked one of my other siblings for money. It was given without pause or question. Subsequently, our relationship became strained. However, I felt justified.

Although she hadn’t asked me for money before, I didn’t agree with the way she was spending her money. Shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer and passed away in just a few months. Thankfully, we reconciled, and I was able to help in different ways before she passed. I shudder to think what I would have felt like had I not helped and reconciled with her after turning down her request for financial assistance. Because of this, when it comes to my closest relationships, I plan to err on the side of generosity.

If I could go back, I still wouldn’t have given money in the way she requested. But I would have done so much more to immediately support her. I would want her to know I am by her side to face the struggles she has and that she isn’t alone. This experience changed me.


My Plan for Giving Money to Family

  • Plan ahead with individual responses to each close family member if they were to ask for money.
  • Set aside some discretionary money when immediate family members are in a financial crisis.
  • Err on the side of generosity by being more willing to give, especially if this is not an established pattern of asking for money.
  • I choose giving over lending money.
  • When saying no to financial assistance, intentionally put extra effort in other ways to show kindness and empathy. I want my family to know I care about them.

I hope my personal experiences can help you prepare and navigate difficult conversations while maintaining close financial security and close family relationships.

Have you had family members ask you for monetary help? How did you respond? Do you regret any of your decisions? What will you do in the future? Comment below!

[Dr. Joshua White is an emergency medicine physician who loves to play sports, sing, and teach. This article was submitted and approved according to our Guest Post Policy. We have no financial relationship.]