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The Moneyist: My husband’s sister and brother-in-law declared bankruptcy. The family helped them out — but they still spend, spend, spend

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Dear Quentin,

My husband has a large family, and his siblings have varying levels of financial security. One of his sisters is married with teenage children, and though her husband had a low-six-figure job, they have had difficulty keeping up with bills over the years.  

Members of the family have given them a substantial amount of money and/or paid for their children’s school or other expenses. Then her husband — who is in his 60s and not in the best of health — lost his job, and things got worse. 

They had absolutely nothing saved and were already behind on their bills. They filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and were able to keep their family home. She is now employed and her husband is employed again, albeit at a lower salary than before their bankruptcy.  

They received about $20,000 from an inheritance that should have helped them catch up, but they still have trouble making ends meet at times. I am happy that we and other members of the family were able to help them out when they were in need, and I don’t have any expectation that we will ever be paid back. 


‘She and her family don’t appear to make any real sacrifices or change their spending habits.’

The problem I have is she and her family don’t appear to make any real sacrifices or change their spending habits, and — although I don’t want them to be out on the street — I don’t want us or other family members to have to keep giving them money. 

If they don’t change their habits and have no savings or plan for retirement, then I have no doubt that at some point it will fall back on us to support them again. My husband and other family members have tried to talk to them about their finances, but they don’t seem to listen or just don’t get it. 

At this point, they would say they are fine — but that’s until something happens, such as an unexpected large expense, one of them losing their job or getting injured or, even worse, one of them passing away. 

What can we do?

Sister-in-Law

Dear Sister-in-Law,

Three little words: No. More. Bailouts.

You and your husband can make a joint decision not to agree to more financial assistance. If they know it’s there waiting for them, they will be more tempted to spend, spend, spend. If they know you’re serious and you have made a stance on this as a family, they will be on notice.

You could — as a family and as a parting gesture — offer to pay for a series of sessions with a financial adviser or financial therapist. If they are not saving money for their retirement and/or for a rainy day, how are they going to make ends meet? Relationships are not ATMs.

However, they will do what they do. You would not believe the number of letters I receive from people who sign off with a question like, “How can I get her to see this from my point of view?” Or, “How can I get him to change his ways?”

The hard truth is you can’t. People are responsible for their own actions.

See also: I don’t want to be taken advantage of’: My boyfriend moved in during the pandemic and pays me $400 a month

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected], and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

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Check out the Moneyist private Facebook FBgroup, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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