The Moneyist: I got into debt helping my mother financially. I even bought her a home and car. Don’t I have a right to put my husband first?

United States

Dear Moneyist,

I was raised by a single mother who sacrificed and worked very hard to give me and my siblings everything we needed growing up. Throughout my life I have tried to take care of my mom as best as I can, I give her money twice a month. I gave her my car. I paid for the down payment to her house. I even built a home in her country for her to have a place to stay when visiting her family.

About six years ago my brother passed away, and my mom took in his wife and two young children. They have been living with my mom and, although the wife now works, she doesn’t make enough to move out on her own. My sister and I do the best we can to help my mom pay the bills and mortgage. As I make more money than my sister, I give her more.

You would think I am rich, but I’m not. I serve in the U.S. military, and I have had to take out personal and credit-card loans to help our mother. She has asked for financial support in the past, but I have also volunteered to help when I have seen her struggle.

‘I serve in the U.S. military, and I have had to take out personal and credit-card loans to help our mother.’

My mom worked minimum-wage jobs, but has been unemployed for a year. She is in her late 50s and it has been difficult for her to find a job. Currently, she is earning money as a care giver and doing odd jobs to get by with the help of my sister and I.

Recently, I made the decision not to buy my mom a car after I said I would buy her one. (Her old car is 13 years old and needs constant repair.) I decided not to follow through with this because, frankly, I don’t have the money and I don’t want to get in any more debt. I don’t even have a car of my own.

I have since gotten married, I want to have a child, and to be able to provide for my family. I am still paying for the house I purchased for my mother, and I’m more than $ 50,000 in debt. I decided it is time to stop buying things I can’t afford, pay off my debt, and build up my savings account.

I don’t want to close the door on my mom, but haven’t I done enough to help her? We have done more than most of our family members. I feel that if I don’t help her, no one else can. Am I wrong for wanting to focus on my spouse and future children?

A Loving Daughter at a Crossroads

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Dear Loving,

The gravy train hath long runneth over, and the gravy train hath now run out of gravy.

You did the right thing in helping your mother in the beginning, but you can only do so much. You can’t make up for the choices other people have made in their life by writing checks. To employ that oft-used in-flight emergency procedure instruction, you need to put the oxygen mask over your own mouth before you can help someone else with their mask. Your oxygen (money) is running out and you should NOT get into debt to pay other people’s bills.

Helping your mother should enable her to help herself: balance her own budget, live within her means, live with her daughter-in-law and children so they can SHARE household expenses. Otherwise, you are not helping her at all and are, in fact, facilitating potentially bad choices. If she looks to you for a car, knowing you don’t have one yourself, why should she bother saving for one? Put bluntly, these are financial and life lessons she should have taught you.

One way to help your mother become financially independent — lead by example, help her keep track of her own income and expenditure, even with the help of a financial planner from the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Call a family meeting. Bring these issues out into the open. There are many resources you can tap to help you mother in ways that don’t require you racking up a credit-card bill. Your mother did the best she could, and I applaud her for that.

Do not delay having a family due to this lifelong indebtedness to your mother.

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