(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)
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” I know what your thinking”. What I was thinking was that it should have been “I know what you’re thinking” and if the author doesn’t know that, then I don’t think I want their advice on anything else. That is inexcusable and doesn’t reflect well on this blog, which is a blog I love and check often!!
No need to show this comment, but I do hope you will edit the post!!
Mrs. Smith huh? Shouldn’t it be Mrs Perfect? (just kidding)
Seriously though, errors happen. Of course I know what it should say but I obviously missed it. And I thought I was a perfectionist. :)
Sorry you decided to skip the message because of one error. I’ll try and do better next time. Life is TOO AWESOME to take little things like that so seriously. Smile. :D
I’m with you on this one. You really can’t effective help others if you can’t help yourself.
Great post! Here’s a questions though…do you think you should continue to tithe as you are building your emergency fund. I’ve always wondered what the opinion is on that. Does this post apply? No tithing until you get your emergency fund in order? Or…do you continue to tithe (towards any not-for-profit…not necessarily a religious organization)? For me it is a part of the discipline of financial management. It also reminds me that things could always be worse.
@ CityFlips- I hear your pain! I have struggled with that topic for some time now. But I still tithe while saving for my emergency fund. You SHOULD do both at the same time (assuming you go to church or give to a non-profit). I see this as no different than paying off debt while still saving for an emergency fund. They can always be done at the same time, that’s my opinion.
At the end of the day, this post rings so true! You must help yourself first before you can help others. What good are you going to do if you’re broke? If you’re financially secure, you can spread the wealth and help others with your resources. You can apply this to quite a few things in life. Stay healthy first, so you can be productive at work. Get sleep first, so you can affect people’s lives during the day. Simple things like that. Anyways, those are my thoughts!
@cityflips – I agree with Jon the Saver for the most part but this post is more about helping family and friends before you have your own life in order. In helping others locally, usually people with little income, this problem comes up a lot.
I would of course never tell someone not to tithe, but in cases of limited income and resources, this post could be applied to tithing as well.
I look at it like this. If you tithe your entire life but never have the money to address your own financial situation, you’ve limited your ability. If you get your own situation in order, you’re able to tithe AND build wealth to then increase your ability to give and make a bigger difference because of your situation.
I do not condemn people for not tithing. That is between them and God, but I especially do not make people with low incomes feel worse for not tithing.
This is always a hard one for me. In my situation, my husbands parents are the leech’s. It puts us in a very uncomfortable position. But you are absolutely right, if we give some money, it is expected we will give every month. It is really hard to say no, especially when they are your parents, but it is hard to see them buy trivial things when they can not afford to pay the water bill.
@ Michelle – It gets even tougher when a family gives money to help their parents pay a light bill when they are struggling to pay their own. It’s definitely hard to say no to your parents or any close family for that matter, but it really boils down to figuring out if your help is really helping or prolonging the struggle. It’s amazing how some people can find ways to help themselves when they are forced too. As long as they are being helped they have no reason to even try. This creates a huge wall of resentment that eventually tears down relationships.
You are definitely in a tough situation. Good luck to you and your family.
This is spot on. It’s worse when you get into a church that guilt-trips you into giving into their building fund…and then the building never happens…uh-oh, did I just say that publicly?
This is interesting, but I thought I should tell you why (at least this is what my pilot husband told me)… if the oxygen masks come down, you only have 7 – 9 seconds before you pass out. If you don’t help your kids, then you all pass out and there’s no one to help.
Now, obviously I know that this piece is NOT about this, but I thought that I’d tell ya the true reason! (I also think that airlines should tell us this – wouldn’t you want to know to try to stay calm or at least hold your breath!?!)
I loved this post at Enemy of Debt and I enjoyed seeing it again! Most of the stressful drama in life could be avoided if people worked on saving themselves before jumping in to save others. :-)
@ Kerry – Yeah 7-9 second doesn’t seem like very much time to safe yourself and your children and that is a GREAT thing to know if it ever did happen. LOL
@ Crystal – People often guilt themselves into helping others even if their own situation is in dire need of help. (It’s tough to point out that they should stop) Most of the reactions I got when suggesting this with clients was emotional. “How can I just let my parents suffer?” My question is this. Why do you think it is your fault your parents are suffering and why should you put yourself in danger just to help someone them out?
Help yourself, and you can help others a WHOLE LOT EASIER. :-)
Cool to hear other people’s opinions. Sounds like we’re all on the same page! Yay for that!
Very creative analogy, and a very true point! I’ve often forgotten to “pay myself first” in the journey to be debt free. Thanks for the entertaining read.
Thanks for hookin’ us up while I was gone Brad! Always count on ya, brotha :)
Just wanted to respond to Kerry’s post. I was in the military in a capacity that required me to fly with the aircraft. As such, I had to attend annual training in the altitude chamber – wherin they simulate typical cruising altitude, then remove the cabin pressure. Everyone responds differently to this scenario, but everyone I ever was in training with lasted a good 4-5 minutes before they absolutely needed their oxygen masks. Not to say that symptoms don’t start at 7-9 seconds, but you do not pass out that quickly.
Anyway, great post Brad – and I wish I had taken this advice before lending my sister yet another $500 about 6 months ago. She still has not paid me back and probably never will…
Very interesting – 4-5 mins is def. way off of the 7-9 seconds, pretty cool hearing your inside scoop :) sorry to hear about that loan :( i just lent a friend $5,000 and i’m def. expecting to get that back! and if not, well, I learned my lesson once and for all… fingers crossed though – for both of us ;)