My Husband Says We Can’t Afford to Give My Siblings Money. I Disagree.

  • For Love & Money is a biweekly column from Insider answering your relationship and money questions.
  • This week, a reader wants to pay wealth forward to her siblings, but her husband feels they can’t yet afford it.
  • Our columnist advises first getting on the same page about their finances, then setting a timeline. Can they actually afford it? If not now, when?
  • Got a question for our columnist? Write to For Love & Money using this Google form.

Dear For Love and Money,

My husband and I are from very different financial backgrounds. He grew up with enough money, whereas I often didn’t. His parents were able to help boost us onto the solid financial footing that we’re on today by helping us with our first down payment and covering some tuition for my husband. I couldn’t have broken the poverty cycle without their help.

Now that I’m in a more stable financial place, it’s important to me to offer some type of assistance and support to my younger siblings — to pay it forward, if you will. My husband, although open to the idea, thinks we’re not quite in the place to be helping others yet, but I argue my siblings need help most now while they’re dealing with college and first home purchases.

Yes, my husband and I should be saving more for retirement, or finally killing the last of that credit card debt, but I also feel like helping my siblings in their young adulthood will pay off emotional dividends long term, not just for them, but for my future nieces and nephews. Any advice for meeting in the middle?


Held Back From Paying It Forward

Dear Held Back From Paying It Forward,

Your final question, “Any advice for meeting in the middle?” tells me your head is in the right place because with any dilemma involving opposing extremes, the answer is almost always found right smack in the center.

To find this center, I think a vital first step is examining your and your husband’s perspectives — not on your siblings and the part you will play in their future success, but on your shared finances. From what you said, it seems you’re feeling really good about where you are financially, while your husband isn’t feeling as secure. 

Since I don’t know your finances, I can’t make a call on whose assessment is closer to reality, but based on my marriage to a man who comes from more money than I do, I have a sense of your situation.

I’ll never forget when my husband’s career took us over the $50,000 threshold. He saw a good, but relatively low, start that would change none of our penny-stretching ways. I saw the most money I’d ever had. I understood that we weren’t rich, but we were financially secure enough to buy the occasional pizza on a Friday night without having to worry about our credit card getting declined. For me, that was close enough.

The thing is, I wasn’t wrong, but neither was he. Our perspectives on wealth and financial security are relative to our experiences. Coming from a low-income background, you are elated to have enough money to cover your credit card bills, while your husband, who has always had enough, is likely concerned that you have credit card debt in the first place. 

I think the best middle ground is one where you both pursue your shared financial goal of offering financial assistance to your siblings, but following a map that suits both you and your husband. For you, this will mean compromising your sense of urgency. While I don’t think you should wait forever to help your siblings, I also know the toll credit card debt can often take on a person like your husband’s sense of financial wellness. I tend to think that if you pay it off first and then budget a monthly portion to your retirement fund, your husband will feel comfortable helping your siblings out financially.

This may sound like too long of a journey, but if you create a plan with your husband to hit your credit card debt hard over the course of a few months, there will be no financial obstacle keeping you from assisting your siblings financially once you’ve achieved that goal. Because while yes, down payments are pressing, as are college enrollments, your siblings have either planned to buy a house or enroll in college based on their own ability to pay, or you are hoping to give them the financial freedom to do these things by offering to help them pay. Either way, these situations will keep for six months while you kill that last bit of credit card debt. 

That said, your sense of urgency makes me wonder if it isn’t your husband’s “not yet” you are struggling with, but his lack of any specific financial benchmark to clarify “when.” This is why it is so crucial that you create a plan together for achieving your shared goal of helping your siblings, and why that plan must include hard timelines.

Your husband may be uncomfortable committing to giving away money at some point in the future where one or both of you may have lost your jobs, but this is where his part of the compromise comes in. You’re compromising the anxiety that’s driving you to buy your sibling a down payment tomorrow morning, and he will have to compromise his anxiety over giving away money that he feels he might one day need for survival. The only way to reach a middle ground is for you both to come halfway.

I respect that you want to help your siblings out financially since you have experienced firsthand what an impact financial support can have, so I’ve devoted the majority of this response to how you and your husband can fulfill this noble ambition. But before I close, I would like to mention the non-financial ways you can help your siblings break the cycle of poverty and establish themselves as well.

I know a couple who let a younger sister live with them for two years so she could access the reduced tuition rates of their location. I threw a beautiful wedding and reception on a shoestring budget, made possible by the generosity of several talented people in my life offering their services for free. You can help your siblings write winning resumes, introduce them to your network, be aggressive about suggesting them for job opportunities, and offer them free dinners and a place to crash. You can also, simply by making smart decisions and inviting them into your day-to-day life, broaden their imaginations and show them they too can have it all, if only because you will be with them all the way. 

Rooting for you both,

For Love & Money

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