Seeing a loved one go through a financial crisis can be almost as stressful as going through one yourself. For most of us, the reality is that there is only so much direct help we can offer without putting our own security in jeopardy. The good news is that there are ways that you can help your friends and family members find the resources that can help them get back on their feet.
Help Them Find Help
It’s not always easy to know where to turn to for help. Worse, being under constant strain can affect our thinking and problem solving skills. One way to help your loved ones is to assist them in finding resources in their community that can offer assistance.
A good place to start is calling 2-1-1. In many communities, dialing 2-1-1 gets you access to a confidential resource center that can put you in touch with agencies that can offer assistance with food, housing, medical services and more. To find out if your community has a 2-1-1 line, you can search this database.
Many communities also offer this service online. If yours does, it will be linked to their entry on the database above. Local churches, community centers, libraries and schools are also good sources of information on where to find help.
It is best to allow your loved one to do as much of the calling and legwork as is possible. It can be intimidating to call and ask for help, but in the long run it will go a long way towards ensuring that they stay productive and proactive. It’s easy for people in crisis to avoid their problems and allowing them to do so for too long could cause learned helplessness and make the problem worse.
Other Ways that You Can Help
Giving cash is probably the most direct way to help, but it’s not always the best way. Use your best judgment on how much, if any, monetary support that you want to offer and don’t feel guilty or pressured to do risky things like take out a loan or drain your retirement accounts to support a loved one. Jeopardizing your own financial well-being won’t help anyone in the long run and doing so could make a bad situation even worse.
Many times people in stressful situations will withdraw from their loved ones. Do make a special effort to reach out and find inexpensive ways to spend time together. This will help keep their spirits up and will remind them that many people love them and are rooting for them.
Finding the line between helpful and pushy is hard for some people. By the same token, it’s easy to become defensive and overly sensitive while under stress. Don’t allow yourself to be abused or attacked, but do try to be understanding if they are not as enthusiastic about your tips, leads or advice as you hoped they would be.
Do be clear and upfront about what you can and can not do for them. Often, people on both sides have the best intentions but it turns out badly because of poor communication and each expecting the other to speak up or take the hint. It’s better to politely refuse a request than for the situation to blow up down the road because of resentment.
It’s a wonderful idea to offer groceries, extra clothes and other household goods but be careful that in your enthusiasm you don’t inadvertently insult the recipient. I remember once receiving a bag of dusty, girl’s clothing several sizes too big for my little boy from a boss’s wife when I was a very young, working mom. While I’m sure it was meant well, it also hurt my pride quite a bit during a time when I was already feeling a bit “less than”. While you are not responsible for other people’s feelings, it’s a caring idea to put some thought into how useful your gift will be and how it will be received.
It’s easy to let yourself become stressed out thinking about your loved one’s problems. Nobody likes seeing the people they care about struggle and the natural instinct is to want to help them as much as you can. While you can and should help, don’t forget that your needs are important too, and it’s okay to take care of yourself first.
While it’s a virtue to be understanding and forgiving, don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of, feel pressured into doing things you aren’t comfortable with, or really can’t afford, both in terms of time and money. Refrain from being overly judgmental, but be practical about offering help to those who have shown that they can’t be responsible.
Have you ever helped a loved one in a financial crisis or been the one who needed help? What tips would you offer others in the same situation?