There are a couple of troubling questions that have been on my mind for a while now:
First, where does this idea come from that the one person “doing well” in the family becomes responsible for everyone else? Second, what is the origin of the family habit of relying on the most financially successful relative to “rescue” everyone else?
The “successful” individual is likened to being the “Financial Savior” of the entire family, rather than the family viewing and treating their financial success as a shared responsibility and goal.
The “Financial Savior” is the FIRST one everyone comes to when they’re “short” or there’s a “crisis.” Because they’re known to ALWAYS come through. They’ll lend or give out money in a pinch.
This is a subject that I feel very strongly about. It’s something that high achieving Black women (and men) encounter when they’re the one “doing better” than the rest of the family.
Maybe they’re the only one in their family who went to college (and actually graduated). Or they’re the only one in the family earning 50k or more per year (or whatever the threshold for “doing good” is deemed to be). Or they’re the one who saved and bought their own home. And the list goes on….
I’ve worked with many clients making good - to great - money in careers which they had worked hard to build. And they were typically the ones shoveling out cash to and co-signing for “less fortunate” family members – or were expected to.
For example, one client I worked with was a young man in his 20’s. This young man thoroughly impressed me with his maturity and excellent handling of his money. He earned good money every week, contributed the max to his employer retirement plan (to receive matching), had 5-figures in his savings and had a really high credit score. In assessing his superb handling of his finances, something intuitively told me to say to him: “Don’t let your family know how much money you have saved up. And please don’t co-sign anything for anyone!” Without skipping a beat, he immediately began telling me about a relative who had recently asked for a loan.
My intuition was dead on. I’ve seen this financial scenario played out countless times in the Black family. “Financial Saviors” hand out lots of cash and end up co-signing cars, student loans and even mortgages – for others. All the while, putting their OWN dreams on hold.
In almost every case, the relatives “needing” cash assistance are NOT striving to do their very best to improve themselves. Meanwhile the “Financial Savior” is halting – if not ruining – their present and future financial standing. And with no return on their investment.
Every time the “Financial Savior” puts the financial needs of capable relatives above their own financial progress, they sacrifice their present and future goals. Instead of increasing their savings, or paying down their debt to increase their financial freedom, they dutifully continue to support their relatives. Relatives who never seem to stop asking. WHY?
I am so firm on this topic because I have been there. But no more. Several years ago, I concluded that every time I took money from my savings to bail out a loved one, it left me in a weaker financial position. The very week when I decided to lend someone thousands of dollars could have been the week I lost my job and needed it most. Am I right? And the same is true for every one of us.
After firmly and consistently saying “no” for many years, the message has gotten through. Now what I “give away” is HOW to do what I have done. Or I offer to teach others the skills needed to improve their finances. But I am no longer a “banker.” And you shouldn’t be either.
This quote states it perfectly:
“Sometimes you just need to be selfish to be self-sufficient.” - Lois P. Frankel (from Nice Girls Don't Get Rich: 75 Avoidable Mistakes Women Make with Money)
Why should your disciplined efforts be used to benefit someone else? They can develop the same discipline – if they care to. But with you around to bail them out, they never will.
It can be a hard habit to break. Relatives get angry when you tell them “no” after prolonged periods of giving them money with no hesitation every time they’ve asked. Or the giver may feel guilty, or be loathe to part with their family’s perception of them as the relative “who’s doing good.” Or the giver may have become used to feeling “needed.” Or it could just be the excuse the giver uses to avoid REALLY getting their act together and accumulating wealth.
I personally think the roots of it come from the enslavement trade and religion. Both enforced or encouraged Black people to look outside of themselves and to others to “lead us out” of our difficult situations. The mindset that we can’t do it ourselves (for countless reasons) trained us to “wait” for the “more able” ones to lift us up and give us what we needed, rather than setting out to find out how to get what we needed individually and collectively.
I hold myself solely responsible for my financial progress and growth – or lack of it – and don’t rely on others for this. My approach now is to “teach a person to fish” rather than handing them some of my fish (which I worked VERY hard to get). While they may not be able to succeed at the same level, they CAN succeed according to their own level of effort and commitment.
I believe this is the only real way for us to prosper economically as a whole. That is what I teach my individual clients, as well as the groups that I speak to and train in financial literacy. Each one of us can be equipped with the information and tools for financial success, IF we want them…
Otherwise, how are we ever going to build up Black generational wealth, if we’re ALL broke?
What do you think? Do you know someone who has been deemed the “Financial Savior” of their family? Is that someone you? What are your thoughts and comments? I’d love to hear them.
About Yolanda Ransom
Yolanda Ransom is a certified Financial Coach who empowers her clients to confidently master new money management skills, resulting in improved finances and financial stability. She is the CEO of Yolanda Ransom Consulting and provides personal coaching and financial literacy training to individuals and groups. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and at her website yolandaransom.com