How to Help Others Without Losing Your Own Footing

How to Help Others Without Losing Your Own Footing


A desire to help others is a part of the American character and runs the gamut of providing a shoulder to cry on, lending a helping hand, gifting a few dollars and lending large amounts of money for a cause. When it comes to family and friends, many would give the shirt off their backs or lend the last few bucks in their wallet without a thought.  While it may feel good to drop everything and save the day, the responsible way to be of assistance is to know how you can help without putting your own financial security in jeopardy. 

You may be asked to help in any number of ways – an emergency repair, health crisis, a financial hardship to pay a bill, a need for shelter or transportation, a request to piggyback on your cell phone account or help with college expenses.  In each scenario your first response should be to hold back until you have a clear picture of the situations. Take enough time to ensure as best you can that you won’t be financially burned by lending a hand. 

Setting Ground Rules

There needs to be concrete rules in place before you’re asked to help for the first time. If you want to be of help without compromising your own finances or security, you need to decide how far you can or are willing to go. For example, if you know that you could never have a roommate or boarder, you’ll be prepared to answer in the negative and perhaps offer other options. In the same way, when your own finances are stretched to the limit you need to be ready to say sorry that you can’t help.

When you have the resources to be of assistance, the ground rules may be more flexible but still necessary.

  • Don’t be naïve. Only help if you can afford to never get the money back. Getting money back that you ‘lend’ to some desperate family member or friend is highly unlikely. Odds are that whatever caused their troubles will either continue or they’ll have difficulty getting to the point where they can repay. Accepting that you may take a loss will make being repaid that much more tolerable.
  • Make it clear it’s a one-time event and resolve to follow through with that stance.
  • Be specific to a fault about what you will and won’t accept. This is particularly important when you’re allowing someone to live with you. Don’t allow helping to interfere with your own life. Terms should include what you expect in return, especially if they aren’t able to pay rent.
  • Set boundaries. For temporary live-in situations, protect your own financial integrity by requiring no infringement of your personal property, including personal and healthcare products, cosmetics, jewelry, clothing, etc. When lending an automobile, you may expect it to be returned undamaged and request no smoking.  It’s your property to be sure, so speak up.   
  • If, then scenarios may arise. Be prepared to confront the individual, if they don’t follow the rules or if your own situation takes a turn for the worse. If helping results in higher monthly bills, address the issue and look for a way to compromise by either using less and/or demanding restitution for the difference.

If you’re asked to help finance an entrepreneurial business idea, it’s essential to examine the business plan thoroughly before agreeing. Never be the sole investor or be bullied into a proposal that doesn’t pass the smell test. Always keep in mind that the money you ante up may be lost to a failed business, so be sure you can afford the loss. Don’t be infusing good money into a bad situation. If you know the situation includes a history of poor decisions like bankruptcy or involves lifestyle addictions, be prepared to deny any request for assistance until changed behavior is observable.

Win-Win Propositions

Whenever possible, consider using the barter system. In this way both parties will benefit to some extent and feelings of being taken advantage of less likely. This works well when providing room and board by exchanging for childcare or housekeeping duties. Handyman or lawn care services could be provided in exchange for the cash someone may need to make a car or mortgage payment. Any service that you normally would pay to have done or would be happy to hire out could work.

Benevolence is an honorable trait that benefits society and should be encouraged. Always trust your instincts and beware of responding purely on emotion. You can be supportive with an encouraging word without compromising your own financial security.

Christopher Arthur is a blogger and regular contributor to who primarily writes on financial related topics. His main focus is on credit education articles and debt service pieces, but also enjoys sharing tips on frugal living, saving money and just about anything finance. His goal is to provide resources to aide consumers with their finance and money management decisions.


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