Making progress on your money goals is hard enough. But it’s tougher when your loved ones don’t support your efforts, and instead hold you back financially.
Toxic relationships can derail your money management goals and make you feel small, stuck, or powerless. But they don’t have to. Here’s how to balance your financial priorities with important relationships, without jeopardizing either.
1. Identify financially toxic relationships
First, learn to recognize financially toxic people who seek to control or manipulate the way you manage your money.
“Generally, anyone who does not respect your autonomy over your own life will be toxic to you and any goals you set for yourself,” said Tipiwa Walker, a personal finance expert and the editor and founder of Lucre Personal Finance. Toxic people might cause drama about money, try to influence your financial decisions, or make you feel bad about your situation.
Putting up with such behavior or being nice can cost you, however. Here are some common ways how financially toxic people might take advantage of you, according to Walker:
- They borrow your money but never return it at the agreed time.
- They ask invasive or unwelcome questions about your financial situation or money habits.
- They give unsolicited advice or opinions about your financial choices.
- They pressure you to pay for their expenses or spend more money than you’d like.
2. Clarify your money goals
If toxic people are trampling on your money goals and adding to your financial stress, it’s time for a change. But you first need to get clear on what you want.
“Begin by creating a very clear vision of the financial life you would like to have,” Walker said. Identify your core intentions, which will be the guiding “why” behind your efforts to better manage your money and your relationships.
You can discover your boundaries by completing the phrase “I have a right to,” according to the Center for Financial Social Work. Here are some examples of financial boundaries:
- I have a right to set my own financial priorities and goals. I don’t have to justify them to anyone.
- I have a right to focus on my own money goals first and put my financial security above that of others.
- I have a right to keep my money matters private, and to share details or receive financial advice on my own terms.
- I have a right to make spending and budgeting decisions free of social pressure, guilt trips, or nagging.
3. Define your financial boundaries
Strong financial boundaries are your best defense against money-centered manipulation by toxic people.
“Think of boundaries as the fence that keeps you within your financial plan as you work towards your vision,” Walker said. “They are meant to help keep you safe by clarifying where you end and others begin.”
Decide what you will and won’t tolerate when it comes to money matters in different relationships. Your financial boundary should have four parts, Walker said.
- Consider which negative behavior you’d like to address. For example, “I don’t like when my dad asks invasive questions about my finances.”
- Figure out how this person’s actions are affecting you. “It makes me doubt my decisions and ability to manage my money.”
- Envision the alternative outcome you’d like to see. “I’d prefer my dad only discuss money if I bring it up first.”
- Determine what you’ll do if the behavior continues. “If my dad tries to talk about my finances, I will end the conversation.”
Walker said, “Keep in mind that boundaries are about you, not about changing the other person or getting them to do anything.” Focus on what you can control, such as your own words, emotions, and actions — and not that of others.
4. Communicate and enforce your boundaries
Now that you have defined your financial boundaries, it’s time to put them into action. Here are some tips to follow.
- Communicate your new boundaries and expectations. Manipulative people might not always be conscious of their behavior and how it’s affecting you. Even if they are, it’s still helpful to make them aware of your new expectations.
- Discuss your boundaries at the right time. “Communicate [the boundaries] calmly and lovingly,” Walker said. “Avoid having the conversation in the heat of frustration or anger.”
- Practice enforcing boundaries calmly and assertively. Try out phrasing your intentions when you’re alone to feel more confident about your expressing your boundaries.
- Get social support. Turn to a friend to get moral support, practice your boundary enforcement in a safe space, and hold yourself accountable.
- Anticipate some pushback. “Expect people to get upset, or even angry, the first time that you set a boundary with them,” Walker said. Respond calmly, follow through with the intended consequence, and remove yourself from the situation.
- Seek professional help. If you’re dealing with financial issues in a marriage or another close relationship, you might need to seek help from a licensed counselor or therapist. You can go to counseling alone or together to work toward a resolution.
- Remind yourself of your bigger financial intention and plan. “Come back to [your] intention whenever you feel some self-doubt — and you will at first,” Walker said.
Setting and enforcing boundaries will be uncomfortable, but it’s better than the alternative of letting toxic people drain your bank account and cause financial havoc in your life.
With boundaries in place, you can take back control of your financial life. Then, you can focus on achieving financial success by your own definition.
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