For some people, “supporting their family” goes beyond providing for themselves, their partner, and/or their children. Supporting family sometimes means caring for ill or aging family members. It sometimes includes helping other family members who are out of work or between places of their own. 

Supporting your family can be difficult, but it’s not something that many people can stop doing, nor do they want to. Providing care for family is an important part of many cultures. That includes financial support, too. In a 2014 study, over a quarter of Americans say that they provided financial help to a parent 65 or older. 

Supporting family is seen as rewarding, valuable, and quite simply a part of life. However, without setting expectations and boundaries — and avoiding tough but necessary conversations — helping your family may come at the risk of your own financial security. Let’s talk about how you can support your family while still securing your own finances.

Be clear on expectations

It sounds obvious, but it’s important to make your expectations clear to everyone involved. Who are you responsible for? What are you providing? How will you help?

For example, if you’re caring for an ill parent who lives in your home, be sure to outline how you’ll support them. Will you pay for a nurse or physical therapist to help out? Do you need to make any changes to your home or daily routine to accommodate them? How might you adjust your budget to care for their needs? Be clear on your expectations for yourself and your family.

Here’s another example. Your younger sibling has been laid off and is looking for a new job. To help them save money until they start their new career, you invite them to stay with you in your home. You ask your sibling to pay a portion of rent and utilities (or a flat monthly fee to help with costs). After three months, you’ll sit down with each other and evaluate how their job search is going, and talk about any financial issues or changes that need to be made. 

This is a healthy way to support your family while still protecting your own finances. Without laying out your expectations at the beginning, you may set yourself up for disaster. 

Establish boundaries

What if you clearly lay out your expectations for your family, but some things slip through the cracks? That’s okay, and it’s bound to happen. What’s important is that you address the issue and establish boundaries going forward. And stick to those boundaries.

Let’s say you’ve invited your aging parent to move out of their place and live with your family. It makes sense; they’d rather not live on their own, and they can spend more time with and help care for their young grandchildren. Sounds like a dream, right? (We’re sure anyone who has lived with their in-laws is shaking their head already.)

But what if your parent asks for spending money that goes far beyond your means and their essentials? What if you realize that, without establishing some boundaries, supporting your parent’s finances may harm your own?

Talk to your parent you’re supporting. Try to understand where they’re coming from. Maybe they’ve turned to spending money as a distraction or to alleviate boredom. Once you’ve listened to them, explain why you have to turn them down or change some rules. Yes, the conversation will be scary. Your parents raised you and cared for you, after all, and you feel obligated to do the same when they need it. But it’s an essential conversation that will set you both on the right path.

Explore your options

Remain open to other ways in which you can support your family. Maybe nursing home or assisted-living facility costs are too high, and you’d rather have your elderly or ill parent live in your home, with hired help. 

If your parent is able to live in their own home — and they don’t want to move just yet — why not suggest roommates? Perhaps they have a friend who would rather not live by themselves, either. They can move in and provide some much-needed company and financial help. Or, maybe a younger family member who needs a place to stay can live with them, pay rent, and help out around the house. 

Be willing to explore your options and discuss them with your family. Reassure them that you’re always available to offer support, financially or otherwise, but you have to care for yourself and your own family, too.  

Don’t neglect your own finances

When you support your family financially, you might feel guilty about saying no. You might feel like you could be doing more to help them. This puts you in a really tough spot. But keep in mind that providing financial support does not mean saying yes to every request they have. You are allowed to be honest and say no when you need to for your own security. Saying no to a loved one is challenging, and it may take a few tries to really stick, but your relationship will be better off for it.