I am a 30-year-old who has built a stable and happy life after growing up in a family that was often unstable emotionally and financially. I love them, but as I become more successful, my family needs more and more of my support.Â
My sister and her son moved into my father’s one-bedroom apartment in July, which is against the lease. I was very against this living situation because itâs way too small for two adults and a rambunctious child. My sister said she had no other options because she has terrible credit, little savings and an eviction. She was laid off for not having child care and is collecting unemployment. My father was struggling to pay for his apartment, as well.Â
Their relationship has deteriorated. I donât think they can continue living together. My auntÂ co-signed for my father’s apartment and says my father can stay in her spare bedroom if he works with her to fix his finances. My aunt has been trying to help me, as she knows I am overwhelmed mediating their arguments and finances.
I told my sister we will need to find another place for her to live after April, and that I would co-sign if she sat down with me to go over her finances. She cried and said it would be impossible to find a place being unemployed, and that no one cares about her ending up homeless.Â
She said she will refuse to leave the apartment if management doesn’t let her take over the lease. She believes that since she is a single mother with a child, they wonât be able to evict her. Iâve explained there could be negative consequences on her tenant record and for my aunt since sheâs the co-signer,Â but my sister says everything will be fine.Â
I donât want to hold my sister’s past mistakes against her, and COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted single mothers. She has been better with her money the last three months, but she has been very irresponsible in the past. (Example: paying for breast implants.) She canât stay with me because Iâm a head of house in my alma mater’s dorm, which grants me and my partner a free apartment.Â
How should I proceed with my sister? Am I being too supportive, or not supportive enough? I feel guilty even having my own financial goals when my family is struggling.Â
When someone tells you theyâre about to behave terribly, listen. I donât care if your sister has been more responsible for three months. She obviously doesnât plan to be responsible moving forward. Sheâs also made it clear that sheâs up for a fight. Please donât co-sign for her and let her take down your credit in the process.
This is a problem between your sister, your dad and your aunt. I certainly feel for your aunt. I get that youâre both trying to help each other work through this mess. But youâre both ascribing magical thinking to your fix-it powers for your dadâs and sisterâs financial messes. Nothing in your letter suggests that either one is interested in help.
If I were your aunt, Iâd talk to an attorney who specializes in tenant law ASAP. You can suggest she do so. You also need to tell your sister youâre no longer in a position to co-sign. Sheâs going to cry and scream about how youâre ruining her life. Tell her by phone so you can hang up if things get out of hand.
The beauty here is that your living situation legitimately gives you a reason your sister and nephew canât move in. Iâd urge you to hang onto this arrangement as long as you can so you can develop firm boundaries. Itâs OK to use dorm rules as an excuse while you get comfortable making it clear that youâre done bailing out your family.
Your signature probably isnât the only thing standing between your sister and homelessness. Maybe sheâs eligible for public housing, or she has friends who will let her couch surf. Iâm not going to waste any energy exploring these options, though, because this is not your problem.
But hereâs the trade-off: You donât get to have an opinion even if youâre âvery againstâ whatever living situation your sister comes up with. The second you weigh in, youâre throwing your sister a lasso. Donât allow her to drag you back in.
This may seem like a money problem, but deep down it isnât. Yes, life would be easier if you could buy your dad and your sister separate homes on opposite sides of town. But I suspect theyâd still leave you emotionally drained. Emotional vampires always do.
Your financial goals are completely unrelated to your familyâs struggles. The sooner you can separate the two, the better off youâll be. Please donât feel guilty for using your money to make good decisions for yourself instead of enabling your familyâs bad ones.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to AskPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.
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