t's one thing to extend help to family members and friends in need. But if they've learned to bank on your generosity, set some boundaries before you continue to commit the No. 1 money mistake that keeps Black women from living their financial dreams: fending money to others before taking care of yourself. Here, get the expert advice and real life lessons to break the cycle of dependency
As one of six children. Yvonne K. Benson learned very early in life how to share. But sharing takes on a new significance today, as the 27-year-old finds herself frequently called on to help her siblings and other family members pay their bills. "I'm the go-to girl because I have the better job," says Benson, a transit worker in Atlanta, who earns about $40,000 a year. Family members call regularly when phone bills need to be paid or the rent is due, and Benson typically obliges. "I understand what it's like no to have. That's why I always say yes," she says. But recently the requests have started to get under her skin. "I realized that the more I say yes, the more they come to me and don't take responsibility for their own financial issues." She believes her personal savings have suffered and she hasn't advanced toward her own goals as much as she would like. THE CAREGIVER COMPLEX
In an informal poll of more than 1,000 women, 46.4 percent of African-American women stated that they gave money to children, parents or other family members on a regular basis, compared with 29.6 percent of White women. The 2007 report was published by Paula Penn-Nabrit, a Westerville, Ohio, diversity consultant, and Leslie Morgan Steiner, a Washington, D.C., writer and businesswoman. Taking care of our own is a proud tradition, says Charlotte Scott-Day, a therapist with offices in Los Angeles and Oakland. She counsels several clients struggling with issues of spending and debt. As Black women, we typically harbor a strong sense of unity in the face of challenges, as well as a desire to help family members achieve a better life. Your sister's husband gambled away the bill money? Slip her some cash on the side so she can keep the lights on. A nephew can't afford tuition and books this semester? Run over to Western Union during your lunch break. Your boyfriend needs you to cosign on a new car loan so he can get to work? Stand by your man.
Unfortunately, good intentions do not always yield good results. Eighty-four percent of Black households carry credit card debt, compared with 54 percent of White households. Many African-Americans also lag behind in savings. Those with annual household incomes over $50,000 average $182 a month, while Whites average $261 a month. And we're putting away less for retirement, saving an average of $173 monthly, compared with Whites, who save an average of $252. according to the Ariel-Schwab 2007 Black Investor Survey. So the question arises: Do we have enough to give? When it's time to dig deep, many of us are cleaning out 401 (k) accounts, maxing out credit cards, or taking out payday loans. And that's giving till it hurts.
Before long, some Black women find themselves on the slippery slope of financial codependency, says Gwendolyn V. Kirkland, a certified financial planner in Matteson, Illinois. And there begins a cycle of debt that is familiar in many Black families: You take care of family and Mends and, in the process, neglect your own savings and investments. Continued bailouts encourage loved ones to depend on you rather than becoming financially responsible. When it's time to retire you may not have enough saved and may need others to take care of you.
To break the cycle, Black women must invest in themselves first before opening their purses to others, says Kirkland. Simply put, you can't give from an empty cup. Still, even when we understand that on a rational level, it's hard to say no when strong emotions come into play. But saying no isn't the same as turning your back on a loved one. When you learn to set fiscally responsible boundaries with those you care about, they can benefit as well by becoming more accountable. Relationships improve as resentments and misunderstandings are avoided. And as the stories and expert advice on these pages illustrate, you can shift your focus to giving them a hand, not a handout. TRADING MONEY FOR LOVE
Charity begins at home. Few of us would disagree with that time-honored principle. We just need to recognize that it should also end at some point, especially in situations such as these: "Paying back" a parent
Growing up the only child of a single mother, Cherylynn J. Black of Detroit watched her mom struggle to keep the household running. When she got older, she felt compelled to help when her mother got into financial hinds. At 18, she even cosigned on a second mortgage for her mother's home. At first, Black was happy to help out. But her mother continued to ask for more and more aid. "There were times I didn't want to get into debt for her, but I thought that if I didn't, she wouldn't care about me as much," says Black, now 38.
A parent's request is one of the hardest to deny. After all, they brought us into this world, and we were raised to "honor thy father and mother." Often helping elders financially is entirely appropriate. But if doing so has created a codependency, consider other means of support, such as connecting them with resources, say experts.
The best way to pay back a parent's sacrifice and investment in you is to pay it forward to the next generation. And keep in mind that in steering a loved one toward independence by denying their requests for money, we offer them power and respect. The first time Black said no, her mother stopped speaking to her. But Black didn't give in. "I'm trying to have different relationships with people in my family, as opposed lo the codependent relationships I had before," says Black, who had come to the realization that taking care of her mother's, godmother's and friends' financial demands was her way of making sure they would need and love her. A couple of weeks later, her mother called and chatted as if nothing had happened. "I realized that she's not going to walk away from me because I won't do certain things for her," Black says