My younger brother has a wife and two daughters and has habit of spending money. For example, he likes going to movies often, eating out often, and buying name brand clothes.

I also have a wife and three kids. I am not like him. I only spend when I see there is a need for it; like when it's been a long time since we last ate out, so we should splurge a bit and go out. I have pretty good savings and herein lies the problem.

My brother is not doing any savings and when I guide him to save money of his own, he simply says:

"I have you as my backup. Aren't you?"

I remain speechless.

A few days ago I said:

"Everyone is on their own in this world. What if I was broke; how would you help? Why do you always think that you are the only one that might be in a bad position? Please start creating some back up."

Now he is not talking to me and has been sarcastically detailed about paying things. He is paying me back for even water and soda bottles.

How do I tell him that I will be always there for him, but that it doesn't mean he should not have his own back up plan? Saving is also earning in the long run too.

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    1. how do you know for sure he has no back-up? 2. as you know him better than we do, is it possible that he was kidding you (saving money, and now gets a little bit upset because of what you said)? – OldPadawan Sep 11 at 7:10
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    @OldPadawan There have been many heated discussions in past between Father, me and him. That time he disclosed the a/c details. He is not interested in any investment be it stocks, FD/RD etc. – paul Sep 11 at 8:04
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    @Kozaky On papers? No I am not responsible for him, but I have helped him financially many times, to get a job also. Bought stocks on his name and those gave good returns. – paul Sep 11 at 8:09
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    Country tag really does matter, because our suggesting things like talking to the wife are being met with cultural answers (you'd lose big brother-respect). As Americans, many would stop helping him entirely as 'tough love' to get him and his family financially independent before helping him again. This seems like a solution you wouldn't accept. So we need to work within your existing framework. – Carduus Sep 11 at 13:42
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    Have you tried describing a reverse scenario to him? What if your family fell on especially hard times despite the saving. Does he realize that he may need to return the favor to you and wouldn't be able to do so without an existing safety net? Sounds like he always expects you to have it together, but may not realize that the unexpected does happen. – Broots Waymb Sep 14 at 18:51

14 Answers 14

up vote 69 down vote accepted

Firstly, he seems annoyed. He probably knows you're at least somewhat correct, but at this point you comes across more as a know-it-all vibe than good intentions.

The fact that he is annoyed makes sense: It's his money and you're telling him how he should spend it (or actually, to save it). How would you feel if he kept telling you to "spend more money, enjoy life more!"? At one point you will get annoyed by it (and now imagine sending receipts of everything fun you buy as overreaction).

I suggest you take a step back. It's their money, they can spend it how they see fit. You've given your advice and they've chosen not to stick to it. Move on.

To address the more current issue, the no talking/micromanaging/etc, I suggest you say something along the lines of this, and then leave it:

Hey man, this petty stuff isn't working for either of us. You know I talked to you about saving because I care for you right? I don't want you to end up on the streets, I'm your brother, I'm supposed to keep an eye on you.

Then, if you want to bring up the part about you being his backup plan:

Of course I'll help you out if really needed, but I'm not your default failsafe. You should not count on me by default, I'm not saving to take your risks, that's why I recommend you save some yourself.

You should also stop giving money to enforce this. You could also decide it per situation, then I'd recommend only to help when the problem is a 8 out of 10 or higher. And if you do, buy the item yourself and give that to him. This way you make sure it isn't spent other then you intended, while helping, and it also gives a better sense if what you get (money, especially digital, is more abstract and easily misjudged, while a real object or service is a lot more concrete).

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    You understood it so well that your all paragraphs before last paragraph are absolutely ditto, correct. – paul Sep 11 at 13:27
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    You say to move on, but the original poster's problem is that it's more than likely one day the brother would lean on him for help. So moving on doesn't really do anything to mitigate this risk. – NibblyPig Sep 11 at 14:28
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    Which is why there is the last textblock :) – Martijn Sep 11 at 14:31
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    I think I got my answer. This is the word failsafe, I am truly not that. I have always been the initiator dictating him do this 'n' that. Instead he figure out on his own, make mistakes and learn. I could be an option but not failsafe for sure. – paul Sep 12 at 3:52
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    "It's his money and you're telling him how he should spend it" -- Yes, after his brother told him exactly the same thing, essentially "You're my safety net. You will spend your money on me if I need it" and then got annoyed and passive aggressive when OP said "don't tell me how to spend my money, you need to look out for yourself". OP shouldn't tell him how to spend his money, I agree with that, but he needs to make it clear that he is not maintaining responsibility for his brother's financial safety net regardless of how he spends his money. – Quantic Sep 13 at 15:39

Your brother seems to have missed the point of what you tried to say to him. You want him to think about the "big picture" and start saving for the future; instead he seems to be angrily paying you back for small things just to show you he is upset.

You say nothing about your incomes so I assume that the difference in your financial situations is entirely down to spending, not due to any disparity between what the two of you earn.

As brothers you are not predetermined to be the same, but if you shared an upbringing then you must have some common ground on which to discuss this. If you can open up a dialogue you can perhaps get him to think about how he could adjust his spending.

Many people that struggle to pay bills think the answer is to earn more, but like yourself, being smart with the money you have is much better and gives you more time with your family, as well as more time to enjoy what you have.

I find it helpful to view "spending vs earning" this way:

  • If you spend $2.50 on a coffee every morning on the way to work, assuming you work 5 days a week and 48 weeks a year that adds up to $600 a year.
  • According to the US Census Bureau the median household income in 2016 was $59,039. If that was your annual salary then you spend almost 2.5 days' salary on your morning coffee.
  • With these figures, giving up your morning coffee, or taking your own into work instead of buying it is the equivalent of giving yourself a 1% pay rise.
  • The average annual pay rise in the USA is around 3%. Find two more savings like your coffee and you've matched your annual pay rise.

From the sounds of it, right now I'm preaching to the converted. You already save money by being careful. But perhaps this thinking could help your brother. If he can view saving money as an alternative to earning it, he might be inclined to make some changes.

What you said to him previously might have been a bit confrontational and perhaps insulted his ability to look after his family. To settle the dispute and attempt to address your concern you could perhaps say:

Our last conversation about money didn't go the way I intended. I was just worried about you and wanted to offer you some advice. I'm sorry if I upset you. I want you to know that I would always help you if I can, but I'm sure you agree that we all have to put our kids first. I couldn't use money that my children may need in the future to bail you out of a financial situation. If you are interested in hearing how I manage to save money when I have almost the same circumstances as you, then I would be happy to share that with you.

If he gives you the opportunity, try and use similar reasoning to my examples. Even if at first he view it as a way of saving in some areas so he can spend it on things he or his family want more, it may over time become instinctive to him to save money rather than waste it.

The main question is "How can I stress to my brother the importance of saving when he relies on me as a safety net?" - this answer approaches this indirectly by suggesting a way for OP to stop being a source of easy money.

My policy about money: I do not lend it. I either give it, or I refuse it. I apply this to everybody (friends, family, strangers), and everybody who knows me well, knows that policy (I tend to explicitly state it - if someone asks me to lend them some money, I may say "sorry, I do not lend money, ever" - and then proceed to either give it to them ("but here, keep it, you do not need to give it back. In fact, I won't take it back"), or leave it at that).

This solves all kinds of problems; and it could also solve yours. Sit him down, and have "the talk" with him - make sure that it's about your, not his behaviour. Tell him that you are taking money out of the equation in your relationship. You will never lend him money at all, not a penny, nor 1000$. You will always either give it to him for keeping, or you will not give any; and you will reserve the right to freely decide which of the two it will be in every individual case. Also, reserve the right to not explain or discuss why you did the individual decision.

This puts the whole pressure on him, and removes any pressure on you: if he, in his heart, is a good guy, he will feel bad/ashamed about asking you for money - he knows that if you decide to give it, it is a gift, and you will not take it back.

If, in the other case, he is a bad apple and would suck you dry over the long term, then you simply decide to stop giving when you feel like it, problem solved. No discussions, no explaining, just stop.

It is definitely totally fine to alternate, or decide randomly or by gut feeling. As long as he cannot really predict or influence your behaviour (which would be him having control over you), anything is fine.

Does this solve every problem in the world? Probably not. But it deftly gets rid of any implied pressure on you to give, or not give, anything.

I may have misunderstood the situation, but the only thing I found weird was the interaction you described as :

he simply says "I have you as my backup, aren't you?" I remain speechless.

That seems to convey the message that he believes that he'll be able to turn towards you if he ever has any problems or runs out of money.

This doesn't seem to be a point of view that you share with him.

If that is correct, I'd advise having a talk with him and setting clear boundaries. You should explain to him that you are not his personal savings account and that if he ever has a problem you may not consistently lend him money or help him as much as he would like.

This is undoubtedly not going to be the most pleasant conversation you could have and you should try to frame it as something out of your control. Explain that in some circumstances you couldn't physically be able to lend him money, for example if you are fired before him, you'd have to use your savings to sustain your family and yourself.

You got some variant of your message across. That's unusual with entitled people. Now you're trying to weaken the message. Don't do that. Accept the water bottles and soda bottles.

Don't promise to be there for him. You can quietly resolve, to yourself, that you are prepared to provide certain kinds of help if it's desperately needed, but why tell him that? Why undermine the idea that he needs to take care of himself as an adult? If it took your words, and his pouting and his soda bottles, to convey the idea that it's past time for him to be resonsible, then so be it.

He's not speaking to you. So be it. Let him pout. Maybe the pouting is the outward sign of him starting to grow up.

You wanted to avoid talking about your culture, so in my culture:

If the time comes in the future when he asks you again for money, don't just hand it over freely. Don't buy him stocks. Don't give him ANY more money unless and until he is at risk of being hungry or homeless--and even then, don't give the money to him. (This is assuming that he does earn, or that he could choose to earn, a sufficient income that, if managed correctly, would allow him to support himself and his family.)

If he can't pay the electric bill, pay it directly. If he can't buy food for his kids, bring over groceries. If he asks you to pay the electric bill again, then demand full visibility into his finances, demand that he account for every single penny, before you give him money again.

No, adults don't account to other adults for their finances. If he wants the privacy of an adult, then he needs to take on the responsibilities of an adult, and start managing his own money competently.

This may be a mixed answer because I think you should also ask on Personal Finance & Money how to talk and introduce people to personal savings.

From what I understand (and assume) your brother don't think in terms of "him and his family" but rather "him". So when HE need help he go to you, because you are his brother.

What I think you should do is to talk with his wife. Ask if they have any savings, do they have any plan (maybe she thinks they will ash her part of family?) and MOST IMPORTANT: Do they know how much they are spending vs. how much they need to spend.

You also need to explain to your brother that it's not about your backup plan (you have one) so he don't need to repay you for every soda can. It's about HIS and HIS family financial security. The old - take this soda can money and put it into saving account.

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    Talking to the wife kind of sounds good, because she has a stake in it too, but it also sounds like the OP could be trying to drive a wedge between husband and wife. Ideally it would be "talk to them together" and maybe the wife can pick up on the problem. – DaveG Sep 11 at 13:12
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    It is a terrible idea believe me. He simply won't digest that I am taking brother to brother, man to man talks to our wives. He would consider it as cowardly move, just stabbing behind your back. I will lose big brother respect plus make situation more worse. – paul Sep 11 at 13:18
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    Maybe talk with them together as DaveG suggested. But it don't need to be very serious one. Kind of small talk about "how's your works, how's it paying, any plans for paying of the house in the future, setting kids funds". For me this type is very common among family members. – SZCZERZO KŁY Sep 11 at 13:36

Lots of answers here but I will be blunt: Your brother is not getting the message and when he says this:

“I have you as my backup, aren’t you?”

You need to respond firmly:

“Look, you are a member of my family and I am there to help you. But I cannot just give you money all the time. Family is there to help you for all of the other things besides money. If you don’t value that I have nothing to give you.”

I say this as someone who has had to say similar things in my life to family members over the years. And as cold as that might sound, my biggest regret in saying things like that is not saying them sooner.

Happiness and stability in life and in relationships is based on respect, boundaries and limits and it sounds like your brother has none of that and is straight out co-dependent which is not a healthy place to be.

Then you say this:

Now he is not talking and micromanaging things. He is paying me back even water bottles, soda bottles.

So basically he is going from one extreme to another and—in the process—disrespecting you in a new way.

The next time he does this kind of pandering stuff, respond:

“Look, if you think paying me back for water and soda means something, do that. But this is not about money. You are an adult and you need to simply take care of yourself.”

Now I don’t know anything past what you describe, but you need to really plan on a way of cutting him off. And you should not make money the crux of this action on your side, because it isn’t. You should be ready to say this:

“Look, I can’t deal with this. This is not about money. You are a full grown adult. You need to take care of yourself and you are simply causing me stress. I cannot deal with this from you so I think it’s best for you if I don’t contact you for a while. I need a break from this. When you get your act together, get back to me.”

Again, it might seem cold, but that is the reality.

You respect family. You want to have a healthy relationship with your family. But you cannot simply support your family in this way even if you could afford it.

Co-depdency is not a relationship. It’s someone sucking the life out of you and emotionally abusing you.

First you need to decide what you would want to do if he ran into financial trouble. Say he loses his job and can't pay the rent. You can help him out financially. Then you can explain to your wife why she can't go to nice restaurants, and to your kids why the can't have expensive clothes, and your money goes to your brother whose wife and kids have all those things. Or you can give him a loan, but going to a lawyer first who sets up a loan contract that will force him to pay back with interest, with consequences if he doesn't pay. Or you can give him nothing, which means he might lose his home. This is entirely up to you. None of these three paths would be wrong.

I think you should tell him that if he thinks he has you as a backup, he is completely wrong. (That's what you tell him, as convincing as you can. What you would do if he needed you is up to you). You have savings, but they cannot be used. They are the savings that you need to put your three kids through university, and to help them out when they move to their first own home. So if he thinks you would take any of that money that guarantees your kid's future, and spend it on him, he needs to think again. You can then remind him that he could have savings if he spent a little bit less money, and that he can't expect you to finance his life style.

As long as he sees you as the backup, he can see no reason to change his life style. So you must make sure that he won't see you as backup anymore.

The paying you back for water bottles is just childish behaviour, and it is about pennies, which is nothing compared to the savings that he should have. He is trying to pretend to look financially responsible. That will stop soon.

@David: There is very good reason not to hand over money: The brother could have just as much savings as OP with a different lifestyle, and the OP's wife and kids would be rightfully angry if he effectively financed the brother's life style. So that's not good. The OP could also ignore the brother's problems and not help at all. That's also not good, since it is the brother. A loan in such a form that it will have to be repaid - sure, it's not good either. It's down to the brother that there are no good choices; OP will have to make what he feels is the best choice.

If my brother got into trouble, I would help him out, saying "here's the money, pay it back if and when you can". But then he hasn't been wasting his money all the time, so that's fine. On the other hand, two relatives have been marked as "not a penny", but if they were in enough trouble, there would be a loan with a contract. Because in my experience there is no such thing as a loan without a contract within the family.

I wouldn't worry too much about the immediate micropayments / annoyance your brother has with you. Perhaps even separately stash whatever money you get from these transactions to return as a gift at an appropriate time.

Clearly they found themselves to be a fool unexpectedly and few take kindly to that, but it will likely wear off quickly if they're rational.

To get to the root of the problem and fix it, consider sitting down with him and working out a good savings plan.

If he has never bothered doing any saving, he may not know how to start and simply having a second bank account and putting a reasonable portion of their income into it may be sufficient to get them going for themselves.

I think you mainly have a fundamental misunderstanding.
You're talking about having savings for emergencies, he's taking it as having savings for unexpected expenses.
You're just talking about fundamentally different things.

You need to talk to him and make sure he knows you have his best interests in mind. You want him to save money so that he can provide for his family even in an emergency. You don't want him to save money so that you don't have to loan him any.

The savings you describe as having belong to your kids, to your wife and to you. They are there to provide security for future. Your brother needs to understand that if a time comes when he will ask you for money, you will have to chose between your children and him. I think he will understand if you chose your kids over him.

I suggest that after the current situation cools down (you need to give it some time), instead of telling him what to do, explain to him why are you saving and what for. Talk about your plans for your children, for your immediate family, etc. Treat him as equal and ask for advice from him, even though you know what to do. You need to make him feel like a person who is in charge of his family and their future and that people depend on him.

You will always be a safety net for him however, since you are his brother, but make him understand that you will be there only in case of serious events, and contribute with the minimal amount that wouldn’t jeopardize your family’s future.

"I have you as my backup. Aren't you?"

How difficult is it to say

"No, you don't"

It is difficult but it is the only clear way for him to understand that he is on his own. He is an adult, has responsibilities and, sometimes, one needs to learn the hard way.

If he wants to be childish by paying you back water - go for it. It will take time but he will understand that you will not help him.

If he needs money do not give it to him. It is likely that this will be the missing bit gone for clothes or fancy lunch. He will survive.

The second or third or fourth time when you still just do not give him one rupee he will realize that he is on his own. The important part is that he will learn on non critical cases (it is not like he is dying and needs money for an operation).

This also mean that your relation will be tense.

The issue is obviously that you are afraid for your own family and its financial security. From your description it is clear that you believe if your brother is hit by a financial emergency, he will have to rely on you due to having no savings of his own, and that will endanger your financial security, and thus your family.

You should have stated it in such terms. Something along the lines of:

Man, you are my brother and you can count on me. But here's a but: I have a family too, man. My first responsibility goes to my family. My emergency reserves are for my wife and my children.

Do you need advise about how to build up an emergency fund? I struggled with it myself in the beginning until I figured it out.

Some time ago I read an interview with a Saudi mine worker. He had originally been on the (Saudi) government dole and didn't work. For various reasons he went to work in a gold mine. His main take-away was that by having some savings and an income, he was his own person. He didn't have to pay any attention to the "welfare people" to pay for food etc. He also made much more money than he did on welfare. As an aside, he liked the mine owners' relation to the workers; they didn't ask him about politics or religion, only if he could load 16 tons a day (so to speak). On a minor level, being self sufficient is basically "screw you money."

Tell you brother he will get a big ego boost from being self-sufficient (not necessarily rich, just no dependent on the government as the first line of help.)

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