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matthias_lang

Lending friends money & Heating costs

matthias_lang
18 years ago

Do you have any personal guidelines for lending out money? I struggle with this, but almost always lend the requested amount of money, falling back on the old do unto others guideline.

My area has income well below the national average, but mine is much better. I have a couple of friends and "reliable acquaintences" to whom I make probably about six to ten small loans per year. These loans are usually $50-$300, but once $1100. The loans are for necessities such as gasoline, household utilities, rent, car repair, telephone, medicine, kids' school supplies. They always pay back, but that biggest loan took 13 months longer than agreed. These friends really live hand-to-mouth and I don't see hope that that will ever change (It hasn't over the 20-25 years that I've known these various people), except for maybe one of them who is very young and has managed to get some education and the kind of job that just might lead somewhere. I also know that at least one of them gets help on heating and cooling bills from charities every year.

Well, the cost of natural gas is zooming up and I feel this tension that there is no way any of these friends are going to be able to pay their heating bills. Nor are they going to find charities to help them out because so many people are going to be in need this year. Nor can I afford to lend them each the money when none of them will be able to pay it back since they won't be able to get caught up from one month to the next because they will be hit hard each cold month. They will get through the winter with heat because the gas company legally cannot cut off service during the cold months. But at the end of winter the gas will be cut off (thus no hot water or cooking on their gas stoves) until they get those bills paid off. But since they live so marginally, I think NEXT winter will roll aroung with their bills unpaid and the gas company will be under no obligation to turn it on.

I just feel so caught here trying to figure out what my obligations are.

Comments (33)

  • steve_o
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    As I see it, you have no obligation to continue to fund these folks. Their current states are the results of choices they have made, at some conscious level, over the years -- just as your financial condition is the result of decisions you have made over time. I understand that history and your desire to help play their parts in this decision. But you are not obligated.

    If you choose to continue loaning money, you should consider the loans "grants" and be pleasantly surprised if you're (ever) paid back. If you cannot afford to do this, then you need to establish this as a concern when you are asked for a loan. You also are entitled to set your own boundaries on how much you loan, and to whom. For example, you may choose to loan more to the young person you mentioned (who apparently has the capacity to work toward something better) and loan less to the folks who string out the repayment.

    Don't forget that your heating bills (and your grocery bills and the cost of anything delivered, etc.) will go up this winter, too. Your first obligation is to your own financial solvency. There are safety nets for these people. You don't have to run the Bank of Matthias -- unless you want to.

    Good luck.

  • joyfulguy
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Greetings Matthias,

    I have lent some.

    Some was paid back - in several instances it wasn't.

    Thank you for your concern, and for having been willing to help out your friends.

    Often that turns out to be a friend-breaker situation.

    I think that it's wise of you to have thought ahead to the situation that your friends may face in the coming year or so.

    Do some of them make strenuous efforts to improve their situation, e.g. take a second job, avoid credit card (or payday loan) debt, have a family member find work, etc.?

    Good wishes for being able to continue to be good friends with these people that you've been helping.

    ole joyful

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  • gandbb
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    You're in a tough spot here because we are talking basic necessities. A friend of mine recently married into a family that had lots of needy family members. She formulated a rule that she would loan money once without any expectation of repayment, but that if repayment didn't occur then the bank would be closed for further loans. I am not sure that would help you because you are looking at some really basic needs. For my giving, which is not so personal as your own and therfore easier, I make up a budget and part of the budget is charitable giving. When it's gone, it's gone. I raised the amount this year because of the special circumstances of the floods etc.

    I guess I would not write-off without investigation, your friends eligibility to receive help from outside. I assume you are computer savvy and so maybe the best thing you can do for your friends would be to donate your time to research programs that might be of help to them. Make phone calls. If you need to, maybe your could translate bureaucracy to plainspeak and that alone might be enormously helpful.

    This is a tough one. I don't think the attitude of one of the posters that "they deserve what they get" is particularly helpful or necessarily true.

  • steve_o
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    This is a tough one. I don't think the attitude of one of the posters that "they deserve what they get" is particularly helpful or necessarily true.

    It is a tough one. We're hampered by not knowing these folks as well as Matthias does and by hearing the story from only his viewpoint, no matter how accurate.

    Your characterizing my response as "they deserve what they get" is, I think, inaccurate and harsh. People don't "get" -- they choose, either deliberately or indirectly. They choose to quit or finish school -- and choose how much they learn there; they choose whether they will pursue a vocation which pays well; they choose to remain in a particular place or living situation; they choose whether they will go into debt to buy cars and homes and TVs and insurance and continuing education. They choose to marry and divorce and have children.

    Each choice we make offers an opportunity or benefit -- and a cost. All of us are deciding all the time how much we will do to achieve a goal. In a culture which tries hard to teach its children that actions have consequences and which strongly celebrates individual success (financial, emotional, etc.), the notion that people just get dealt a random poker hand is, I believe, damaging, prejudicial, and not particularly helpful in itself.

  • joyfulguy
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    As a personal financial advisor for about 20 years, I've said to many people that learning how money works is an interesting hobby - and it pays well.

    Credit card debt, or payday loans, is for the birds.

    I wonder how many of you have read, "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" by Robert Kiyosaki - that my daughter gave me for Cristmas (or was it birthday? Father's Day?) a few years ago.

    The "Rich Dad" was a guy lacking major formal education, who lived in a small house and operated several businesses, by the way.

    The "Poor Dad" - the writer's own father ... was Superintendent of Schools for the State of Hawaii (and who had suffered, admittedly, substantial medical expenses (early in his career, I think). He wasn't a Canadian, by the way - I don't have such expenses for necessary medical services (not including face-lifts, of course).

    Some of you may be interested to introduce your kid to "Rich Kid, Smart Kid", by the same authour, which I found in the library the other day and currently have on loan. And which, of course, I waved under my daughter's nose.

    A book that I think every North American kid should read. And ponder.

    Good wishes as you seek to find ways to live as a productive and responsible citizen.

    ole joyful

  • devorah
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Perhaps what was meant by "not helpful" was that when you are in a crisis situation - as perhaps when someone is suffering extreme cold or hunger, figuring out how the adults in the family found themselves in the situation isn't going to make anybody warm in the short run.

    I have two daughters. Thankfully both are gainfully employed and taking care of themselves. Both have the same education. One is beautiful, sharp, and outgoing. Because of her nimble brain and out-going personality, money comes easily to her. The other has to work really really hard to make a tenth as much money and as a result lives paycheck to paycheck. If she were to lose her job or suffer an injury she would need help. Did she make bad choices? Should her sister say "tough s**t" kid? I don't think so. My elder daughter knows that fortune has smiled upon her in ways that are not wholly due to a superior character.

    I suspect that Steve and I would find ourselves on opposite sides of the political aisle. I am not saying that people don't make poor choices, but we are not necessarily blessed with equal opportunities or the intelligence to make good decisions.

    I believe that the first of the Beatitudes "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit" means that we should remember that we were not the architects of our own creation, that we came naked into the world and are going out the same way. We should look at the world as if we were poor, not get too puffed up over our accomplishments and be ready to lend a hand in charity to those who are in less fortunate circumstances

  • steve_o
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Perhaps what was meant by "not helpful" was that when you are in a crisis situation - as perhaps when someone is suffering extreme cold or hunger, figuring out how the adults in the family found themselves in the situation isn't going to make anybody warm in the short run.

    I agree with that. However, Matthias stated that these folks have been living hand-to-mouth for up to 20-25 years. Hard times can hit almost anyone and there can be some serious potholes in life (I know; I've hit a few of them). But without understanding how one got into that mode, is there any hope for getting away from it?

    I have two daughters. [snip]

    One of my very best friends is/was a teenaged mom. She dropped out of high school and married the father -- an alcoholic. The marriage ended a few years and another child later. Single parent, two toddlers, not even a high-school diploma. All choices my friend made, none of which made her life easy. But she kept making choices. She got a clerical job at a local company and stuck with it -- even if the job was less than ideal at times. She got her HS diploma while she worked. She raised two fine kids. She got a college degree, again while she worked. She now has a career she loves and is doing well -- because she figured out what was important to her and she was willing to pay the price to achieve it.

    I don't mean to compare with your daughters; I mention this because it's a great example of what I mean by "choices." My friend chose to become intimate with that guy. She chose to keep the baby. She chose to drop out of school. She chose to marry that guy. It was tough for my friend to work full-time, raise two children, and go to school. It meant there wasn't much time to go out with friends or spend money on new clothes or cars. But she did it and she escaped a situation that mires many other single teenaged mothers, many of whom don't seem to realize that choices they made got them where they are.

    I suspect that Steve and I would find ourselves on opposite sides of the political aisle. I am not saying that people don't make poor choices, but we are not necessarily blessed with equal opportunities or the intelligence to make good decisions.

    You might be surprised. Let's just say my viewpoint aligns far more closely with what is now the minority national political party. :-)

    IMHO, none of us is blessed with truly equal opportunity. There's always someone out there with more money or better looks or greater skills or better connections or fewer disabilities or less emotional baggage.

    I believe that the first of the Beatitudes "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit" means that we should remember that we were not the architects of our own creation, that we came naked into the world and are going out the same way.

    That is where we differ. I absolutely believe that we are architects of our own creation. We choose how we react to what's around us, and -- in doing so -- we create our reality. We can lament our circumstances, feel the world "owes us" something, let instant gratification rule us, or do nothing because we believe life is out of our hands.

    Or we can accept that every situation in which we find ourselves is a chance to demonstrate who we believe ourselves to be -- and to act on that. If we think of ourselves as "blessed," there are many opportunities to bless others, in kindness, with our money, and so on.

    We should look at the world as if we were poor, not get too puffed up over our accomplishments and be ready to lend a hand in charity to those who are in less fortunate circumstances

    It doesn't sound to me like we're all that far apart ... :-)

    I'm sorry this got so long ...

  • liketolearn
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    We recently gave a couple thousand to a family member who found out that they have a serious medical problem. There is a time delay of several months from when they stopped working until their job's long term disability kicks in. It's not something we normally do because we can not afford too but the circumstances made it the right thing to do. I truly admire this single mom that worked and raised her disabled daughter who doctors said would never learn or live normally. She did and gave everything for her daughter who is now a beautiful young lady. In this case we gave from the heart.

    Otherwise, we generally don't loan money as we don't have it to loan (LOL)! I expect that if we were to loan money to someone it would be based on the circumstances, with the expectation of being payed back, and a written contract. Likewise, it we were to borrow money from someone I would want a written contract so they know I will be paying them back.

    I don't think though that borrowing to cover higher heating bills is reasonable when they KNOW that heating costs will be higher and have the time to plan for this expense. It may mean getting a part-time job, turning down the heat, arranging a payment plan with the utility company, or giving up other "necessities". I'd have a hard-time loaning money to someone who could afford cable TV, cell phones, etc AND not afford heat as we do without many of these "necessities" to pay our bills.

    I think if you decide you want to help them you should set a limit for each. Let them know your help is limited to X amount of dollars. And if you can use your skills to get additional help or arrange a payment plan with the utility company that should be much appreciated. Just remember that it is not your responsibility to pay their bills and you are very generous to offer them any assistance.

  • joyfulguy
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    As for us being the architects of our own lives ...

    ...we are fortunate that we were born in the northern part of North America.

    Despite having made billions of dollars worth of armaments over the past 65 years, we have not known a military-style explosion internationally for 190 years. Or one in the U.S. for 140 years, or in Canada for 120 years.

    We have not known malaria or a host of other diseases.

    We have not known privation, or what it's like to be forced to leave home, along with thousands of others, with nothing except what we could carry - as have millions of refugees in recent years.

    It was an accident of birth that had me born here rather than in some of those other parts of the world which have suffered disasters, hunger, illness, and many other debilitating situations.

    I do not feel that I can be unconcerned about those areas.

    How will our children and grandchildren cope with the situation in several parts of Africa and Asia where HIV/AIDS infects large proportions of the populace, where farms are left untended because the people are sick, quite a number of families are managed by teens because their parents are dead, etc?

    You think those issues won't affect us?

    Think again!

    ole joyful

  • devorah
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    amen brother

  • steve_o
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    How will our children and grandchildren cope with the situation in several parts of Africa and Asia where HIV/AIDS infects large proportions of the populace, where farms are left untended because the people are sick, quite a number of families are managed by teens because their parents are dead, etc?

    I think they will do so by making different choices than have been made so far. They will choose to understand that we really are all one. They will choose to recall the saying about feeding man by teaching him how to fish. They will choose to give money to governments which are not corrupt or discriminatory, and censure those which are. They will choose to be involved with poorer countries beyond just throwing money at them -- they will demand an accounting of that money over time and will help make markets for indigenous materials and labor. They will choose to believe that God has created everything -- is everything -- and does not stand on us-versus-them thinking or imposed rules about how best to love Him and His creation.

    It's pretty obvious our current methods for addressing the problems of poor countries are not working well. We can keep on trying those methods until (if) they work. Or we can choose to try something else.

  • cowboyind
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    It's a fundamental precept of most successful people in Western capitalist societies that individuals are the architects of their own destinies. Of course, the opposite of that is the belief, held by some, that life just happens to them and they are more or less along for the ride.

    Reality probably falls somewhere in the middle. People do have external limitations on them which limit their options, and luck does play a part in success. The Chicago White Sox won the World Series, but there were numerous games in the regular season which, if not for one missed catch or one favorable call, could have just as easily gone the other way.

    The point that one will not let these types of limitations stand in the way is essentially a psychological one. People can adopt the "can do" attitude which is advocated by most self-help authors and motivational speakers, and this surely can play a part in fostering success because it may provide motivation to keep trying even in the face of adversity. Yet numerous tries do not always result in success.

    As a society we tend to look toward successful people, use them as examples, and say to others, "Look, they did it -- you can too!" Certainly there's some value to that, again from the standpoint of motivation, but the plain fact is that not everyone can be whatever they want to be. I think if we were more willing to accept that, people would be a lot more able to be happy in the place where they are and less apt to be dissatisfied.

    Anti-depressants are forecast to be the most prescribed drugs by 2020, if not sooner. A major reason for that is the mythology we've perpetuated which states that anyone can do anything. "No Child Left Behind" is essentially an attempt to send every child to college. Why? There are many careers which do not require high level math skills and a sharp ability to communicate. In fact, in the U.S. right now, many of the best jobs, such as the skilled and semi-skilled trades (painting, landscaping, carpentry, etc.) are literally begging for workers, while we keep telling school kids that they need to be able to read and interpret poetry and do calculus so they can get to college, even though they'd be a lot happier doing something else.

  • Turtle_Haven_Farm
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    If I knew someone who was struggling this heating season with keeping up with their heat bills, I would go to the company that furnishes the gas, and donate (anonymously) an amt of $$ I was comfortable with to these people's heating bills. That way, they'll never know who paid the bill! I would presume that if you gave the heat co the people's names and addresses, they could accept payment on the heat bill. - Ellen

  • talley_sue_nyc
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    IMHO, none of us is blessed with truly equal opportunity.

    I agree with Steve here. People whose brain synapses fire more slowly aren't equal with my fizzy daughter. There's a lady on my block whose kid gets academic scholarships right and left; she's not the brightest bulb on the block. I wonder sometimes whether there were physical things in her body's development--pre or post birth--that affected how well her brain work. She's not dumb, and she's a REALLY nice lady, but she is frankly not as bright as most of the people on the block. She thinks slowly and simply.

    She is not going to be a doctor, etc. Her son might. So she doesn't get THAT particular choice.

    But I also agree w/ Steve--her life will be a result of the choices she makes within the framework of her own capabilities. Not that "she deserves what she gets," but that she will DETERMINE, largely, what she gets. Within that framework.

    She does, for example, have the choice to save money whenever she can; to choose training that will qualify her for work ina field that pays a bit higher than her present one.

    My sis was working part time; she loved her job at Target, but she quit it to get a job paying $2 more an hour for Qwest--partly bcs of the wage difference, and partly bcs it offered opportunity to move up. My sis has a nicely working brain; but I bet a lot of what she has done for Qwest, someone like my neighbor could do. My neighbor can't rise to be head of the department, but she can work hard (and does), be diligent and responsible (she is), and choose the jobs that will pay her more. She does.

    I graduated w/ a girl who wasn't the brightest. Nice, good-hearted, but not phenomenally bright. She's a sales associate at a department store--has been for a long time. She made choices w/ her life that have meant she is not going ot have to go without food.

    Some people get dealt ever tougher hands--illness, insury, bad examples in their family, lack of education.

    But they do get a choice. And someone who wants to help them is allowed to factor in some of that choice.

    I had another friend who is ALWAYS on the verge of losing her home, starving to death, whatever. Her life is a constant crisis. I finally stopped helping her, because I decided I was just making it possible for her to not face up to her need to get a job. She has some health & vision difficulties, etc. But her biggest difficulty is that she won't take a job. She is always flitting off to do some new romantic-sounding thing--poetry, screenwriting, acting, fabric design. These things are never likely to make her money; they're hard to get into, and she's not equipped to succeed there. Plus, she doesn't stay at them long enough. Plus, they're the kind of jobs that people trying to do them, have a day job for a while. Or for always.

    and she won't get a day job. Helping her was keeping her from getting whatever goad she needed to take care of herself.

    Matthias knows these folks; we don't. He'll have to decide how much of their troubles does he feel an obligation to mitigate, and his own PERSONAL EXPENSE.

    My sis has had times of big bills and no money in the bank. One time I loaned her money for car insurance, and I told her, "I will never again loan you money for a bill you can predict."

    Loaning her money because her kid broke her glasses unexpectedly, bcs she has to pay a towing fee bcs her car broke on the interstate, bcs her DH got sick and can't work, bcs she can't afford to come to a big family gathering, OK.

    Car insurance, rent, utilities? No. For those, she's supposed to plan ahead. And structure her life so she can AT LEAST meet her basic bills.

    I *would* cheerfully loan her money for something that was going to lead to a CHANGE in her life--school, training, a move to an economically more fortunate city, broker's fee to a move to an apartment that would put her kids in a better school district.

    I wish you luck, Matthias--you sound like a caring person. Just be sure to protect your RELATIONSHIP with these folks you care so much about, by refusing to lend them money that you will RESENT having done it, and resent them for asking. Keep it in your comfort zone, and regard it as a kindness toward them, and as a protective measure you take to preserve your loving relationship.

  • matthias_lang
    Original Author
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I want thank you for your responses. I am still reading. In the end, I don't think there is really is a best path to take. Whatever I do, I could defend to the end, or criticise to the end.

    Steve, your first remark caught me by surprise. The remark about obligation. Even though I wrote that I would like help figuring out my obligations, I did not even realize that I had been thinking in terms of obligation. Am I in denial, or what?

  • joyfulguy
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Matthias,

    Part of my training was that not only is it a good idea to live and let live, but even better is to live and help live.

    Thank you for your desire to live that way. And sharpening your skills, and consideration of various potential consequences, of living that way.

    Thank you also for coming here to share your ideas about the issue, to help us engage our brains, heart and psyche in considering it, as well.

    I think that if more people did, we'd have a much happier society.

    Much happier than much of the current preoccupation of many in our society of living in a way that enables them to grab all they can and woe betide those who are left behind.

    Perhaps one day we'll realize that we're all in the same canoe, called Planet Earth, and if it dies we all die.

    A book called "Dark Age Ahead" by a renowned city planner called Jane Jacobs says that there have been many civilizations that have come and gone, and that shortly after their demise there was little memory of them.

    She says that now our civilization is on a world-wide basis - and that it is at serious risk.

    So we need to find ways to make it all work harmoniously, it seems to me.

    Which will mean that North Americans will have to learn to live less high on the hog - e.g. who would have said 30 years ago, or 20 - or even 10 - that GM, being at risk of bankruptcy, would be laying off nearly 40,000 workers?

    And the Canadian section, being among the most efficient, felt that they would largely dodge the bullet. Not so.

    Also, many farmers in underdeveloped countries complain that the export subsidies on U.S. food products (there aren't many in Canada) mean that that food is imported and sells in their country for so little that they starve.

    Or - move to town. And starve there.

    Sorry for largely hijacking your thread, Matthias.

    ole joyful

  • kittiemom
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I know that lending money to friends & family, even for necessities, can create a big problem. If you can afford to help your friends & wish to do so, bless you. But do you want them to become dependent on borrowing money from you? And how do you decide where to draw the line on the amount, circumstances, etc.

    We have avoided loaning to friends & family. If they need help & we can afford it, we give them the money. If they decide to pay it back, that's wonderful. But at least we're not expecting it or depending on getting the money back for our own expenses.

    I will point out some things that I've noticed. I know a lot of people who spend money on other things & then say they can't afford heat, school supplies, you name it. These people eat lunch out every day & many of them smoke several packs of cigarettes a day. They also buy a snack & drink from the vending machines twice a day at break. I know one guy who constantly lives hand-to-mouth, but he has extra money to play the lottery. I also see them in Wal-Mart buying expensive toys for their kids. A lot of them trade cars far more frequently than I do. And of course many of them have $70 (or more!)/month cell phone packages. That's all fine, if your necessities are paid for & you can afford those things afterward. I'm not critcizing. I don't know these people or what their actual circumstances are. I'm just giving some observations of things I've seen.

    DH & I have been through some hard times & we always held fast to one rule: the necessities were taken care of first. That meant taking our lunch to work to save money, shopping sales & any other ways we could find to cut costs. My sister & I once added up the money we saved by carrying our own lunch & snacks. It was amazing.

    Only you truly know these people & their circumstances. Are they living hand-to-mouth because of circumstances like illness, etc? Is it because they're making bad choices in other areas? You sound like a very caring person. If you want to loan or give your friends money, that is up to you. But if you do, I hope you feel like you're actually helping them & that you don't feel like you're being taken advantage of.

  • lizql
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Help with heating bills can be found through HEAP. At or below proverty level or depending upon number of people living in the home. This is not a charity but a government agency. I don't have a problem loaning a few bucks to friends or neighbors but I'm talking 20 or 30 bucks until payday. I don't feel obligated to help anyone in that way. If you got it and you want to give it then so be it.

  • hilltop_gw
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    It sounds to me that you're kind hearted but in some ways you're being used. They know they can call upon you and have you on speed dial to help out the budget in times of need. I don't mean to sound cold-hearted. We've made loans to employees to help with various things but we've never had to help family members. If the need arose, we'd help out once, maybe twice but by then I'd think that they would need to make changes in their immediate life to prepare. I used to have a much softer heart, but in the past few years we've had people ask for loans to buy their kids school supplies, but they still had money to pay for the cable TV, food for the horses & dog food & cute outfits for their dog. We've loaned money to help pay for propane but the guy & his wife could drive 300 miles to play Bingo on a regular basis. That doesn't make sense. I can understand helping someone in a real emergency situation, such as medical or unforeseen situation; however there are lots of ways to earn & save to prepare for the next day.

  • steve_o
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Steve, your first remark caught me by surprise. The remark about obligation. Even though I wrote that I would like help figuring out my obligations, I did not even realize that I had been thinking in terms of obligation. Am I in denial, or what?

    I'm sorry, Matthias. I thought I'd responded to this, but I don't see the posting so ... ??

    My use of the word "obligation" was in response to your use of it. You certainly don't have (or did not disclose) a legal obligation to your friends. So do you have a moral obligation?

    Based on what you told us, I don't think so. We're not talking about immediate problems, like a roof opened up by a falling tree, or sudden debilitating illness. We're talking about fuel costs, which have been the subject of news reports for months now. That's a fair amount of time for people to consider how they will pay those bills. My mom, on a fixed income, is opting to spend money on energy-saving home improvements. She's cutting back on some social things she likes to do, but she's addressing the issue.

    I know some posters considered my response harsh (not that they know me from any more than what I post). I am not at all opposed to charity for those who need it. But the priorities of many poorer people appear to be skewed, as other posters here have described. In my family, we did not have a lot. The only new cars that ever appeared in the driveway belonged to visitors. We had only black-and-white TV for my entire childhood. But we had encyclopedias and clean clothes and took family vacations and field trips with our classes. My parents encouraged and supported our well-being even if they had to sacrifice some time with their friends and would have preferred not to choose their cars from the back row of the used-car dealership.

    We were not, AFAIK, recipients of traditional charities or frequent "till-payday" loans. We did without lots of frills, but we had the basics. There seems to be a prevalent notion that it's almost inconceivable to live in the U.S. without a cell phone, cable, new furniture (even if it's from IKEA or Wall-Mart), a credit-card balance, and no savings. I'm not saying everyone lives this way, but the attitude seems prevalent enough that many accept it as normal. It may be what these folks see as normal, but it isn't good in the long run.

    I'm sorry this got so long. I can see that this is a difficult decision for you, and wish you the best however you decide. Thank you for thinking of others.

  • cindyb_va
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Matthias,

    There are a lot of Americans who are going to feel a big pinch in their wallets this winter. In my own area, the local news channel just confirmed that natural gas prices will be up 40% versus last winter.

    Have you thought about offering to help some of these people winterize their homes from the get go? A tube or two of caulk, extra insulation and some of that plastic film that helps insulate windows goes a long way towards helping them meet their higher expenses.

    Also, don't forget that many utilities offer a budget program to spread the cost of natural gas evenly over the entire year. This may be a solution also.

    Illinois can be a cold place in the winter; I used to have relatives there. You are a great person for thinking of them.

  • Happyladi
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I agree with some of the other posters that say lots of people that live hand to mouth could do much better if they made better choices.

    My neighbor has complained for years about her high heat bills. I have suggest many times she install a set back thermastat. Has she ever? No.

    She makes decent money, it will be over $50,000. this year for a single person but she will spend every cent of it and more. She will not save, she complains about never having any money but she eats lunch out every day, drinks 2 or 3 bottles of wine a week, smokes, and buys her makeup at Norstroms.

    I loaned her money once for new brakes and told her to pay me back when she could. She never has though she could have many times.

    Like many people she causes her own problems. These people will never change unless they choose to. Loaning them money is just enabling them.

  • costumecarol
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I lived in a neighborhood with a family that seemed to be perpetually behind on their bills. But they had money for flower gardening (of all things) and payments for the local rent-and-ripoff center. They received help from us, their own family, and their church, too, I think. At some point, though, a relative who had provided very nice clothing for a hard to fit member of the family ended her contribution. She visited the family one day and found the children making a game of jumping from one piece of clothing on to another, all of it on the floor. She left feeling that the recipient of her generosity must not appreciate the gesture much, and found other causes to contribute to.

    Though we don't all have the same gifts and opportunities, for sure, we are the stewards of the resources presented to us.

    Matthias, I mentioned your post to a relative and commented, "You'd think folks would after 20 years find a way to subsidize their lifestyle." Relative replied, "They have."

  • jannie
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    On my job, I saw a great many applications for financial assistance from the govt. (I can't give out more info about my agency employment.) One part of the financial application required the person to list their family income, assets and monthly expenses. While I saw heat is expoensive, regardless of whether by electricity,oil or gas, I also saw large bills for cell phones and cable TV. So many times I wanted to yell at people, get rid of those phones, why don't you stay home and rent movies, then you wouldn't have to ask the govt for money!

  • chisue
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    This started out to be about *loans* and has gotten into *charity*. Yes, I know, often they are the same thing.

    I've long thought that if every dollar given to some faceless national charity was instead given directly to *some real people you know*, the good might be greater -- and the number of dollars might be smaller.

    If you can't give directly, at least seek out a small, local charity that you know squeezes every dime. I recently heard of one that provides only small grants (average is under $500). An example given was a grant to a family of four who were in a shelter. They received money for a deposit on an apartment; a pair of steel-toed boots (required for the father's offered employment); a month's bus fare to get the father to work. That took four people off the street and up to at least "the working poor".

    Maybe this also addresses what Matthias termed *obligation*: I think we are obliged not to waste our charity. There are too many people who truly need help for us to drop dollars on those who just want us to take over some of their responsibilities because we have more money than they do. It's not about witholding money; it's about where we "invest" it.

    I like the idea put forward by a prior poster of giving when asked, in the face of a true emergengy, but putting conditions on future gifts/loans.

  • jamesqf
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    "...why don't you stay home and rent movies..."

    Why not go to the FREE public library and borrow some books, so that your kids grow up knowing how to read?

    But yes, I see so many people who live from one paycheck to the next in order to pay for these "necessities". Like my neighbors, who are good friends and nice people, but don't seem to have any financial sense at all. They both make good salaries, and live in a house inherited from her parents, yet are always complaining that money is tight. Really? Maybe it has something to do with the four cars (all gas-guzzlers!), two power boats, the motor home that I know hasn't been moved in three years... And those heating bills that you claim are killing you? A few years ago I spent a few thousand on upgraded insulation and a small woodstove - last month I filled my oil tank for the first time in 3 years.

    I could go on, and on, and on. Seems like so many people think the point of money is to spend it on the first thing that comes to mind, whether or not it's of any use, or gives you more than a moment's pleasure. Like their grandkids, who get so many toys for Christmas that they literally can't decide what to play with - and have more fun with the discarded wrapping paper than anything else.

  • housenewbie
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Shakespeare said, 'Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.'

    I have found these to be the truest words ever written.

    That said, if you want to help these people, by all means do. Just make sure you have enough for **yourself**--not just now but in the future. I wouldn't want to count on the beneficiaries of your largess coming to your aid if you need it.

  • joyfulguy
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Matthias,

    Again, thanks for sharing on this subject - it has caused an interesting discussion, indeed.

    One thing that has not been referred to much is that sometimes, perhaps one might say frequently, the recipient(s) of such loans/largesse comes to resent the person/agency to whom he has been indebted.

    Sad - but true.

    It's a problem which has faced non-governmental agencies who have sent assistance from our affluent area (so far) of the world to areas where people and societies have faced great hardship.

    I helped a few of hundreds of thousands of refugees work toward getting their lives back in some semblance of order after that terrible Korean War that took place over 50 years ago.

    It's not easy to be providers of help without either developing dependence, or resentment.

    Or both.

    My own son, Univ. grad., has chosen a work/lifestyle with varying and rather insecure, plus seasonal, income. Plus quite a bit of "free" time, though of an indefinite/irregular nature.

    On occasion when he has needed some help, I've suggested that he take on part-time work, so that he can pay the rent at the end of the month, plus buy food, plus pay his phone bill (an essential), plus pay for internet exposure, which he needs for another aspect of business that he's been working on. Working on - for two or three years, but which has yet to to operational, let alone produce Dollar One of income.

    A good one at making complex plans - but not following through.

    He hasn't directly verbally refused to act on the suggestion about some employment that would produce current income - let's say he's resisted the suggestion(s). Rather mightily.

    Do you detect some frustration here?

    Dad used to say, "You can lead a horse to water - but you can't make him drink". Funny - he never used the word "her" in that saying.

    Enough for today, I think.

    Good wishes to all, especially you, Matthias, for a wonderful New Year. And perceptive.

    ole joyful

    P.S. When modern war sweeps across most of your country, including your capital city, four times - you know what trouble is.

    o j

  • matthias_lang
    Original Author
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Well, gas bills have come in and will be in again soon. No one has requested any help. I was at one home about two weeks ago and they were keeping it chilly. I peeked at the thermostat: 65 F. I thought that was reasonable. Maybe they can lower it again if they get adjusted to that temp.

    This is the home of the mother of the younger one who I said had gotten herself some education, so I have high hopes for her. But the mother, well, she is on insulin and is partially crippled due to birth defects. None the less she worked many years as a nursing home aid and gave her all to raise the daughter. It is true that she no longer works, but collects social security disability. I think her qualifying disability is considered to be the spinal problems she developed due to the leg deformities putting her whole stance and walk off kilter. She also has arthritis in her hips, knees, and hands. She sometimes makes afghans to sell for cash and she invented a kind of crochet hook that makes it easier for arthritic hands. She at one time had hoped she would be able to sell that invention, but she really didn't know how to go about it. This woman did not go to high school. She was raised by a her retarded mother in the days before there was much of any state sponsored intervention or welfare or that sort of thing. She has a heart of gold, and yes she would help me and my family in the blink of an eye in anyway she could. I happen to think she has overcome a lot in life and if there were more people with her integrity, dignity, and kindness the world would be a lot better off.

    I thought some might want a clearer picture of how it can be that someone can need money and not have much ability to go out and earn more.

    When I was a child, I wished I was brilliant enough to see all the answers or ignorant enough to not even know there were questions. That is still the case.

  • kaleberg
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Dear Matthias,
    We all want to find a reason to blame the unlucky for their bad luck. The woman you describe has clearly done the best she could with the little she was given, and she has reaped at least one reward - your friendship. I am thankful I read your post on New Year's Eve; one of my resolutions for the new year will be to treat others with more compassion.

  • chelone
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    What an interesting thread this has been; and inspirational, too. The replies have been thoughtful, well constructed, insightful. There is a refreshing thread of compassion and honesty that runs through it all.

    We have a charity budget, too. We prefer to donate locally; money to the oil company, some to the electric company, new coats, boots, mittens and hats... the food pantry. Kindness is the rare coin that returns the spendthrift twofold, but leaves the miser penniless. I tend to fall into line with steve o on the "choices". As a couple the helpmeet and I have made a lot of tough choices, some worked out better than others. We've been fortunate and sharing some of our good fortune has always been important to us.

    I worked with a nice guy for some years. A wife, kids... but the guy is a financial moron; one dumb CHOICE after another. They desperately want a house (but she will only live in a particularly trendy community because it's where she grew up). But they are upsidedown on not, but 2, car loans. Wife doesn't work ("we're raising kids, you know"), but gets expensive haircuts, dye jobs, manicures, all to facilitate her appearance in her singing group (that COSTS they money!). He needs dental work desperately, and she's getting a dye-job? I certainly don't understand the priorities. Choices; what are you willing to do to get what you want, what are you willing to give up in the short term to attain long range goals? Every one of has to compromise every day of our lives. I see no willingness to compromise in their household and I see that it keeps them from getting ahead.

    He lamented last summer that she didn't help him. She was home all day with kids, but the sink was full of dishes from last night's supper when he returned home, he did them. When he asked me what I'd do in his position, I told him she ought to GET A JOB as a cashier/clerk/whatever for a big company (she hasn't worked in over 12 years). She ought to tap into their insurance and retirement programs, and they ought to bank every dime she makes, living on his pay, and retiring the car loans ASAP. In a year/two they'd have a very tidy downpayment for a home. "She'd never go for that, she's too qualified to be a cashier, she could be a music teacher... ".

    Then why isn't she? I think it's pretty much all about choices.

  • jamesqf
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    "She'd never go for that, she's too qualified..."

    Well, damn! I'm qualified to be Ruler of the World, but am I going to sit around and starve 'til the position opens up? You do what you have to, if you're worth anything.

  • joyfulguy
    18 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    jasqf,

    She ain't starvin'!

    It was in my mind to say that she's taking the food out of his mouth, but ...

    ... well, maybe not that, though she's, (how knowledgeably, I don't know), interfering with his ability to chew and enjoy it.

    AND ... she don't even wash the dishes.

    Seems to me, with incomplete knowledge of the situation, that she's qualified to be something of a jerk.

    I wonder how much of it is because he lets her get away with it?

    Some of us will be as lazy as we can get away with - especially if we can con someone else into paying the freight.

    Have a great New Year, everyone.

    ole joyful

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