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Boundaries: Protecting Yourself From Unrealistic Financial Expectations



It was 2:45 AM local time when the phone rang. It continued ringing ceaselessly as if it tried to convey the seriousness of the situation from the caller. I looked at the number and did not recognize it. However it was a phone call from back home in Nigeria. I was deep in sleep, but I considered this could be a call from a family member back home. But, didn’t they think of the time difference before placing the call? Maybe they’re in distress? Maybe this is a serious emergency?

I picked up the phone and answered. It was my old high school class mate from back home. The last time I spoke with him was probably about 10 years ago. We are not particularly close. I asked him how he was and what the matter was. He asked me to send him some money that his wife just had a baby through a C-section and needed to pay the hospital bills.

* * * * * *

I was browsing on my Facebook when I got a ping indicating a message from my Facebook Messenger. It was from a casual acquaintance back home. We often comment on each other’s posts on Facebook but I couldn’t say we were that close. She wanted me to send her money to help her organize a child dedication ceremony for her newborn baby. I congratulated her on the new baby, then asked why she needs money to do a child dedication, usually done in the church. She stated that it was her first child and she wanted to give her a befitting dedication ceremony with a nice reception. I asked if she and her husband couldn’t afford it and she said they didn’t have enough money.

* * * * * *

On a breezy Saturday afternoon, I got another call, this time from a very distant cousin. She was getting married soon and she wanted me to buy her wedding dress here in the US (with my money) and send it down to her. The last time I had spoken with her was probably more than 10 years prior, but she recently heard that I was living in the US and got my number from another family member. I asked her if the wedding dresses sold in Nigeria are not good enough. She said she preferred to get one from abroad.

* * * * * *

If you’re an immigrant living in America, especially those from 3rd world economies like most of sub-Saharan Africa, you probably have had a similar experience to those ones listed above, or at least a version of it. There is no doubt that Africans in diaspora, by their financial repatriation back home, help to lift up the economies of their home countries and this can be a good thing. For example, Africans in the Diaspora sent home $33 billion in 2014 to their relatives or friends to help pay for living expenses, education, health care and even to start a business, according to Huffington Post.

But then, how do you set healthy boundaries so you are not taken advantage of? How do you strike a balance to help your folks back home and yet try to get ahead? I personally struggled with this myself for a while. At the times when I said no, I was often put into a guilt trip by the person I said no to. They will accuse me of losing my culture or abandoning my value system to help. It was hard.

Boundaries: Line on sand

Then one day, I read the book BOUNDARIES by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. It was an eye opener. The book teaches you when to say yes and how to say no to take control of your life.

So when you get that call or message from home asking for money, how do you deal with it? Here are the factors I consider to help me handle such situations:

1. Determine The Nature Of The Situation

Is this an emergency (like health issue)? Is it urgent or can it wait? Is it reasonable (sending money to help with living expenses vs to buy a flight ticket to go for a wedding in a different city)? Can the situation be resolved without you sending money? Can you verify that this situation actually exists and that you’re not actually being ripped off? These questions will help you figure out if you can help

2. Do You Have A Healthy Relationship With This Person?

Is this request from someone in your family or your friend that you actually have a relationship with? A relationship is a two-way street, not one-sided. If I’m the one that calls you all the time to chat and you never call me but when you do, it is only to ask for money, this is not healthy. In other words, is this person making this financial request a ‘frequent flyer”, always asking for money? If so, they will keep asking for money, no matter how much and how often you give. You will be enabling their bad behavior if you succumb to their plans.

3. Are You Consumer Debt Free?

Most of our folks back home do not appreciate that many people in diaspora often have a lot of personal consumer debt that they deal with. They fixate on the great disparity in exchange rate between the dollar and the local home currency and that if you only send a little amount, it will turn to sizeable amount for them in the local currency. But that $100 or $200 could mean a lot to you if you can put it to your attacking your debts. Besides, it makes no sense for you to be groaning under the pains of consumer debt while trying to help someone else. There is a reason the flight attendants in airplanes tell people to put on the mask on their face in the case of an emergency before helping someone else, even if it is their own child

4. How Much Are They Asking/Can You Afford It?

Most often, they wouldn’t mention the amount they are asking, but you can get a sense of it by what exactly they need the money for. For example wanting to open a small business vs needing to pay for a school project. But there are ones who are bold enough to mention the exact amount they want. I’ve been asked once by a friend to give him $1,000 to help him pay for some merchandise (yes, he was that exact).

After considering the other factors, can you afford to grant this financial request without it affecting your monthly financial bottom line, as indicated by your budget? Like Abraham Lincoln once said, “You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves”.

Can you try to strike a middle ground and give the person what you can, even if it’s not the whole amount they are asking? Certainly this is quite reasonable for me, if anyone requests for a loan. My personal philosophy is that I simply do not give loans to family or friends. That’s one good way to destroy a relationship if and when they can’t pay it back. I’d rather give them what I can afford and tell them not to pay back.

When I consider all the factors listed above, I then make my decision. Sometimes, I give, sometimes I don’t. But I am at peace with myself. And if the person is not happy with my decision, and they carry a grudge against me, the book Boundaries has helped me realize that it’s really not my fault. This system is certainly not perfect but it has helped me navigate the murky waters of financial requests from folks back home. Generosity is a big part of most wealthy people and it plays a big part in my life too. However it pays to be diligent in your giving.

What do you think? Have you been financially solicited by your folks back home? How do you handle such situations? Comment below

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