We’ve looked at six problem personalities so far in the series on personality problems that tend to affect your finances. We saw the Peacock, the Mattress Stuffer, the Foot Dragger, the Emotional Spender, the Obsessive Tightwad, and the Revolving Door Romantic. Today we’re looking at someone whose problems affect both them and the people who love them: The Moocher.
Everyone knows people who have a tendency to sponge off other people – free riding has been a problem since civilization got started. We also know people who get into jams and have to ask their friends and family for help. The Moocher takes it to the next level and makes a lifestyle out of it. Friends always seem to be covering the beer tab or the meals – the Moocher will pay you back next week, or he’ll just get the next one. He needs fifty bucks, just to tide him over. He swears he’ll get it back to you.
The Moocher always seems to be “crashing” at the places of a rotating series of friends. That’s only, of course, if he can’t swing the sweetest option: living at home rent free with the parents. He may fit this profile:
Justin goes off to college for a year or two, wastes thousands of dollars of his parents’ money, then gets bored and comes home to take up residence in his old room, the same bedroom where he lived when he was in high school. Now he’s working 16 hours a week at Kinko’s or part time at Starbucks.
His parents are pulling their hair out. “For God’s sake, Justin, you’re 26 years old. You’re not in school. You don’t have a career. You don’t even have a girlfriend. What’s the plan? When are you going to get a life?”
“What’s the problem?” Justin asks. “I haven’t gotten arrested for anything, I haven’t asked you guys for money. Why can’t you just chill?”
When the friends or family don’t work out, the Moocher always has a backup: the boyfriend or girlfriend, who seems to be paying for everything in the relationship from the housing to the food. Even though the couple may be having financial problems, and needs both people in the couple to work, the Moocher is always putting off finding that job. There were some jobs, but none that the Moocher was qualified for. Yeah, they had a good paying one in that ad – but it wouldn’t let the Moocher express creativity. The partner ends up bearing the full load of the family finances, and the Moocher sits at home watching Oprah or playing on the X-box.
So what should you do if you’re a Moocher – or if you’ve got one in your life?
If you think you’re a Moocher, you need to take control of your own life. You can’t keep going forever by sponging money off of others. Friends will get angry and stop hanging out with you. Your parents will get sick of it and kick you out of the house. And your relationships will suffer, with a high chance of a break up over financial problems. The free ride won’t last forever – and by your thirties or forties, you’ll run out of ways to delay dealing with your own financial problems. You’ll have no friends who are still willing to give you money. Your parents will have long since given up on supporting you. And you won’t be a spring chicken able to find an older, richer partner to take care of you.
You need to have a firm rule against taking money from other people, ever. Supporting yourself is important because people who support themselves end up better off in the long run. It’s not just about preserving your relationships with other people – it’s about forcing yourself to advance in life. People who sponge off of others tend to have jobs, not careers. They don’t ever get ahead because they don’t need to. But at some point in life, they end up having to support themselves – and they’re behind all their peers, living a poorer life than they could have had if they’d just worked for what they wanted. They didn’t get that promotion, kept working in the menial job long after they could have found a better one – if they’d just tried. The only thing you can do to help yourself is pay your own way. If you need more money, work for it and earn it. You’ll end up having a lot more money in the long run that way.
Most of the people reading this, however, aren’t Moochers – they’re the people who have to deal with them. So what do you do?
If you’re a friend, then stop lending money, period. If you think someone is taking advantage of you financially, you cannot salvage the friendship by giving into guilt trips. You need to draw a line – don’t be angry or hostile about it, but sit down and explain calmly to your friend that while you want to maintain the friendship, you think lending money to each other will just get in the way. If they get angry or refuse to associate with you, they probably weren’t a real friend anyway. There are lots of stories about people being used for money this way, and you don’t want to be one of them.
This article in Kiplinger’s has a good suggestion: if you feel like you absolutely must give them money for some reason (emergency, health problem, etc.) – make it a gift, not a loan. Loans between friends tend to break the friendship apart, because you are expecting your money back - and you may not get it. If it’s a gift, then you control how much money you’ve lost. You don’t have to give anymore. And it’s a lot more obvious if your “friend” keeps coming back again and again that there wasn’t a real emergency.
There are some other ways you can reduce friction in the friendship. Is your friend mooching off you when you go out to eat or drink? Maybe they really can’t afford it. Start trying to go to cheaper places and see if it stops. With this kind of situation, it’s best not to bring it up at first, because it can be sensitive. If your friend is willing to pay at the $5 restaurant but not at the $25 one, you might just need to be more careful where you hang out. Often people who become friends at the same income level (in college) gradually earn different amounts as the years pass – and you may not realize that your friend isn’t in the same place as you are anymore.
What if you’re the parents of a Moocher? First things first, you’ve got to get them out of the house. There’s a Dr. Phil slide show series online with some advice on this (yeah, I know, give me a break – this one’s actually pretty useful). You probably can’t just kick them out immediately. But what you do need to do is set a firm deadline. For example, give them a six month timeline. In one month, you stop giving them any money. In two months, you stop paying for gas in the car. In three months, you stop paying for insurance. In six months, they are out of the house – whether they’ve gotten a job or not. The gradual imposition of consequences means it’s easier for you to enforce them. It also gives your kids advanced warning that you’re serious. The problem with most efforts to get your kids out is that they are pretty sure they can safely ignore you. They don’t think you’ll pull the trigger. As the free services get cut off, month after month, it will become obvious that you’re not backing off this time. And that’s the most important thing – you have to go through with every consequence you set. You can’t say “no gas money” and then back down to “well, gas, but only if you’ve got a job.” You have to quit enabling your kid to mooch at some point – and the earlier, the better. There may be short term problems, but the long term ones would be even worse.
What if you’re in a relationship with someone who mooches? Keep in mind there are different male / female standards on this. My guess is that because of the traditional roles of men and women (and the attitudes towards them), men are most likely to be seen as moochers when they’re not getting a job and not doing anything. I’d keep in mind from the start that if your partner is a stay at home parent, you probably don’t have any business asking them to work until your kids are in school. That’s a touch decision, and they really might need to work because of your finances, but they’re certainly not “mooching.”
Some people, however, do – both men and women. You might even be willing to put up with it. If you can support that trophy spouse, go ahead. But most people can’t. If your boyfriend is living in your apartment and you’re paying rent, he needs to contribute. Most families these days have two incomes, and it’s hard for one person to support two able bodied people. There’s an advice column here that has some good reader answers, including this suggestion:
Decide between you which bills he will pay and which you will pay, and discuss how you intend to develop this over time, so that his share is fair. You need to talk with him in such a way that expresses to him that you expect this from him, and that any protests are unreasonable. If you pay all the bills in your name, or you share an account, he has very little incentive to bring the money in. Of course there is a risk that if he doesn’t pay then he will get negative credit, and as someone who lives at the same address you will suffer too.
The credit thing is the most important one to keep in mind – don’t let your bills get mixed up. Above all else, don’t get on the same credit card or bank account as someone who has a tendency to mooch. At some point, you’re going to have to deal with this problem. You may think that it will hurt your relationship if you bring it up or try to force the issue. But realistically, you can’t have a long term relationship with someone who won’t help out when you need it. What are you going to do when you have kids to support? It’s unlikely they’ll suddenly start working then. What about when you get older and need to save for retirement? People who don’t want to work aren’t going to just because you ask. You need to do the same thing as the parents – lay down a consequence and stick with it. If your partner refuses to financially support your partnership, then they’re not really a partner at all. If the Moocher won’t pull their weight, you need to ditch the deadweight. Unless you’re willing to support the family for the indefinite future, you have to give a clear ultimatum: either get a job or we’re through.
The Moocher is one of the saddest cases of a dysfunctional financial personality because it hurts everyone. This is one of those cases where problems in finance spread to become problems with life in general. If you’re a Moocher, you’ve got to get ahold of yourself. If you interact with one, you have to set limits and stop enabling them. Nothing else is going to work.
Discuss this in the Free the Drones Financial Forums.