Can You Help People Who Don’t Want to Help Themselves?

helping family members

Lord knows we’ve made our share of financial mistakes in the past. Once we got sick and tired of being chained to debt, we did something about it. In all honestly, we didn’t have the first clue about what to do or where to start, but by searching, studying, and asking for advice, we learned how to take control of our finances. Being in control gave us our lives back. Now, when I see someone struggle as I once did, my first instinct is to help. Sadly, I’ve found that almost never works. Can you help people who don’t want to help themselves?

Change is Scary

There are far worse things in life than being in debt, but since this is a financial blog, we’ll put everything in the context of money issues only.

Have you ever wondered why people who struggle financially seem to repeat the same mistakes over and over? I think it’s because change is scary.

Even if your life is in financial ruin, it might be all you’ve ever known. Sometimes, in it’s own weird way, dysfunction is comforting. As long time readers might  know, we’ve gone to great lengths trying to help family members who are continually in a hot mess of financial trouble; all without tangible results.

Jim and I have gone back and forth about why some people can’t get it together. We’ve come to the conclusion that whatever their reality, it’s easier to continue living it than to accept responsibility. Some people can’t deal with a short period of upheaval to make a better future. I don’t understand it myself, but there are still ways to help people who aren’t willing to change.

Be Positive and Don’t Lecture

Giving lectures or making derogatory comments never helps people in bad financial situations. Continually focusing on the negative reasons why people are in debt is also a losing battle. It really doesn’t matter. Debt is debt and it has to be paid back. Yes, we need to address the behaviors that caused the problem, but telling people they made stupid decisions or passed up good opportunities only rubs salt into wounds and shuts down lines of communication.

Sometimes people don’t want advice at all. In that situation, the best thing to do is be a positive influence and offer information in a way that doesn’t sound preachy. When they start to go negative or use excuses, change the subject or remind them of what they can do instead of what they can’t.

When a family member complains that they can’t work because of a bad back, use this as time for learning about the multiple streaming options available so they can finally cut cable. If they complain about not being able to afford XYZ, offer to help search their garage for things they might be able to sell on Craig’s List.

Once they realize you aren’t going to jump on the pity bandwagon, they will eventually open up to one of your ideas or stop speaking to you altogether. Either is better than having to hear about or condone bad financial behavior.

Set a Good Example

Even if you can’t help someone, you can show them that financial success is possible for anyone willing to work hard enough. If a loved one asks, share experience of personal financial setbacks and how you overcame them. No one is perfect all the time, but if you walk the walk, eventually, others might want to follow. Again, your advice might fall on deaf ears, but it’s kind of  like affiliate advertising. If you put it out there enough and in the right context,  someone will eventually buy what you’re selling.

Know When to Walk Away

At this point in our lives, we are strong enough to stay on our current path, regardless of what anyone around us thinks. If you’ve just started finding your way to financial success, don’t let other people drag you back into debt or mindless spending. Also, don’t feel you have to give money if don’t want to or can’t afford it.

It’s hard to cut family or friends out of your life, but sometimes it’s necessary. Even if you don’t want to cut ties completely, you can limit contact or make it known that you will help them make their own changes but can’t participate in or fund a lifestyle that produces bad results.

It’s very easy to get on our high horses and look down on those who are struggling, especially if they won’t help themselves. In our case, we’ll keep listening and offering advice where it’s accepted and hope that someday our family might look beyond today’s paycheck.

Do you always think you can help people, even when they don’t want to listen? Have you ever cut out a friend or relative because of their behavior?




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Written By
Sydney White is a Texas-born stay at home mom who enjoys spending time with her family, bargain hunting and, of course, writing. She is currently the editor-in-chief of


  1. Wonderful article, Kim. We struggle with some of the same things. It’s tough to watch loved ones be in a continual mess and not be able to help them. We had one loved one say recently about his financial and job problems “It’s just my lot in life, it’s just what I’ve been given”. I gently reminded him that there is choice involved too, but he didn’t want to hear it. It made me so sad, but what can you do?

    1. I wonder why people ever think that money is something that’s “given” or “not given.” Even at my worst, I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I deserved anything other than what I brought upon myself.

  2. I think you can definitely help people who don’t want to help themselves. It’s just that you’ll KEEP helping them over and over.

    No, you can’t change someone’s mind about what is and isn’t important, including debt piling up. My mom sent money multiple times to a friend who was in need (though it was a need partially of the woman’s own making). She had to consider them gifts despite the term being “loans” because she knew her friend probably wouldn’t get her act together.

    Mom did get a few small payments, but she also realized that her advice was falling on deaf ears. Some of it was the woman actually being unable to affect change for valid reasons. A lot of it was just that nothing was changing. So she gave one last amount, and then told her friend she couldn’t help anymore.

    To my knowledge, the woman still hasn’t done a whole lot to change bad habits. Eventually, she’ll get sick of it, or she’ll die in debt. Sad but true. The best my mom can do is be there as a sympathetic ear. Then rant to me if she needs to.

    1. I feel like that is a very similar situation to the one we face. It’s really tough to hear people complain but also not try to do better.

  3. Thankfully I don’t think you typically have to end a relationship/cut people out if they can’t get it together. I’ve dealt with this in a few situations and it has strained relationships at time. It’s important to come from a humble point of view instead of an “I know best” point of view. Rarely do we know all the context of people’s situations and it’s arrogant to assume you do.

    1. It’s especially tough when it’s family. You certainly don’t get to choose who you are related to and you can’t always cut them out without serious side effects.

  4. I found that it didn’t seem to help at all to offer my opinion on how to help. I hope to just lead by example, and many people know I have a blog and can read it and maybe that somehow influences them in a positive way, but unless people are really ready to change, they don’t. I have had to cut ties with people, but mostly because they are toxic, not so much that they don’t take advice. I guess sometimes that goes hand in hand. People who complain but do nothing about it…I have a hard time handling that.

    1. I have a really hard time listening to complainers who won’t do anything to change. I have known a few homeless drunks in the past and I actually can deal better with them better than some of my family because they don’t complain about their situation and don’t expect me to do anything other than be kind. It’s when family complain and complain about being broke yet keep bleeding money on stupid things. It’s really hard not to be snippy, but I try really hard just to bite my tongue and offer positive advice.

  5. Um, no. I don’t think you can help anyone who doesn’t want to help themselves. I think it’s simply best to live your life as you see best. If anyone shows any interest you can offer some advice or share your story and that’s about it. You can’t control or be responsible for others even if you think they are making the biggest mistake of their lives.

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