Dear Penny: My Boyfriend’s Parents Spend Recklessly, But He Still Sends Money

Money falls out of a person's wallet.
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Dear Penny,

Both me and my boyfriend are college students abroad. We both earned scholarships. We make good money doing freelancing jobs online. He saves his for graduate school. I save mine for traveling. 

My family is better off than his financially. Mine wants to pay for my grad school, and they are willing to help me whenever I am in need. But his family is really struggling financially. 

Neither of his parents are working much right now. His father is doing small jobs barely bringing in anything. His mother is a tailor, but she only makes enough to put food on the table, and sometimes not even that. 

For two years, my boyfriend has given them money constantly every month. He pays for their rent and also gives them a little allowance. He thought that his parents' situation is only temporary, but I don't think so. 

We’re planning to get married after college. He doesn't have anyone to help him financially so he has to work and save for our wedding. I suggested that we split the expense, but he said he wants to pay for it fully. (In our country's culture, the man pays for the wedding and the woman for the engagement party.)

His future is not secured at all, but his parents continue to ask him for money. He has asked them to find decent jobs. He has even given them money to start a small business. But when they have money, they spend it extravagantly (like by having family members stay in their house for months and paying for everything). 

When they don't have money, they beg my boyfriend for money. He has talked to them about managing their money, but they don't seem to listen. 

A few months ago, my boyfriend gave them everything he earned for a month for them to start their own business. He also told them this was the last time he would give them money. They accepted.

But they haven't paid rent since then, and they want my boyfriend to pay it for them. Otherwise, the landlord will kick them out. 

My boyfriend doesn't know what to do anymore, and he is asking me for advice. I don't know, so I'm asking you for advice.

We are from the same Third World country. We’re studying abroad in a developing country much better off than our country, and we are both in our 20s. 


Dear A.,

The problem here isn’t that your boyfriend sends money to his family each month. It’s that he’s essentially issued them a blank check.

Your gut is 100% correct when it tells you that this situation isn’t temporary. As long as money magically appears whenever your boyfriend’s parents need it, they have no incentive to change.

Dear Penny

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Since you plan to build a life together, you need to build a budget together. That can include a monthly allowance for your boyfriend’s parents that you both agree on. But it should be based on what you two can consistently afford, not what they’re asking for in any given month. If your boyfriend doesn’t set firm limits with his parents, their needs will gobble up every cent the two of you earn.

This pattern will be difficult for your boyfriend to break. If he can afford to help his parents catch up on rent, I’ll reluctantly say he can rescue his parents one last time — but only if he makes it clear to them what their allowance will be moving forward.

He should remind them of this limit frequently. At the first mention of any troubles, he needs to restate it before they even ask for more money. Maybe he could make arrangements to pay the landlord rent directly. At least your boyfriend may feel at ease knowing that his parents’ poor choices won’t jeopardize the roof over their heads.

The tough part about saying “no” is accepting the consequences. Your boyfriend’s parents will undoubtedly lay on the guilt. Even harder is accepting the consequences that they may face. Your boyfriend’s parents may not be able to afford their expenses if they spend extravagantly. The odds of them changing are minuscule as long as the family ATM keeps spitting out cash.

Since your family is in a better financial position, lean into them and accept the help they’re willing to give. You should buck tradition and let your family help with wedding costs. Doing so will put your boyfriend in a better position both to help out his parents and build a life with you.

While this situation is challenging, I think your boyfriend sounds like a good partner. He clearly loves his family, but just as important is the fact that he cares about your opinion. The fact that he’s asking you for advice instead of trying to solve this problem on his own bodes well for your future together.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].