Dear Penny: How Do I Deal With a Mooching Family Member?

A man takes an afternoon nap with pizza boxes and beer all around him on the floor.
Getty Images

Sometimes you have to help your family get through tough times. But for some family members, every day is the worst day of their lives. You and you alone are the single force who can stave off disaster — or at least that’s how they’ll make you feel.

Mooching family members have been a common theme of the Dear Penny column during my two years as your humble advice columnist. A lot of people will tell you to just keep a poker face and practice saying “no.”

But let’s be honest. It’s not that simple. When your family member expects you to constantly bail them out, this dynamic has typically been in the making for many years. Changing their expectations isn’t so easy, as these five letter writers know all too well.

“My Family Treats Me Like a Human ATM”

Dear Penny,

I have been the only one working since my wife and I had our first child, and it is stressful at times, especially when I’m laid off. 

We just bought our first home together, and now my mother is temporarily living with us until she finds a job and an apartment. Also, my father called a few months back needing money, and then again today. It’s put my wife and me with just about no more savings. 

We are not hurting, but it brings up a major concern about our future, especially with the unstable job I have. How do I provide for so many people and keep our savings?


Dear Stuck,

You could take a second job. You could get a side hustle or five. You could work 100 hours a week or more. Heck, you could work so much that you quit sleeping if you really want to keep bailing out your family.

But I suspect you already know the answer to your question: You can’t keep providing for so many people and keep your savings intact.

Read the full column here.

“My Daughter Stuck Me With Her Car Loan”

Dear Penny,

Three years ago, my daughter had no job, no car and no credit, but she had a brand-new college degree. I helped her purchase a car so she could conduct her job search. I agreed to make the first three monthly payments of $343 each, but I put the car title in her name. I didn’t want to be liable if there was an accident.

Well, duh. That was a big mistake. After three months, even though she was working, she asked for an extension, which I granted…Three years later (on a five-year loan), she’s never taken over payments. She eventually stopped bothering to make excuses and called me selfish and a nag… 

The car dealership finance department said they couldn’t even talk to me because the title isn’t in my name. The bank said if I stopped payments on the bills, the car would be repossessed. I’ve already paid more than $17,000 for the car.

Now my daughter and I no longer speak. Meanwhile, she lives beyond her means. She is a big disappointment to me…What can I do to extricate myself from this situation?


Dear P.,

Your daughter can either do the mature, adult thing and make the payments she agreed to. Or she can keep driving her car for free knowing Mom is legally on the hook for the loan.

Unfortunately, the choice is hers. I wish I had a better answer for you.

Read the full column here.

“My Husband Refuses to Keep a Job”

Dear Penny,

My husband has constantly changed jobs since I’ve been out of pharmacy school for 11 years. He got his own account, but he was still using our joint account without any contribution. He refuses to contribute to the household. He’s also got $8,000 of credit card debt in his name. 

He wants my help to start a new business, but I refuse because he’s already had four failed businesses. He pressures me and says I have no faith in him. 

I’ve thought about divorce, but I’m scared. What can I do?


Dear T.,

This marriage sounds like trying to run a marathon in concrete shoes. It doesn’t matter how good you are at your job or as a wife. You’re not getting anywhere because every step is a struggle.

So you need to think about what scares you more: Getting divorced or living like this forever? Because from what you describe, I think these are your only two choices.

Read the full column here.

“My Unemployed Niece Is Living Rent-Free in the Family Home”

Dear Penny,

Recently, we had to move our mom to a nursing home. Prior to the move, my niece had moved in with her.

The niece was living rent-free when Mom was here. She is still staying here and still not paying. She is unemployed but has been getting unemployment. She has been there since last September. Mom went to the nursing home in February…

My niece was paying a roommate a substantial sum before she moved in with Mom. She has had many months to save, and her expenses are low since she pays no rent or utilities. My brother is the durable power of attorney. He turned off the cable, but the internet is still on. Plus there are expenses for gas, oil, electric, property taxes and maintenance….

Someone needs to tell the niece she needs to start paying for some of the expenses. I don’t quite know how to bring it up to her…


Dear L.,

When you offered to let your niece stay in your mom’s home, you didn’t absolve her of rent for life. The conversation you’re about to have shouldn’t come as a shock. Note that I say “shouldn’t” rather than “won’t” here. I suspect shock is exactly the reaction you’ll get.

Read the full column here.

“My Sister Says She Can’t Be Evicted From Dad’s Home”

Dear Penny,

My sister and her son moved into my father’s one-bedroom apartment in July, which is against the lease. I was very against this living situation because it’s way too small for two adults and a rambunctious child. My sister said she had no other options because she has terrible credit, little savings and an eviction…Their relationship has deteriorated. I don’t think they can continue living together. My aunt co-signed for my father’s apartment and says my father can stay in her spare bedroom if he works with her to fix his finances. My aunt has been trying to help me, as she knows I am overwhelmed mediating their arguments and finances.

I told my sister we will need to find another place for her to live after April, and that I would co-sign if she sat down with me to go over her finances. She cried and said it would be impossible to find a place being unemployed, and that no one cares about her ending up homeless. 

She said she will refuse to leave the apartment if management doesn’t let her take over the lease. She believes that since she is a single mother with a child, they won’t be able to evict her. I’ve explained there could be negative consequences on her tenant record and for my aunt since she’s the co-signer, but my sister says everything will be fine…. She can’t stay with me because I’m a head of house in my alma mater’s dorm, which grants me and my partner a free apartment. 

How should I proceed with my sister? Am I being too supportive, or not supportive enough?

-Sister Struggles

Dear Sister,

When someone tells you they’re about to behave terribly, listen. I don’t care if your sister has been more responsible for three months. She obviously doesn’t plan to be responsible moving forward. She’s also made it clear that she’s up for a fight. Please don’t co-sign for her and let her take down your credit in the process.

Read the full column here.

Need help dealing with a mooch? Send your question to [email protected]Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.