Oh brother, if I give you $5k, will you grow up?
June 9, 2011 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Should I buy my irresponsible brother a car?

My brother, 24 years old and 8 years my junior, has been blazing his own trail in life since he dropped out of high school against the strong recommendation of the family. He's now married with two children and has struggled financially since moving out and getting his first apartment (which he was later evicted from). He keeps his jobs an average of 6 months, is frequently fired for stealing, struggles to pay rent and keep food on the table. He's still living the lifestyle that is common for 24 year olds (parties and weed). All the adults (including me) in the family have pitched in by paying their rent, buying groceries and lending/giving cash periodically through the years. We all love my brother and think he's a good person but are tired of his financial issues. My brother and his wife have awful credit due to past evictions and outstanding debts (scams?) with check-cashing services.

This past March (they only have money in March due to that being when they get their earned income credit), my brother and his wife spent $2500 on a car that was probably worth $1000. He ignored the advice of the family to have it checked out by a mechanic and now, 3 months later, it blew up. He's called me, desperate without any way to 'support his family' without the car. In his words, 'it all centers around the car'. They lived without a car prior to that because his wife didn't work. Now she works (they need the income) but public transportation apparently isn't an option for her.

Three years ago, my mother gave my brother her old car. Within a year, they wrecked it and used the insurance (my mother kept it insured) pay out to catch up on rent. I've given them furniture and electronics - all of which they destroy or pawn quickly.

I'm financially capable of helping my brother. I could afford to buy him a five thousand dollar car. I worry, however, that my brother's lifestyle and his past choices will simply lead to another crisis. I have a thousand ideas about how they can solve their problems but my brother isn't historically looking for advice.

I love my brother. I want to help him. But I don't want to enable his irresponsible behavior. What advice do you have for me?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (67 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do not, do not, do not buy your brother a car. A car is just a band-aid at this point. If you want to help them out financially, buy needed items for the kids.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:24 AM on June 9, 2011 [18 favorites]

Don't do it. Every thing that you've done for him in the past, though generous, and nice-hearted, and well-meaning, has contributed to his inability to care for himself. He's an adult, and I assume his wife is an adult, too. They have to learn to live like adults, and the biggest part of that is doing on their own.

One caveat -- because of the kids, I would help with groceries. But that doesn't mean giving cash, or even a grocery store gift card that they might blow on crap or alcohol. I'd either buy the groceries myself or set up a delivery service if such things exist in your area. Do that to ensure that the innocent kids are getting decent nutrition.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:26 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Should I buy my irresponsible brother a car?

No, you should not. If you want him to grow up, stop financing his childishness.
posted by mhoye at 10:27 AM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

And I'd add in regular, child-centered gifts: new shoes, sturdy clothes, warm jackets, and some well-made toys that are age appropriate. Help the kids.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:27 AM on June 9, 2011 [16 favorites]

Some people need to fail before they can succeed. Sometimes they keep failing. You can't help your brother until he helps himself. And by 'help' I mean 'provide the tools to lead a healthy, happy, stable life with his wife and children'.

Are you sure the kids are doing alright? That is my one concern here. The answer isn't buy him a car if they aren't, it's call protective services.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:28 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't. Your brother has proven himself irresponsible time and time again. It's time for him to grow up. You will be enabling him. He needs tough love at this point.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:28 AM on June 9, 2011

Don't enable him more than you already have.
posted by amro at 10:30 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can't say whether you should or shouldn't. How he and his wife live their lives is not really any of your business. However, if you can afford to give a gift of this magnitude and give it without further judgement, I think you should do so. But, that's a really hard thing to do. You might offer the gift as a loan with a contract. This may keep your brother from hitting you up for more cash when he screws this one up. With a contract out there (which he probably will not pay back) he may not ask for more money.

You could also give it with one string attached -- that they meet with a credit counselor. Find someone reputable and get them on the program. Tell them that you found this so helpful in your own life (lie). Then wipe your hands of the scenario. You can lead a horse to water, etc.

Getting to and from jobs with two kids and no car is beyond a hassle. If there weren't kids involved, I'd say "no." But you really need to search within yourself if you can give this as a gift and forget about it (I don't know that I could). If you can't do that then see if you can offer support to the wife and kids another way.
posted by amanda at 10:30 AM on June 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

If the kids need something, then set aside the money for that use, and dole it out as necessary. Otherwise, it's time for your brother and his wife to grow up. They won't do that as long as other people take care of them.
posted by jessian at 10:31 AM on June 9, 2011

Sidebar: really try not to see this as a moral failing. The drugs and stuff is a major problem but being shitty with money is not unique to the poor or goofy. If you have a lot of money, you have the freedom to do really dumb stuff and no one looks down on you. Trying to make pennies stretch with kids is difficult and often demoralizing. Maybe if you can contextualize those problems this way, it might enable you to extend some sympathy.
posted by amanda at 10:33 AM on June 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

Only do it if you realize that you will be doing this for the rest of your lives. If you don't mind being the person that is ultimately responsible for all of your brother's mistakes, and you don't mind being the one to pick up the pieces, and dealing with all of his bullshit, and paying his debts, then go ahead.

This is not a one-time thing. It never is, and it never ever will be. Never.

So, go ahead and do it. Caveat emptor.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:39 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

He's still living the lifestyle that is common for 24 year olds (parties and weed). All the adults (including me) in the family have pitched in by paying their rent, buying groceries and lending/giving cash periodically through the years.

First of all: that's not a lifestyle common for 24 year-olds. Which goes along with my second of all: your brother needs to grow up.

All that other stuff? Pitching in for rent, buying groceries, lending cash? That's enabling.

You're right, your brother's behavior is wildly irresponsible. You need to let him figure out his problems on his own. You will not be helping him by buying this car.
posted by litnerd at 10:41 AM on June 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

He keeps his jobs an average of 6 months, is frequently fired for stealing... He's still living the lifestyle that is common for 24 year olds (parties and weed)... We all love my brother and think he's a good person but are tired of his financial issues....

Really? He's immature, to say the least, and you haven't helped by propping him up or paying his bills so he has free money for booze and weed. If this was my brother, I'd cut him off. As for his kids, you should treat them to a meal when you can, and maybe get them clothes. But don't give your brother cash for those things, since you probably can't be sure it will be spent on the kids.
posted by Hylas at 10:41 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

No way. You're enabling him. He's not going to grow up until he has to start taking responsibility for his own life.
posted by something something at 10:41 AM on June 9, 2011

If the kids need something

Always. There is no reason to punish the kids because the parents are irresponsible. I recently went through a similar experience with a roommate and I can tell you that it's hard to say no when kids are involved, but there's no way around it when you see where a major portion of the money is going.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:41 AM on June 9, 2011

All the adults (including me) in the family have pitched in by paying their rent, buying groceries and lending/giving cash periodically through the years.

He keeps his jobs an average of 6 months, is frequently fired for stealing

He's still living the lifestyle that is common for 24 year olds (parties and weed).

Within a year, they wrecked it and used the insurance (my mother kept it insured) pay out to catch up on rent.

I've given them furniture and electronics - all of which they destroy or pawn quickly.

But I don't want to enable his irresponsible behavior.

Does not compute.

Your family's "help" isn't helping him. It's allowing him to continue reckless, irresponsible behavior and bad parenting. Being bad with money is one thing, stealing from multiple employers is quite another. In the same way, accepting help from your family is one thing, expecting family handouts and promptly destroying them is another.

Consider looking into social services available in your area. Consider calling CPS or another agency (anonymously) and asking what options are open to a family in desperate need of help. I'm not saying you should try to get your brother's kids taken away, but I am saying that his problems are too big for your love or your money to fix. He does not need a car. He needs a case worker.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:43 AM on June 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

Nthing No to the car.

All the adults (including me) in the family have pitched in by paying their rent, buying groceries and lending/giving cash periodically through the years.

Your help isn't helping, it's cultivating helplessness.
posted by jon1270 at 10:46 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm leaning toward no.

But I'm also leaning toward no on grocery deliveries and brand spanking new stuff for the kids.

Here's why:

If there's food on the table and the kids are dressed to the nines, what is left to motivate the parents? Especially if you're always there in an "emergency," or if your pawnable stuff is always there.

Offer to have the kids visit you for a few weeks this summer. Offer to help the parents find career counseling, or hell, regular counseling. Offer to talk them through things. Call and talk to the kids about their report cards, something cool at your job that made you think of them, a cool bird you saw. But don't be the guy who writes a check whenever things get tough.

Look, I came out of a house similar to this, and the worst of it was not that my dad was an irresponsible pot smoking young'un. The worst of it wasn't that he didn't set a good example of how to attain goals through hard work. The worst part was there was really, truly violent stuff going on in my house and none of the other adults in my life did a goddamn thing about that. So keep your ear to the ground. If you suspect that your brother (or his wife) might be getting violent, or endangering his children in some way, make it your mission to stop that. But don't be the uncle (or aunt) who teaches the kids that easy money puts anything more than a temporary patch on things. Because you know it doesn't. And they need to learn it from someone.
posted by bilabial at 10:47 AM on June 9, 2011 [8 favorites]

but I would keep the car in your name so you could reap any insurance benefits from it getting totaled.

Do NOT do this. If the car is in your name, you may be held responsible for any liability incurred in the hypothetical totaling of the car.

Sure, if the car gets wrapped around a tree, you might get a payout on the car. But if the car gets driven over a (insert graphic painful vision here), and you know of your brother's irresponsible history, a personal injury attorney is going to go wherever the money is.

I'll remind you that your brother is not where the money is.
posted by bilabial at 10:50 AM on June 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

Has your brother been to a doctor??

Likely he's self-medicating. Probably there are some issues effecting his choices and behavior all this time that could be at least understood, or hopefully, treated.

You're right, he's not going to change. He would would wreck or sell this car for the money. I'm just wondering that if his (obviously present) underlying issues were addressed, might he not turn into a reasonable adult and father?

I think he would. I think you should try to get him help rather than an expensive car.

Buy them a $1000 beater, consider it lost money, and try to get him evaluated by medical professionals.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 10:52 AM on June 9, 2011 [8 favorites]

In my area, the organization that runs our local homeless shelter has a program which helps people who've been through the shelter system get back on their feet. This is a monitored program, with peer support.

Knowing what I do about how people respond to such things (and, yes, within the past few years we've given two cars to families in need), I'd tell your brother that if he screws up enough to end up homeless and if he'll then commit to a program like that one in order to put his life back together, that you'll give the value of that car to that program.

One way or the other, he has to change his behavior. Otherwise, as so many others here have mentioned, you're just enabling.
posted by straw at 11:02 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

From your posts title my initial reaction was "No." But after reading the contents of your post my final reaction is "No." The best thing you could do for your brother is offer your advice, but don't give him an easy way out. There are workarounds to not having a vehicle even if they initially think they're "not an option."

Life can be rough, but he's going to have to train his brain eventually to think things through if he is to make it as an adult and become self reliant.
posted by samsara at 11:08 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I worry, however, that my brother's lifestyle and his past choices will simply lead to another crisis.

Yes, of course he is going to keep doing the same exact things he has always done. Why would you expect anything else? Obviously sometimes people do change and turn their lives around, but expecting it to happen or thinking that you can somehow change someone's life for them is foolish.

I love my brother. I want to help him. But I don't want to enable his irresponsible behavior.

If by enabling you mean letting him be completely irresponsible about having a car and yet still have a car, then buying him the car is pretty much enabling him by definition. It does sound like he needs a car, and you can certainly help him by buying one in the same way that your family has been helping him over the years. But in my experience at least, one day you will get fed up with constantly bailing him out over and over again only to see him screw things up, and you will cut him off. It's up to you if that day is today or some day in the future.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:09 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

And for the love of god, please do not call CPS on them for being poor. Being poor is NOT neglect. It is NOT abuse. There are other ways of getting them food stamps or WIC (depending on the age of the children) that don't run the risk of their children being traumatized by being removed from their home and put in a foster home with strangers.

No one is suggesting that. The stuff the brother and wife are doing go beyond being poor. Drugs and stealing are not the hivemind persecuting poor people. Once you steal to pay for drugs, you're on a very fast slope to a horrible place that could include child abuse or neglect.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:09 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


No. (Irresponsible) x (car) = varying levels of bad stuff, up to and including ruining/ending your life or someone else's.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:10 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with nearly everyone else here: no, don't give him a car. It will not help him and may enslave you. You're probably a nice and compassionate person, which makes it easy to get suckered in to other people's issues without appropriate boundaries.

I once gave an inexpensive car to a relative, mostly to stop him from asking to borrow mine all the time. Every time something went wrong with it, he asked me to "help him fix it" (in other words: fix it) since it was "my" car.

If I had my younger years to do over, I would have learned the appropriate times to say "no" in life a lot earlier.
posted by The Deej at 11:11 AM on June 9, 2011

To keep giving things is to prove to yourself, your family and to your brother that he is incompetent.
posted by CodeMonkey at 11:12 AM on June 9, 2011

Careful you don't come off as 'holier than thou' through whatever approach you choose to use with your brother. It might not be so easy for him to get out of the mess he is in. As the good, upstanding sibling you might accidentally set the stage for worse acting out on his part because you are in a position to save or damn him with the car purchase (if both you and he choose to see it that way - we outsiders looking in don't see it that way). From a certain point of view you have control and he doesn't. Helplessness breeds anger. Anger leads to acting on feelings of entitlement and unfairness, which is a pattern it seems he is already in. Perceived powerlessness is the root.

Consider treating him like he is perfectly capable of being a good, responsible father and adult and you have great faith in his ability to succeed against whatever odds. Support those positive seeds and help them take root. I dunno if that means helping him get counseling or financial advice or buying things for the kids or whatever, but believing in him despite his apparent failings will do more good than doubting him, in the long run. It may require a lot of patience, though.
posted by griselda at 11:21 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Buy them his and hers used bicycles.
A car? fuck no.
posted by notsnot at 11:21 AM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

No. (Irresponsible) x (car) = varying levels of bad stuff, up to and including ruining/ending your life or someone else's.

Quoted for truth. He sounds like a high risk for a hit-and-run accident. You know he's likely to drive intoxicated, he's not likely to carry insurance, and he's afraid of the cops. He's probably the same kind of person that killed a friend of mine while he was on his bicycle a month ago. Giving him a car is a good way to ruin an innocent person's life. He has no business owning a car, especially if children might be passengers, until he can pay the insurance and operate it safely.
posted by slow graffiti at 11:25 AM on June 9, 2011

This is not the lifestyle of a 24-year-old. I supported myself at 16. Anyone can, given the proper motivation.

Offer to adopt the kids -- that's the only thing that really going to help them. Your brother is a lost cause.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:27 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Buy him a bus pass. Wish him luck.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:36 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your brother is definitely on a very bad path to nowhere. My first instincts here are to say no to him. BUUUTTT.......On the flip side you're his sister. If you can honestly afford to buy him a car and it will have absolutely no impact on your life whatsoever(by this I mean you're extremely wealthy and $5,000 is like loaning someone $20 to you), I'd say perhaps you should buy him the car but do so with a heavy result for future help. Another words sit him down and say "Look, I'm gonna buy you a car. But this is it. From here on out you can no longer come to me for money for ANY reason. I'm giving you one last shot to change your life and make things better for your family. But there will be no more help. This is for real." Once this is said you must stick with it....FIRMLY as should the rest of your family. The ONLY reason I say help him is because without a car he really is helpless and therefor the rest of his family will suffer. He needs to be able to get himself to a job and a car is the key to that, hence the key to his future. In the end, you'd be totally in the right by saying no. But if loaning him the money has no effect on you, roll the dice one more time and then stand strong on NO MONEY EVER AGAIN. Good luck.
posted by ljs30 at 11:38 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Having recently read a couple of popular books on operant conditioning, it also seems worth pointing out that while you and your family have been facilitating his reckless and highly dependent lifestyle, he's been unconsciously but very effectively training the rest of you to respond to his pleas for help. He's using negative reinforcement, getting you to repeat a particular behavior (dispensing cash) so that you can avoid an unpleasant stimulus (guilt and anxiety about the welfare of his kids). This sort of entrenched habit will not go quietly. If you refuse to supply him with a car, you should expect him to redouble his efforts to make you feel terrible about it. Gird your loins.

Also, unless this is some sort of intervention wherein other family members agree not to bail him out this time, your own refusal isn't likely to change your brother's circumstances much. Avoiding participation in the pattern is about all you can do by yourself.
posted by jon1270 at 11:38 AM on June 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

If a car is in your name, you are legally responsible for any damage done. Which means, your brother injures another driver = you are now involved in a personal injury lawsuit which could result in your wages being garnisheed, and possibly the loss of your other personal property. ASK ME HOW I KNOW THIS.

So whatever you do, for God's sake don't let him or his wife drive a car that is titled in your name.
posted by cyndigo at 11:40 AM on June 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

No, absolutely NOT.
In fact, I'll go further: not one penny more, from ANY member of the family, for any reason. If you're worried about the kids, they --- the kids ONLY, most definitely NOT your brother or his wife --- are welcome to eat any and all meals at family members' homes. The parents are freeloaders, with no reason whatsoever to change; and as things stand, the entire family is enabling them to continue as they are.
posted by easily confused at 11:48 AM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

He -- with children to support -- repeatedly gets fired for stealing? You give him stuff and he pawns it? "Parties and weed." "Evictions and outstanding debts (scams?) with check-cashing services."

It would be reasonable to think that there're drugs involved besides weed here. Perhaps not, but, don't be naive about that.

I agree that "He does not need a car. He needs a case worker." Offering to adopt his children is not a ridiculous idea; there is no way they are parenting competently from what you've laid out here. Mom can't be arsed to take the bus to support her kids, Dad is reckless about getting fired... These people are not caring parents.
posted by kmennie at 11:48 AM on June 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also, while you're taking in all this advice that buying a car for your brother is not a good idea, let's look at what might happen when you say no.

(Operant Conditioning continued!)
extinction burst!

In other words. You tell your brother, "Bro, right now, that's just not possible," and he then calls you six times an hour for the next three days.

Don't give in. Don't give in because he'll learn that if he just sounds desperate enough, or if he's annoying enough, or persistent enouch, you'll write the check.

Exactly the opposite of the message you want to send.
posted by bilabial at 11:50 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why is public transportation not an option for the wife? Does it not exist, or is it just because she doesn't want to use it?

It sounds like he's told you why he thinks a car will solve everything, but I'm not seeing the evidence that they have exhausted all of their options. You've got to let people hit "rock bottom" before they will think about changing (and sometimes rock bottom isn't the motivator). I would say hell no to the car, but I would also sit down and have a conversation about what their options are and why each of those options will not work. "I don't want to" isn't an answer. My style (in this conversation) would be to ask them/him lots and lots of questions about the facts...things like "What is the situation on "X"? What got you to that situation? What will get you out of it? No....me giving you money won't get you out of it, what do YOU need to do to change the situation?"

I know some people will think this conversation won't change your brother, and it may not. But if you attempt the conversation, you know you've done all that you can. If brother cuts off the conversation, fine. Later when he's asking you for help again, start up the exact same conversation. Get him to break it all down for himself. (Besides, if you bought them a car, how do you know they wouldn't lose it to a title loan place?).

Getting fired for stealing is a huge red flag. WTF is that about??? He needs to cut that shit out if he wants to move forward in life.
posted by MultiFaceted at 11:51 AM on June 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you can call him irresponsible, it would be irresponsible on your part to buy him a car.
posted by Splunge at 12:03 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

OnTheLastCastle: "No one is suggesting that. The stuff the brother and wife are doing go beyond being poor"

Screw that. I'll gladly suggest it. If I were you, I'd be terrified for the safety and well-being of the children.

On first reading of your post, I would have recommended dropping the judgmental attitude and cutting off contact. However, since there are kids involved, you need to be making frequent visits to make sure that they're OK, and calling the police if things are very clearly not. This discussion should not be about your brother -- it should be about your nieces/nephews.

Your brother is a grown adult, and probably needs help. However, he's been given plenty of chances to climb out of the hole that he's dug for himself. The children have been given no such opportunity.

And, yes. I have lost a family member to a probably-negligent parent. Why do you ask?
posted by schmod at 12:11 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

You didn't tell us your location, but I will say that in certain areas of the country public transportation is either nonexistent or wretched.

Please do not give him a car. What he needs more than anything is the realization that he has to quit screwing up. I know people who have walked long distances to get to work, so it is doable.

I also will say that some of the behavior you describe is typical when you are really broke and robbing Peter to pay Paul so do please understand that not all the behaviour you describe is evil. Just desperate.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:16 PM on June 9, 2011

Here's a possibility. Buying him a car is crazy for a lot of reasons. But how about if you allow him to earn a car. Tell him you will make the payments on a car so long as he works toward and gets his GED. It would mean not only money, but also work on your part because you would have to monitor him and follow through on a threat to take the car away if he doesn't get the GED. Know in advance there's a very high likelihood that he won't complete it.

If that's too much work, nthing everyone else - find a way to take care of the kids. Neither he nor his wife is innocent in all of this, but the kids are. But kids in these circumstances don't stay innocent for long. You could be the influence that gives them a real chance at life. Adopting the kids might be extreme, but could you offer to take them for a summer? For a month? For x amount of time while their parents get back on their feet?
posted by clarkstonian at 12:25 PM on June 9, 2011

You can suggest his wife buy a used bicycle. You can BUY his wife a used bicycle.

For the kids: gummy vitamins. Cloth diapers or formula. Books. Frequent visits.
posted by bq at 12:39 PM on June 9, 2011

Do you live close to your brother or do you live across the country and the rest of your family lives near your brother? I agree with the poster upthread that you need to stop buying your brother groceries (even if the only the reason you're buying them is for the children). After all, your brother and his wife are going to end up eating the food too! Definitely have the kids over for dinner whenever necessary or drop off some Happy Meals now and then (everything in moderation, people!). If you live locally, is it also possible to give their teacher some money to hold for the kids to buy lunch? Or to prepay for their meals at the cafeteria?

Also, is there really no public transportation available? I know that some areas, you absolutely have to have a car to even go to the grocery store, so if there truly is no public transportation, then clarkstonian's idea about making your brother 'earn' the car is an excellent one. But if his wife just doesn't want to take the bus, then don't give them a dime. Does your brother even have money to pay for gas?
posted by lovelygirl at 12:52 PM on June 9, 2011

: "I love my brother. I want to help him."

I meant to add, if you love him, don't give him another cent.
posted by notsnot at 12:56 PM on June 9, 2011

Buying your brother a car is a bad idea and won't help your brother solve his problems and you know it. He is irresponsible and immature. Those are not things that you can fix. He needs to learn how to fix things in his own life when they go wrong.

Sidebar: really try not to see this as a moral failing. The drugs and stuff is a major problem but being shitty with money is not unique to the poor or goofy. If you have a lot of money, you have the freedom to do really dumb stuff and no one looks down on you. Trying to make pennies stretch with kids is difficult and often demoralizing. Maybe if you can contextualize those problems this way, it might enable you to extend some sympathy.

This is a moral failure. The brother is a thief, a liar and doesn't take responsibility for himself and his family. If you give him a car, you already know he's going to fuck it up in some way. Not change the oil, not pay the insurance, not provide ongoing maintenance or he'll borrow against it if he can.

Being poor is hard work and it doesn't take much to have things fall apart. Taking from Peter to pay Paul is typical. Stealing from Peter to pay Paul and not holding down a job is not typical. Poor people hold on to shitty jobs, at least until they find another one. Poor people see if they can carpool with someone at work. Poor people work two jobs. Poor people walk to work. Poor people get used cars looked at before purchase because they know they can't afford to fix a lemon.

Your brother needs to learn self reliance. I would help only when you know it's something that will help in the long run, like fees associated with training, an apprenticeship or the like. Make check payable to school.

You could offer to cover car registration, sales tax, insurance for several months or for a mechanic to inspect it on whatever car HE manages to get. (Do not do this if another family member gets him a car.) When you're broke, it's the 900 little things that can do you in.

My degree of support would be tied to his degree of effort.
posted by shoesietart at 12:57 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

A slightly different response here. You can, if you wish, loan him money for a car. Giving him the money up-front is just stupid, but you knew that.

But you can do what I have with some of my similarly-challenged siblings. "This is it. This is your one loan you get from me. If you pay me back on X terms, I will happily loan you money again, assuming that I have it to loan when you ask. If you don't then this was your one free gift from me."

It has worked, at least for me. A couple sibs have paid me back, another hasn't. The great part is that they've chosen the response, and it is simple to enforce or "justify". I'm happy to loan money to those that have proven they are worthy of another loan. The one who hasn't, well, I've hardened my heart. It's much easier if your terms are right up front.

The best part is this situation is that there's no rationalization, no buying into their crazy arguments for why they won't or "can't" pay you back. "Pay me, or accept this as a gift" is easily understood by even the most dissolute person.
posted by Invoke at 1:25 PM on June 9, 2011

Repeating bilabial:

But I'm also leaning toward no on grocery deliveries and brand spanking new stuff for the kids.

Here's why:

If there's food on the table and the kids are dressed to the nines, what is left to motivate the parents? Especially if you're always there in an "emergency," or if your pawnable stuff is always there.

This. This. This. This. Don't be my in-laws, who are now working a decade past retirement age, taking out a second mortgage on their house and entering into their second half-million dollars worth (bitter? yes, a little) of support to my sister-in-law, who never had to fend for herself and take responsibility for her child because she used their grandson as a pawn to continue to be utterly useless.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 1:39 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

What do you think will happen if you give him a car valued at 5k? Will it last for a year? Will it get sold and the money used for drugs? Will it get towed because it had so many tickets? These are all likely scenarios based on past behavior. He is going to keep needing and wanting.

I'd look more closely into public transportation. I'd consider having a family meeting at which the siblings make a plan for how they will subsidize brother and his family. Food, clothing and toys for kids - definitely. As far as a car? Maybe if everybody agrees on how to keep it repaired, inspected and insured. (BTW, comprehensive on a 5k car is probably not good value).

I'd tell brother, as a family, that you want him and his wife to meet with a financial planner who will help them do a budget, and that any assistance will be given if they both make meaningful progress towards High School equivalency/diplomas. Is that meddling - Yes. He didn't listen to your parents, he may not listen to you, but I'd keep trying. Food, clothing and toy assistance to the kids should be without strings, even though it subsidizes brother and his wife, because the kids deserve better, and they're family.

I'd even consider a plan in which brother is given a work option to do yardwork or whatever to earn a car, gas, insurance, etc. Some people learn eventually, some never learn. The one thing you keep giving him, with no strings attached, is love and encouragement.
posted by theora55 at 1:50 PM on June 9, 2011

I just realized that my CPS comment might be confusing. By call CPS anonymously, I meant, call CPS and ask what they'd recommend for a hypothetical situation in which young parents are caring for two kids and aren't able to keep it together--I did not mean call CPS and give your brother's name but not your own. I also referred to CPS because it's the first social service agency that came to mind (CPS does not just do foster care, their goal is to help families live together healthily). I'm sure there are other options, I just don't know what they are in your area.

I really think your brother, his wife, and his kids need social supports they're not getting, and that your family cannot provide.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:53 PM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you do buy him a car you can put a lien with your name on it. You would keep the title with spare key. Lay down in no uncertain terms what you expect of him. If he does not meet those obligations ( returning to school, keeping a job, paying back the loan, etc.). If he defaults on your agreement you repossess the vehicle and sell it. No liability.
posted by bravowhiskey at 1:53 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

He kind of sounds like his problems might be bigger than "weed". "Weed" kind of sounds like the best case scenario, frankly.

I agree with those who said No on the car, and that you might want to evaluate what the practical things are that you may need to do for the children, who didn't pick him.

Frankly, his leaving the house seems sort of dangerous for himself and others, given the criminal activity, the history of car wrecks, the weed. He seems like he could reasonably easily get himself or his family killed, or get arrested for something dumb. There might be problems out there he hasn't had yet. I can't imagine they have health insurance.

Unless he's really willing to clean up his act (and if he was really willing, a car would be on a list of many other things he'd need help with. Why isn't he asking for help getting his GED?), your willingness to help might be something that you mentally put into a jar for a couple of years and hope that he comes around one day, gets his GED, and goes to school for one of the many career options available.

On top of that, sooner or later his kids *will* need something he can't afford. Like dental care. Your kindness and willingness to help will be of much more utility then.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:07 PM on June 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

I agree that in some places in the country "it all centers around the car." How long would it take the wife's salary to pay off the car? Would something like this be crazy?

- Make an interest-free loan for $5000
- To be paid back at ($100?)/month
- For every (three months?) that he makes payments on time, and keeps the car insured and registered, also refund ($150?) of the loan (he pays $300 on time, you refund $150 on top of that, so you might ultimately subsidize 1/3 the cost of the car)
- If they are late by one day, if insurance lapses, no refund for that quarter (alternatively, you could also have it so that they pay $150/month, and at the end of the quarter, you refund $150 in cash -- create an incentive for good behavior)
- If they pay you back successfully, they're eligible for a future loan; otherwise, not
- Retain title [or whatever a bank would do], so if the car gets totaled, you get paid back first from the proceeds

Then, there's the question of how to suggest and maintain a system like this without ruining your relationship. Could someone else (a banker friend of yours?) be the enforcement department? Could it be set up via some website that helps people loan money to family members? You want this to be official and also not part of your daily interactions. Good luck.
posted by salvia at 2:28 PM on June 9, 2011

Your brother's problem is obviously not that he's receiving insufficient financial assistance from his family.

Therefore, giving him more financial assistance is not going to solve his problem. It's just going to leave you out $5K.

Your brother's problem is that he is a fuckup. He is the one who can solve this problem.

If you want him to change his ways, you need to stop bailing him out when he fucks up. You're enabling.
posted by ixohoxi at 2:48 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would keep the car in your name so you could reap any insurance benefits from it getting totaled.

I know it's been said before, but for the love of god no. Do you want to explain to the police why a car seen idling outside a house that was being robbed is in your name?

I agree that weed is probably a best case scenario drug at this point. I'd suspect some more serious types of addictions.
posted by winna at 3:22 PM on June 9, 2011

"Keeping children unclothed and unfed to "motivate" their parents is cruel and usually pointless. Seriously. Making children suffer to keep their parents from being irresponsible won't work until the children suffer...and that's what we want to avoid when it comes to our innocent loved ones, correct?"

Right. Also, I kind of doubt that partying brother is massively motivated to take care of the kids on his own recognizance anyway. I'd bet money that "I need a car for the kids" is some kind of excuse and he can always pull the kid card to get money out of people. "For the kids" clearly don't stop him from stealing and partying and fucking up left and right. It sounds like they literally trash every single thing that they touch right now.

Only give him what you can afford to give up. Never expect any good to come of what you've given this guy. Expect that you are wasting your money every time you give it. If there's any way you can support the kids without benefiting your brother (other than food, obviously you can't segregate that), do so. But flushing your cash down the toilet is just as productive as giving it to your brother here.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:11 PM on June 9, 2011

A lot of people are coming down on the side of "no." Which is totally understandable. However, if this asker's question was: my brother does all these things (above) and is not asking for my help but money -- how do I fix his life? Well, seriously, I don't think you can fix his life. In fact, a sibling seems almost the least able to fix someone's life. This person comes in all, "Here's what you need to do to fix your life, and what your wife needs to do and you're screwing up your kids" and that person will get shut down, fast.

There are lots of reasons to say no to this request but all the other suggestions about what the brother could be doing are probably not that helpful. But, like I said, no one here can really tell you what to do in this situation. I have some irresponsible family members and I also lack the financial means to help them out in any meaningful way but I know above all that I can't go in and fix their lives. If they ask me for an opinion, I give it honestly. If they gripe about a hole they've dug themselves into, I offer advice as dispassionately as possible and then try my best to let it go. It is harder when kids are involved. But, really, this person is probably not going to adopt those kids. In my mind, a car can (maybe) help get things sorted out but the poster should be realistic about what sort of strings they can really attach to such a gift.
posted by amanda at 5:08 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ugh. I can't let this thread go for some reason. I actually see the "insurance money used to pay for rent" as a possibly positive thing. And it's actually the thing that stuck out for me that made me think maybe the car gift would not be so bad. Because there's two ways to look at that -- the shifty, thieving, idiot brother way and the dude-I-gotta-keep-a-roof-over-our-head way. He had to prioritize and at the moment that's what he and his wife did. I bet they didn't feel great about it either.

But, anon, you know your brother.
posted by amanda at 5:15 PM on June 9, 2011

I actually see the "insurance money used to pay for rent" as a possibly positive thing. And it's actually the thing that stuck out for me that made me think maybe the car gift would not be so bad.

Do we know they used the insurance to pay for rent? No, unless we saw them give it to the landlord. Or maybe, much more likely, the used to pay rent and had more bar money for the weekend.

I agree that weed is probably a best case scenario drug at this point. I'd suspect some more serious types of addictions.

I wish I could agree more.

Look, it is hard to tell if someone loves to party or has a serious substance abuse problem, especially if you're just family. I will say the people I know and the friends that I have who have problem siblings hit really a trifecta of "there's more going on here you don't know about."

- Not being able to hold down a job, and stealing (!) from it.
- Pawning items
- Putting long-term things that aren't that expensive like car maintenance in front of short-term expenses.
- Borrowing from family, etc. I will say for a fact you don't know how much he's borrowed from everyone else, only that he does, and if you knew you'd be surprised.
- I hate to say it, but it sounds like there's some enabling here from the wife.

I'm sure we all have stories of friends or friends of friends who hit the exact profile. In fact I have a friend who you just described his cousin and the way the family treated them. After they cut them off, they found out how bad things really were. Things got bad, and stayed bad for awhile, but now things seem to be looking up.
posted by geoff. at 5:50 PM on June 9, 2011

You and "all the adults" have to get at the root of the problem here. Why does he still party and smoke weed? Maybe he steals from work because he doesn't make enough to fund his habit. I understand you're all trying to help by paying his rent, buying groceries and lending/giving cash, but it doesn't get him anywhere - it just brings him to the next point where he's asking for help again. However, maybe they are trying - his wife did get a job.

If you don't get them a car, maybe she could find another way to get to work. e.g. carpool, or use public transit, if there is any. The way you phrased it "public transportation apparently isn't an option for her" suggests there IS public transit available and she has an aversion to it. If there was no public transit where they are, wouldn't you have just said that?

If you do get them a car, they'll likely wreck it in a year, like they did with your mom's car. So don't be surprised if that happens. You could work with them to ensure that will take care of the car and if they wreck it, you're not bailing them out again. Set the terms of the gift up front so there are not surprises. If they violate those terms, no more gifts.

Basically, you and the family need to get together and intervene on your own enabling. Maybe the message needs to be, "brother, we love you and have tried to help you, but it hasn't helped. Your partying and weed is problematic. Here's a number for a caseworker [or some other resource]. We'll always be in your life, but we can't keep bailing you out."
posted by foxjacket at 8:41 PM on June 9, 2011

Normally I am fairly anti-military, but this sound like a situation where joining the military may be a good thing all the way around. It will teach him some discipline, help to pay for his family, and ensure that he gets on a good path for future jobs.

From everything you have described, I don't think there is any way to change his behavior other than that, or letting him fall so far that he has no choice but to change. Unfortunately, the second option will also have a severe negative impact on the rest of his family.
posted by markblasco at 9:48 PM on June 9, 2011

I'm sorry, but a lot of these problems sound like problems of poverty-- including the stealing --weed or no weed. Unfortunately, people often think that money is a solution to poverty, but that's not true in a simple sense.

When poor people have a car accident, its because they're irresponsible, when not poor people have an accident, it's called an accident. Using the insurance money--which was probably not enough to actually replace a used car--to keep from being evicted-- That's exactly the kind of decision poor people have to make. You mention him having bad credit and paying too much for a crappy car---that's exactly what happens to poor people. It's expensive to be poor. If you live somewhere like my city, which has a spoke system for its bus routes, you have to take a bus, at around 6:30am into the center of the city to wait 20 minutes for the bus that will take you to the outer city, getting you there by 8 or 9 am. If you're single--you do it. If you have children, someone has to be at home to get them to school (before some teacher remarks that the kids are always left alone and their parents don't care about them--a common narrative about poor families that comes from the school).

You love your brother. He had no idea when he dropped out of high school how the world works. nobody fails or succeeds alone. (for example, plenty of hard-working, middle class people had parents who paid for them to get a college degree--giving them valuable time to learn about how the world works in addition to the education--although they didnt likely learn about the world of dead end jobs with abusive employers that pay below poverty wages, change your schedule every week so that you can never plan child care and fire people at will.)

I'm not letting weed off the hook here---it's absolutely a motivation killer. And it might help to approach him with that conversation rather than the language of addiction.

It's fair to start asking him questions. It's fair to put some stipulations on the gift.

It's also fair to decide you can't help. it's likely he will disappoint you in some ways and make you proud in others.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:49 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

This keeps going a little don't-hate-on-the-poor but I really think these people sound like people with drug problems -- this isn't describing run-of-the-mill hardscrabble but repeat impaired judgment, a lack of ability to function as a stable adult.

Brother "is frequently fired for stealing." It is not useful to anybody to suggest that that is a "problem of poverty" or that we should "really try not to see this as a moral failing." Brother's got a serious problem, and how patronising to suggest that this degree of screwing up should be lumped in with, I don't know, continuing with a weekly bingo game instead of paying an overdue bill, or adopting a pet one can't afford to neuter, or other gentle financial flakiness that people with money find easy to tut-tut. "Furniture and electronics - all of which they destroy or pawn quickly." This's a bad scene for the kids, money or not.

He could be suffering from a bad combination of youth-addled too little clue crossed with a little drinking problem, and be entirely rehabilitatable, but things sound very bad right now, to the point where the kids might see a couple of months in auntie's basement as a welcome vacation from the chaos at home. Or not. But, Dad's not screwing up fatherhood just by dint of being broke; there's way, way more going on.
posted by kmennie at 3:37 PM on June 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

Dude, I know I'm late in the thread, but don't. I have a brother with the same personality, and I just cut him off.

The kicker with him was that he was actually being aggressive toward me. He had no place to live, and actually moved into my apartment, on the promise that he would pay rent. He took 3 months to pay me, and then basically went ahead and lied to the landlord about all the broken furniture, noise complaints, and couchsurfers. Apparently I did all that. He started breaking things after I asked him to move out. He said he was doing it to "get my attention" and "make a point", and that he was justified since it was "his house too". While I understand that money invested in rent does in fact entitle one to some say, one of the conditions of his moving in was that it was on a trial basis, and that if I asked him to go, he would. I'm assuming you're looking at a similar result.

That was when I realized that even with conditions and monitoring, there was essentially no salvaging him so long as I was there as an option. I removed myself and haven't spoken to him for a few months. I've made my reasons clear to him.
posted by saysthis at 8:52 PM on June 11, 2011

I forgot to mention that I haven't kept myself up to date on his "progress". I don't want news of him and have essentially cut myself off from him and his friends. I hope nothing terrible happens, but he needs to bottom out and straighten out his perspectives before I'll get involved with his habits again.
posted by saysthis at 8:55 PM on June 11, 2011

"I'm sorry, but a lot of these problems sound like problems of poverty-- including the stealing --weed or no weed. Unfortunately, people often think that money is a solution to poverty, but that's not true in a simple sense."

My family is not rich -- not even near middle class.

However, we've never, ever had drugs or alcohol in the house, we've have always had good, home-cooked meals, we are well-mannered, dress decently, never had to deal with police. My siblings and I all do very well in school.

We also live in ghetto, income-restricted apartment complex, with insane neighbors who do things like regularly get into fights at 3 AM, throw heavy objects out their second floor window (breaking the window in doing so), fight with police, sell drugs, steal and damage cars (we have had ours stolen), set fires, etc, etc, etc. I am not exaggerating.

How you let your environment affect the way you decide to live your life is COMPLETELY UP TO YOU. Just because you are surrounded by ill-mannered people who make stupid decisions every day of their lives, doesn't mean you have to be one of them. Poverty is NOT an excuse for the OP's brother's lifestyle.

I hate it when people try to excuse bad lifestyle choices on poverty. My family is poor. It is a struggle to pay rent and bills every month. But we don't go off and get smashed to cope. We work hard and we make it every time. That's the only right thing to do.

You don't have to be rich or middle class to lead a decent life.

Don't buy him the car. Use the $5000 to help him get his shit together -- be it through counseling, school, detox, etc (buy him a bike/bus pass for transport) -- so he won't seek handouts from you and the rest of the family forever.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 4:57 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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