Stopping a Freeloader
September 27, 2012 12:58 PM   Subscribe

My mother is being financially taken advantage of by my freeloading uncle. This is causing massive stress in our family, and resentments are building up. Is there anything I can do to help her?

Long background (sorry):

My mom has worked incredibly hard all of her life, supporting several kids, giving freely to our community, and doing all of this without complaining. She earns a good salary and tries to invest wisely. Unfortunately, her brother is her polar opposite. He never went to college, worked a series of menial jobs, and has never sought to better himself. He was always a "too cool for school" type, and he has shown a distinct lack of ambition throughout his life. Despite all this, he somehow managed to hold down a job as a retail manager from 2000 until 2007. In 2007, he had a stroke.

My Mom had always thrown monetary gifts his way, but after his stroke, she assumed all of his responsibilities, paying for his medical bills (he was uninsured), his car, his rental house - everything. He recovered from the stroke and returned to work in 2008. In 2009, his store was sold by the owner, putting him out of work. So, on its face, it looks like he's just had some bad luck. And he has.

But what my Mom doesn't seem to understand is that he is a master manipulator. It's almost 2013, and he still has not found a job - he collects disability and claims that he is physically unable to work, claiming he can't hear, can't see, etc. - except he hears and sees just fine when any subject other than work is brought up. He continues to use his stroke and the loss of "his" store as excuses - even though the stroke happened five years ago and the store has been closed for three years.

He lives in a beautiful part of a beautiful state, and if he were on his own, he could never afford to live there. But he refuses to move back to the Midwest with the rest of us, even though he is being 100% supported by my Mom. She is basically paying for his extravagant lifestyle. He has all the latest gadgets, a brand new car with a lease - all this while we live a middle class lifestyle and drive around in 10-year old cars.

As his store was about to be closed, he asked my Mom to "invest" in it to save it (and his job) and claimed it was a fantastic way to make money. There was open revolt in the family and everybody told my Mom not to do it. She decided not to, but got mad at us for trying to look out for her best interests. The place went out of business two months after it was sold. A few months ago, when his lease was up, he shamelessly asked my Mom to buy his rental house so he could continue to live there, and she seriously considered it. We revolted again, and she didn't buy it, but he has now moved to a different rental - on a golf course, no less - and my Mom is naturally "helping" him with the payment.

He is nothing more than a user, and a shameless one at that. My sisters and my Dad have all told my Mom that she shouldn't be supporting him, but she gets angry with us and says that he needs help. I'm of the opinion that the only "help" he needs is a swift kick in the ass. He is so selfish that he just thinks my Mom should support him because life isn't fair, even though she has worked extremely hard for what she has. He rants about Obama and socialism but thinks nothing about using both his disability money and my Mom's innate sense of generosity to be a bum.

And he is so blatant that he says he is not even trying to look for a job - my uncle literally has no shame. One time, in a moment of frustration, I even bluntly asked my Mom, "So what does he DO all day?" and she just responded, "Not a whole lot." But she doesn't seem to want to change this situation. It is absolutely infuriating to me, my sisters, and my Dad. But when we bring this topic up, our Mom just yells at us and defends him. This has caused so many fights in our family - the more we try to point out his ways to my Mom, the more she defends him. And my aunt and grandma consistently take my uncle's side, having the audacity to tell my Mom that he's right and WE'RE the bad guys in this whole thing. I'm mad as hell - my Mom, despite earning a good salary, has almost nothing to retire on. I would estimate that nearly half her income is going to my uncle - she always talks to him in private at the house and sends out envelopes to him, trying to keep her support of him quiet.

I know it's her money, but she is destroying her financial future, all for the sake of someone who shamelessly and selfishly exploits her, living an extravagant lifestyle while the rest of us scrimp and save. My Mom yells at us if we go over the budget at Costco but thinks nothing of sending him a $3,000 check.

It is an absurd situation, and I just want to cry. How can I stop this freeloader? Where do I even begin?

TL;DR: I have tried everything to convince my Mom to stop supporting her shameless, freeloading brother. Despite working hard all her life, her retirement is not secure and our family is being strained to the breaking point by his actions. I am at my wit's end - what can I do?

Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Your mother earns money from her job and wants to use it to support her brother for some reasons that aren't clear to you, but probably have to do with family dynamics with her mother and sister.

Stop telling your mother how terrible her brother is. Next time she mentions budgets at Costco, you can ask her if she'd like to work on her budget generally. You can ask her if she's okay for retirement and offer to help her with a budget -- which will INCLUDE sending money to her brother, because this is important to her -- because it's important that she can cover her retirement.

But you need to let her be for a bit. All you are doing when you tell her how her brother is a selfish jerk is getting her to dig in.
posted by jeather at 1:12 PM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Unless your mom is mentally incompetent (in the legal sense) and/or not able to buy food for herself, there is nothing you can do to dissuade her that you haven't tried already. If you do not want to be "strained to the breaking point," you have to let go of this. If you cannot let go, you should try therapy to help you find coping skills.
posted by desjardins at 1:13 PM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Rather than attacking your uncle, because it clearly doesn't work, how about you go at it from a money point of view?

In other words, point out that her retirement is at stake. She cannot afford to look after her brother and her family at the same time. Moreover, financially, it just doesn't make sense.

If she still wants to help, you should suggest a set amount of money that she sends to her brother as a part of her budget. She shouldn't be paying for something here and something there, because then, she has no control over how much she gives and he has no idea how much he can get.

Also, why don't you suggest that your grandma and aunt pitch in if they're so inclined to agree with your uncle? They're all family and everyone should help - not just your mother.
posted by cyml at 1:15 PM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Has anyone talked to your uncle about what the effects of his behavior?
posted by Lieber Frau at 1:16 PM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Typo. "...about the effects of his behavior"
posted by Lieber Frau at 1:17 PM on September 27, 2012

This is your mother's choice. Tell her you won't have any money to help her when hers is gone, if you want, but this is what she's choosing to do with her life and her money.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:17 PM on September 27, 2012

You don't say if you still live with your parents, but the Costco comment makes me think you do. Have you actually seen her finances? I think you need to butt out. Like you said, it's her money. Until she is no longer able to make her own decisions re: that money, you need to let go.

Also, "But what my Mom doesn't seem to understand is that he is a master manipulator."

Do you really think this little of your mother?
posted by InsanePenguin at 1:20 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think as a dependent child, you are too involved in your parents' finances. Trust your parents to make the decisions that they feel are right for their money.
posted by Houstonian at 1:21 PM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Could you try to arrange for him to be more reliant on public services and less on your mother? Make sure he's applied for SSDI (it's important that he do this within ten years of when he stopped working, I believe, if he hasn't already; the process can be started online at and once that's set up make sure he's on Medicare and has prescription coverage insurance and high-deductible supplemental, so that the costs of further health problems aren't borne by your mother.

Maybe there's subsidized housing available for someone in his position? And there are probably lots of other social services stuff available.

Even if he's resistant, make sure it's openly a topic of conversation that there are ways he can get support apart from your mother even if he doesn't want to get a job.
posted by XMLicious at 1:21 PM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Well, obviously attacking your mom for supporting your uncle hasn't worked, so start by not doing that anymore. You can't actually control anybody else, even though your anger is obviously out of a place of concern for your mom.

Your dad has the biggest stake in all of this, presuming they have shared finances. Maybe suggest to him that the two of them sit down with a retirement counselor sometime and look at their finances. That would give an unbiased professional a chance to help her reevaluate her choices, without all of the anger coming from the rest of the family.
posted by ldthomps at 1:21 PM on September 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

I know it's her money, .... That about sums it up.

This is your mother's choice, you've stated your opinion and, unless you want to drive her away from you, it's time to let it go.
posted by HuronBob at 1:23 PM on September 27, 2012

Her money is her own, except for what she should be paying for her share of the family budget. It is really your Dad's role to tell her she needs to contribute to the family pot, including funding a retirement equivalent to his own. From personal experience though, the only way to deal with people who allow others to suck away all their money is to be MORE demanding; go way over budget at Costco, insist you need a new leased car etc. Being needed like that is fulfilling a need, a dysfunctional need, and if you can get her to cover more of your costs she won't send as much to the uncle and you can build up savings to help her in retirement.
posted by saucysault at 1:28 PM on September 27, 2012 [9 favorites]

I would suggest to her that you're worried about her finances and would she consider going to a financial planner to get a plan done for herself? And, what if something happened to her? What should you kids do?

And then I would promise to drop it and never meddle again in her private finances until she asks you to.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:30 PM on September 27, 2012

My Mom yells at us if we go over the budget at Costco but thinks nothing of sending him a $3,000 check.

Oh - it seems like you're resentful and jealous. That's understandable, but that's a different problem than genuine concern for her retirement and I think you need to be honest with yourself about where you're coming from. She can probably see right through the "concern" and maybe that's why she's digging in.
posted by desjardins at 1:33 PM on September 27, 2012 [11 favorites]

What you're going to have to do is plan your life so that you make a lot of money so that you can use it to help out your mom and dad in retirement and place yourself in the position of power when it comes to deciding how much money to send to your uncle.
posted by deanc at 1:41 PM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm going to suggest a different approach for this, OP;I do see your frustration (and I've seen something similar in my own family's dynamics), but if you use any of the language or what appears to be really judgmental from your post, I don't think that will persuade your mother.

Instead, tell your mother that you are concerned both for her economic future *and* for your uncle's economic future, because will she be able to pay and or subsidize his living for the rest of his life?

Also, there may be impairments that you do not see, OP; cognitive impairments post-stroke, a mental illness, etc. but ultimately things that can disrupt functioning at a workplace-you may not see these things, but it would disrupt functioning and holding down a job. If they are there, then reread XMLicious's comment and try to help your uncle get SSDI. Find the application and every hoop that he needs to jump through. You may want to consider a lawyer (there are lawyers that will work with someone with the understanding that they get paid a small amount after the client wins). But once he is set up in the system, many other resources will also be available,such as a social worker, section 8 housing. Also, here is one of the criteria if he is applying: He is not supposed to have above a certain sum of $ or he will disqualified (yet another reason for your mother not to hand him $).

But the way this is right now, this will be an infinite loop; your mother is worried about her brother, and unless there are resources to help him, she will throw in whatever resources that she has to help him.
posted by Wolfster at 1:45 PM on September 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

You seem awfully concerned about your mother's money. How do you know she isn't set up for retirement? Has she asked for your advice?

You're probably right that your uncle is a complete sponge, leech, mooch, etc. But you don't get a vote.

I'd do something very different. I'd have this conversation with my mother.

"I'm concerned when I see how much of your money that you give to Uncle Wimpy. We've butted heads many times about it. I worry that you aren't saving appropriately for your retirement or for when you can't work any more. I'm really afraid that you have some expectation that you expect me to support you in the way that you're supporting Uncle Wimpy. I just want you to know that I love and that I care about you, but that I won't be able to contribute to your care when you get older. I would encourage you to meet with a financial planner, someone you pay by the hour for advice, not some sleezeball who sells insurance, so that you can understand the ramifications of your actions. I'd hate to see you in your golden years regretting the money you've given to Uncle Wimpy. I'm not ever going to say anything else about this, but if you ever want to discuss it, or change it, I'll be happy to help in whatever way I can that doesn't involve me giving you money."

Then give her a hug and go to dinner. But MEAN it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:54 PM on September 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

We have a similar problem in my family, with an uncle that takes advantage and outright steals from my grandmother. She feels responsible, and so she feeds him, clothes him, lends him her car, etc. perpetually. She enables and it's frustrating to all of us around her. I feel your pain.

Eventually, despite all the complaining about the legal and financial hook she was putting herself on, we had to let it go. The person to help her see the she could not sustain this forever was the financial adviser we set her up with to plan her retirement. In no uncertain terms he demonstrated to her that my uncle was directly cutting into the money she wanted to leave to her grand children. She couldn't tolerate not leaving anything behind. A third party, unbiased, wielding a cold analysis of the situation may be more effective than familial war.

Though she still gives him some money and support, it's greatly diminished. We've helped her to put him into state-run assisted living, and over the course of several years he's managed to become somewhat independent (though no job yet).

Your mother wants to support her brother, for whatever reasons. You telling her to cut him off completely is the exact opposite of what she wants to do. I would approach this from two fronts, as we did: explain her financial limitations - preferably without any mention of her brother (I like the suggestion above of even budgeting for it; something we eventually had to acquiesce to), and try to find some kind of support program for those on disabilities that are unable to work. You need to give your mother peace of mind concerning her brother, otherwise every shrill cry will be met with money.
posted by teabag at 2:00 PM on September 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

I'm unclear how this is any of your business. Surely this is between your mother and your father. If you're living at home, you are agreeing to live by the Costco budget, turn out lights, not waste food, etc, regardless of how else your parents choose to spend their money.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:38 PM on September 27, 2012

I agree with everyone who says this isn't any of your business. Sure, it's annoying, but it's between your mother and her brother (and maybe your dad). I want to address this part:

I'm mad as hell - my Mom, despite earning a good salary, has almost nothing to retire on.

If you're that mad about it, don't bail her out when she retires with nothing. It might sound cruel, but once you're independent, you are allowed to choose not to support her if you don't agree with the things she does.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 2:58 PM on September 27, 2012

I've replied once already, but I'm seeing a lot of people who are telling you to butt out because it isn't your money and I wanted to comment on that.

I think you have every right to talk to your mother about her money. You care about her future, you want her to be financially secure and you don't want to see her wasting her money on someone that does not seem to be grateful or eager to make their own. It's not like you're throwing a hissy fit because your mother bought herself a computer instead of buying you one - you're mad because someone you care about is being walked over by their own brother.

Moreover, if your family is anything like mine, it is your business because some point in the future, your mother will probably depend on you to make it through retirement. When one family member begins to completely rely on the other, it creates a cycle that never ends.

My mother is always helping out her family members and I never thought much about it. I didn't think it was fair, but I took a similar stance - her money, her life. But now, I have a huge responsibility to help her out because she's created a situation where she isn't able to be as financially secure as she needs to be as she has spent all her money on other people. I'm not going to turn my back on her, and so now it's my problem too.

Anyway, I encourage you to talk to your mother about the financial side of things. I think if you come from a place of concern and care for your mother, then you'll do fine. It doesn't seem to me like you're resentful and upset because you're not getting your share of her money and so I wish you luck!
posted by cyml at 3:19 PM on September 27, 2012 [16 favorites]

I'm seeing a lot of people who are telling you to butt out because it isn't your money and I wanted to comment on that... you're mad because someone you care about is being walked over by their own brother.

In that case, and given that talking about the money has only lead to fights, you might try talking to your mother about boundaries and co-dependency.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:52 PM on September 27, 2012

Coming back to this: my only point is that it's not about the money to her. Her brother is in trouble and she feels the need to help him. Without understanding of what his issues are, she throws money at the problem (like a lot of people do in a lot of other situations). If you remove, diminish, explain, etc. how to help her brother in other ways, she will start to not panic, and will hopefully start to think about her money as her means of living and retirement.
posted by teabag at 7:57 AM on September 28, 2012

Mom, I know you're concerned about Uncle Dickhead. As you know, much of the family and I have big concerns about the amount you spend to support him. I understand that it is your money, and he is your brother, and I promise to respect that. But I was thinking that we could talk about a budget for supporting him, so that he's safe, but also so that your retirement is safe. To be fair, Uncle Dickhead hasn't been a good money manager, so implementing a budget would give him some boundaries.

If she says yes, you help her do her own budget, and a budget of how much she will send to her brother. If she says no, you zip it. If everyone backs off and treats her like the grownup she is, she may be better able to make decisions. And she might take you up on your offer later, or not.

There could be more to the story than you know. Letting her talk about it, instead of telling her he's a mess and she shouldn't fund him, is likely to be more helpful to her.
posted by theora55 at 12:25 PM on September 28, 2012

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