My Secret Money Life: I Helped Bankroll My Brother—and Came to Regret It

secret givingIn our new “My Secret Money Life” essay series, we’re handing over the mic to people who’ve chosen to keep a financial habit under wraps … until now.

Today, one woman shares why she decided to secretly donate money through her church to help her brother’s family—a decision that she has come to regret.

My older brother and I have never been particularly close.

We got along well enough as children, but our relationship didn’t grow into the strong, tight-knit kind I’ve seen other siblings share. Let’s just say we’re very different people: He’s an introvert, while I’m a social butterfly. And the truth is that if we weren’t family, we probably wouldn’t run in the same circles.

But when I saw my brother start to struggle financially, I couldn’t help but feel the natural tug to step in. He’s family, after all, and I had enough room in my budget to spare a little.

So, really, it was a no-brainer when I made the decision to start giving him money—but it had to be secret, so he’d never realize it was me writing the checks.

A Pattern of Secret Giving Begins

My husband Mike* and I are no strangers to charitable giving. I’m a corporate executive and he’s thriving as a business consultant, so we’re fortunate to be in a financial position that allows us to give to various philanthropies and charities.

But no matter who the recipient of our charitable giving is, we’ve always followed a single guiding mantra: We’re not looking to be heroes. My husband and I simply know that we’ve been blessed and want to share it with others—and giving anonymously allows us to do just that. What’s the point of seeking recognition?

We also firmly believe that charity should start at home. So shame on me if I can write a check to a charity, but won’t do anything to help a struggling family member.

My brother, Peter*, and his wife Samantha* had always struggled financially. In fact, my parents had been throwing money Peter’s way for years—for down payments on homes, to pay various bills and to buy school supplies for their kids.

But when I noticed him and Samantha facing particularly difficult money decisions, like whether or not to buy new clothes for their three children, I knew it was time for me to act.

RELATED: Why Most of Us Do Charitable Giving All Wrong

  • Jessp

    Surely her brother and his wife would not have filed for bankruptcy unless they really were desperate? I can’t see how this would infuriate the author, they clearly didn’t not have enough money to pay off their medical bills – a very common situation if I understand correctly. Also, there’s a slight exaggeration in the mention of the iPhone 6 – the iPhone 6 does not exist yet so I’m certain the girl is not getting one, and this also explains why the author doesn’t have one! I understand she’s upset that her money has seemingly gone to waste, but a little empathy for her brother would not go amiss.

    • Frankie

      Obviously people file for bankruptcy because it is a last resort and they are out of other options. However, sometimes (not always) the events that lead up to having to make that decision are due to poor personal and financial decisions. In this case, the family tried to help the brother for YEARS. I think the writer displayed utmost empathy as seen in her attempts to help and guide her brother and wife.

    • mostlywentzel

      Medical bills are not part of a bankruptcy. It was their other other spending that got them in trouble. And from the sound of it, this was years in the making, years of bad choices.

  • Ham

    This is happening with my husband’s only sibling. Even though she’s older, their parents lent her 50k for a business that she never really tried at and never paid them back a cent for. Now she and her husband and daughter live with her parents in the apartment that they had built. My husband and I said it was a bad idea, but they felt like they had to help her once again. Now she pays them $400 a month for the $1500 apartment on their property. She has no plans to move out, and likely never will. She also currently has family passes to Disneyland and Legoland. She constantly shops, and they are planning a vacation to Hawaii.

    My husband and I ask for nothing, have struggled, and make it on our own. It actually upsets his mother sometimes that we haven’t had to rely on her for anything. You would think she would be proud, but I guess she wants to forever be the mom to her kids.

    My husband and I are doing well now, and have decided to never lend/give his sister any money. She’s a sweet person and I do love her, but she will never learn or make the true effort to budget properly. We expect we will eventually have to support his parents financially because of the poor decisions they make, but it will be under our strict budgeting.

  • Eryn

    I don’t think the iPhone 6 has been released yet. Can we get some fact checking on these stories, please?

    • LearnVestAnna

      Hi Eryn,
      Thanks for commenting, and sorry for any confusion. In the story, the writer
      is saying that her niece will be receiving the iPhone 6 when it’s released next month. I hope that clarifies things!

      Assistant Editor

      • Eryn

        If you take out the line “I don’t even have an iPhone 6!” it would make sense.

        Eryn, Copy Editor

  • flours

    I applaud the author (and anyone else in a similar situation) for drawing a line in the sand. I find myself being asked for money constantly from a relative that had a terrible thing happen to them more than 10 years ago that destroyed their life at that time. My Uncle and I have each given her over $15,000 to get her life back in order, but she plays the victim to this day and is unemployed and now homeless. It isn’t a story I can share with many because they do not understand how I could be so ‘cold’ and ‘heartless’ and not let her live with me or provide for her financially. Well, I did for over two years and she never contributed in any way to the household (I mean things beyond money, but she never even did her own laundry). Saying No to family is hard and there is always guilt (at least for me), but I cannot allow her decisions to jeopardize my own future. We (and many others) have tried to provide non-financial support and resources all during the years, but she never follows through.

  • Anne

    So, doesn’t anyone have a solution to this?
    How do we touch someone who has lost something in their life, and can’t seem to get their life in order? I know someone like this, and although I am not personally contributing, I am worried things will just get worse. The person she was so different before and I want to be able to help her find her bearings….The human mind is very tricky, any help for ideas will be very much appreciated.

    • mara

      I think it is a matter of recognizing if the person that needs the help is in denial about their own responsibility or if they actually realize that the problem is in the mirror. If it is option 1, good luck, you will burn yourself in the process of helping them or they will just be pissed if for telling them what they don’t want to hear no matter how politely you do it. If they see that where they are is a consequence of their choices then the help can come with the condition of doing something to better themselves…take a class about financial literacy or having an accountability partner that won’t judge them but guide them in the process of improving. I have experienced both scenarios and basically had to learn to not give unsolicited advice unless I really really care about the person and see a hint of humbleness and willing to change their habits for a better tomorrow.

      • mara

        lots of typos there but I think you get my point :)

        • Dave Jenkins

          Yes, I get your point and you are 100% correct in your reasoning ! I could not agree more. “You can lead a horse to water… but…” you know the rest.

  • Sharon

    It’s terrible when you feel you cannot rely on your own family, but it’s also terrible to HAVE to rely on them. My SIL donated bone marrow to her brother when he had cancer. He made a full recovery but will not speak to my SIL anymore. She doesn’t regret donating; it saved his life and she was the only match in the family. But it forever altered the dynamic between them.

    • Dave Jenkins

      Strange and wrong for him to be so ungrateful, unless she was bragging about it constantly afterwards…

  • Peggy

    I faced a similar situation with my oldest brother. He was made redundant from his job and decided to spend a year overseas with his wife and son doing some study. He asked me and my other brother for loans to help pay for the trip. I agreed and lent him $7000. It took him about two years to pay back the first $2000, and then another three years before he paid back the other $5000 (mentioning that he’d had to take out a personal loan to raise the funds).

    It eventually turned out that he hadn’t needed the money for the trip at all. Instead he’d invested it in a risky real estate venture which had failed, and he’d lost all his (our!) money. It seems the developers hadn’t been able to get bank loans, and so used other methods to raise funds. One method apparently involved sweet-talking my brother’s pastor, and he in turn convinced many at the church to invest their money (and lose it).

    This was all about 10 years ago. I then found out only recently that my oldest brother has never repaid a cent to our other brother.

  • Sue Smith

    One thing that was not mentioned in the article is that the author has an understanding of the difference between a gift and a loan. A gift should be given freely with no expectations and a loan should be all business. What she gave was not really charity or a gift. I think that if the author wanted to control her brother’s spending she should have investigated more to learn the entire situation and worked with them to find a long term solution. Instead she had unrealistic expectations of the outcome of her charity – I am sure her brother feels judged and wanting. Going forward I hope she will get all the facts first.

  • Max Kennedy

    The way the writer was writing ( “I’m a corporate executive and he’s thriving as a business consultant, so we’re fortunate to be in a financial position that allows us to give to various philanthropies and charities.”), I thought they had probably given her brother (and family) tens of thousands of dollars or even a couple hundred thousand dollars in assistance. Then as I read further, I find out it was only about $15,000 over the years (does that include the almost $10K medical bill payment?) and that they gave him $2,500 through their church. While I applaud her generosity and her efforts to help her brother and think she did something very good, that amount would barely be a drop in the bucket for most families and would have almost no long-term impact on their financial situation.

  • Leah

    Remember, gifts don’t stay wrapped – the strings unravel sooner or later.

    I’m sure anyone who has ever given or loaned money to a relative has similar experiences. Lucky for me, I learned it early at a modest price and developed money rules that address this issue.

    I think that’s the point of the story – make and follow your own money rules and allow others to do the same.

  • SemiahmooWR

    Sounds like my brother and I. He’s the successful one with the wealth and family while I the single one, has basically blown it. A common story apparently.