Dear Mrs. Riches:
My husband and I are frugal and save much more than we spend; consequently, we have a rather large retirement account that will see us through our golden years. My sister and her husband, on the other hand, drive expensive cars, take exotic vacations, and love to flash cash. They live largely on credit, blow their paychecks, and just one unexpected downturn would put them on the quick road to financial ruin. That alone is troublesome. Add on top of it that our mother is constantly making admiring comments about my sister, her great clothes, and the lavish jewelry her husband buys her. She is bedazzled by my sister's "success" while casting pitying glances at me. She even goes so far as to give my sister and her husband the best room in her house when we all visit because that's the style my sister is "accustomed to." It makes me want to scream! I can't change my mother, I know, but can I get her to quit the annoying comparisons?
-- The Millionaire Next Door
Congratulations to you and your husband for your sensible approach to money management. Flash and glitz didn't help the tortoise to win against the hare; it was steadily doing what he did the best.
In many ways, the same can apply to your position in the family. Could you make a huge stink with your mother about her value system and in the process, bring up all of your sister's lousy financial decisions? Yes, but be prepared for your mother and sister to become even closer than ever following your rampage. Few people like for their values to be attacked, and only rarely does that kind of exchange lead to positive change. Ultimately, your slow and steady success will speak for itself and will be more powerful than a snide comment about your sister's bling.
In the meantime, failing to stick up for yourself with your family is likely to fuel your already-growing resentment. So the question is: How can you best assert yourself with your mother? Skip the accusations and move right into how you feel when your mom makes comments comparing (directly or indirectly) your financial situation with your sister's. Something like, "Mom, I'm very happy that my sister Suzy is enjoying life and has all the things she dreamed of. Even though I don't choose to spend my money that same way, the hubby and I are doing very well. But sometimes when you talk about both of us, I feel upset that it seems like you don't see me as successful. I hope you love each of us for who we are."
While the truth is that little may change about your mom's behavior, you will at least have the satisfaction of saying your piece. You can cut off subsequent exchanges with a rueful laugh and a, "Hey, remember both Suzy and I are beyond compare."
Dear Mrs. Riches:
My brother is constantly hitting "a little rough patch" with his finances. I have always helped him out, even going so far as to send money secretly and against my husband's wishes. I thought I was his only source of emergency support, but recently I've discovered that several other family members have contributed a lot of money to him over the years, too. I'm angry enough that I want to say something, especially since I plan to cut off his sisterly subsidy. How should I go about this?
-- Duped in Des Moines
Did your brother directly tell you that you were his only source of extra cash, or is this something you surmised from his seeming desperation? In the case of the former, he was deliberately dishonest; the latter casts him as opportunistic but less sinister. Either way, he doesn't come out of this looking very good.
On the other hand, it sounds like, with or without other relatives funding his lifestyle, your brother developed a pattern of behavior that was suspicious enough for your husband to say, "Enough." Your secret subsidy was also a less-than-honest way of behaving, causing me to wonder if you and your brother have always had the classic enabling relationship. Rather than focusing the entire force of your anger on your brother, look at what you can learn from your own behavior. You may find that this lesson will serve you well in other areas of your life, too.
As for what you say to him about cutting him off, try the truth: "In the past, I have given you money even though my husband and I have a policy of not giving money to relatives. That has caused problems between the two of us, and for the health of my marriage, I can't do that anymore. I won't be able to help you out." He may test your resolve a time or two; the true measure of your determination will come with these subsequent requests. Your continued polite but firm "No" will be his best teacher.
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Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who regularly talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. To get your money and relationship questions answered, send her an email .