Advice – My sister owes me money.

“When I [22F] was a freshman in college I got a really cool job and made 1.7k a month. I’m really frugal and I was able to save it up. At the time, my sister [35F] found a well paying job and was raking in dough. Or at least that’s how she appeared to be. She would always fly first class, she has two kids, they would travel a lot. Her husband [38M] also had a good paying job. They purchased two houses, and they even paid college tuition for his 3 siblings!

I think that’s what killed them financially. She eventually got demoted at her job (with a massive pay decrease). Her husband got fired and lost his insurance. When he received a cancer diagnosis, they paid for his cancer treatment out of pocket.

One day, she called me asking how much money I had in my bank account. She asked to borrow $5,000 and promised that she would return it in 3 month’s time. She told me she needed it to pay one of her mortgages. I love my sister, so I was more than willing to let her take some under the pretense it would be returned.

It has been 4 years and I haven’t gotten it returned yet.

It gets worse. I go to NY and Boston with her on vacation, where with my permission and understanding that it would be paid back immediately. Instead, she used my card to buy clothes for her kids (my niece and nephew who I also love to bits).

And like that another $2,500 is taken out.

I’ve stopped lending her money, partially because she has stopped asking for money and also because I told her that her spending habits aren’t sustainable. From what I hear, she apparently also borrowed $30,000 from one of my brothers as well.

I’m not sure what to do now. Her husband is unable to hold on to one for more than a year and is currently in between jobs. They still have 2 houses (renting one out for money). She switched jobs but I’m not sure if that came with a change financially.

They still indulge a bit. Not massively. But they have subscription services, and live TV. they enroll their kids in soccer, karate, and ballet.

Every time I breach the subject of paying me back, she says that her finances are still in a bind and she promises that she’ll pay me back soon. I haven’t brought it up in a long time and now with her new job I want mention it again, but I’m not sure how.”

/u/naalotai, /r/relationship_advice.

Dear Naalotai,

I am sorry that your sister has taken advantage of your (and your brother’s) financial situation(s). $7,500 is a significant sum of money for a new college grad starting out. That could be a down payment on a new car, or a pretty great overseas vacation. But more important than the number is the value of your connection with your sister.

I do believe that a lot of people get trapped in the concept of lifestyle creep / lifestyle inflation where they incrementally spend more and more to match the household income. Once that bubble pops, the reality will sink in. It sounds like your sister’s family got caught up in living in a partial denial of her new reality that her lifestyle has outpaced her income.

It sounds like you’ve already established some very sound basic boundaries with your sister to make sure that your financial aspects are not too adversely affected. You did a great job by putting your foot down and reminding her that she cannot come to you for financial support any longer. And I think it is time for the rest of your family to come to the same realization, that your sister’s spending habits are unsustainable.

Photo by cottonbro on

I also wonder how beneficial it could be to reframe your sister’s habits and behaviors from a perspective of an addict. The cycle of guilt-tripping, codependent behavioral traits, and the period of calm before the next “hit” all seem to reflect the same mentalities that substance addicts embrace in order to maintain their livelihood. If anything, I strongly encourage you to read up on codependency and reflect on what that concept means to the relationship you have with your sister.

And in a lot of different ways, the money you (and your brother) loaned her is being used to enable her clearly unhealthy and unsafe financial practices. As such, she is living in a fundamental state of denial that she does not have any problems with managing her finances. And sometimes, the most difficult thing to do is to just let it be, to let her fail.

You’ve already done the best you can. If you are keen on getting that money back, you might be able to find some legal success in small claims court. But it’ll be difficult to prove that the money you loaned her weren’t gifts especially if you lack proper documentation. Otherwise, keep holding your boundary; you’re doing great.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

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