WASHINGTON — If you’re going to allow a friend or relative to live with you for financial reasons, there needs to be a plan in place before the move to make sure your future roommate doesn’t take advantage of you.
But what happens when there is no plan?
That’s the situation in which one reader from East Orange, New Jersey, finds herself. She took in a friend who was in need. A year later, the friend is living large on her hostess’s generosity.
The houseguest is 36 and has never lived on her own. She works various part-time jobs, one paying about $11 an hour. Tutoring brings in between $60 and $100 per week. She had been living with her mother, where the only bill she was responsible for was Internet service. When the mother decided to sell her home, the woman didn’t have a place to go.
“The 11th hour was coming, so I offered my place,” the reader wrote.
There was no rent discussed or required.
“I wanted her to take this time to improve her income, save, and find her a place.”
But where there’s no plan, there is often no progress.
“Throughout this period, her lifestyle has remained much the same as it was with her mother,” the reader wrote. “She goes out and shops like she doesn’t have the goal to move out; there is no urgency.”
Raising questions produces vague answers.
“She told me she felt bad for mooching off me, that she has applied to jobs and government assistance, and nothing has happened. I am at my wit’s end. I don’t know what to do.”
I applaud this reader’s kindness. Yet in this case, some tough love is in order. Here’s what I recommended.
Call a meeting ASAP. Set aside enough time — at least three hours — to discuss the living situation.
After agreeing to a meeting time, ask your friend to bring all her financial information — everything. She should bring her pay stubs, bills, at least six months’ of bank statements, and information about any long-term debts, such as student loans. (In my experience, it helps to bring a laptop to go online and get any missing information. This signals that you are not playing around!)
You need to see the numbers. If your goal is to assist your friend or family member, you need to know how much time the person may need to regroup and whether you’ll be able — or willing — to give the person that time in your home.
At the meeting: Share your feelings before you get into the financials. Be kind but candid. The situation cannot continue as is.
Don’t be an enabler. You can help someone grow up by demanding he or she be responsible. (And I’m also speaking to the parents who let grown trifling children live off them with no endgame. Stop it!)
If you are willing to continue helping by not charging rent or having your friend contribute to expenses then tell her you must see some progress. There has to be a budget. You need to see goals and a specific plan to accomplish them. If you’re budget challenged yourself, seek outside help. Insist your friend set up an appointment with a budget counselor by going to the website for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (nfcc.org).
If you’d like your friend to pull her weight — pay some rent, contribute to other expenses — then say that. Set amounts and due dates. In fact, for your protection, you might want to draw up a month-to-month rental agreement, even if you aren’t collecting rent.
Demand transparency. Initially, as you are getting the plan underway, meet weekly. Then as you see progress, you can move to biweekly or monthly meetings to assess how things are going.
You get to ask any questions related to her finances. If she’s not paying rent, she does not get to take a Jamaican vacation. Retail shopping bags coming into your home? You can inquire if the purchase is necessary. Of course, don’t be snarky. Indicate that you are asking because you just want to be sure the person stays on track.
If your family member or friend balks at full disclosure, then he or she needs to find another living arrangement. This is about accountability. You are willing to share your space to help someone get up on his or her feet financially, but the price for such generosity is transparency.
If you want to give a hand up to someone by opening your home, go into it with a plan. Otherwise, you could get a moocher who won’t or can’t move out.