Working Whopper Wednesdays at a Burger King as a 15-year-old was not glamorous — it meant eight-hour shifts in an uncomfortable uniform and a hat that never quite stayed put. But it was my first real summer job, and I was proud to have saved up $800 (£460) by the end of August. Then, my parents faced a financial emergency and asked to borrow the full sum. That was the moment I realised that my income wasn’t always going to be just mine.
Over the years, I've received requests for money not only from my parents, but relatives across Canada and in India. While I knew handing out my hard-earned dollars was not financially sustainable, I felt like I had no choice. I was raised in a collectivist culture, which taught me to prioritise my family’s well-being over my own.
Even after I became accredited as a financial counsellor specialising in helping people face their trauma with money — which often involves putting boundaries around how to spend money — in my own life, I opened my wallet whenever asked. And I noticed many of my South Asian clients were also giving guilt-ridden gifts to families that left their own bank accounts barren.
This is known as financial enabling, a trauma response where money is used as a tool to people please. This can look like everything from parents paying their grown sons' rent to you always covering your friend’s tab at a restaurant. For me, it looked like giving money to distant family members, even if I wasn’t in a stable financial position to do so. Two years ago, I realized I had to prioritise my financial health first — I had just turned 25, and life was getting more expensive as I started saving for a wedding and a downpayment. It hasn’t been easy.
Being a “good” daughter meant self-sacrifice
I was taught that to be a good daughter meant to look out for others first. I witnessed the women in my family balance full-time jobs, raise children, and take care of in-laws without any conversation about what they wanted. My parents immigrated from India to Canada 27 years ago, working two jobs each to build a life for me and my siblings. Watching how they helped others in need (such as family back home) even when they were not financially stable only reinforced this idea that being a good daughter meant sacrificing for others, including my own financial stability.
Adding to this source of guilt for me was that in South Asian culture, it’s normal for young adults to live at home until they’re married. Financially, this is an opportunity to save our money, but it can also give our families leverage to declare that the money we’re saving isn’t for anything important yet, and therefore we can afford to lend it. But I found lending to random family members in particular was emotionally draining, especially since I rarely saw the money returned. And as bigger expenses like a wedding and home came into view, I realised I’d given away thousands of dollars over the years I would never see again. Helping my parents out was not the issue — it was the resentment I felt towards the extended family who asked for money — whether it was $50 (£28) or $500 (£288). So, I decided to set some boundaries.
How I started to take control
My first step was saying no to lending money to relatives outside my immediate family. This helped me reclaim power and control over my own finances, while still supporting my parents, which I am happy to do. Of course, things can still come up with extended family you care about. I advise clients to make a list of people they would consider lending to. But that random relative in England you’ve never met? That’s a no.
It’s easy to say this on paper. In reality, standing up for yourself can cause major guilt. To manage that, write out a note to yourself before you have that conversation to remind yourself that saying no doesn’t mean you don’t care for your loved ones. What it does mean is that you’re becoming more intentional about who you feel comfortable lending assistance to, and if that person is someone who hasn’t reciprocated kindness or is not close to you, that should be a non-negotiable boundary.
Second, I sectioned off my savings into financial goals that I was working towards, such as funds for a downpayment, my wedding, and an emergency fund. I know, it can feel hard to even save $100 (£57) a month, but writing out your goals will help you create a roadmap to follow with your finances. I recommend labelling the money in your bank accounts (even if you start small!) towards those specific goals as another financial boundary to support yourself first. When I had a lump sum of unmarked money sitting in an account, I felt like I could “afford” giving it away, only to later regret it.
Third, I set up a dedicated account to save for my parents. I need to be realistic about lending money — like many others, I’m unable to completely cut off my bank accounts from my family, and I don’t want to. To make this easier, I recommend intentionally setting money aside that you know isn’t going to be for you. This reduces any resentment felt when supporting family because you’ve planned for it.
Your money is your business
Repeat after me: You don’t have to be completely transparent with your family about how much money you have. I’m a money coach who saved $100,000 (£57,618) by age 26 and this is public knowledge (and I want it to inspire other women to do the same!). But the downside is that now family members know how much money I have. Many clients have told me that when their family knows how much they make, it’s a tactic to ask for more. Withholding information is not lying, it’s an act of self-protection. You should reveal only that which you feel comfortable revealing.
Most of all, I want to remind my clients (and myself!) that saying no because you’re trying to look out for yourself first is okay. Personal finance advice is centred around individualism. We certainly need more conversations and financial advice geared towards collectivist cultures, which are built on a foundation of shared wealth. But hoarding your savings for yourself isn’t necessarily the right approach either. You can still support your family and yourself — but striking the right balance is key to reducing resentment and planning your own future.
Parween Mander is a millennial money coach based out of Vancouver, a trauma of money facilitator, and the founder of the Wealthy Wolfe, a digital financial coaching platform for women of colour from immigrant upbringings specifically.