My mom wants my help in paying down debts

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I am worried about my Mom’s financial situation. The thing is that she has a lot of debts. She started accumulating them back when I was a college student and she was supporting me. She is slowly paying them down, but it is hard for her. I am 22, and I just finished college and started working. My salary is not big, and I feel guilty that I can’t help my Mom to pay down her debts. My Mom herself would tell me “we got these debts together, so we need to pay them down together”. I would like your help in finding a constructive solution to this problem so that I would not feel guilty and tense because of the debts.

Thank you! 


What would be a great solution here, is to sit down with your mother and discuss how much each of you owes and when the money needs to be returned.  

But before you do that, you need to think about the following: 

  • Did this money really cover your living expenses? If yes, then you, as a responsible adult, can figure out to what extent you will be able to share the burden of paying down these debts. 

If your Mom was spending money on herself and her own wishes, then you may not want to help her out financially. For example, your Mom bought herself a car, and she calls it a “family car”. You didn’t want her to buy this car, and it was not your decision. Then, you could subtract from the total amount of debt the cost of this car, and only help her with paying down the money which was spent on your living expenses. In this case, perhaps you and your Mom would split the remaining debts between yourselves. 

However, if large debts were accumulated because you were living beyond your means and you wanted to buy certain things, then perhaps it would be better for you to start earning more and learn to live within the budget. If this is the case, perhaps you should take on more responsibility for the debts than your Mom. For example, if she was (by your request!) buying expensive things for you, was spending money on your trips abroad, jewelry, expensive clothing – then it would be nice if you realized that to support such a lifestyle you need to work more and earn more. 

  • In this situation, it is very important what kind of decision you will make. How do you want to deal with this situation? How did you arrive at this decision? Do you really want to do this? 
  • Then you need to think realistically. You are just starting out your career and perhaps you really are not earning a lot now. Therefore, you either need to put more effort into earning money and looking for additional sources of income, or you need to accept the fact that this is the amount of money you have, and you can only pay so much towards the debts.  
  • Feeling tension about debts is normal. Perhaps you need this tension in order to find new sources of income or to communicate your disagreement to your Mom, or to find an understanding – in general, do I want to pay down these debts? 
  • It is not clear from your letter why you are feeling guilty about these debts. You don’t want to pay them? It is possible. You are upset that there is not a lot you can do to help? Here, you need to take a realistic look at the situation. If it is so important to help, perhaps you could look for additional sources of income. If you want to do more, but you are not ready, not able to do it – you may experience guilt. 
  • Not everybody gets an inheritance from the family – some people get family debts. This is what happened to you. Perhaps, this situation will help you to start earning more money faster. Or perhaps, this situation is an indicator that you are not ready to quickly grow financially. Perhaps, there is something you do not agree with. Perhaps, you are considering yourself to be a burden for your Mom and the cause of her financial difficulties. Because there may be many different thoughts and emotions in this situation, it is important for you to understand what do YOU want? And to pursue this goal. 
  • If the debts are continuing to grow, and you are the one who is paying for your current living expenses, you can take a firm position – what are you willing to spend money on in the future. You could reevaluate your expenses, and possibly cut some of them. For example, your Mom is a spendthrift. Between the two of you, you need $4,000 as a bare minimum. But your Mom continues buying things for herself, and she is looking for you to share this financial responsibility. You could say “No” to her. You could tell her that you are only willing to contribute so much, and all the additional expenses you are not willing to cover. 

    If YOU are spending too much, then you need to think about that perhaps your Mom doesn’t want to take responsibility for that. For example, you have debts and a small salary, but you allow yourself to go over budget. Therefore, it may be important for her to get you involved in paying down the debts. 
  • Ideally, you should find a solution that would be acceptable for everyone. Such a solution, where you are not expected to contribute more than you can, and where everyone would understand what the responsibilities are and who is contributing how much money. 
  • While you can’t change the past, you need to have a good understanding of the present and the future. For example, you need to learn to say “No” to the expenses that you don’t want to be responsible for. Similarly, do not involve your Mom in your expenses, unless they are really essential. 
  • Money is an important matter. Everyone decides for themselves how it should be spent. Each of you can spend money according to her own desires. But to be fair, if your Mom was working hard and covering the expenses for both of you (only the essential expenses), then it would be reasonable and proper to help her pay the debts. But if your Mom is a spendthrift, then you need to take care of yourself and not take on responsibility for her desires. You need to get on your feet, and then start helping her, if you choose to do so. If you are a spendthrift, then you need to learn to earn enough money to cover your own expenses, without involving your Mom. 

You can make different decisions. For example, you could split the debts in half. Or you can split them according to categories (essential, luxuries, etc.). And the essential expenses you could pay down together, but for the luxury expenses, maybe someone would not want to bear responsibility.  

Let me give you a couple of examples. 

  1. One woman wanted her daughter to go to a specific college. She forced her daughter to go there, and now, after graduation, she thinks that the daughter needs to return the money, at least partially. This is a controversial situation. The daughter already contributed to the project (especially if she herself didn’t want to study there). In this case, the daughter may pay back the money, or she may remind the mother whose decision was that. 
  2. A woman supports herself, her daughter, and her husband (stepdad). She spends equally on each person. In this case, the daughter may not want to pay her share to support the stepdad. These expenses are not her responsibility. 
  3. Two girlfriends visit a café. One ordered some fruits and a cake for both of them, and then asks her friend to split the bill. If your situation with your Mom is like this, then at least you can avoid future expenses by making a clear statement that you are not willing to spend on fruits and the cake, while there are debts to pay.  

I don’t know all the details about your situation, but I hope I gave you food for thoughts. 😊 

Whether this situation is to the best or not, it may help you grow up faster and to become more responsible in the area of finances. 

Take care of yourself! 

Mindspa Consulting Psychologist