Money is getting tighter for many folks — and probably...

Money is getting tighter for many folks — and probably for you. Make sure you look after yourself as well as charitable organizations you want to support, friends or family asking for financial help. Credit: AP/Elise Amendola

Amid rising inflation, interest rates and recession worries, money is getting tighter. Yet there may be charitable organizations you want to support, friends or family asking for financial help and things you want to buy for yourself. It’s possible to do these things even on a limited budget. But if you want to be responsible with your money, you have to know where to draw the line.

When is it OK to put your own interests first?

When your finances are at risk

Think carefully before spending any amount of money on somebody else, whether that’s $20 or $2,000. Will it jeopardize your ability to pay bills or save for emergencies? Picking up the lunch tab for a friend or helping put your kid through college shouldn’t come at the cost of your own expenses and goals.

A crucial part of this assessment: Assume you’ll never get the money back.

“If you can’t afford to give it as a gift with no expectations on your end, then you can’t afford to help,” says Lacy Rogers, a certified financial planner in Fort Worth, Texas.

Saving toward a “giving budget” in a designated account can create a clear separation for your spending, says Valerie Rivera, a Chicago-based certified financial planner. If you don’t have enough funds in the account, that signals that you can’t spare the money.

You feel pressured to pay

You’re not required to hand out money even if you have the means. You have the right to say no when you feel stressed or uncomfortable. Don’t let others talk you into something you’ll regret.

Saying no can be challenging, especially when dealing with family or a close-knit community. Senses of guilt and obligation often cloud judgment. Your mother raised you, so the least you can do is pay her credit card debt, right? Not if it enables her to repeatedly overspend and turn to you for money.

A lot of people who are the first in their families to come to this country or go to college “can really quickly become other people’s financial safety nets,” Rivera says. That’s a heavy burden to bear.

Having conversations about finances with loved ones early and often helps set expectations.

Consider passing if you’re concerned with getting taken advantage of or supporting harmful financial behavior.

You can help in other ways

Supporting the people you care about doesn’t always have to cost money. Your time, skills and knowledge are valuable too.

Say you have an elderly neighbor you used to purchase groceries for. “Maybe you can’t buy their groceries for them anymore but you can help them out with the yardwork, and maybe that eases the burden on them in a different way,” Rogers says.

If you’re unable to pitch in personally, point your loved ones in the direction of those who can. “Familiarize yourself or help your friends and family familiarize themselves with resources in the area — if that’s a food bank, if that is secondhand clothing, if that is job services or resume help that’s in the community — to help them move forward and get a stronger foot up,” Mielitz says.

You've set aside money to treat yourself

Taking care of your needs and goals (and giving to others) is important. But everyone deserves a little fun, too.

“We’re human and we need balance. We can’t only save for later and not enjoy life today,” Rivera says.

If you have discretionary money, don’t spend it all on others. Leave room for self-care, entertainment or whatever brings you joy.

Regularly setting aside funds or shuffling expenses around can give you the flexibility to splurge on yourself without hurting your finances.

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