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Have you ever gotten into a fight with a family member over money? I did, and it may have cost me a relationship with a cousin who lives overseas.

I want to start off by saying that we should generally try to help family members when they are struggling. I will also say that we should never loan money to family members, or otherwise mix money into our family. I know what you are thinking, this sounds like a contradiction. That's because it is. Mixing money with family is something that can easily happen, and a scenario that can easily go wrong. Whether it is loaning money to a relative or going into business with them, what you have is an almost foolproof recipe for disaster.

How I Lost a Relationship Over $100

In two weeks I am taking my wife, daughter, and a small group of friends (including my boss and supervisor) on a 10 day vacation to Croatia. The flights we purchased took us to Trieste, Italy, where we planned to rent a car and drive the remaining two hours to Istria. I was having trouble finding a large car that would fit five people and their luggage, mainly because there aren't many options with an automatic transmission in Europe. I finally settled on a VW Golf that was a bit small, for $600.

When I told my cousin in Croatia, he felt that he could get me a bigger car if he rented it for me and drove to pick us up. He convinced me to cancel my reservation and we made new arrangements. About a week later, he asked me to do something for him in return for his favor, to purchase an unlocked mobile phone in the USA and bring it to him in Croatia. In explaining the request, he mentioned that he would incur expenses in renting the car for me, despite the fact that it had already been arranged that I would visit the agency the day after he picked it up and pay the entire bill. He said that he would not receive the car with a full tank of fuel, and that there would be tolls through Slovenia to Italy.

My thoughts returned to two years prior, when he convinced me to buy him a $700 phone, which he then proceeded to pay me back over the course of the year. I did not mind loaning him $700, but constantly having to deal with PayPal and having him ask me to let him know how much he still owed made the arrangment feel more like business than family. There was even a few month period where he wasn't getting a paycheck and I let him pause the repayment plan.

With this all in mind when he asked me again, I told him I was happy to bring him a phone if he prepaid for it and had it shipped to my house. I also mentioned to him that I was myself getting a new phone, and he then suggested that if I gave him my old phone, after purchasing a new battery, that it would be an even trade. I agreed to this transaction, and added that the phone was “worth” about $150 if I were to sell it on eBay. I said this not to suggest that was what I wanted for the phone, but to let him know that it did have some value. He then mentioned that he could get a new version of my phone for $220, then after some radio silence (this all transpired over Gchat), he said that he changed his mind and I could just reimburse him for his expenses in cash.

The next day he sent me a note saying he was uncomfortable that I wanted to “charge” him an “almost new” price for the phone. But instead of asking me why I wanted to do that, he let forth some insults, saying that I was ungrateful for his work to find me a rental car, ungrateful for the past vacations where he allowed me to stay at his home, and “stingy,” because I earn a nice income and didn't want to spend the money to reimburse him for his expenses.

I informed him that he misunderstood me, and reminded him that we had also agreed that we would settle up the expenses when we got to Croatia. I will admit that I was being evasive with him because I did not want to enter into another long-term financial arrangement with a family member. I could also tell that he waited to inform me of the fact that he would incur expenses until he could find a phone he wanted, or some way to use this fact to his advantage. But instead of apologizing for the misunderstanding, he continued to insult me, mad because he wasn't getting his way. He told me that he expected to be paid back for his expenses, and told him I didn't appreciate the insinuation that I would not. I then told him that he wasn't very grateful when I loaned him $700, and he then said if he knew that I had paid all the money up front and not monthly on a credit card, he would not have asked me to do that. I told him that I wasn't the type of person that holds money over people's heads, and that if he were visiting me in America, I'd drive 6 hours if necessary to pick him up and never ask for a dime.

Just a Bad Idea

That's why entering into financial arrangements, or loaning money to family, is a bad deal. It is a business arrangment where the parties cannot behave as if it were an simple transaction. This allows at least one of the parties to gain unfair advantage. In my situation, he thought because I make a good salary that I have money to burn, and that caring about new cell phones is something I'd naturally understand. He couldn't fathom why when I told him that I was getting a new cell phone that was a downgrade from the one I currently have, and that I was doing it to save money. He couldn't fathom the fact that yes, I am cheap in most parts of my life, so I can afford to splurge on the things that matter to me – like traveling to visit my family. He thought he understood the situation, and when he realized that he didn't have control of it, he reacted like a child and insulted me to the point where the damage cannot be undone.

I had forseen this happening, and tried my best to avoid it, but that didn't work. So my cousin has thrown away our relationship over $100, but maybe it is really over more than that. This is about him wanting to manipulate and control me. It has allowed me to see him for who he truly is, someone who can't hear you say “please pass the butter” without thinking what favor he can extract in return. This further shows that money should not be allowed to mix with family, because there is nothing about blood that makes someone beyond reproach. Maybe brothers, mothers and such deserve some leeway, but we should not be afraid to disassociate with those who abuse us and treat us poorly.

Life is too short to allow these people to hurt us. This post was me putting this behind me. I will not allow him to ruin my vacation, and am looking forward to the extra free time I will not have to spend listening to his manipulations.