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Handling Financial Disparity between Adult Siblings

by Debra Karplus

Is it rich sibling, poor sibling in your family? Sometimes it can be difficult to keep the family peace when one of you has a lot more than the other. Here are some tips to handle a financial disparity between siblings.

Julie and her husband Rich are doing well financially. They live a lifestyle that appears idyllic, an early retirement spent at their poolside residence and frequent lavish vacations. Their children have orthodontia-perfect straight teeth, and they have been able to attend pricey out-of-state universities of their choice.

On the other hand, Julie’s younger sister Midge and her husband Owen live paycheck to paycheck and seem to be up to their eyeballs in debt. Their kids have worked their way through college to attain a two-year degree at the local community college while living at home.

You probably know people just like them with someone in the family thriving financially and a sibling struggling with money problems. Despite the same exact genetics and upbringing, there is a huge disparity in wealth. How can this be possible?

Does birth order matter?

There have been numerous books and articles about the significance of birth order. How Birth Order Can Affect Your Finances summarizes the distinct differences. The article states that first born children and only children generally keep their finances in order, middle children are sometimes secretive about matters pertaining to money, and the baby in the family is often very social, spending money on meals out and other social events and expenses.

What other factors might impact disparity in wealth between siblings?

Before you beat up on the sibling who is in a bad spot financially, you should understand that life circumstances can play a huge role in one’s overall financial status. Sister may have married someone who grew up with completely different financial values, learning to manage money differently or not “manage” money at all. The spouse might have completely different attitudes about the value of money, how to earn it, what to do with it, how to save it, how to spend it, how to invest it, and how to share it.

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Where you live and what you do for a career are huge factors in wealth disparity as well. Bigger cities tend to be more expensive to live in than more rural areas, with medium sized cities and college towns falling somewhere in between. Larger cities and college towns may have more opportunities for careers with upward mobility rather than hourly jobs. One has a certain amount of control in this, but not always. If you want to live in a specific area to be in close proximity to family, that is wonderful, but it also might limit one’s job possibilities. Being near family is a real plus for families, particularly those with children.

And speaking of children, it goes without saying that raising children is a costly proposition. According to TheStreet, expect a cost of over $233,000 to raise one child in today’s economy and obviously more with increased number of children. That’s a lot of money from anyone’s pocketbook!

Health can also be a factor causing a disparity in wealth between siblings. You eat well, exercise, and take good care of yourself, but young, healthy people get cancer, too. Life happens, and you can’t always plan for it.

How to handle a financial disparity between siblings

When One Sibling Has A lot More Money is one of many articles addressing this dilemma. If you are the wealthier sibling, you might not feel comfortable giving your in-need sibling money, especially if you feel as though they, their spouse, or their children are not particularly responsible with money. For instance, a “want” for you may be considered a “need” by them. However, you can give stuff, such as outgrown clothes, furniture, and household goods that you no longer need and food like prepared meals. Invite your sibling and family over for a potluck or a dinner that you prepare. You can also give your time with childcare or help around the house repairing things and doing yard work.

If you are the struggling sibling, this opens up an entirely different set of questions. Are you embarrassed by your situation? Are you comfortable reaching out and asking your sibling for help? What sort of help are you comfortable asking for? How much and how often? Do you have some way of repaying the help with money, stuff, or your time?

Every family is different. Each has its own set of problems as a result of bad choices or unfortunate circumstances.

Reviewed April 2019

About the Author

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon.com (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for freelancewriting.com and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at DebraKarplus.blogspot.com.

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