Financial Boundaries and How to Draw Them

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I remember being caught up in money matters with my ex-housemates. It got ugly. Now I know we all have our times of being broke, stalling, or simply forgetting. But a pattern of loaning money and not clearing dues can be a bit too stressful for a college student to deal with. 
But well, it happened. And here is what it taught me - financial boundaries are real. And they require your immediate attention. Your finances are an essential part of who you are. And it goes without saying that your financial wellbeing is also tied to your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. 

What are financial boundaries?

To put it simply, boundaries are what you think is okay, and what isn’t.If you’ve ever felt uneasy, reluctant or forced to put your financial needs in the backend, you’ve probably experienced a financial boundary violation. This also applies to someone convincing you to do something which isn’t in your budget. Or, it could also be the behaviour of someone which makes you feel financially stressed. 


How can you tell if your financial boundaries have been violated?

A sure shot sign, according to Jan Black, author of Better Boundaries : Owning and Treasuring Your Life, is when you apologise or make excuses for someone’s behavior, despite it hurting you. If you’ve ever caught yourself saying “Oh no, they do pay back usually, it’s just the last few months have been difficult”, you might want to reflect about boundary violation. 

Another way to notice boundary violation is by looking closely into how you feel when a particular person asks you for financial help. Are you relaxed about it? Does it make you feel uneasy? These are warning signs by your body trying to tell you that it’s dangerous out there. 

If you feel guilty for not supporting someone financially, or if your decision is overlooked by someone, there could be strong boundary violation. Keep yourself open to the cues and opinions your trusted ones are giving, and tune into yourself to see if all of this is worth your mental health. So, how can you draw better financial boundaries? 

1. Communicate your financial boundaries

As difficult as it sounds, once you recognise your boundaries, you need to communicate them with the people you think are pushing them. It doesn’t have to be aggressive, as long as you speak clearly to them about it, it’s good. Instead of not speaking about it and stressing over it, try saying “It doesn’t feel right to me when you do *insert problem*. I’m not okay with it and I think you should respect that”. This can easily go two ways. Maybe the person agrees to this and respects your boundary, but if they don’t, you have to.

2. Follow up with consequences for crossing your financial boundary 

Let’s say a person doesn’t pay you back despite you making it clear that you would like them to do it within a few days. If you follow this up with another conversation, it’s likely they won’t take it too seriously and behave in the same manner. Think about an appropriate consequence for it and follow through. It could be reducing communication with them, not looking after their financial needs, or simply not agreeing to their plan if they have been convincing you to. When people see the consequences of their actions, it’s more likely that they’ll believe what you say when you draw your boundary.

3. Have an upper limit

Having a limit for yourself should be foundational for you when it comes to setting a financial boundary. Have an upper limit in terms of time or money and share it with the people you think are pushing your boundaries. This could sound something like “I’m lending this money now but I will need it back in two weeks. If not, I’ll have to re-consider lending and our relationship”. It could also be a money based limit along the lines of “I can only look into your wifi bill because I can’t help you with more than a thousand rupees”. And well, if a friend is pestering you to join them to a place you can’t afford, you could set your boundary by saying “I don’t think it’s right for you to force me to tag along. I understand you want me there but this plan falls out of my budget. I can’t make it.” 

Sure, some of these might sound blunt, but it’s better to be clear than feel terrible about spending your money in places you didn’t wish to. 

4. Coping with financial boundary violation

The first step into healing after a boundary violation is acceptance. We don’t want to believe that people have been bad to us, or that we have been manipulated in some way. We’d rather deny it and make excuses. But that is where you should stop. The person violating your boundary is the one at fault, consciously or unconsciously. Feeling betrayed or frustrated is common, but know that back then it was beyond your awareness or control. And now it can be. 

Other common emotions are guilt or embarrassment. We feel embarrassed when we ask for our money back . We also tend to feel guilty when drawing our boundaries. You need to remember that you aren’t responsible for others. You have to put yourself first, especially when something can harm you.

Financial boundaries (or boundaries in general), can be difficult to communicate. If directly speaking to someone is a bit too much for you, try putting it all in a text. If you are afraid of their reaction or want to minimise damage as much as possible, don’t call them out. Instead, speak about how you felt when they violated your boundary, and why it’s important for you to set those. 

And lastly, if it still doesn’t workout, it’s time to have an inner monologue and see if you really need the relationship at all. 

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