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Real Talk: You Are Not an ATM

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Tracy Morgan

Tracy Morgan’s name has been all over the news again. No, the 30 Rock star didn’t drop another f-bomb. This time his family has put him on blast in the New York Daily News for failing to help them out financially. Morgan’s mother faces foreclosure on her Ohio home and reached out to her son -- worth approximately $18 million, according to Forbes -- for help. Allegedly, Morgan offered just $2,000, an offer she declined. 

Many readers seemed scandalized that Morgan wouldn’t help his mother, despite the fact that the two have been estranged. They argued that even though they didn’t have Morgan’s wealth, they wouldn’t hesitate to help a family member, or even a friend, in need. Not a surprising outlook, as a recent Washington Post/ Kaiser Foundation study found that 60 percent of Black women said they have loaned money to loved ones. A recent story on Business Insider questioned if this cultural tendency to take care of others was leading to an economic disadvantage -- all the helping out that we do might leave us in the lurch when it comes time to pay our own bills and apply for loans.

This is a topic that comes up regularly on my Formspring, where I offer dating and relationship advice (16,000-plus questions answered thus far). There’s always some version of “My mother asked me for XXX again, and I feel bad if I don’t help.” Even more frequently, a question pops up about handing over money to a boyfriend who’s been laid off or who just ain’t got it.

My response always begins with “You are not an ATM!” I have a personal rule against loaning money -- and it’s because I’ve been burned. A good friend asked me for $100 two years ago and seems to have forgotten all about it, even when reminded. I keep getting an “I got you!” that he never managed to get. I’ve since dropped the subject and accepted that $100 is a small price for a life lesson that will save me thousands down the line, I’m sure. (And yes, this has badly bruised our friendship.)

I’ve also heard too many horror stories about women whose once-healthy savings have been quickly depleted because of their inability to just say "No!" And yes, that’s all you need to say when someone asks for some of your money. “No” is a full sentence -- no excuses or long-winded explanations necessary.

It's easy for others to ask us for money, but often we as women have a hard time pressing for details about how and when it will be returned, or asking for interest. Or we still indulge repeat-offenders, those who ask for a second loan even when the first has yet to be repaid. Too often, what was supposed to be a loan turns into a gift -- one that most of us can't afford to give away.

Do you loan money to family and friends?

Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria), in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk

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