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My friend and colleague Valerie Rind has written a book that shares the details of real-life money messes stemming from romances gone awry as well as conflicts among siblings, parents, children, and friends. Valerie was inspired to write Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads: True Stories of Friends, Family, and Financial Ruin after losing her life savings to her now ex-husband.
Reading Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads may trigger an aha moment about a problem relationship
After reading the book, my take is that there are two types of people who bring about financial harm in relationships:
- The cheat, who pursues a relationship purely to extract funds from another person
In these situations, the perpetrator often engages in a superficial romance or unbalanced relationship. He (or she) deceives and manipulates another into supporting an unsustainable lifestyle, co-signing a loan that will never be repaid, modifying a will, etc. The aggressor has no intention of loving or honoring the victim; instead, he simply extracts riches and either exits or is cut off from a relationship.
- The needy, who has financial difficulties and seizes on opportunities to take money from a friend, sibling, spouse, or parent
What may start as an innocent request morphs into fraud and deception. The person who borrows or spends excessively hopes to improve his financial situation but never addresses underlying problems such as an addiction or inability to hold down a job.
Welcoming either type of person into your life and giving them access to your finances can be devastating. Often victims don’t recognize problems until their bank accounts have been drained, credit ruined, retirement funds decimated, inheritances stolen.
In her book, Valerie does an excellent job of categorizing various types of relationships and relationship pitfalls, such as spouses who lie or parents who don’t update their wills to reflect their intentions. At the end of each chapter, she gives practical tips on how to recognize signs of a hidden or potential problem; how to protect yourself (and your relationships) from being wrecked by financial misdeeds; and how to deal with the aftermath of money and relationship disasters.
Greed is an ancient problem that often manifests itself within relationships
The concepts that Valerie explores and the situations she covers are age-old ones. Soon after reading Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads, I came across the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:12-21. In this story, a man who has had a great harvest decides to tear down his old storage facilities, build new ones, and commit himself to the good life (specifically, eat, drink, and be merry); after proclaiming his freedom from work (and what can be reasoned as the encumbrances of relationships), he dies unexpectedly. The man is called a fool because he stored up treasures for himself but was not rich toward God.
Jesus is prompted to tell this parable when someone in the crowd to which He has been speaking makes this request: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
After considering Valerie’s recounting of personal financial woes, I am more attuned to the inheritance battle that compelled Jesus to call attention to greed and its repercussions. Before, from the lens of a Puritanical work ethic, I might have thought that the rich fool is just too focused on momentary pleasure.
But upon reflection, it seems odd that Jesus would condemn someone simply for eating, drinking, and being merry as He was also criticized for eating and drinking and having a good time in Luke 7:33-34.
A commentary on this parable mentions that the rich man’s decision-making process was unusual for the day and indicated his lack of connections with people in the community. Generally, people consulted with their colleagues at the city gate before making a big decision, rather than thinking to themselves or reasoning alone. Further, the man’s death with no family members or friends available to benefit from his work (stored grain) suggests that he put no value on relationships.
One of the main points I now see is that greed — either from wanting a greater share of an inheritance or simply accumulating excess wealth with no plans to share with the community or even enjoy the company of friends — has the capacity to distance us from our loved ones. Skewed priorities and relationship problems often manifest themselves as financial conflict, not only while we are living but also after we die.
Anecdotes in Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads illustrate the types of money and relationship problems people face
Some of the anecdotes in Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads are particularly relevant to understanding this parable. For starters, there is an entire chapter devoted to inheritances (“Where There’s a Will, There’s a Relative”).
But the story that particularly resonated with me involved a man who lent $15,000 to his sister so she could buy a vacation home from the family’s estate. She has not repaid the debt and he has not demanded payment because he is more concerned with preserving his relationship with his sister than receiving the money. Though I am troubled that the sister doesn’t seem to love or appreciate her brother enough to either pay him back or apologize for borrowing what she could not repay, I find his stance on putting relationships first admirable.
Money can be a tool to strengthen relationships or a weapon to destroy relationships
The ideal that goes unstated in Jesus’s lesson is that money ought to be used as a tool to develop and strengthen relationships, which have eternal value. Valerie’s book illuminates the types of situations when relationships are (wrongly) leveraged for financial gain.
What I learned from Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads is that taking wise precautions (or at least having a clear understanding of the financial risks you are taking when you mingle money with romances, friendships, and family) can not only protect your money but also safeguard your relationships.