Looking after the family

Sipho shakes his head in disbelief. As the first graduate in his family he earns a good salary but is so deeply in debt he can’t sleep at night. In the same block of flats, Chase is also wide awake, wondering how he will cover his mother’s mountain of medical bills.

These stories are not uncommon. Both Sipho and Chase are in financial difficulties because they have to support the people they love financially. This phenomenon, also sometimes referred to as “black tax”, is common in South Africa and is the reason we’ve become known as the “sandwich generation”.

The pressure to take financial responsibility for an extended family can impact your wellbeing. Here are some guidelines for dealing with this reality.


When you are the only one in the family with a salary, the family leans hard on you. Here are some tips to help your family understand all of your financial obligations – including to your children and their future.

Be clear about your obligations

It’s a good thing to take responsibility for your parents, or help put your siblings through school, but it’s just as important to be clear about what you can afford. It doesn’t make sense to go into debt because you’re the only salaried person in your family. If you don’t save for your old age, your children will have to take care of you, which means they won’t be able to save either. This perpetuates a cycle of poverty.

Being in debt also has an impact on your physical and emotional wellbeing. This in turn could affect other important areas of your life, such as your performance at work or your relationship with your family.

Set clear boundaries

If the financial burden of taking care of your family has become too much, it’s important to talk to your family about it. If you don’t, you may feel resentful that there’s an automatic expectation that you’ll help out financially. Broaching the subject will take courage, as money can be an emotionally charged issue. But it’s the best way to break a pattern and encourage everyone to become financially aware and responsible.
Educate your family about responsible money management

Here are some steps you can take to encourage this:

•Make sure everyone understands that money used for productive causes like education or entrepreneurial efforts has a much better long-term impact than money spent merely for consumption.
•Agree that you will either contribute a fixed amount per month or that you will only help with necessities and not luxuries.
•If you find that cash gets wasted, contribute to fixed items like Funeral schemes or Medical Aid.

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