When does generosity and help cross the line into being taken advantage of? When can we realize we are dealing with a freeloader?
Whether you are dealing with freeloading family members or a neighbour who won’t take no for an answer (but will take your wheelbarrow, carrots out of your garden and that twenty dollars he figures you don’t really need), how do you survive and deal with freeloaders without completely losing your mind?
So what’s a freeloader?
You know the idea even if it’s not a term you usually use. MOST of us have dealt with these people at one time or another.
And there’s no sugar coating it, once you’ve recognized that it’s happening.
A freeloader is someone who takes advantage of the generosity of others, and might even depend on them for support, without feeling any obligation to pay them back or to do anything in return. They take and take and take, but they never give.
You might call them:
Mooch or moocher
It could be a freeloading friend, spouse, family member, or a neighbor. There’s no relationship that’s immune to a mooch.
Are you dealing with a mooch?
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the problems with a homesteader relying heavily on a community of others to keep their property going. As fairly new homesteaders, it is a topic about which I’ve thought a lot. After all, we needed a lot of help in our first year!
Charity, just to be clear, is something freely given. It does’t even really count if you’re giving out of a sense of duty or obligation. It’s something you freely and willingly choose to do.
If you see a person in need and give aid, or if a friend mentions a need and you freely help, that is charity.
Charity is not merely ‘giving to the needy’, by the way. It actually means ‘love toward fellow men‘. (In fact, the Bible states that giving all you have is meaningless unless you have charity, which makes it pretty clear that charity is something different than giving!)
The truth is that we all need help sometimes, and we should all be generous in giving loving help when we can.
I will always remember, and be grateful for, the helping hands we have received at various times, and I do try to pay it forward by helping those who need more than we do. Helping an elderly friend, or someone down on their luck, giving a surprise gift to a friend or neighbour, doing a favor when it is needed – these are all things that make everyone feel good and keep a community functioning.
But what do you do when you’re being taken for a ride? It feels awful to think that someone is a freeloader, but let’s face it – they definitely exist.
How do you recognize and detach yourself from the bloodsucker emptying your fridge, your toolshed, or your wallet? Yes, the terms used for someone who chooses to leech off otherwise without contributing are harsh, and for good reason.
But first – what is a freeloader?
I suspect that your gut instinct has already defined this for you.
In essence, a freeloader is someone who takes and takes with no plans to give back.
It shows up in different ways, and the stereotypical brother-in-law who sleeps on your sofa, drinks all of your beer (or coffee) and “helps out” by lifting his legs so you can vacuum under them. We all know the type.
A freeloader repeatedly takes advantage of someone else’s generosity with no intention of repaying it.
Trust your instincts around freeloaders
There have been many times when I have wanted to be wrong, but the truth is, some people just raise my red flags.
They are usually charming and superficially friendly people, ones who are generally considered “a really nice person”.
They rely on this charm to con people. I will be honest – based on past experiences, charmers put my guard up big time. Learn to trust your instincts and those warning signs that make it clear that you’re dealing with a freeloader.
Know your boundaries and be clear around freeloaders
What I have always found is that certain people have absolutely no sense of boundaries.
These are the ones you’ll find slipping in your back door (because no matter how well it’s hidden, they’ll figure out where you hide the key) to grab a cold drink from the fridge.
“Well, you weren’t home and I knew you wouldn’t mind.”
Whether helping themselves to your berry patch “so it doesn’t go to waste” or your firewood “because I ran out and need some”, these people have absolutely no sense of boundaries.
If you know what yours are, and can express them, you are one step closer to dealing with this problem moocher.
Don’t give an inch when someone is trying to take advantage
Once you’ve set your boundaries, stick to them.
Draw your line in the sand and refuse to move on it.
If you have attracted the attention of a freeloader, they will be watching for you to relax your guard and give in on something they want.
You might have a boundary that you will not be an underpaid (or un-paid) taxi. There is nothing wrong with giving a ride to a friend once in a while, but a freeloader will quickly rope you in to a weekly trip that has you waiting around all day with “just one more stop”.
Set terms upfront
Make sure everything is clearly defined and understood.
Gray areas, unspoken expectations and friendly barter will only work in the freeloader’s favour, not yours. And get money upfront, too.
Most of us are familiar with the person who borrows $20 and pays back $15 “and I bought you a coffee, so we’re square. What, you’re going to nitpick over a few pennies?” The problem is that they will continue to up the ante, until you realize you’ve loaned them $200 and received back $50 and a lot of rationalization as to why they don’t owe you the money.
Learn to say no
Most of us are raised to be polite, and it is really difficult to say no.
But if you have attracted the attention of a professional freeloader, you will need to learn that “No” is a complete sentence that needs no clarification.
The average person will usually recognize even a threadbare excuse as politeness, and will accept it. If a person is washing their hair on Tuesday night, or has an appointment on Friday morning, the average person will understand the “polite excuse” and move on. A freeloader will not. In fact, any excuse only gives them a wedge to try and convince you.
Don’t engage them in argument.
Just say “No.”
(EJ wants me add a caveat that anyone on the Autism Spectrum Disorder will likely be completely baffled by a threadbare excuse and might keep asking, but there’s rarely any maliciousness involved. However, the answer is, again, to just say “No.”)
Don’t worry about shaming a freeloader
Unfortunately, they have no shame.
In fact, that can really help you differentiate between a purposeful mooch and someone in actual need! Most people will do their best to solve their own problems, only asking for help when really necessary.
A freeloader really cares nothing for your needs and thoughts, even if they convince you that they do. They also rarely care for normal social etiquette. (Note: this is not the same as autism spectrum disorder, in which people have difficulty understanding social etiquette. Understanding it and caring about it are not the same thing.)
Don’t get sucked into the guilt
They are really, really good at it.
Okay, really, you’re not going to let me starve, are you? I mean, when I lost my job sixteen months ago, you said you wouldn’t see me go hungry. Come on, a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread won’t kill you, would it? No, that kind. I only eat Skippy.
One important thing to recognize about this sort is that they do it on purpose.
While the very best of us can make poor decisions and have bad things happen, a freeloader will purposely buy luxuries, relying on others to provide necessities. This is the sort of person will sell the mature trees on their woodlot, knowing they can depend on sympathy to get free firewood from other people through the winter.
They frequently look to others to fix all of their problems, taking on the role of victim.
Be willing to change the terms
Somehow you have found yourself feeding a mooch, driving them all over town and supplying them with most of the necessities of life. How did that happen?
It happened because they’re good at this.They have more practice in freeloading than you have in dealing with freeloaders.
It is then time to take a step back and say “I’m not doing this anymore. No.” Vent to a friend, a spouse, or someone else you know will understand, but do not back down. Get off the merry-go-round.
Treat freeloaders like children
Have you ever had a child ask for a cookie, a toy, a book, or anything else that they really wanted? As a parent, I long ago learned to repeat myself.
No, you may not do that thing. No, you may not do that thing. No, you may not do that thing.
By the way, specifying what they may NOT do, or what you will NOT do, is not the same as offering excuses.
No matter what a freeloader comes up with, just repeat your mantra. Eventually, it sinks in.
Most times when someone is in need, they truly are.
I find that, 99% of the time, if you are generous and helpful to people, it is appreciated and reciprocated (or paid forward). Most people only ask for help when it is truly necessary.
The problem comes when you encounter that 1%, where, no matter what you give, they’ll just take more.
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