Pondhopper wanted the sister-in-law to hand over the financial reins, agree to a budget and let pondhopper handle the bills until she was back on her feet.

"We were told to get stuffed," pondhopper wrote.

Before you interfere

Does all this mean you can't advise friends or family who are going off the financial rails? No, but you want to be pretty careful how you go about it.

Decide if it really is your business. The angry target of your intervention may tell you it's not, and he or she is probably right, unless:

  • You'll feel obligated to bail out the person eventually.
  • He or she clearly expects a bailout.

If neither is the case, your path is clear: MYOB. (You can casually offer help, such as "You know, I've had some success dealing with credit card debt, and I'd be happy to share some tips if you're ever interested.")

If you'd feel responsible for the other person, though, explore that a bit.

Like Mikey02, "reluctant buyer" wrote that she was worried her parents would come knocking on her door after she discovered they had nothing saved for retirement and had drained the equity in their home.

"Every time that I (bring up) wanting them to prepare themselves better, they say something like 'Don't worry, there won't be anything left,'" reluctant buyer wrote, as if she were inquiring about an inheritance. Her reply: "Well, I'm not buying a large enough house for you to live with me."

The in-laws of "Zen2112" have been more direct. In their mid-50s and still living paycheck to paycheck, the in-laws "make comments like, 'you'll take care of us in our old age,'" Zen2112 wrote. She and her husband worry that "they will force (us) to make the choice between them or our paying for college for our kids" -- a goal the couple have "scrimped, saved and penny pinched" to achieve.

If you feel like you're going to be on the hook:

Set your own boundaries. Obligations can bring resentments, particularly if you're worried that your relative's neediness will wreck your finances, too.

Fight the fear by deciding in advance what kind of help you're willing to offer and how much. Setting your own boundaries can help you be calmer about the situation. Then stick to those boundaries through all the counterarguments, pleas and whining.

Locate a professional to help, or at least a neutral third party. Let's face it, your relatives and friends don't want to hear you tell them how to run their lives. So find a financial planner, legitimate credit counselor, mortgage counselor or bankruptcy attorney who can dispense the information they need without judgment, power struggles or years of dysfunctional history tainting the message.

The Garrett Planning Network offers referrals to fee-only financial planners who charge by the hour. You can find legitimate credit and housing counselors through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Your local bar association offers referrals to bankruptcy attorneys.

Have a conversation, rather than a confrontation. Once you are clear on your obligations, have set your boundaries and have found someone to help, be on the lookout for a time when everyone's relaxed and feeling good.

Start off the conversation by sharing your own experience, financial planner Collins said, or mention something that's been in the news.

If you're concerned about a family member's ability to pay the mortgage, for example, you could say that you've been reading about how many people are finding help through certified housing counselors and that you have contact information if they'd like it.

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Or if it's your parents' retirement savings that have you worried, mention that you've been reviewing your own financial plan and have found someone who might be able to help them with theirs.

If you think your relatives or friends are expecting help you can't or won't give, you may want to mention that now, in the most neutral way you can possibly deliver the information. Ask how you can help them help themselves.

Once you've had this conversation, it's time to drop the topic. What the other person does next is up to him or her.

As commenter "NB2" put it: "Sometimes they have to hit bottom a few times before they learn and decide for themselves to make changes. I've had to watch several relatives become frustrated trying to talk sense into another family member who will not listen and does not want the advice. Hopefully, they will decide to change on their own one day."

Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.