real life

'My entire family is addicted to pyramid schemes.'

This woman’s parents have been involved in both multi-level marketing and pyramid schemes for the past 35 years. They have borrowed half a million dollars against their house to pay for it. This is their story…

My family are multi-level-marketing addicts.

I grew up in a house where multi-level marketing wasn’t the elephant in the room. It was the pile of unused products taking up three seats of our couch.

My mum and her sisters started selling clothing and cosmetics before they were married and dad started when his cleaning business collapsed. My dad is a highly educated man, but he didn’t know what else to do, he was desperate. They just don’t see any way out of this situation.

I didn’t know how unusual my parents’ money-making schemes were for a long time.

I grew up in a fairly socially-isolated community and my parents were very religious people. Being involved in multi-level marketing schemes was very common in my community – everyone was just buying from each other. I didn’t really encounter people from outside my community until I about 17 years old. That’s when I realised being involved in multi-level marketing schemes was unusual. Some people’s mums had kitchen storage products parties and clothes parties, but that was different to the volume and type of MLMs that I was around growing up. My parents have tried more than a dozen multi-level marketing schemes; in cosmetics, clothing, stationary and more.

None of them made any money.

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And yet the shed at home is still full of excess pens, pencils and crayons that mum couldn’t sell. MLMs work on moving product, you get a kick-back based on what you sell, but you have to buy the product first. You end up buying more product thinking, ‘I’ll do better with this sales campaign,’ but of course that rarely happens, and you end up with lots of product you can’t on-sell.

It really is an emotional pitch. The people who are involved in it, the people at the annual conventions with the fireworks, those guys get paid, so I’m not talking about them. The guys in the middle and towards the bottom who are getting this pitched to them by their friends and family, they are the people who are not making what they want to make for the lifestyle they want to have.

My parents are in hundreds of thousands of debt.

"The shed at home is still full of excess pens, pencils and crayons that mum couldn’t sell." (Image: Getty)

My parents bought their house for under $100,000 20 years ago and they owe half a million on it now. They’ve had to keep borrowing against it because of their addiction to get rich quick schemes. In the last 5-6 years alone, Dad’s racked up about $100,000 in debt.

My favourite, because it should have been obvious to anyone who is not desperate, was a course dad bought which was an instructional program that teaches you how to sell instructional programs.

I’ve tried to get them to stop, but it generally produces a very emotional and defensive response. I now have a weird relationship with money. I’ve had relationships as an adult break down because of how I look at money. I have always said that debt is a deal breaker for me. If you get into any kind of debt without talking to me, that’s it, we’re done. I can’t do it. I am deathly afraid of anything that promises you money for an initial outlay.

This story is courtesy of The Pineapple Project, a podcast that specialises in giving sound and savvy financial advice.