Archive for Thursday, December 10, 2009

Parents ponder ending support to adult children

December 10, 2009


— Let me ask you: When should parents turn off the financial spigot for adult children?

Usually during the holiday season, I get a lot of questions about what to give someone for Christmas or how much to spend. This year the questions focus mostly on how and when to help someone out. The notes are particularly heartfelt from parents, many of whom are also in a bind. A lot of adult children now dealing with unemployment or college loans or unbearable credit-card debt are beelining it to their parents.

I received a note during an online discussion from a mother struggling to determine if it’s time to cut off her subsidies to her 22-year-old son, who is attending college.

The mother says she’s borrowed $125,000 to cover tuition and off-campus housing for her son, who is an out-of-state student. He has been in school since 2006, has received mediocre grades and has had to repeat many of his courses. He recently told his mother he has another three years of school before he can earn his degree.

Oh, and the son is working full time earning $30,000 a year. (This may be contributing to his bad grades.)

“No matter what, he constantly complains he doesn’t have enough money,” the mother wrote. “He doesn’t save anything and then gets mad at me when I tell him ‘no’ or when I explain that I don’t have any money. He’s a good kid. He works hard on his job, but he thinks my money is endless.”

Some of you already know what you would do in this situation. I certainly do. It’s time to cut the purse strings. But some parents can’t do that. They continue to take out large loans so their children can eke through college.

Last March, this 50-year-old mother lost her job after 16 years with the same employer. She’s getting some contract work, but that is due to end next June. She has to start making her own health insurance payments in February.

“I am on shaky ground until I land something permanent,” she said. “My son doesn’t believe that I don’t have money to keep bailing him out.”

The mother’s saving grace has been the severance she received after being laid off. Her son sees that lump sum of cash as an extension of his ATM account.

“I can’t help anymore,” the woman said. “How or what do I do to get him to save and pay his own bills? How do I get him out of my pocket? I’m trying to get ready for retirement in the next 10 to 15 years. He is really sinking me in more and more debt. He thinks I’m Ms. Money Bags. We argue all the time about money. I am fed up with this.”

Good. Being fed up is a first step to cutting him off. The next step is realizing that helping too much can hurt.

“I have obviously done way more than I should have and he doesn’t appreciate it,” she finally admits. “My son is out of control. I thought I was helping, but he has taken my help to a whole other level.”

Bingo. There is a fine line in giving financial assistance. On one side of the line, you shouldn’t withhold aid because someone made bad financial decisions.

But you also can’t let people — even your children — take advantage of your willingness to help if there is plenty of evidence in front of you that they aren’t willing to change and become better money managers or contribute to their own financial well-being.

The mother thinks her son needs to leave school. She’s right. She’s borrowed more than enough for an adult who isn’t doing well in the classroom. Perhaps if he’s forced to pay for his own tuition, he’ll do what it takes to finish in less than six or seven years.

If you are struggling with this issue, shut off the spigot. “No” can be the most powerful word in the language. Use it.


Maddy Griffin 7 years, 11 months ago

My oldest daughter's husband is like this. His parents still make his car payment and insurance on that, pay his cell phone bill and buy his clothing. They've been married 5 years and have a 3-year old son. They bought him a new Durango when his dumb a$$ let go of the full coverage on his brand new Scion and hit a deer two days later, completely destroying the vehicle. It drives me crazy! He's lazy,prone to arguing about anything, and just generally a big baby. I wish his Mother would cut the cord already and start worrying about her own retirement.

chronicles 7 years, 11 months ago

I have a daughter approaching 30, she is single with two sons 10 and 8 years old. The father doesn't give much support. I have a single income and for the past five years have given my daughter so much support it has put me in debt. She too doesn't seem to appreciate it and tells me that I don't help her. I have told her many times that I can not continue to help her. She refuses to get a steady full-time job. She says she is depressed and can't work. I feel for my grandsons so I have continued to help her. Now I can't, she too as the young man in the story won't believe my financial resources of helping her have come to an end. I too just turned 50 and totally relate to thinking about the future and my retirement. I so can relate to this story.

Betty Bartholomew 7 years, 11 months ago

I'd have to double check, but she may be out of luck to some extent with the college stuff if her son is only 22. Despite having my husband and my best friend both having filled out the FAFSAs within the past year, I can't remember what the cut-off age is, but up until a certain age (and it's at least 21 since that's how old my friend was when she filled hers out), you're still required to include your parents' income on the FAFSA, and they're still expected to foot some of the college bill, if possible, even if the student has been living away from home in their own house (as my friend had been).

As to everything else, she needs to do what I wish my mother-in-law would do with her younger son: Kick him out, change the locks, and let him flounder. He's single and only has to find a way to support himself, and he'll never do it as long as she lets him live in her house and use her money.

Angel Gillaspie 7 years, 11 months ago

I'm kind of in the same boat, but with a little different set of circumstances. My son is 23 and has a job, but the job only offers him about 25 hours per week and has no benefits, so he is uninsured. He has is own apartment which he got in August and his own car. His father is willing to help but lives in another state. Dad has already paid his rent for at least one month so far this year. His car and the insurance coverage is in my name, but he cannot afford the insurance so I pay for that. The car is old and literally falling apart, so I constantly worry about whether or not it will break down. Recently I had to bail him out of county jail for an outstanding speeding ticket. I felt I had to do it because if I didn't he might have lost his job. Last night he came over to ask me for help paying a utility bill since he does not have a checking account, but he did give me cash to cover that. Am I being too soft? If I don't help him pay his rent, he will be out on the street - my house is not big enough for him to move in with me and my husband. He is a delivery driver, so if I don't pay the car insurance and something happens he could lose his license and his job. But I can't take the car away because how would he do his job? He needs glasses but can't afford them - I have already bought him two pairs, which are now lost. The eye doctor won't give us his prescription because he needs an eye exam, and that's an additional cost above what it would cost for the glasses. He will be 24 in six weeks and I know that he should be more self-sufficient but he says he cannot find another job that pays more, or one that would supplement his income, because of the tight job market ("the KU students take all the good jobs"). When is it okay to say "enough, already?" I know I should cut him off but I just can't bring myself to do it... What can I do?

GmaD321 7 years, 11 months ago

For many kids as long as they know there is a bail-out factor in place they will use it freely. Then they complain when their parents give them advice to try to help them not end up in the same place again. Just don't give them cash--pay the bill yourself, take them to the grocery store, etc. That way you will at least know that your help is going for what you intended it.

aletheia 7 years, 11 months ago

This is a great thread and a discussion that should happen more often among parents. I am the mother of three children of which two are 22 and 23. I was also a young parent and a young wife with a husband who was constantly laid off work or didn't work because of the weather, sickness or holidays. (The construction industry sucks!)

With that said, I am a firm believer that by enabling our children, we are basically implying that they are not capable of figuring things out for themselves. My husband and I struggled constantly with money and paying for the essentials -- and NEVER received assistance from our own parents.

Did we fall down and struggle to make ends meet? Yes. Did my husband often work side jobs that most people would never consider doing? Yes. Are we still married? Yes (and happily so). Are my kids doing well and are they self-sufficient? Yes!

Since my husband and I were forced to figure things out on our own, we became much stronger for it. Even though neither of us have completed college, we both we're ambitious and worked hard to provide for our family. Now, he is a successful executive for a large construction company and I am in middle management at a local business. I don't think any of this would have been possible if our parents had bailed us out constantly. We were forced to seek other alternatives.

My husband and I now are on the other side of the fence and try to balance our grown children's needs. Our motto is that there is a difference between a "hand out" and a "hand up." If the situation is due to circumstances beyond their control, like a lay off or illness, we will provide some assistance. If they are broke due to their own irresponsibility or lack of initiative, they're on their own.

Tammy Yergey 7 years, 11 months ago

You have to start teaching kids to be more appreciative and not expect everything much earlier than college years! If they grow up being given everything, or having their parents bail them out of any trouble they have, they surely aren't going to learn in college.

Leslie Swearingen 7 years, 11 months ago

I have a totally different kind of family. We all help each other out when we can and we share what we have. My granddaughter is working on her masters in economics at Ku and the daughter is going to JCCC and getting an education in medical IT. They both hold down jobs. After reading the blog and the posts I know just how lucky I am to have the family I do. But if they ever need help, and I have the means to do so, I will, regardless of age.

aletheia 7 years, 11 months ago

agilla~ Sounds like your son knows what buttons to push. He knows that you love him and don't want to see him struggle. I'm sure he plays on this and to some extent probably believes it himself. When you rescue him to the level that you have, you are also reinforcing the perception he has of himself. Express confidence in his ability to fend for himself -- even before he's earned it. He may start believing it or at a minimum be forced to find it, because you've quit rescuing him from his own choices.

As parents, we aren't raising children. We're actually raising adults.

tolawdjk 7 years, 11 months ago

Let me get this straight, the guy has lost two pairs of eye glasses and needed to be bailed out of jail on a speeding ticket? Blames the "KU" students for taking all the "good jobs"?

The guy is old enough to own up to his own choices. Cut the strings. A night or two in jail will do wonders to realign his view on priorities.

notajayhawk 7 years, 11 months ago

Healthcare_Moocher (Anonymous) says…

"I hope Beobacher and Bozo's parents read this. They might just kick them out of their basements and force them to get a job."

Darn! Beat me too it! (I would have included porchie, though.)

I find it amusing to see comments here calling for 'cutting the strings' from some of the same people supporting a healthcare 'reform' package that lets those kids stay on mommy and daddy's insurance.

Then again, some of those people saying 'cut the strings' are the same ones complaining the government should be taking more money from those 'rich' people and giving it to them.

luckysgirl 7 years, 11 months ago

When my sons went to college, they each had three semesters to do well. If their grades weren't high enough, they knew we would cut them off. During those first three semesters, they played and barely made it through. Guess what? No money at all woke them up. They found jobs, put themselves through and are stronger for it. Putting yourself more than 100,000 in debt while your kid whines is enabling behavior. He'll grow up when you cut him loose and he'll thank you later too!

imastinker 7 years, 11 months ago

I am 27 years old. I got married at 22 and we had a baby 9 months later. My wife was still in school for two more years and I went to work full time, doing odd jobs on the side for extra money. Life was rough for us for a little while, and our parents helped us some. Her mother would take her shopping for clothes for work and not let her pay, and when we did some remodeling a few years ago her mother gave her a thousand dollars to help out.

We bought a house three years ago and within a few months the roof failed (the shingles actually slid right off the roof - the weren't on properly) and the air conditioner failed. My wife was six months pregnant in August and miserable, so we borrowed $5k from my folks to do the air conditioner. It was paid back two weeks later.

I will never forget these things. Now, we both have good jobs and the lessons we had to learn were very good for us. We bought one new truck for me, and I have regretted it since. We have a frugal lifestyle and are paying off debt. The new truck is paid off and the credit cards are cut up. My student loans are paid off and hers will be by summer at the current rate. What these parents are doing is depriving their kids of the opportunity to do what we did, and get a head start on life. They are making their kids' lives harder because of it. Thanks mom and dad.

alm77 7 years, 11 months ago

We had to tell our parents to stop giving us money when we were in our early 20's. We were married with one child and one on the way. I told my mom that they weren't "helping" us when we knew they would be there to bail us out. So, they stopped. We still make dumb decisions with money every now and then and it drives my mom crazy, but she doesn't try to "help" anymore (although she does say "Let me know if you want me to help." but I really do think it's just lip service and I would never ask her to). We're grown ups. We make our own messes and we struggle like hell to clean them up. Each time, we come out stronger and smarter because of it.

I've already started teaching my own kids ages 11 and under about money. The lessons we teach are work = money and once it's gone, it's gone. I try to get them to buy things that will last with their money too, like toys instead of candy.

My nine year old is a saver and he works hard to earn money. I think I'll never have a worry one about him. My daughter on the other hand may need to marry into money, she can't get a dollar without it burning a hole right through her pocket. I'll point out to her that she has opportunities to earn, just like her brothers and she has opportunities to save or to spend more wisely. I'd rather she learn these lessons now when no money means lack of toys or candy, rather than when she's 22 and has to choose between the electric bill and the rent.

And btw, who's grown child doesn't have a checking account?!?! That should be started in high school with supervision.

aletheia 7 years, 11 months ago

imastinker ~ You and your family are truly blessed to have such wise parents. They are a good example of what I met in my previous post about giving a "hand up" rather than a "hand out." So many teenagers and young adults seem to be entitled and believe that "mom and dad" means "give me more."

You and your wife are shining examples of responsibility, accountability, gratefulness and appreciation. I'm sure that you will pass these traits on to your children, as well, as your parents have done with you.

denak 7 years, 11 months ago

".... I can't remember what the cut-off age is, but up until a certain age (and it's at least 21 since that's how old my friend was when she filled hers out), you're still required to include your parents' income on the FAFSA, and they're still expected to foot some of the college bill..."

Unless something has changed in the last two years, the cut off age is 23 unless the student is married or has been in the military. Then the student is considered an adult and the parents' income is not factored in. I don't remember if it matters if the student has a child or not.

As for when to cut the purse strings, I think it depends on the situation. My parents helped me get through college and I am grateful for that. My son knows that I will help pay for his college (he is going to community college for 2 years and then KU) and that he can live at home until he graduates. Because I want him to get good grades, I don't expect him to work full-time but I do expect him to contribute to his tuition so he has to work at least part-time. After college, he is pretty much on his own.I will help out if he really needs it but not if he is slacking off.

As for how far a parent should go, I think if the parent is giving so much money to their adult child that it is jeapordizing their own financial security, then the parent has to say "no." It is the same sas when one is on an airplane and the stewardess tells you to put your own mask on before you put your child's mask on him or her. There is no reason for both to go down. Take care of yourself first and then your child if you can.


Leslie Swearingen 7 years, 11 months ago

Family is family, forever and ever. We will always be there for each other. Love, generosity of spirit, compassion, and forgiveness, these are the things that we live by and for. We should not foster independence, but rather recognize that we are dependent each upon the other, and upon the earth which is in turn dependent upon us for its nurturing and health.

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