Just Say “No”
I need to make a financial resolution not to give my kids money every time they ask for it. My husband and I are trying to help pay their college expenses as much as possible, but we spend a ton of money on our kids. Whenever they ask, I feel guilty if I don’t give them money. It has put a huge gap in our budget. If anyone has any advice as to how I can deal with these guilt feelings, I would really appreciate some advice.
Check Into Work-Study
Your children should check out the work-study program at their college(s). Every U.S. college receiving federal funding has a work-study program. Students work at various jobs on campus, from library assistants to tutoring and then some. They are paid minimum wage for their state, cannot work more than a set number of hours each week so their studies don’t suffer, and acquire a sense of pride from earning their own money while helping their school. It also takes some of the burden off of mom and dad as they will not be asking for money as often! I participated in work-study programs as an undergraduate and as a graduate student and found myself with more money and a greater sense of accomplishment.
The Baroness In Oregon
Learn to Set Boundaries
I would guess these guilt feelings are coming from the idea that you should be giving this money, but you really don’t want to or can’t afford to. If you want to resolve these feelings, then you’ve got to get everything into perspective one way or the other. So here are my suggestions:
1. Sit down with your budget and figure out exactly how much you can afford to give.
2. Compare this amount to what you’re actually giving. You may find out that you’re killing yourself financially because of a feeling of obligation or you may find out that it’s not as bad as you thought.
3. If you find you’re spending more than you can afford, make a list of the expenses and prioritize. Help with tuition or books is far more important than concert tickets or pizza money.
4. Understand that you’re not an ATM! Don’t be afraid to set healthy boundaries between your children and your checkbook. It will benefit them and you in the short term and the long run.
5. Parents paying for college isn’t a “given.” It’s great when you can, but if you can’t, there are other options to explore.
To be honest, this isn’t a money issue. This is a boundary issue. Feelings of guilt or resentment coming from giving is a signal that either we shouldn’t be doing the giving or don’t want to be. Once you dig around and find the root of those feelings and work all that out, you’re either going to find the strength to say no or be able to give without the negative feelings.
Sometimes Difficult Lessons Must Be Taught
Just like little kids, college kids will try to get what they think they can! We love our kids and want to see them happy, but money doesn’t bring happiness and just handing it out is a long-term disservice to them. Our “bad parent” guilt feelings have to be balanced by the fact that some difficult lessons must be taught. We’d not make our kids learn how to live on constant cookies and sweets, so let’s apply the balanced diet approach to finances, too.
First step: Make it clear to them that any money given to them is generosity, not a guarantee. There is no entitlement here.
Second step: Clearly define what amount, if any, they can expect from you and stick to it!
Third step: Help them look at their budget and figure out how they can make ends meet on their own. If you’re willing, show them your budget and explain how you handle life’s unexpected bumps.
Fourth step: If they ask for more, empathize with them and work on solutions, but don’t surrender. Explain that your advice is always free, but the financial solutions are their own.
Fifth step: Step back and know you’re a good parent for passing on some life-long skills!
Set the Budget
These parents should first open prepaid Visa or MasterCard accounts for each child. Then they need to sit down and figure how much they can give their kids each month to help them out. Each month on a set date, they should deposit whatever that figure is. Since they have two kids, they might choose something like the 1st for the son and the 15th for the daughter, or the day that corresponds with their birthdays. This teaches the kids to budget their money, and when it’s gone, they have to be creative instead of calling on the parents. There is no need for the parents to feel guilty or be pressured into debt because their kids are always needing money at the drop of a hat. As a footnote, I would discourage them from opening bank accounts. These kids seem fairly irresponsible to me, and I wouldn’t risk bank overdraft fees.
Teresa, mom of 2 in Missouri
College Expenses vs. Retirement Savings
The best advice I’ve ever heard about college expenses is that there are loans, grants, scholarships and future earnings to pay for college expenses. No such thing exists for retirement. When making the decision about whether to give to your kids for something they can pay themselves or do without, or paying yourself to prepare for retirement, pick yourself. Explain to your kids that you don’t want to be a burden on them, and as such, you’re setting aside for retirement now so you don’t have to rely on them in the future. Work with them on how they can meet their own needs; they’re grown-ups after all.
The Guilt Is Misplaced
You should really be feeling guilty that you do give them money! What are you trying to accomplish in raising children? Are you raising them to be dependent on handouts or to be independent self-starters? Are you raising them to be spendthrifts or to be thrifty? It is no favor to give spending money to college kids. It’s crippling their ability to learn good money habits. You are doing them a huge favor by financing their college tuition. That is a huge boost in life that many of us cannot afford. You might point out to them the huge debt loads that many students have to assume to go to college. Debt loads that they will spend decades repaying. Paying for their tuition is a noble thing to do for your children, but giving them spending money just perpetuates their adolescence. You want your kids to grow up! If you make it too easy and fun to be a college student, who would want to ever graduate?
College students can and should learn to function within their own means. If they can take on a part-time job or start a web business while being in school, that’s a great thing for their future. They are learning to provide for themselves and starting on a resume! And that’s where their spending money should come from. If they are in college programs that truly do take their every moment, and they therefore cannot work at a job, then they should be grateful you’re supporting their basic needs and put off the “wants” until they are earning their own money.
A Solution All Can Live With
As the parents of six children, my husband and I know the difficulty of balancing the desire to help your children financially with the ability to afford it. Instead of “giving” them money when they ask, we have established a “loan” fund for each of our children. We set a dollar amount that we could afford and told the children how much was there. The rules are simple. They can borrow up to the limit and pay it back interest free at their convenience. If they never pay it back, that is okay. However, they cannot ask to borrow more money if they have reached their limit. This method gives us a way to help them when they get in a jam, but also defines a limit for our budget. Some of our children have been very good about repaying the debt to us right away. Others have not been as good, but they also don’t call and ask us for more. Instead, they find a way to make it work and we don’t feel guilty because we have to say “no.”
A Lesson Learned Now Saves Financial Problems Later
College kids who don’t have a job or aren’t on a sports team have a lot of extra time on their hands. Talk to them about getting a job. A summer job is a must. If they absolutely have no time for a job, give them an allowance and tell them it must last. Do not give in. Kids can be very frugal and creative when they want to be. Help them itemize what their extra needs are and give accordingly. It is also important for them to understand the dangers of credit cards. This is necessary for your budget as well, and you want to set an example.
My two children are twenty something college graduates. They, like many graduates, didn’t understand that they were going to have a tough time after college getting a decent paying job that would pay rent, education loans and other bills. If you don’t become a bit tough now, they will have a harder time when they graduate, unless, of course, you want to be the “parent” bank for the rest of their lives. All people have a hard time, financially, sometime in their life. That is where the “budget” especially comes in. Once they learn to handle money, they will manage their lives on their own. Without financial boundaries, no job will satisfy bottomless greed.
Please understand that even the strictest of parents want to save their children from sure disaster. A couple of weeks ago, my son put a $100 in a pocket with a hole in it. He got to the grocery store with no money. He had no money coming until payday. I gave him a few food items from our cupboard, and he was happy. He is doing better with his money than in the past, but he has had to sell a few items to keep his bank account on the plus side. My daughter? She is a banker and keeps a strict budget. Don’t wait until after graduation to decide you can’t live with needy adult children. Start cutting some of the purse strings now. They will have struggles to be sure, but it could save them from huge financial problems later on.
Mary in WA
Parenting Is Not a Popularity Contest
I believe that one of the most important things we can offer our children is the opportunity to work for things themselves. If we give them everything they desire, they will have less to work for. Plus, you should look at the real value of what you are already giving them. You are offering your children a college education. What a wonderful gift! What could you possibly feel guilty about? I also frequently remind myself and my son that parenting is not a popularity contest. My job is to teach and guide, not satisfy every whim. When I am tempted to shower gifts on my child, I pause and ask myself what I will be teaching him with the gift. If I find an item I just can’t pass up (like a two dollar shirt at a thrift store by a favorite designer), I will hold onto it for the next holiday or to commemorate a personal success (like a great report card).
For more information visit Dollar Stretcher’s “Just Starting Out” page.