Can Helping Your Kids Hurt?

I recently saw a Pew Research study on financial independence among young adults. The study found six in ten parents of people aged 18 to 29 had provided at least some financial help to their children. In many cases the support was for regular monthly bills like groceries, rent or car insurance.

Of course if your young person is not working, they may need that support. But how long is it reasonable to continue to support your kids if they are not actively seeking an education and are working full time. It’s a question every parent has to answer for themselves. But it is important to understand whether you are setting your kids up for financial failure.

In one of my favorite books, The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, contend that it’s easy for a financial boost for your kids to become financial enabling. The support you provide increases their ability to spend on things they otherwise could not afford. With high rents and big student loan bills, life can be financially difficult for those just starting out, and it can be hard to know where to draw the line.

I did not draw the line in the right place. Last May, I wrote about how my daughter financially crashed and burned in How to Go From Happy to Desperate in Six Weeks or Less. Following the crash, to help her get back on her feet, she was living with us. Her budget was meant to be similar to what she would have to pay if she were living on her own with a roommate in our area. She gave us money for her non-discretionary expenses, like rent, utilities, groceries, car insurance, etc. We put it in savings for her. What was left had to cover everything else.

Except her medical costs. She doesn’t make much money. She has a government job with great health benefits but pretty low pay. I didn’t want her to skip getting the care she needed because she couldn’t afford her out-of-pocket expenses. So we agreed that we would pay for her medical expenses, and she didn’t need to include those in her budget.

Toward the end of that year, she had some tests done, and the medical bills came to around $500. No big deal for us, and we were happy she was getting help. She was actually doing really well with her budget. She was covering her “pretend” bills, and saving money beyond the money she was giving us. She had really embraced the idea of assigning a job for every dollar she had.

The problem was, she was assigning money that should have been earmarked for medical expenses, had we not been paying them, to pay for a tatoo. While we laid out $500 for her medical bills, she spent $500 on said tatoo. It was totally my fault. She had saved for it. She didn’t have to spend the money on anything else. But it bugged the heck out of me.

We made it possible for her to pay for a tatoo, because we were paying for an expense that was legitimately a part of her cost of living. And that is where the flaw in providing support to your kids lies. It masks their true cost of living, and as a result, they make decisions based on the inaccurate picture.

I want Kaye to understand her cost of living. She will make long ranging decisions such as where to live, whether to go back to school or change careers based on what she thinks she can afford, and I want her to make those decisions with all the clear-eyed facts.

Today, Kaye covers all of her expenses on her own. She includes saving for out-of-pocket medical costs in her monthly budget. Similarly she sets aside money for car maintenance and repairs. Of course we will help if something big and devastating comes up. But she is fully living within her means and saving for her needs as well as her wants – including her next tatoo.

Photo by Cory Woodward on Unsplash

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Save Yourself; Your Guide to Saving for Retirement and Building Financial Security, is available on Amazon.

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