When Is it Appropriate to Help My Adult Children Financially?
By RJ Thesman, Crosswalk.com
The plea comes through a plaintive phone call or a tear-stained face. “What am I going to do? I just don’t have enough money.”
They can’t pay their bills. The fridge in their apartment is empty except for the week-old mac and cheese turning green and they’ve decided to sell all their clothes on Ebay.
When is it appropriate to financially help our adult children? And what are some of the ways we can help, yet not enable them to constantly expect more cash?
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Remember Your Past
It wasn’t so long ago that you were starting out, excited about that first job, the new apartment, and the chance to prove yourself. Remember the shock when you discovered how much taxes took out of your paycheck? Remember wondering why they subtracted Social Security from your wages when you were only 21?
The shock of becoming independent forces us to grow up, but it can also be an invitation to feelings of failure. This is especially true when we discover how much everything costs these days and the rising inflated prices of everything from groceries to the electric bill. In some areas of the country, finding an affordable place to live requires a major jump in wages. And who wants to move from the dorm to sharing space with another entry level worker?
As we remember how hard it was, we know the lessons we learned about perseverance and hard work. We gained wisdom by setting a budget and keeping it. But it also took us many months, maybe years, until we saw a positive balance.
Did your parents occasionally slip you a check or a wad of cash? Do you remember how relieved you were when that happened? Maybe it’s time to gift your children the same way.
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Consider the Circumstances
A sudden illness, a hospital stay, prolonged weeks away from the job – all these factors and more can suddenly throw our kids into financial struggles. It’s not anything they’ve done wrong. Life has just interfered.
Anyone who has had to deal with medical bills knows the inflated cost of healthcare. Even with quality insurance, those bills quickly add up. Garnering medical debt can affect our kids’ credit ratings, mess with their relationships, or invite an eviction notice.
We need to extend grace for these unusual and difficult circumstances. All of us are only one check or one illness away from debt, hunger, or possibly homelessness.
When we help our kids through those struggling times, we put into practice the principle of Psalm 36:8, “They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.”
We show our kids through practical resources how God provides for his own. When we help them over those difficult humps, we are strengthening their faith walk as well.
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Watch for Increased Stress
Financial problems can lead to arguments, ulcers, or other physical ailments, unhappy children and a strain on relationships. When you see stress destroying family life, it’s time to step in and offer help.
Although you don’t want to be the solution for all their problems, a little financial boost can lift spirits and help them feel better physically as well as emotionally. As you add some friendly advice to the situation, your children can learn from the experience while not expecting you to be the answer to all their struggles.
If they’re in credit card trouble, offer to pay for half the bill, then make the rule that they receive financial counseling. One mother paid off her daughter’s bill only after she cut up the credit card. It was a lesson learned but also grace given and received. Another family paid off the bill, then set up a payment plan through the bank with no interest.
One of the benefits of family is how we can help each other during the rough times. When we notice how our children are suffering, our support becomes a buffer. Then we teach the next generation how important family is.
Look at the Patterns
If your children have a habit of overspending or they buy impulsively, then you’ll need to set some difficult boundaries. No new phones until the checking account is in the black. No extra purchases, no matter how much of a discount they’re given. No luxury apartment in the trendy neighborhood. No new car until there’s enough to make the payment.
Learning how to handle finances begins in childhood with an allowance for doing chores. But even if you’ve taught your children how to save, tithe, and spend, they may need some help putting those rules to use when they have to juggle more than a piggy bank.
Compulsive spending is sometimes a cry for help, an attempt to comfort the soul for some type of trauma or grief. If you see those patterns erupting, then your help looks more like finding a credible counselor for your child and less about handing out cash.
Consider the Culture
Our world is definitely different now than it was 20 years ago. During college, I could work a couple of part time jobs, keep up my scholarships, and still make the honor roll. Life is much harder now. In my area of the heartland, the water bill has tripled since I bought my home and buying groceries is a constant dance of finding the right coupons.
Many families are seriously considering the multi-generational house and some are making it work well. This decision requires setting firm and healthy boundaries and keeping the lines solid between spaces. Some adult children do need to return home for a time, especially if they are facing eviction through no fault of their own.
Single moms are suddenly thrust into the role of primary wage-earner. They may need to camp out in their old bedroom until life settles and they can find affordable housing. An adult child who graduates from college yet cannot find a job may need to bunk in the basement until his resume move through the system and he can find work.
When the new car turns out to be a lemon, when the roommate stole your child’s money, when identity theft forces your son’s bank account to scream red – it’s time to consider what the culture is doing and provide some help.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/David Sacks
Observe the Golden Rule
None of us is immune to financial struggles. When financial difficulties happen, we appreciate when those who have more money share with those of us who have less. Some people have a gift for generosity and love to offer help. Our children can learn much from laying down their pride and receiving, with the understanding that loans are paid back while gifts are paid forward.
When it comes to the question of helping our adult children with finances, the ultimate question underscores a definitive answer: how do I want to be treated if this happens to me? And how did I feel when someone once helped me?
RJ Thesman recently published her 10th book, No Visible Scars. She writes from the perspective of an author who offers hope through fiction and nonfiction. As a certified writing coach, Thesman shares writing and editing expertise to help her clients reach their publishing dreams. She is a columnist for the Johnson County Gazette, a contributing writer for Crosswalk, and a weekly blogger. She is currently at work on another nonfiction book and plotting the structure for a new novel. You can connect with her at: https://RJThesman.net.