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When You Should Financially Cut Off Your Child

When to cut off your child financially

While I’m just a father of a three-year old boy (and one more on the way 🙂 ), I can tell you that I’m working on a plan to set up my children with all the necessary tools for them to succeed. This means emotionally, financially, and in any other aspect I can. This is the time I can teach them what works and what doesn’t. Where they can spend their time and get ahead. My main goal is to make sure they are prepared for when they leave for college and strike it out on their own. I don’t want any of them to be dependent on me after that point. They will be adults and should care for themselves. Hell, they should actually start taking care of me at that point!

But, what happens when your adult child is too dependent on you? How do you handle situations when they need more money from you and can’t seem to get ahead on their own? Is it our responsibility as parents to prop up our adult children when they can’t make it? In my mind, it’s a resounding “NO!” If I give you the tools, it becomes your responsibility to use them. You can only lead a horse to water, right? Anyway, I asked another blogger and writer to put together some tips about how you should handle this situation and when to cut off your children from your finances. It’s a good story, so I will let her take it from here.

This is a guest post from another blogger and writer, Jaime. Enjoy!

Debbie and Sam were your normal All-American baby boomers. They had worked hard throughout their lifetimes, and saved enough for a modest and debt-free retirement. Most of their children were independent except for one, their adult daughter June. I met Debbie and Sam when I was a child. They were my neighbors and my parents were very close to them.

They were a mostly drama-free couple but they did have one recurring problem: their daughter, June and her financial difficulties. Whenever June would run out of money and couldn’t make her bills, she would frequently call her folks and ask for money.

While such an occurrence might be expected for a college student in their 20’s, June was in her 40’s and Debbie and Sam were in their 70’s. June always managed to find a reason, one emergency or another, to request more money. There was the time she couldn’t make her mortgage, another time she couldn’t pay for a routine vet visit. They even went as far as buying June and her husband a house from their retirement savings. Each emergency June had gradually eroded their retirement savings until Sam passed away and Debbie ended up destitute, with only social security to rely on in her old age.

They just couldn’t say no to her. I met June on many occasions as she would visit her parents several times each year. She had an affable personality, but was horrible at managing money. Even though she and her husband both had jobs neither one of them could control their finances and, like young children, looked to their parents as their financial backup plan.

Many parents have a soft spot for their children but when do you know when it’s time to cut your adult child financially? It’s never too late to teach adult children the lessons they should have learned when they were younger. They may argue with you as adults, be stubborn or even pull a silent treatment on you, but in the long-run it’s in their financial self-interest for their parents to cut them off. When should you cut off your adult child?

No Extenuating Circumstances

Unless there’s been an accident where they are left incapacitated there’s always something they can do. If your adult child still can’t find a job in their field, when the economic indicators are good, then they should seriously consider taking any job they can get

During the recession, I used to work at a call center where I met a co-worker named Tamara. She possessed excellent qualifications, including a degree in engineering but due to a lack of demand for engineers, she found herself unable to find a position in her chosen field. Instead of giving up entirely and running to her parents for assistance, she began working at the call center until her field opened up. Sometimes your adult child will have to relocate.

I,myself, relocated from Phoenix to Omaha because opportunities were extremely limited during the recession in Phoenix and I needed to start over financially. I moved to Omaha without knowing a soul and, in retrospect, moving paid off.

You’ve Helped Them and They Can’t Get Ahead

When adult children are helped repeatedly, they tend to develop behaviors cognitive psychologists would refer to collectively as “learned helplessness.” The bank of mom and dad catch them when they fall financially, parents unintentionally teach their kids that their adult children are too weak to stand on their own.; that their child can’t handle the rigors of daily life or solve even the simplest problems without adult supervision. This behavior is harmful, as it only serves to reinforce a relationship of co-dependence.

People discover creative and dynamic solutions when they realize there is no one else to catch them. I have friends whose parents didn’t have the means to help them, not even pay a portion of their college. They struggled initially, but eventually found independent, creative means to put themselves through school.

A lot of parents might object to this advice, asserting that they want their children to have the things they didn’t have, to avoid the pains of struggle. While I understand their objections, I don’t think struggling is so bad. Struggle makes people stronger. It can teach them how to think fast, how to be innovative, how to problem solve, etc. Most importantly, struggle teaches perseverance.

It’s Obvious They’re Lazy

I know of one couple whose adult child chose a life dependent on public assistance because her parents had long told her she was going to receive a sizable inheritance when they passed on. She has no good reason to be on welfare and her own parents intimated as much. The inheritance is tied to a trust fund and stipulates that their daughter will receive a certain amount of money each year.

There will be no lump sum inheritance for the daughter. For a grown woman the promise of an inheritance could be the worst thing that will happen to her. In all likelihood, she will just waste the doled out amount she’ll receive each year because she never learned to be a self-feeder.

Now that we’ve explored the reasons why adult children should be cut off, here’s how you can help them turn it around:

Set Boundaries and Stick to Them

It’s never too late for an adult to learn how to manage their money. The best time for them to start is right now. Set boundaries and stick to them. Your adult child may think it’s unfair but it is in their financial best interest to tell them that the bank of mom and dad is closed – that your money is reserved for your own retirement.

Your adult children still have decades ahead of them to learn the value of labor and how to manage their money. If they balk at the new boundaries that you’re establishing, simply tell them, “I believe that you’re able to stand on your own two feet. If other people can make it then why not you?”

Brainstorm and Plan Together

I spoke with a couple who were still financing their adult child even though he possessed many certifications in addition to professional degrees. He had grown accustomed to quitting jobs over trivialities and as a result persistently lacked stable employment. I told them that all jobs, including the most highly sought after careers, have moments of frustration and discouragement, but most people learn to cope with them in a productive way, instead of giving up entirely. I suggested that they sit down with their adult child and brainstorm together to determine what he liked about those jobs and what he didn’t like about them, then come up with a detailed plan together on how to reach independence, including prospective schedules by which the goals must be completed, (e.g. In 2 months the adult child must find a full-time job, in 6 months he must move out).


About the author – Jaime’s a professional writer and blogger who wants to inspire and empower people through the written word. She loves traveling, learning new languages, adventure, and trying out new things. She’s lived in Russia, Costa Rica, and now lives in the U.S. Jaime is also an aspiring artist and hopes to share her art with the world one day. Her home right now is Nebraska where she’s enjoying the heartland. You can find out more about Jamie on her website.

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About the Author Grayson Bell

I'm a business owner, blogger, father, and husband. I used credit cards too much and found myself in over $75,000 in debt ($50,000 in just credit cards). I paid it off, started this blog, and my financial life has changed. I now talk about fighting debt and growing wealth here. I run a WordPress maintenance and support company, along with another blog, Eyes on the Dollar, which is another great personal finance blog.

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Leave a Comment:

Emily @ JohnJaneDoe says February 5

My brother still depends on my parents for a lot of help…and they give it, because he has 2 kids. I worry what will happen to him when they are no longer there to help him, because my other brother and I will not be a means of support for him. We can’t afford it if we are going to meet our own financial security needs. Brother dear has had almost 40 years of parental financial support and plenty of opportunities.

I do understand why my parents do it, though. As much as they want to write off my brother (and they do express a lot of frustration), they don’t want to write off 2 of their 3 grandchildren. They want all of the grandkids to have the same opportunities their kids have, and since one of the kids won’t provide they’ve tried to do so.

Do my other brother and I resent the situation? Yeah, but we understand it. Brother Dear is a sweet guy, but foolish, careless, and never plans for any contingencies. For instance, when I told him I couldn’t afford tickets for a Jimmy Buffett concert, he offered to buy me a ticket. I thanked him and told him to save the money for a rainy day instead, knowing he regularly has to ask our folks to cover even minor car repairs and similar things. He immediately responded “or a t-shirt at the show.”

    Jaime says February 5

    I worry about people like your brother especially because he has kids, since they might take after him and start learning that going to their dad for help is the answer all the time or they might rely on credit cards.

    Of course they might learn that if dad always needs help then they will need to be independent right from the get-go and realize it’s better for them if they learn to take care of their own financial priorities.

    My heart goes out to your family and I hope eventually your family will figure it out together. People figure it out when they have to. The time will come when he’ll have to fly on his own.

Abigail @ipickuppennies says February 5

My brother-in-law was a constant drain on my in-laws. Well, he may still be for all I know. But we try not to ask about his life because it just infuriates us. There’s no gratification too instant, no fix too quick for him. He’s a very talented thief.

And when they were barely making ends meet, they’d sometimes send him $100 or so to help him out. To be fair, they let my husband live with them long after high school too. But he has actual medical conditions that were inhibiting his ability to work (along with a few other factors, one of which was his brother’s fault). His brother, on the other hand, rarely even looked for a job.

Despite all this and his obvious off-again, on-again drug use — mainly on-again — they refuse to give up on him. Especially now that he has a kid (god help that boy). Okay, I’m going to stop before I rant any more.

The point is, they’re always there to catch him, and when not them, his friends are there. So there’s no reason for him to learn to be a real adult.

    Jaime says February 5

    Oh my yes, Tim’s situation is entirely different from his brother and the people I talked about. I often find that parents kindness are sometimes “enabling” adult children like Tim’s brother. I’m surprised that his brother’s friends aren’t getting tired of helping him out! There’s usually a rock bottom but I’m not sure what it will be for his brother.

Gary @ Super Saving Tips says February 5

I know firsthand how difficult it is to say no to helping your adult child financially (and it is very, very difficult). I offer other kinds of help to my daughter, but unfortunately, she isn’t interested. If you have younger children, teach them all you can about responsibility and yes, even a little bit of struggle. But when they reach adulthood, sometimes they just have to learn for themselves.

    Jaime says February 5

    I don’t have children if I do, I will teach them when they’re very young about money and the value of work. I’ve seen what it does to people that don’t learn it when they’re young. I think it’s great you offer to help your daughter in another way, if she isn’t interested then that’s on her, and perhaps later on she might change her mind. You never know.

Natalie @ Financegirl says February 8

I believe that parents should pay for school (if they can), but let their kids figure the rest out for themselves. I think “starting from zero” is a good thing – it makes you work hard and understand how life works. I think it’s made exponentially harder if you have to start in the negatives (i.e. you come out of school with massive student loan debt).

    Jaime says February 9

    That’s how it is in my family. I’m not against people helping their children during their university years. In my family we have that rule, once you graduate then you’re on your own.

Pamela says February 9

I totally agree that parents close to retirement should not dip into their savings or 401K to bail out adult children. You soft heart toward your children can be financially disastrous, unless you are wealthy. I have family members caught in that trap. Now one is retired and broke and the other is in debt. Listen to Grayson before it is too late!

    Jaime says February 11

    Well actually it was a guest post by me with an intro by Grayson. =)

    But yes don’t go broke in retirement for adult children that are able to work.

Tracie Shroyer says February 12

While these are all good tips for getting adult kids on their own two feet, the reality is, this has to start much, much earlier. Kids as young as three can start to learn about saving money. By the time they’re 7 or so, they can start managing small budgets, like school lunch.

We have three teens who have managed all of their own spending since they were 9 years old. Yes, we do give them a significant allowance for the work they are expected to do around the house, but we look at it as money we would have spent on them anyway. This way, they get to see how expensive things are and to learn about making choices about their budget early in life.

    Grayson Bell says February 12

    You make an excellent point Tracie. Yes, starting your kids off right with money management is essential and will really make all these points moot if all goes well. I think your system is a good one.

    Having said that, my parents taught me about saving and earning money when I was young, but I still got myself into a lot of credit card debt. That was just a stupid move on my part, but I’m not financially dependent on my parents, so that’s a big difference.

    Jaime says February 14

    Hi Tracie, you make a good point, however the point of the post was when to cut off adult children. It was a post about addressing the problem if you had it.

    I agree with you that it’s best to start children while they’re young, however teaching kids about money when they’re young wasn’t always taught in our society. It’s something that is rather recent.

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