How Much Do You Rely on Your Parents for Money?

April 18, 2010 at 12:42 AM 15 comments

I come from a middle, (possibly lower-middle), income family. As a child my father always told me he would find a way to pay for my college education and sure enough he covered all of my tuition and most of my room and board.

When I was little I wore hand-me-down clothes from a friend of my mom’s, I ate almost every meal in my parent’s kitchen and I vacationed with my family once every five or six years. My parents didn’t have money for big expenditures and I learned at an early age that some things are just to expensive to buy.

When I graduated from college I vowed to make it on my own. I moved into a group house in order to save money on rent. I ate egg salad and tuna for dinner and tried my best to cut down on discretionary spending. When I met friends for dinner I often snacked on crackers or bread before going out so I could buy a smaller, cheaper meal.

I didn’t have much of a choice. If I didn’t want to call my parents for money than I had to live this way. After all, I made just over $30,000 a year and lived in Washington, DC, one of the most expensive cities. To be honest most people wouldn’t be willing to live the way I did. I lived in a place where five people shared a bathroom. A place where the breakers tripped and I was often without heat during bitter cold DC winters.

I know my situation is not unique, but I also know that for every recent graduate saving money there are probably two or three spending more than they can afford. This weekend I read an advanced copy of Hot (broke) Messes, which is written by a thirty-three year old Washington Post personal finance columnist, who spent more than her fair share after college. I was interested to read this book, because the author and I lived in the same city after college and graduated within a year of one another.

Apparently that’s where the similarities end. Rather than living frugally after college, the author ran up credit card debt, was underwater on her car loan and bought a condo during the height of the housing market that she struggled to sell.

What amazed me more than anything about her story was the fact that she came from immigrant parents who paid for a portion of her college education and secured the down payment of her condo. Her mother worked as a cleaner and her father delivered food to hospital patients, yet they managed to provide large chunks of money to her when she needed it.

In exchange for her parent’s generosity she bought clothing she didn’t need, wined and dined with friends and took extravagant vacations after college. With her credit cards maxed, her student loans still in need of repayment and her car underwater she turned back to her parents for money.

Her parents willingly provided it. She mentions that she feels bad about taking their money, but as the book continues she mentions more places shes dined with friends and more ways she’s spent money. Although she feels guilty for depending on her parents, she later justifies her actions by stating that they probably like providing for her. Somehow I doubt her parents are happy that they are paying off her debt, which includes her manicures and facials, but I guess anything is possible. She also admits toward the end of the book that she’s turned to her parents for help with debt on more than one occasion.

I understand turning to your folks for car expenses, if you’re down on your luck, lost your job or struggling with physical or emotional issues, but I cannot imagine turning to your parents for help because you’ve gone out to expensive bars and restaurants, traveled the globe, bought clothes you don’t need and makeup and shampoo that costs a fortune.

It’s just not in my nature to ask others for help and I would feel incredibly guilty if I had to ask my parents for money. It’s not so much that they wouldn’t be willing to help me, it’s more that they have to work a lot harder to earn their money than I do.

I can’t help but think that a writer for the Washington Post has an easier life than a man and woman who cleaned homes and carried trays for a living. I can’t imagine running up debts on wants and desires that I can’t afford and then asking my parents for money.

I’m sure it’s just a difference of upbringing and personality. So what do you think. Do you think it’s alright to run up debts and then depend on your parents to bail you out? How much do you rely on your parents for money?

Entry filed under: book review, thoughts. Tags: .

How a Little Impatience Cost Me $60 It All Boils Down to Responsibility

15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sense  |  April 18, 2010 at 2:29 AM

    I think the responses to this are going to be biased due to your blog audience, but i agree with you–I don't think it is OK to take money from your parents after you are employed and after they have spent money to educate you. I really think it's about personality. Are you willing to do whatever it takes (within reason) so that you know you can depend on yourself in a jam? Or do you take the easy route?

    I felt guilty taking anything from my parents after college was over…even before then. My parents are middle class where we are from, but very lower middle class in the grand scheme of USA.

    Before college started, I tried to cut down on as many costs as possible–applying for scholarships, refusing to apply for a HUGELY overpriced college that I really wanted to go to because I knew they just couldn't afford it if I got in (DUKE), working through college, and refusing their offer to buy me a computer while in college (the computer lab was RIGHT THERE. :)). I did run up credit card debt while in grad school, but that was worth it (it was all airfare to visit my parents across the world!). Once in my adulthood, I asked for a loan as a emergency fund when I went part time at work to take some classes, and they very willingly gave it to me. i keep offering to pay it back, but they won't take it. Three years later, their money is sitting in a savings account, ready whenever they need it.

    I am a better person because I manage my own finances. They are proud of me because I've made it on my own, too–and I can't think of a better way to repay them for all of their sacrifices for me than that.

  • 2. Ruby Leigh  |  April 18, 2010 at 4:02 AM

    hmm… you certainly struck a cord here…

    I take a lot of pride in being able to manage my own finances and provide for myself. I know it's (pride) definitely part of the reason why I would never want to ask my parents for money. While I know some parents are able to be more generous than mine – I still have trouble respecting peers who live their live without actual fiscal consequences.

    I think about this a lot when I consider how I will raise my own one day children… especially if I actually do have the wealth to share. How will I teach my children fiscal responsibility and independence?

  • 3. Megan  |  April 18, 2010 at 6:15 PM

    I definitely don't ask my parents for money. My parents are middle class, and I am the youngest of 4. I'm 29 and graduated college at 20. The year after I graduated, my dad gave me $1000 when I moved to MD on my own. When I bought my condo almost two years ago My dad gave me $5000 and my mom gave me $3000, but they volunteered this money saying they wanted to contribute. I was grateful that they wanted to help, but I could have done it without the help too. I think some of it depends on the financial position of the parents too. On the flip side I have a family friend who moved to the DC area a couple years ago. He is 3-4 years younger than me and I helped him get a job with my company. For the first year his dad (who is a very successful lawyer – his mom is a college professor) paid his rent of about $1000 a month so that he could max out his 401 K contributions. His dad pretty much insisted on doing this. However, he also still has a credit card of his parents that he uses occasionally. He doesn't see a problem with it and his parents can afford it and they like to help him get ahead so that he has more in the future.

  • 4. Sarah  |  April 19, 2010 at 12:47 AM

    My family growing up was on the lower side of middle class. We wore thrift store clothes, ate at home, and my parents drove used cars. When I turned 16, my parents bought a beater car for my sister & I to share (she was getting her permit).

    It was understood that we would have to pay for our own college, and after we graduated from HS, we were on our own. All 4 of us made it just fine 🙂

    I would be so embarrassed to ask my parents for help. I would have to be 2 steps away from being homeless. I know they would help if I truly needed it, but there is no way they would help pay off frivolous debts!

  • 5. Cindy Brick  |  April 19, 2010 at 5:08 AM

    My folks were small farmers. (Does that answer your question right away?) I also wore a lot of hand-me-downs, but my mom sewed professionally, and could make about anything my little heart desired. (And did) We ate better than our town relatives, but that was because we raised our own vegetables (canned them, too), beef and pork.
    I knew we were not well off, but mostly I was proud that we managed so well with less money. My dad only went through 8th grade, and made it clear my brother and I should go to college. I worked all through high school at a hardware store to help with this (did some babysitting, too) — the deal was 50% in the bank for college, 10% to God and the rest I could use for presents and whatever.
    I applied for any kind of financial aid possible, and worked part-time all through college, as well. In grad school, I lived in an attic, cleaned the family home and took care of their daughter on occasion, for 2 meals a day and my room. (And if I came home at noon to walk the family dog, I got lunch, too.) I also had a job as class assistant.
    So…did I work to get through school? Sure, but I know my parents were paying money, too. They refused to let me pay — but I guess I made up for that a little by helping pay off Husband's student loans! 🙂
    My folks were very big on standing on your own two feet, and if you had to ask for help, repaying that as soon as possible. We borrowed money from them a few times to buy plane tickets and a motorcycle, but repaid it as quickly as we could. My brother feels just as strongly as this as I do — and of course, if you get a bargain in a home, car, whatever, you call the others and brag about it!

  • 6. Keith Morris  |  April 19, 2010 at 12:19 PM

    I'm ahead of my parents financially, so I don't ask them for money. But AARP released a study last year stating that 68% of their members have adult aged children that still depend on them for financial support. It's probably the main reason LifeTuner was born!

  • 7. me in millions  |  April 19, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    I'm where I am today because of my parents and their orientations about money. It's something I write about in the blog a lot. However, I don't like going to them to ask for money (even though it's not to repay debt), because I like feeling independent. I'm grateful and lucky that my parents paid for college and I left with no debt. I'm interested to read this book now…

  • 8. nklsmom  |  April 19, 2010 at 5:08 PM

    I'm gonna shock the system here.. I DO ask my dads for money. I have 2 – one biological who is here in PA and one in CA who adopted me when he married my mom. My bio dad pays for all sports that DS wants to play and any equipment that goes with it. I don't feel even remotely guilty. He and his wife make an amazing living and want to provide for their only grandchild. I could never afford the number of sporting teams/clubs that my son wants to try. He doesn't EVER pay for anything for me. I have asked him for ONE loan in the last ten years when I lost my job and paid it back when I got my tax return.
    My father in CA has helped when I've had major car issues and refuses to take the money back. He feels that it is his job to help his kids, period. No matter what I need I know he would send it in a heartbeat. He has always provided well for myself and my brother in a slightly higher than middle class way. He never bought me a car but was allowed to drive his without paying for insurance. When I went to college, he paid. I don't feel that I'm a bad person in any way for relying on them when I have. They both feel that DS should have all they can give (within reason obviously) when I can't afford to do it.

  • 9. Kosmo @ The Casual Observer  |  April 19, 2010 at 7:01 PM

    My parents bought me a dorm fridge (~$100) as a graduation present, let me stay at home during breaks and summers. That was basically the entirety of the financial support I received.

    However, they were small farmers without much money. Also, I was the youngest of 8 kids and the only one to attend college. So even if they could have afforded to pick up some of the cost, it wouldn't have been equitable.

    Now, at 34, I make more money than my parents ever did. I'm not rich, but I never worry about being able to pay the electric bill, either. I enjoy being in the middle class.

  • 10. Stella  |  April 19, 2010 at 9:20 PM

    Haven't relied on my parents for money in YEARS. They did pay for my college education (Thanks!) and my Dad loaned me $5k so I could fix up my condo (repaid in full), but other than that it's all on me.

    How in the world does someone so irresponsible and frivolous become a personal finance writer for the Washington Post?

  • 11. traineeinvestor  |  April 20, 2010 at 4:36 AM

    The Millionaire Next Door has some interesting sections on economic outpatient care which should be mandatory reading for all parents contemplating supporting adult children.

    I was lucky in that my parents paid for my university education (at a low cost institution) for which I am grateful. They also paid part of our wedding costs – which I tried to refuse but ended up taking because they had already given the same amount to my siblings when they got married and they were very insistent on treating all their children equally.

    These days we argue over bills for meals out etc – each of us trying to pay for the others.

    While I know my parents (and my siblings for that matter) would help out should an urgent need ever arise, in any other circumstances I would be mortified at the thought of taking their money.

  • 12. Anonymous  |  April 22, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    I think some people miss the point when they say their parents help out with sports, etc. The problem is there are many "adults" out there with jobs and parents who aren't rich who ask their parents for money month after month because they want to live like people who make $100k when they only make $60k. I personally have a few acquaintances like this and it is truly disgusting, especially when the parents do seem to be struggling.

  • 13. Anonymous  |  May 2, 2010 at 6:42 PM

    I came from a middle class home and while they were frugal, my parents invested in a private (Catholic) education for my sister and myself. We always went on at least one vacation per year. Beginning in high school, I was expected to purchase my own clothes and other necessities. My sister and I shared an old Plymouth Fury car that we bought ourselves. It was an expectation that we would graduate from college, but we were expected to contribute to our education.

    I paid for about 1/2 of my undergraduate education, but was able to do so with summer earnings… graduated debt free! I went on to teach on an Indian Reservation (very low cost housing!) for two years.

    I paid for my graduate degree, and have never asked (or expected) any help from my parents in the 26 years since I have graduated from college.

  • 14. Anonymous  |  June 14, 2010 at 6:56 PM

    I have never asked for help with money the whole time that I have been out on my own. Yes, this meant that I ate a lot of cup of noodles, but I always put money away for if I ever needed it. My mom ended up borrowing $800 from me to help with her house payments. I still don't expect her to pay me back.

    My husband on the other hand has asked and has no problem asking for help from his parents. This irks me to no end. They paid for his college, his trip to France, his trip around the USA, you name it. I think I won the respect of his dad by telling him that I would try and keep his son's eyes only as big as his own wallet. Since then my darling hubby has toned it down a bit. We still rely on his mom to let us use her laundry machines every week since we had a baby (those babies go through a lot of clothes!). His mom and grandma also buy a bulk of the clothes for the baby, but we never ask for them to, I think they are just excited to have a little girl around. My husband was an only child, and this is their only grandkid.

  • 15. Anonymous  |  November 26, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    First off, if you grew up having to buy clothes at thrift stores, that means your family had a working class income, not lower middle class income. Like you, I grew up the same way, and though I considered myself lower middle class at the time (and lived in a middle class neighborhood and home), we didn't belong there. Nobody else in the neighborhood shopped at thrift stores. No lower middle class person has to shop at thrift stores. They may choose to, but they certainly don't have to. I'm smart enough that if I'd been able to afford to continue my eduction after I got my state college degree, I could easily have worked my way into the upper middle class (I was always on the Dean's List, and scored in the top 1 percentile in the nation on the verbal portion of the SAT), and people always assume that I am upper middle class due to my vocabulary and sensibilities. It's not a comfortable existence.


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