What Do You Think: Unequal Financial Handouts From Parents

March 18, 2013 at 8:00 PM 23 comments

My fingers are hovering above the keyboard. I write a sentence then delete it. Type a paragraph and then make it disappear. I have thoughts swirling in my head but can’t seem to line them up in an orderly fashion.

I’m struggling with a philosophical question that has plagued me for well over a decade. Is it wise for parents to provide financial assistance to their adult children and if so is it okay for them to do so in an unequal fashion? Now I’m not talking about health issues that would result in one child needing more money for therapy or daily living. I’m talking about a family with two children who have similar capabilities and intelligence.

One child is a ‘go-getter.’ He worked hard in school and graduated with two degrees. Before graduating he was offered a job at a company he worked for in college. His skills and knowledge from schoolwork and internships led to a high starting salary. As the years progressed his wages also rose. He took greater risks in his career by becoming an employee of smaller companies where he could learn aspects of running a business. He proved himself in the industry and ultimately formed his own company.

The other child did not take advantage of his opportunities. He failed out of college twice and lied to his family about the failure for over three years. Without a degree he started working at a much lower salary then his brother.

The good news is that the past is the past. It has been nearly ten years since the second child failed out of school. He has been working in the industry for quite some time now and earns close to six figures and well over $200,000 as a family.

The ‘go getter’ brother earns a solid income, but he is also wise with his money. He began investing in his 401(k) a year out of college, he drives old cars, he doesn’t spend money recklessly and he saves for both short and long term goals. As a result he has been able to buy a primary house and a beach home. He paid for both houses with money that he and his spouse earned from their day jobs. (I should note that he purchased these homes at quite a young age and was making less per year than the second sibling currently earns.) He still has mortgages on both properties.

The second brother could not afford a beach house at this point in time, but his parents have offered to buy him one. The house would be his free and clear, but the parents would still make all decisions regarding the home and the contents that reside within it. In other words the brother will not have to pay to fix a broken refrigerator, figure out what type of couch to buy or determine when mattresses get replaced, but it will be paid in full and he would not pay a mortgage, property tax or homeowners insurance in order to use it.

So my question is this: Do you think the parents should give the house free and clear to the second brother?

I have actually changed my thoughts on this subject more times then I can count. On one hand I realize that the go getter’s life will not change on account of his brother receiving a house. He paid the mortgage last month and and will continue paying it next month. His brother’s windfall will bear no financial impact upon him.

However I wonder if a sense of resentment will not build over time for all that his sibling has been given. After all, imagine that you are paying a monthly mortgage payment, homeowners insurance, maintenance fees, property tax, etc, while your brother gets to enjoy his home free and clear. Without a $3000 mortgage payment think of all the money your sibling can save towards other things or spend how he chooses.

On the other hand you earned all that you own. There is a deep sense of pride in choosing which house you want to live in, picking out the furniture and yes even paying the mortgage. Certainly there is a greater sense of accomplishment. After all, no one handed you the keys to your home, you ran the numbers, arranged financing and managed to pay the bills and even reduce the mortgage term down to ten years.

So what do you think? Do you think it’s okay for parents to provide more financially for one sibling than they do for another? In this scenario do you think you would feel resentment towards your brother, ambivalence or perhaps pity for a sibling who willingly takes his parent’s handouts? Keep in mind that the second child is not in dire need of money. In fact he is now earning more than the first child was when he bought his first two homes.

Initially I was a bit turned off by the inequality of this idea, but as time passes I no longer have such strong feelings about it. I do not believe I would do the same as these parents, but my heart is warming to their reasons for doing it. If you have thoughts on the subject please leave a comment! I will write more on the subject but I don’t want to sway anyone’s thoughts more than I already have.

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23 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Leslie Beslie  |  March 19, 2013 at 9:17 AM

    I sort-of had this type of situation but with a step-brother. My mother and step-father would regularly bail my step-brother out of jail, pay for his lawyer, let them live with him, help him out financially while trying to find a job, etc. All the while I was paying for college myself because they didn’t approve of my leaving for college.

    For me, I was pissed at the time but now am glad that I worked for everything I have. But it was hard.

    In general, I don’t think hand-outs help anyone in the long-run. In your situation above, the other son might feel jealous or hurt. The son who receives the hand-out won’t be learning how to handle money. The parents will probably continue giving that son “hand-outs” afterward anyway. It’s not solving the problem.

    • 2. One Frugal Girl  |  March 19, 2013 at 9:46 PM

      Oh I so agree! Handouts don’t help, because when someone is constantly handing you money you have absolutely no reason to learn how to handle it yourself!

  • 3. Jenny  |  March 19, 2013 at 9:28 AM

    The advice columnist, “Dear Prudence” just addressed a similar issue in her online chat yesterday. In this case, the brother who was treated unequally was very bitter. You can find it at the following link. Look for “Spoiled” and “Re: For Spoiled.”

  • 4. Newlyweds on a Budget  |  March 19, 2013 at 2:08 PM

    I have strong feelings about this since I am the go-getter in my family and i have a younger brother who is still living at home. I often feel like I was punished for being successful. I finished college in four years, got a job, and worked my butt off to get out of the house. My parents charged me rent when I lived at home. My brother on the other hand is STILL in college at 23 and he is living at home rent-free. It pisses me off sometimes. So because I made good financial decisions and was responsible, my brother gets all the financial help? That whole “pride for doing it on my own” things is pure bs that people tell themselves. Rich kids take money from their parents all the time, and the rest of us are just jealous. I also can see why my parents do it, and I see why the parents in this instance are doing it, but I wouldn’t blame the other brother for being really pissed off. I get that life isn’t fair, but your parents aren’t supposed to show favoritsm. And this is a whole big HOUSE we’re talking about. I would be really pissed

    • 5. One Frugal Girl  |  March 19, 2013 at 10:12 PM

      I LOVE this comment! This is exactly how I felt when I first heard about this plan. I do believe the determined, successful child is being penalized by his parents, while the less responsible brother is rewarded. I also think you hit the nail on the head with your comment about favoritism.

  • 6. Kris  |  March 19, 2013 at 3:48 PM

    I don’t understand why they would want to buy him a beach house in the first place. I understand a primary residence, but it seems odd that this scenario is over a piece of property that, for all intensive purposes, is an unnecessary luxury that even 1%-ers don’t often have for themselves. If money was that abundant that they were able to afford unnecessary luxuries for their children, then my confusion goes even further because I would assume that both children would be gifted with an extraordinarily unnecessary luxury.

    Does this make sense? This scenario isn’t even on par with paying for college vs. not paying for college, living rent-free vs not paying rent…this is another echelon that I (and I have a lot of experience working with the very wealthy) don’t understand why is not equal. I’ve known a vast number of people who purchase primary residences for their extremely lucky children, and who even pay for cars, groceries, etc. But a beach house? That’s just weird to me. Am I misunderstanding this scenario?

    • 7. One Frugal Girl  |  March 19, 2013 at 9:45 PM

      You do understand the story correctly. The parents also paid for half of the son’s primary home. So this is the second gift, but it is indeed much larger and much more of a luxury than the first one.

  • 8. Rose  |  March 19, 2013 at 8:53 PM

    I would be interested in hearing from someone who was in the role of the second brother (and why they think the parent’s decision is okay).

    I have to question why the parents believe that it’s okay to give more money/housing/support to one healthy sibling than another, especially when the second brother is not homeless or medically incapable. I think that the parents run the risk of outraging the first more independent sibling, who has already proven that they do not need the parents financial support. The parents might think that they are leveling the playing field,but unless their is clear discussion, it appears that the parents are playing favorites. The first brother does not need the money, but I’m certain that he would like to know that he has the parent’s emotional support.

    And yes I have seen a similar scenario play out in my family and my mother has no idea why I find this so upsetting.

    • 9. One Frugal Girl  |  March 19, 2013 at 10:13 PM

      Interesting point. I would also love to hear the perspective of the sibling taking the handouts. I know the ins and outs of the thoughts from the go-getter, but I have never heard the ‘taker’s’ comments on the issue. I too would love to know his thoughts!

  • 10. Lauren  |  March 19, 2013 at 9:35 PM

    I don’t understand why the parents would want to buy the second child a beach house. It isn’t a need, and it would be a lot cheaper to just rent a house several times a year for vacations. Do the parents think that because one child has a beach house that the other child also should have one too?

    I personally would feel really weird accepting such a large gift from my parents (unless they just hit the lotto or something!). My parents have always treated my sister and me quite equally so I have no personal experience with these types of situations. I have friends that have siblings that are seen as less successful than the others, and, while it isn’t that they want their parents to give them money and gifts, they do feel some resentment that the less successful sibling seems to get so much more than they do because of their personal hard work or success.

    • 11. One Frugal Girl  |  March 19, 2013 at 10:16 PM

      I also have a hard time understanding this scenario as my parents have always treated my brother and I equally. Of course they do not have money like this family to throw around. I believe the parents are trying to ‘level the playing field’ by saying your brother has a beach house so you should too.

  • 12. Ellen K.  |  March 20, 2013 at 8:54 AM

    I’m glad that others have said what I immediately thought: A beach house is so, SO far from being anything like help with college, or a downpayment toward a first house, money for a start-up business, or anything that helps establish an adult child’s life or career. It is a luxury that the second brother did not earn. (As a landlocked Midwesterner, I see it as one of the ultimate luxuries!) The parents are playing favorites.

    My parents have always treated me and my 2 brothers very equally. They are pretty well off (much more so than when we were growing up) and extremely generous. We get about $5000 per year from them. These are gifts, not regular assistance (although at this level the lines might begin to blur). My brothers’ homes are much more expensive than mine, and their family incomes are a bit higher, but we’ve all worked hard and haven’t had any setbacks — everyone graduating from college on time, settling down, no one making bad choices or getting into debt, etc.

    If one brother has a new baby and my parents give them some money for expenses, nursery furniture, 529, whatever, similar checks will be sent to my other brother and me. They also gave each of my brothers almost as much for their weddings as they paid for mine. But treating siblings equally does not mean leveling the playing field.

    One of my SILs is getting implants next week courtesy of my brother’s large holiday bonus as a corporate pilot. The beach house equivalent would be my parents saying, “Oh, honey, would you like implants too? Here’s $8000.” Weird, wrong, and absurd.

  • 13. Rose  |  March 20, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    I saw a similar topic discussed on Slate.com’s Dear Prudence section on Wednesday. Prudence’s advice boils down to be happy that you are independent.

  • […] received quite a few comments and emails after writing my last post What Do You Think: Unequal Financial Handouts From Parents. Many readers felt that the situation was unfair, that the younger, less driven sibling should not […]

  • […] want to thank all of the readers who left comments on last week’s posts: What Do You Think: Unequal Financial Handouts From Parents and Unequal Financial:Handouts Would You Turn Down a Gift From Your Parents? I appreciate the […]

  • 16. successfulGirl  |  August 14, 2014 at 1:17 PM

    I’m not sure if the story about the house in the beach was hypothetical, but in my case it’s a reality.

    I’m the old sister, and the responsible one, making it on my own since I graduated from college.

    My brother, on the other hand, isn’t. He lives on his own, but my parents pay for his rent. My parents also pay for his expenses and food. I’m not sure if he is irresponsible, but he is clearly selfish. It took him forever to graduate from college. He spends all the money of my parents, and even though he has a job now, he still gets paid for rent and expenses, when he could clearly pay for himself. Furthermore, my parents are now about to buy the house where he is living!

    It really pisses me off, because I have to work much, much harder to have the same lifestyle he has. His job pays much less than mine, but he can still live on his own, travel, and save much more than I do, because he doesn’t have to worry about his finances.

    All my parents offered to me was a down payment of $10K on a house, which is ridiculous, considering that he gets to live for free.

    My parents never really loved me, at least not as much as they love my brother, and what as kids used to be him getting more candy, has now turned into him getting dozens of dollars on financial aid. And I can see this going even further, because we are still in our 20s. I can see him getting houses (he is about to get one), more money, etc. On a side note, my parents abused me physically since I was around 6 years old, not sure if that’s relevant.

    I used to be proud of my achievements, but now I think to myself “was that even worth it? What have I gained besides having to struggle so hard to get what my brother can get with 1/10th the effort?”.

    Any suggestions on how to handle this?

    • 17. One Frugal Girl  |  August 27, 2014 at 3:52 PM

      I’m sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your comment. This situation was not hypothetical. My brother-in-law has received half the money for a primary home and then handed over a beach house for his use free and clear of a mortgage.

      Like you, my husband is the hard working, responsible one and like you he continually watches his brother receive gifts from his parents. My brother-in-law receives big items like homes, but also many smaller ones as well like groceries, items for their child, etc. The inequality in these situations does not seem to end. It is one of those things that will continue in perpetuity.

      You must realize that you cannot change this situation and as hard as it may be to bear you must accept that your parents will spend their money any way they please. You should be proud of your success. I myself believe that pride is often underrated. Be proud of all that you have accomplished and be thankful that you do not need someone else’s hand in life to help you get through the day.

      I know that is easier said then done and there have definitely been times that I have allowed anger over the situation to swell within me, but the truth is that my husband and I are capable of living without the hand outs of his parents and it sounds like you are fully capable of living your life to the fullest as well.

      You will be stronger as a result of having to do it yourself. At the end of the day you do not want to be your brother. You do not want to be a capable 20 year old asking mommy and daddy to pay for your rent and food. When the situation gets you down remember that money isn’t everything.

  • 18. ConcernedParent  |  August 28, 2014 at 3:45 PM

    We very much love and have been trying hard to treat both our now adult children equally. We paid for their education, though they paid for their living away from home. They love and trust each other, and this is very important for us.

    Our daughter worked hard in school, got a university diploma and has been working tirelessly, even now, while raising her three teen/pre-teen children. They have their own house with a large mortgage, but they live comfortably as both she and her husband have good income, and need no financial support.

    Our son, several years younger, had a couple of false starts at college but eventually got a minor degree, while engaging in a more liberal and financially less responsible lifestyle, accumulating a sizable debt. We cleared most of his debt with a “loan” at one point, most of which was left unpaid. At the time we made it clear that it will be considered in the distribution of our estate whenever… Many years later, after getting married and having one child, he lost his job (not his fault…), and had a hard time finally finding one, which is still just an unpaid “Internship”, hoping it leads to a reasonably paying full time position. Now their second child is coming, and they still live in a rented apartment, in an area not preferred for raising children. Their savings are not enough for the down payment on a reasonable house. We live frugally, but would be willing to help him out from our limited retirement savings. However, it would be difficult to justify giving an equal amount to our daughter now, as our savings were meant for our old age, so we should have no need to rely on our children’s help. In a way, we would like to equalize the chances of our grandchildren.

    So, what to do, and how to do it? We would love to hear from you, the contributors of this blog “on the other side of the coin”.

    • 19. successfulGirl  |  November 17, 2014 at 5:47 PM

      My advice to you is to tell your daughter about this, and offer her a gift.

      Being successful is, unfortunately, a punishment in some cases. I worked extremely hard since I graduated, and had to earn everything I have. My brother is still living rent-free, utilities-free and even food-free, even though he is working now, and has been working for a long time now.

      My parents are clearly helping him save, while I had to struggle –and still have to do it– to save.

      In the case of my parents, it’s clear that they love him more, as I explained before, so I guess it’s self-explanatory why they don’t want to help me. But if you love your daughter as much as you love your son, you should at least offer her an equal amount. Explain the situation to her, tell her that you don’t want to be unfair, and offer her the money as a gift, or offer her something of an equal value for her children (such as a trip, big gifts, etc).

      That’s what I suggest you to do. In my case, this situation of my parents favoring my brother and keeping it in silence has made me angry with him, and our relationship is deteriorating, as I also feel he is selfish for letting my parents pay for everything even though he has more than enough money to do it. I feel they are taking advantage of me, and you don’t want your daughter to feel that way.

      Hope it helps 🙂

  • 20. One Frugal Girl  |  November 19, 2014 at 3:38 PM

    I believe you hit the nail on the head with this statement “keeping it in silence has made me angry with him, and our relationship is deteriorating.” In my experience it is the feeling that everyone is doing something behind your back that is almost more hurtful than having them say “hey I gave your brother more.” And even if your parents tell you upfront the silence between siblings usually continues as the more successful sibling knows there isn’t much they can say to the one who continues to suckle. Thank you for your comment.

  • 21. Angrrry  |  October 19, 2015 at 7:28 PM

    We all know that the world is not fair, but we expect our parents to be. When they aren’t it’s not because of some cosmic fluke, it’s because they chose, with their eyes wide open, to be unfair. That cuts right to the bone.

    My entire life has been one of being given less so my brother could have more. He was a miserable, howling child who measured his life by having more that what someone else got. If someone he knew got something new, he was a screaming monster until he had something that was even better. To shut him up, to appease his insatiable appetite to have more, my mother used me as the measuring stick. See, we will give you more than we have given your sister, aren’t you happy now? Don’t you feel how much we love you? We are wiling to cheat her to please you. I was the sacrificial child.

    I know this sounds dramatic, but it starts small and grows over a lifetime. A typical example was mom would give each of us $1 to go shopping., I would keep my dollar, brother would buy a toy. Later he would howl that it was not fair that I had a dollar and he didn’t. In my mind there was only one correct response: to drop his drawers and whip his greedy backside OR take him to return his toy and get his dollar back. But what my mother did was give him another dollar and say, there, now you’re equal, you both have a dollar. She glossed over the fact that he now has twice as much as me. Nothing equal about it. My brother’s greed was abuse, pure and simple. Her job was to protect me from it, to keep me safe and she never did. He was a predator, still is, with her helping him every step of the way. My brother and I do not speak. Not for years. My mother set that up, she built that wall of resentment with her own two hands.

    I feel parents should be able to help their kids with resources, with raw materials, and do so in equal measure. If you cannot afford to give equally to ALL your children, then don’t give to any at all. To me the level playing field is giving all kids an equal chance upfront, everyone gets an education, let’s say. What they do with it after that, is up to them. Or give everyone the same amount of cash and how they invest it, or spend it, is up to them. But to run in later to ‘make things even’ is a direct punishment to those who make good choices and a reward to those who maybe squander, linger and waste.

    In my opinion, the only way the parents can deal with this beach house issue. if they feel they must make the 2nd child equal with the other, is to allow him the USE of the second home, but not ownership. Upon death of both parents, when the estate is being divided, the beach house is to be sold and the proceeds split, taking into account that the second child had many years of free use and the other child should be compensated accordingly and then the remainder split. I think that makes it an easier pill to swallow. That one day there will be a balancing of the books and recognition that one was given the temporary use of more family resources, but not forever.

    Financial favoritism is like feeding one baby bird in a nest while starving the other. Sure, the other eventually goes off on its own and learns to fly and survive. But the question is, why would that bird every return to a nest that was willing to crowd it out to give more to the other bird? Parents need to realize that this alienates their children, breeds resentment and destroys relationships. I am shocked at how many parents are stupid to this truth.

  • 22. Randi G.  |  May 14, 2017 at 2:13 AM

    I have been the sibling that always got screwed. My brother lived at home rent free until he was 35; I left home when I was 17. I bought a house at 29 with no help. My husband and I have no children; my brother and his wife have 2. My parents have set up college funds for them and put significant money away for them. They have helped furnish my brother’s house and helped him financially- not including supporting him for 35 years.

    I on the other hand get nothing. Not even a helping hand to help pay our way out to attend my mothers funeral last month which cost us $5,300. When I asked my dad (who is a man of a lot of means) to help out with just the hotel bill he flat out refused me and said I should pay for the whole thing because it was for my mother. That hurt a lot. Especially when he took my mother’s savings account that had $8,000 in it and split it between the two grandchildren and not her own children.

    Is it me or is this crazy? Has anyone else has this done to them?

    • 23. OFG  |  May 25, 2017 at 1:05 PM

      This post is a few years old, but I’ve received a lot of direct emails and comments on it since it’s creation. It seems a lot of folks struggle with this inequality in their relationships with their parents.

      I am sorry that you feel your situation is unfair. While I have never personally lived with this I have witnessed it many times throughout my lifetime with friends and close family members. At the end of the day it often boils down to feeling unloved or at the very least less-loved by your parents. And let’s face it no one wants to feel that way.

      Please take my words with a grain of salt. I am not a therapist or counselor, but I can tell you that from what I’ve seen things rarely change in these types of situations. Parents rarely see an error in their ways and even if they do see the issue they are unlikely to change the pattern they established so long ago. The best course of action is often just to accept the situation. To make the best of your relationship while knowing that this will most likely never get rectified. Some people can look past this and continue the relationship and others move on from it.

      I have known parents who skipped siblings and provided gifts directly to grandchildren. As a parent myself I would not do this, but I think it is not as uncommon as you think. That doesn’t make it right, but sometimes misery loves company, so it might make you feel better to know there are others in a similar boats.

      I’m sorry I cannot provide more helpful guidance. I don’t know you but I am sure you are a lovely person. Try not to let your parents attitude and actions get you down.

      Wishing you all the best!


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