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?