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It All Boils Down to Responsibility

I received quite a few emails and comments in response to Saturday’s post, How Much Do You Rely on Your Parents for Money, and I wanted to expand upon the subject. I know quite a few people who turn to their parents for money and I am not always opposed to financially secure parents providing for their children and/or grandchildren.

For me, personally, it all boils down to responsibility. I have a few friends who live a clean, responsible life. They work hard and live within their means, but their parents provide them with the extras in life that they could not otherwise afford. For example, the parents fly their children across the country and spend money on food and lodging expenses while on vacation. Similarly, a commenter on Saturday’s post mentioned a grandparent who pays for her son’s sports equipment.

I also have friends who simply don’t make much money. Some work for non-profits, some are teachers, others are social workers. Some of them struggle to pay for anything other than bills. They are willing to make less in order to help the greater good, but this often forces them to live paycheck to paycheck. Again I don’t have a problem with a financially secure parent who wishes to help their responsible, but underpaid child buy a car, provide a down payment or help pay some other bills. As I stated in my last post I clearly don’t have a problem with a parent who helps a child who is down on his or her luck due to job loss, medical issues or similar problems.

However, I will admit that I take umbrage with children who milk off their parents while living financially irresponsible lives. This would include children who take extravagant vacations, buy luxury vehicles, wine and dine at expensive establishments, and buy clothes, electronics and other non-essential items that they cannot otherwise afford. In essence, if you are carelessly living beyond your means than I do not think your parents should bail you out. It’s really as simple as that.

Am I being too harsh and judgmental? Probably, but why does that person feel entitled to live a life they cannot afford and why do they expect their parents to pay for their extravagant choices? As I mentioned in my last post I am most amazed by those individuals who earn a decent living, outspend their paycheck, and then turn to parents who truly struggle to make ends meet for money. It’s one thing if your parents are well-off, it’s another if you’re taking money from their much-needed retirement fund.

I was surprised when the author of Hot (broke) Messes, (which I blogged about on Saturday), said she was not a ‘doggie bag kind of woman.’ How can you feel strange about carrying a doggie bag out of restaurant, but not feel absolutely horrible about asking your parents for money they struggled to earn? How can you not realize that your parents paid for the chicken you left behind, when they helped repay your debts?

I suppose it’s a difference of personality. A difference of values. A simple difference of what you think you deserve. Knowing that my parents rarely travel and never go to the spa, I simply would not rack up credit card charges for luxury vacations and expensive facials and then expect them to pay my bills.

Towards the end of the book the author says, “there are certain things I cannot give up: A skim vanilla latte from Starbucks a couple of times a week. A skim chai from Tryst, a coffeehouse in my neighborhood, once or twice a week. A few glasses of Sangria and couple of appetizers with my closest friends at my neighborhood bar. An occasional trip to the Middle East or Latin America. A trip to New York every couple of months to visit family.”

I’m afraid in the real world, (a world in which parents do not bail out financially irresponsible children), the list above can all be ‘given up.’ In defense of the author, she wrote Hot (broke) Messes in order to fund her extravagant lifestyle, but if her book sales do not add up, she could and should give up all of those items. After all in a world in which you proudly stand up on your own two feet, you can cut out everything but life’s true necessities.

One Frugal Girl

Thursday 22nd of April 2010

I really appreciate the in depth comments to this post. As many of you pointed out the issue is about choice. If you choose to live a life that you cannot afford then you should learn to accept the repercussions of those choices. Turning to mommy and daddy for money allows you to live the 'good life' even when you can't really afford it. Worse yet, those poor choices might put mommy and daddy into the poor house and why should your parents pay for your luxuries when they don't live such a 'good' life themselves. I'm fascinated by the anonymous commenter who declared bankruptcy rather than accepting money from her parents who offered to help. That takes a tremendous amount of strength and courage.


Thursday 22nd of April 2010

(cont'd from above)

I also talked to my parents about this, and they insisted that they did not want me declaring bankruptcy - they would take on my credit card payments, and in the future (10, 20 years from now) when I'm in a better financial place, I could begin to repay them. I thought long and hard about this, but I just couldn't justify making them suffer even more to fix something I'd done to myself. Yes, they did want to do this for me, and could maybe swing things to make it work, but I needed to take some responsibility for myself and my actions.

I did end up declaring bankruptcy at the end of last year. I'm not proud of it, and I definitely do feel the shame that comes with not being able to pay back what I owe. However, the knowledge and pride that comes from knowing that I'm taking responsibility for myself ouweighs that significantly.

I agree wholeheartedly with your views on the issue of accepting financial help from your parents and relying on them when you shouldn't. Case in point? I took some responsibility for myself, taking the consequences that came with it all, and it's changed my life to where I am much more aware of being in control of my finances, of living within my means, and of valuing financial independence. That's a lesson I learned the hard way, and one that will continue to serve me well for the rest of my life.


Thursday 22nd of April 2010

I'm a 29-year-old working professional, and fall into the "working for the greater good despite receiving a lower income" category - I'm a Social Worker, and with a Bachelors and a Masters, currently make $40,000. My parents paid for my undergraduate education - they insisted that they would cover that cost as a college education is something that is very important to them, and struck a deal with us kids (there are 3 of us) that any further schooling (i.e., grad school, vocational training, etc.) would be our responsibility.

As a child, I grew up in a middle-class family. My parents worked hard - they are immigrants, and my brother, sister and I are first-generation kids born here. They have owned their own business for 30 years, and though that sounds very good, they've also - quite literally - poured their sweat and blood into the business. They have, and still continue to work, 6 days a week, 12 hours a day. My parents were able to always provide a good meal for us, and we went out to dinner as a family 1-2 times a month. We never had the money to go on expensive vacations, nor did my parents have the ability to take that time away from their business, but on long weekends and such, I have very fond memories of going camping, or taking a full day up to the snowy mountains to go skiing. For those experiences and memories, I'm forever grateful.

That being said, I have to say that through college and the next year after, I spent money that I didn't have - I racked up about $5,000 in credit card debt, and then when I went to grad school, racked up about $10,000 more and much more than that in student loans. However, I refused to allow my parents to help pay off the credit card debt - initially, it was more of a pride thing - it was my debt, a result of my spending money on shampoos and dinners I couldn't really afford, and I was going to be the one to pay it off. After maturing a bit more, it became more an issue of realizing how hard my parents work, the struggles they have gone through to pay for college educations for 3 children, and the fact that they're still paying off college tuitions for my siblings and don't have much in a retirement account.

After finishing grad school, I knew I wouldn't be making a whole lot of money, and tried with all my might to pay off my credit cards while taking advantage of the 2-year forbearance period for my school loans. Unfortunately, even while living with 2 other roommates and trying to make ends meet, I couldn't pay off the credit card debt (about $17,000) before the student loans entered repayment, and there was no way I could afford to make both payments. I went to a couple of different non-profit debt counseling agencies, talked to a good friend who works as a financial advisor, and all of them advised me that bankruptcy might be the best way out. It wouldn't eradicate my school loans - I'd still be responsible for that, and it would put a huge ding in my credit report for the next 10 years, but they argued (and I agreed) that I'm still young, and as I had no intention of making any huge purchases that would require a substantial loan (a mortgage, a car, etc.) in the next 7-10 years, I would be doing okay by the time I'm 40 as long as I lived within my means and took a long, hard look at how and what I spend my money on.

(character count's too high - cont'd in following comment - sorry!)


Thursday 22nd of April 2010

I appreciate your wording in this entry. I find that most articles on money blogs I read are dismissive, condescending and even self-righteous regarding the very private matter of accepting financial gifts from one's parents. I agree that it depends on one's values and also one's family's values and culture. My own parents have paid for my undergraduate education and have even gone beyond that to pay for law school (I'm heading there directly after undergrad) because this is my family's top priority and my parents can afford it. In fact, the knowledge that my parents are investing in me pushes me to strive harder and be extremely hard-working and successful. Yes, I could be financially independent and maintain what people view as my "ego" or "pride," but it doesn't make sense to my parents or to me to take $210,000 in an 8% gradPLUS loan which would cripple me as soon as I got out of school. But I don't see this as me being irresponsible, but my family coming together to help me out; should my parents ever need help from me, I wouldn't think twice about giving them all that I could afford in the future. Family is about collaboration to attain mutual goals and fulfillment; I don't view the sense that in order to maintain one's integrity, one must be financially isolated from one's parents as a more justified or honorable way of life.


Wednesday 21st of April 2010

I disagree with the parent funding the children who have chosen to live "for the greater good". If a child seeks out a low-paying position and career because it is their "calling" and they want to devote their life to it, then they need to know how to live on those means. The Foundation of Mom and Dad can only underwrite the non-profit for so long until they pass on or have no more money.

Sure, this theoretical child may be doing something "good" and they may be "responsible", but the parents are still subsidizing the child's lifestyle choice. It's really not that much different from those living beyond their means and blowing money irresponsibly, it's just tougher to say "no" when the child is actually using this subsidization to make the world a better place.

Not to mention they are missing the tax deduction they could be receiving for a direct donation :)

None of the above applies if this is a temporary situation, and this low-paying job is something that's helping the kid get by.