When Should You Stop Paying For Your Child’s Expenses?

The old adage used to be that you were financially responsible for your children at age 18, after which time they became legal adults and financially responsible for themselves.  Years ago, many teens couldn’t wait for their independence so they could move out and strike out on their own.

Now, many parents continue to provide their children with financial assistance in some form throughout their college education, and often beyond.  With an estimated 13.4% of adult children ages 24 to 35 living at home with their parents (Calculated Risk) and many more who are living on their own but still receiving financial assistance from their parents, the question is, when should parents stop paying for their grown children’s expenses?

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paying adult children's expenses

What Expenses Are Parents Paying?

Jodie is a twenty-six year old woman who has a college education and is employed full-time.  She married young and went through a painful divorce.  After the divorce, she was saddled with thousands of dollars of credit card debt that her ex-husband charged during the end of their marriage, unbeknownst to her.  Her parents pay her car payment and car insurance as well as one of her credit cards.  Jodie’s mother is in a job that causes her tremendous stress, but she cannot quit or retire early because she has sacrificed fully funding her retirement savings to help support Jodie throughout her adulthood, even when Jodie was married.

Unfortunately, this case is a common one.  Increasingly, the line is blurred between childhood dependence and adult independence.  The National Endowment for Financial Education revealed in a May, 2011 poll that “59% of parents are providing, or have in the past provided, financial support to their adult children when they are no longer in school.”  Furthermore, the survey revealed the most common expenses where parents provide financial support:

“Parents are providing support in many ways:

  • 50% are providing housing
  • 48% are helping with living expenses
  • 41% are aiding with transportation costs
  • 35% are providing insurance coverage
  • 29% are handing out spending money
  • 28% are helping with medical bills”

What Is the Cost Of Generosity For Parents

As is the case with Jodie’s mother, the survey reveals that parents provide financial assistance to their adult children at a hefty price.

According to Ted Beck, president and CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education, “If you are taking on extra debt or delaying retirement to help your adult child, you could be making a mistake and putting your own financial future in jeopardy.”

Financial experts recommend that parents should fully fund their retirement before saving for their child’s college expenses.  Certainly saving for retirement should take precedence over helping a child meet living expenses, especially if the adult child is short on cash because of poor life choices or lack of drive in his or her career.

How To Handle Your Adult Child’s Request For Money

Often, the best way to handle an adult’s child’s request for money is to set the groundwork for financial independence when they are young.  While it may be tempting to continue to pay for your child’s expenses during college and beyond, young adulthood may be the time to send them out on their own financially.  If you are going to pay for a portion of their college education, clearly outline for them what you will help pay for, and what you will not.  You may encourage your child to get a job during college to offset some of their living expenses.

If your child finds herself in a financial bind in adulthood such as Jodie did when she got divorced, you may consider helping them out, but let him or her know it is one-time assistance.  After that, difficult as it may be, you probably should let them handle their own finances and suffer the consequences.  As tough-talking financial coach Gail Vaz-Oxlade says, “I don’t care how much you love your son or daughter. Adults do not have the right to mooch off their parents because the alternative is hard. If your kids have chosen to stay in school for a decade, why do they get to have all the benefits of your (hard working) life while they are students? And if they’re old enough to bring another life into the world, they’re old enough to put a roof over their own heads, and food in that baby’s belly. Enough with the coddling.” (gailvaz-oxlade)  Sometimes suffering the consequences is the best way to learn not to make the mistake again.

Finally, while much has been written about the financial consequences to parents for continuing to pay for their adult children, not much has been written about the emotional consequences.  While Jodie’s mother loves her very much, every day that she has to go to a job she doesn’t like, she feels resentment both to herself for enabling Jodie and to Jodie for taking advantage of her.  Allowing your adult children to be financially independent can allow you to restore your own relationship with them.

Last Edited: 10th June 2013

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  1. says

    This is such an important subject, and I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment. As a parent, I feel it is my job to raise my children to be independent and able to provide for themselves when they leave home. I see far too many 20 somethings leaning on their parents financially, and yet they have the latest technology, nice cars, etc. at the expense of their parents’ financial stability. We all make mistakes and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t help our kids when they need it, but there is a difference between temporary assistance and never ending handouts.

  2. says

    This can definitely be a tricky topic. I’ve seen it handled in many ways. For instance, my parents helped me and my brother out when we went back to school, but they don’t help out when we make manageable financial mistakes. I know that my parents will help if I ever got into a crisis, but I also know that there might come a day when I need to help them, too. Isn’t that what family is all about? Standing by each other?

  3. says

    I think a lot comes down to preparing your children while they are still in high school. At some point you need to stop giving them allowance and insist they get a part time or summer job if they need spending money. Then they build pride in being to take care of themselves and they appreciate money more. If they are babied the whole time they are living with parents, it is only natural for them to expect that to continue later in life.

    • Ilene says

      In my opinion its been this way and was expected by families up until around early 2000 s and somewhere along the line children don’t work at all and after they graduate high school they don’t go to college. The highlight for high school graduates now a days becomes multiple blue collar jobs that don’t last longer than 3 months at a time while their parents pay their car insurance on the car the child never spent a dime on, and their cell phone bill. Meanwhile the parents don’t have their own bills paid for. I see this from many people and it gets me upset and angry. If your child doesn’t have a Jo while they are in their 12 grade in highschool, my opinion from experience is that young adult has a great chance of mooching even into their 20s on parents and even ungreatfuly expressing feelings of having to pay anyone money to stay anywhere. Helpful advice for 12 th graders: Get a part time job, save money, then go to college or at least get your own place at 18. College would be your ultimate best move. I hope our young adults get the “want” to live on their own again. I remember saving while in school and working in 10th grade. One can hope.

  4. says

    My parents havent helped me with any of those things. After 18, I was on my own – lived on my own, paid my own bills, tuition, groceries, everything. Even before I was 18 the only things my mom paid for was groceries. I don’t think there is any hard and fast rules – it’s personal to the family in question.

  5. Cecil says

    We have 7 children, 3 left home already. 1 of the 4 at home is of age (18) & she pays 25% of her income to us for her room & board. They know once of age they are expected to provide for themselves altho’ we will help the ones that are in a crisis.

  6. says

    This is a helpful post. It’s important to establish when enough is enough, whether the child is 3 months, 3 years–or 30. That involves clarifying when it’s time to stop paying for your adult child’s expenses. I’ve been doing some research into how to deal with adult children who’ve been in the lap of privelege and haven’t learned when enough is enough. Some helpful ideas for readers might be at http://candidaabrahamson.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/fixing-well-just-fix-it-for-you-letting-your-children-be-adults-walking-the-walk/. Thanks for broaching this topic. Candida

    • says

      Depending on the reasons for the kids not paying their own way, there are verses that you can look to for many different situations. But I believe we’re called on to raise our kids up in God’s word and raise them the right way, to teach them the value of hard work, and not to allow them to be spoiled.

      Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

      Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart. Proverbs 29:17

      A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame. Proverbs 10:4-5

  7. Karen says

    I have a 70 year old friend who has given many thousands of $ over the years to her 37 year old son who has a live in girlfriend and daughter. He has lost several vehicles to the repo man, has been evicted several times, has had his electric turned off numerous times over the years. He uses my friend’s granddaughter as a threat. If she doesn’t fork over money for whatever he claims he needs to pay, then there are threats she can’t see her granddaughter, or “you don’t love your granddaughter”. My friend threatens to stop giving them money because she has her own expenses to deal with, yet in the end always knuckles under and gives them money to pay the water bill, electric or whatever they claim they need it for. She admits they are probably using the money they earn to party, buy drugs and get drunk. I told her that she is in effect subsidizing their partying life. The latest outrageous thing they have talked her into is driving each of them to work, because neither of their vehicles are working. She has to drive 9 miles each way to get to their house and then drive them 2 miles to their places of employment. Given their irresponsible record with money, paying someone to fix at least one of their vehicles won’t happen any time soon and they obviously expect grandma to be their permanent cabbie. She is angry about it, but doesn’t have the guts to refuse to do it. I told her that those two are perfectly capable of walking that distance, or that they should go to the thrift store, buy a used bike and ride that to work. You have to wonder what these two dead beats will do when grandma is dead and gone.

  8. Manuel says

    I try to give my girlfriend this advise for her 25 year old son that also has a kid and lives in a apartment that she pays everything and goes to visit once a week. Even then he asks her for money for cigarettes and junk food and she gives it to him. He pays zero bills and has a bull$hit part time job, he spends it all on junk he does not need.

    Anytime I try to say its time to start cutting the cord, she takes it as a personal attack. I get tired of her telling me how depressed he is and how hard his life is because his wife left him. How do I get her to realize that she is not helping him, just harming him??? If I felt he was trying hard to help himself I would help even. Any suggestions ??

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