By Jane St. Clair
Your young adult just graduated from college, they aren't sure they know what to do, and they are asking you for money every few weeks - how do you cut the purse strings and teach them to be independent?
In an ideal world, when your young adult graduates from college, he or she is ready to claim a place in society. An apartment, a job, car, and understanding of fiscal responsibilities are all necessary to cope as an independent adult. However, most of us don’t live in an ideal world, and due to any number of possible circumstances, your child isn’t quite able to face these challenges with confidence and independence. What to do?
Well, first of all, unless you want a 45-year-old son or daughter taking up space 25 years from now when you’re ready to retire, you’ve got to make a plan. Some folks may subscribe to the “Cold Turkey” approach – that is, no more money from mom and dad once she’s got that sheepskin in her hot little hand. A bit ruthless, maybe, but chances are if you’re reading this, it’s not the option for you or your newly independent darling. You do, however, see the benefit of weaning Junior from your bank account before he gives you grandchildren, so a plan is definitely in order.
A wise man once said “Don’t sweat the small stuff”---an adage that encourages us to only be concerned with the big picture. However, if you’re going to help your little Princess learn to do things on her own, a “small stuff” approach may be the answer. If she hasn’t gotten her “dream job”, encourage her to get a job that can at least pay the bills while she’s looking. If she’s still living at home, charging rent, a portion of the utilities and part of the grocery bill is appropriate.
Sit down together with your spouse or partner (if applicable) and decide AHEAD OF TIME what you want your child to pay for. These expenses are not negotiable; present them to her as ironclad. Flexibility in what she pays for will not teach her anything. The landlord of her first apartment will not care whether or not she had enough hours on the clock this month to make her rent. Once you’ve decided on the minimum requirements, sit down together and go over your expectations. Make sure to present your offer in a calm, rational, and adult-manner. YOU are the owner of the house, YOU are in charge, and it is your duty to help this child get out on her own.
In addition to this financial meeting, you also need to decide how long your welcome mat will be out. Discuss with your child how long he or she feels the need to continue living at home. For many people, the idea of having to pay bills to one’s parents is enough of an impetus to get us out the door. For others, though, it’s not, and some incentive (like a deadline, not a cash reward!) is required.
What about the young adult who IS out on his own, but is still relying on mom and dad for financial assistance? Perhaps the job doesn’t pay enough for rent, utilities, car payment, and insurance. Continuing to pay for things like car and health insurance can actually help the young adult out in the long run; lower premiums and deductibles are in place when an adult child remains on the parents’ policies. (Of course, some companies (mostly health insurance companies) require that the adult child be enrolled in college full-time. It’s worth the effort to check this out!)
If Junior can’t afford to pay the premiums, then he might be able to work it off – painting his old room, helping take care of grandma’s yard, cleaning out the garage, etc. The important thing is to remember that you are trying to teach financial independence and responsibility, not bank-roll his life. It’s supposed to be hard, at first. He doesn’t have to live in a posh apartment complex, just a safe one. She doesn’t need all new furniture; something clean, serviceable, and not hideous is all that’s required in the beginning.
While I am not recommending that you are there with open wallet any time your young one has a financial crisis, you can and need to be there to listen and offer advice where it is required. Helping your child out by listening and providing emotional support is just as important and better for them in the long run. Remember back to your own early days out on your own. It may have been hard, you may have “borrowed” an awful lot shampoo from your roommate, but you survived it, and Junior will too.