When to Say No: A parent’s guide to giving adult children money

Mother giving child moneyWhen I work with clients who give money to their adult children, I am always curious why. Since preparing a comprehensive budget is part of the counseling process, the topic often comes up. The adult child may still be living at home or recently returned to the parents’ household. Or, parents may be giving money toan adult child that lives on his/her own.

Often what I see is parents either borrowing money to supplement their child’s income, or diverting money earmarked for their own emergencies or retirement to help out. Neither scenario is good for the parents because they can’t really afford to be generous without putting their own financial security at risk. Is this what your adult children would really want if they only knew?

If you give money to your adult children, you have lots of company:

The National Endowment for Financial Education completed a study a couple years ago that showed more than half the parents surveyed (59%) financially helped out their adult children who were not in college. If not in school, then presumably these young adults should be working, right?

Money was given most often for living costs, transportation, and even spending money. When asked why parents help, most replied they were “legitimately concerned” about their child’s financial well-being, while others stated they did not want their children to struggle financially like they once did.

Good reasons to be sure. But my concern is how does the adult child learn to be self-sufficient or learn to live within a budget if the parents are always willing to hand over money? Especially if the parents become financially unstable or indebted just to support adult children.

Have you ever given your adult children money?

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Initial considerations

iStock_000011225926SmallWhen your adult child comes to you asking for money, where do you begin? My advice is don’t start by pulling out your checkbook. Instead, look at the situation more closely.

First, think about whether you can really afford to help your child.

Are you living on a fixed income that barely covers your own bills? Have you been saving for emergencies of your own? Do you have a retirement plan that you should be funding? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, look at helping your child in other ways.

Second, examine the reason why your child needs money.

Is this really a short-term crisis or more of a chronic condition? If your child can’t manage money, overspends on “wants” or has other issues that lead to money problems (possibly mental health issues or substance abuse), the situation warrants further investigation and different solutions. If you simply hand over the money, you can count on more requests for cash that will further drain your finances.

Some helpful guidelines

Establish with your child if this is a gift or a loan.

  • Consider if you can afford the gift; otherwise make it a loan.
  • Set a repayment schedule going forward. Talk with your child to determine an affordable and realistic payment and loan term.
  • Decide on consequences for missed or late payments.
  • Have your child commit to changes he/she will make to repay you on time.

Ask if your child is making any sacrifices.

  • How did this financial crisis come about?
  • What is your child giving up to meet this financial crisis?
  • How will your child prepare to avert the next financial crisis?

Consider other ways to help besides writing that check.

  • Maybe your child can move in with you temporarily until finances improve.
  • Perhaps you can temporarily provide childcare to reduce living costs.
  • Maybe you could provide a reference for job applications.

adult childrenExplore outside resources to help your child.

You could compile a list; then have your child make the phone calls.

Referring your child to LSS Financial Counseling is a great place to start. By talking with one of our Certified Financial Counselors, your child will have an objective third person looking over his/her finances. Our counselors will also make recommendations to get your child back on track financially. And remember this help is free and confidential. So, what do either of you have to lose?

Don’t be afraid to say “no”

Finally, don’t hesitate to tell your child no when you simply can’t afford to hand over money. As parents, your financial stability is just as important as your child’s. And you have less time to make up for any financial hits to your savings or retirement accounts when you put your child’s needs before your own.

I am not suggesting that you should never help your children with money. But perhaps you can make it a teachable moment to get your child on the road toward self-sufficiency, rather than relying on you as a cash machine whenever a money problem comes along.

If you or your son/daughter could benefit from creating a plan for a financial crisis, contact us today. We offer counseling by phone, in-person or online. Appointments are easy to prepare for and your child (or you) will leave with a clear picture of their situation and what next steps should be. To schedule an appointment call 888.577.2227 or start online counseling now by clicking below. The online version of our counseling allows you to enter in all of your information online and a certified counselor will get back to you with an action plan in 2-3 business days.


Check out “How To Get Your Adult Children To Leave the Nest” for even more suggestions. Our own Program Director, Darryl Dahlheimer, was interviewed!

Author Barbara Miller is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS and she specializes in Bankruptcy Education and Counseling.

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Posted in Kids, Overspending, Relationships
14 comments on “When to Say No: A parent’s guide to giving adult children money
  1. Hi! I’ve been reading your website for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Austin Texas! Just wanted to mention keep up the fantastic work!

  2. Can'tsayno says:

    I have a 23, 19, and 17 yr. old. My 17 year old is still at home. I give my kids every dollar I get, I’m always struggli, but I find myself offering .them all I have. and then worry myself the pieces over how I’m going to get by.

    • Kate Swenson says:

      Hello there. Would you like to speak with a financial counselor to discuss this? I think talking with a counselor would be a really good idea. A counselor could look at your situation ojectively in a non-judgemntal way and give you some ideas for moving forward. Email me at financialcounseling@lssmn.org

  3. Nancy says:

    My husband has been wanting to retire for a year. But family is always borrowing money. I finally told his daughter no because she has not paid back the last loan. Now she is mad at me…she is 32 yrs. old , bought 2 vehicles last year and had reposessed. Had another baby and moves all the time….we are in our 60 and 70s and cannot keep this up. She told everyone that we didn’t care if she was on the street. Now she doesn’t speak to us….my husband is upset. How do I help him to understand we can’t keep this up. Thanks

  4. Diana k says:

    I am a single mom with 2 children. My oldest son has graduated a film school and is trying to build his career in filmmaking as a freelancer. He often ends up with no money and I come to rescue him. It happens every year.
    I had some saving and could afford to pay for a great school and a final project. He is trying to generate some income, but seems like he is not trying too hard.
    My youngest daughter is 16 and is already working part time as a swim instructor. She is working and studying hard and saving for university.
    How should I explain to my son that he needs to look for a job that pays bills and start making some savings too.

    • Kate Swenson says:

      Hi Diana, thanks for the comment. I am going to send your question to a counselor and have them email you back. Thanks!

  5. Janise Miller says:

    I have a 43 yr old daughter who uses this term frequently “Mom you have to give me $xx because I don’t have it” We’re not talking $10 or $20-we’re talking $500 or $1000. If I say no, or I simply don’t have it, I get the guilt trip. Suggestions?

    • Kate Swenson says:

      Hi Janise, thanks for the comment. I am going to have a counselor email you some suggestions today. Thanks!

  6. Elaine says:

    So glad this site was available to me. Sure wish I had read it sooner. My 34-year-old daughter borrowed over $5000 6 months ago for an attorney in a child custody battle she was in, and also moved in with us. Now she is moving out and says she will pay it back next year with her tax refund. My husband is mad and says that she needs to pay something monthly.
    It seems like our daughter is mad at us for something all the time and I just don’t want my family members to be like that so I don’t want to push the issue. At the same time, I am retiring in a month and can’t afford to let her just keep the money. How can I recoup my money without causing a family battle?

  7. Debbie says:

    Hi, I am engaged to a man whose grown children call him at least 2-4 times a month for money. His son is 21 and lives with his girlfriend and his daughter is 27, married and has 3-children. He has always given them money whenever they ask. We both are 60-yrs old and due to circumstances beyond our control lost everything that we own but 1-car and our jobs. We currently live with my sister and pay her rent. My fiancee makes good money but over half of it goes to his x-wife. It seems his children have always been in the habit of running out of money and going to him for it. I am starting to feel angry with them and him because we have nothing…the have cars, homes, furniture, etc but yet we are giving them money and therefore can’t afford to start building our lives again. We are not spring chickens so must start that process now. I just don’t know what to do. His kids know that we don’t have anything and don’t seem to care. In fact his daughter called last night asking for him to wire her money at 8:40pm. Like she didn’t know she needed it earlier that day? He got up after a long days work and ran to a Western Union to wire her gas money. This is to someone whom got $10000 back on her tax return and spent it all on new furniture and a $1000 TV. I am starting to resent his children and I don’t want to. My fiancee is a really good man and they make guilt him into this. What do we do?

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