Today I wanted to share one of the toughest questions I've received lately, from a reader who wished to remain anonymous (we're going to call him Dave). It's about supporting his parents – something we've talked about before – but at another level. I really feel bad for him, but I think he brings up some interesting thoughts that we should all consider:
I was hoping for some advice for what to do in my current situation. I recently graduated from college (well a year ago) and have a decent job that pays the bills. However, I'm just not saving any money right now. The problem is, my mom consistently tells me about how she is struggling to pay the bills and doesn't know what to do. Before long, I find myself giving them any extra I have. I had to pay my own way through school with student loans, and have over $40,000 in debt. I want to start saving for a house and building my own life, but I keep getting sucked into my parent's money problems.
I know I shouldn't feel bad for them – the reason they can't pay their bills is because they always seem to be buying stuff they don't need. I don't dig into the details too much, but they are always entertaining friends, buying gadgets, and still have all of the cable channels – including HBO.
How do I tell my parents I can't do this anymore? I want to save for my own future, but I do feel obligated to them since they are my parents? Plus, I worry that if I don't help them now, they will go broke. How do I help myself and help my parents?
Whoa – that's tough. I appreciate you sharing your story and asking your question. Let's dive into some of the details here.
Having Tough Financial Conversations
Talking about money is tough – talking to your parents about their money is like talking to them about sex. You just don't want to have to do it. But, in the end, everyone is typically better off.
The important thing is that you need to get the full picture. From the story above, it sounds like Dave doesn't really know where his parents' stand financially. While they are still buying things and spending money, his mom hits him up for cash each month and she seems worried about paying the bills. While it's a tough conversation to have, being open and honest about what's going on is the first thing you have to do.
When you have this conversation, realize two key points:
- Don't Judge – it will just make them shut down
- Focus on Where You Can Help
Sometimes a financial planner or other professional can really be helpful in this situation, so consider going that route as well.
To Help or Not To Help
A lot of people are going to chime in and say, “Hey, you shouldn't be helping your parents. They need to help themselves and you need to take care of yourself.” While I agree with that to some extent, I also get from Dave's email that he is the type of person that wants to help and will continue to help.
I would suggest a couple paths here as well. First, if Dave has any siblings, he needs to get them involved. No matter what the action plan is, all of the kids need to help.
Second, if Dave really wants to help, I suggest that he focus on paying something specific. For example, he could help them by paying their cell phone bill each month. This does a couple things:
- It sets a clear amount that he will contribute each month. This says to his parents he's willing to help, but with XYZ only.
- It will allow Dave to budget better since it's just a set amount each month
I think of this route as similar to how parent's help their children. Parents typically help their kids by paying for specific expenses – school, cell phone, insurance, car payment, etc. Since Dave's parents are acting like children with their money, this could be a smart move.
The bottom line is that there isn't an easy solution. So, now help out Dave here –
Have you ever dealt with this type of situation? What advice do you have for Dave for dealing with is financially irresponsible parents?