What Emotional Strings Come with Accepting Money from Your Parents?


Sometimes it seems like there are a lot

by Stephanie Kaloi

Compact Bannerwoman standing alone

When I was on the brink of finishing college, my father called me and offered to pay for my student loans. Great, right? Except no: we weren’t on great speaking terms, and he’s the type of person who uses money to essentially “own” a person. If he gives you $1,000 for a new couch, then you have to let him into your life whenever he sees fit for however long he sees fit. If he buys you a used car, you’ll owe years of your life. If he calls and says, “I want to give you $20,000 to pay for your student loans because I feel guilty that you had to take them out in the first place,” it translates to, “I will give you this money and then be able to throw it in your face at any point in the next twenty years if you stop speaking to me again.”

Nevermind that a) we were not on great terms, b) I did not want his money, and c) my student loans were double that amount. This wasn’t relevant. He called, offered money, and I said, “OMG, please, no.” I finally talked him down to around $8,000, $5,000 of which did in fact go to my student loans, and the rest we used for our cross-country move a month later, when I was twenty-ish weeks pregnant. Even accepting that made me feel sick inside. It was a lot of money for me at the time (it still is!) and from someone I don’t trust. Had we not been on the brink of graduating college, moving from Alabama to Oregon, and having our first child, I wouldn’t have accepted it.

It’s been over eight years, and I still feel icky when I think about the emotional fallout that came from accepting that money. But you know what? I’ve found that in other instances—like when we’ve borrowed money from another parent and repaid it within an agreed on amount of time—I don’t mind at all. I think that’s because the power dynamic is a little more equal when you’ve asked for money that you’re expected to repay—at least for me, it feels an awful lot better than accepting money you never asked for, and that comes with strings attached to it.

Generally speaking, I prefer for us to take care of ourselves, financially and otherwise. But also? I love the idea of being able to give my own child money if he needs it as an adult, with no expectations and no rules. I’m not sure that’s entirely feasible or realistic, but I think it’s something that sounds nice (at least to my product-of-a-dysfunctional-household-self).

have you accepted money from a family member when you didn’t want to, or has family offered money you didn’t want because you knew there were strings attached to it? do you think adult children should always be completely financially independent? where is the line, and when do you draw it?


The Info:

Photo by Death to the Stock Photo

Stephanie Kaloi

Stephanie is a photographer, writer, and Ravenclaw living in California with her family. She is super into reading, road trips, and adopting animals on a whim. Forewarning: all correspondence will probably include a lot of punctuation and emoji (!!! ? ? ?).

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  • idkmybffjill

    I really liked my parents method of things – which was largely, you figure out how to pay for it, and then we’ll surprise you and cover it/pay it back for you. I had a full time job throughout college and paid for all my living expenses. Scholarships for 80% of my tuition, and loans for the other 20%. When I graduated my dad paid my loans for me after about 2 years, so I wouldn’t have as much interest, and I started paying him back on a schedule. When I paid half he pronounced them forgiven.

    For our wedding, my dad asked to see the budget – which we created based on money we personally had, and then ended up covering half.

    I always felt like I learned financial responsibility/I didn’t ever just go to my parents first for money, but it was really awesome in a “weeping because I didn’t know this was going to happen” way for me with those things. I have a great relationship with my parents, which makes a big difference I’m sure. I’m hopeful my relationship with my kids/financial situation will be such that I can do something really similar.

    • Cellistec

      That sounds like a reality show, where you win every time! No seriously, what a generous model by your parents, though I can see how it might come at the cost of learning lessons the hard way.

      • idkmybffjill

        It was always an enormous surprise at the time, so I never really made any decisions with “they’ll probably cover this in the end” in mind. It’s really only in retrospect that I realized this is what they’d done. Tricky to figure out how to carry that forward. I suppose they always just treated things as, “okay, here is what you’re responsible for”, and so I never imagined they’d end up footing the bill. I ultimately ended up with kind of the best of both worlds – I learned how to budget and manage my money, and I ended up with no debt/extra savings because of it. They rule, I’m super grateful.

    • stephanie

      I really like this!! Figuring out a healthy way to help out my child as he ages is a huge concern of mine, because I don’t have a super healthy relationship with money, or any model to go on.

      • idkmybffjill

        It’s tricky business! I’m really grateful to my parents both for their help, and also for allowing me to develop personal financial responsibilty. I have quite a few friends whose parents paid 100% percent for college and all living expenses, and then when they graduated were like, “k we’re done now.” For many of them it was a very rude awakening. They didn’t know how to set up electricity/budget for a deposit on an apartment/have any credit. Some of them still get a significant amount of family support, which – to each their own, I suppose. But sometimes I feel like they’ve been robbed of the feeling of accomplishment that comes with budgeting for something and handling that financial burden yourself.

        • NolaJael

          I do think it is a parent’s responsibility to help your kids set up good credit, both with explaining how credit works so they don’t get suckered into store cards and to help them establish reputable accounts to build credit.

          • GotMarried!

            I got my first CC at age 15, and used to use it once a month. My mom taught me to always have cash to pay it off and i’d use my card out with friends or whatever and then take the money to pay it off and give it to my mom who would sit down with me at the end of the month when the credit card bill came in and write the check to pay it off (she had checks I didn’t). it worked.

          • Anna

            Yeah, my parents did a good job of teaching me reasonable spending habits and that sort of money-sense stuff, but they never gave me this kind of credit card understanding and I wish they had. I got my first credit card that I was actually responsible for (I had one in my name on my parents’ account for emergencies growing up) after graduating college, and it was super easy ONLY because it was joint with my fiance and HIS parents did get him started building credit early. I had no credit score at all, so it would’ve been a huge pain if I was doing it on my own.

          • Kara

            YES. To be fair, I didn’t even realize you could have a balance on a CC until I was in my mid-20s because my parents hammered this home (if you can’t afford to pay the CC bill off in full each month, you can’t have the CC). I got my first CC at 18. They made sure I understood the impact my credit had on my future.

            I realize that I was privileged to have the funds to cover the CC each month, and not everyone has that ability.

    • Angela’s Back

      My parents did something similar with my first car–they bought it for me in cash so I wouldn’t have to pay interest and then I paid back about half, at which point they were like okay, we consider this debt canceled. Which was awesome, but I was also slightly put out because I really wanted to finish paying it off myself and then to have retroactively paid for the whole thing. On the flip side, my parents also helped me out with my student loan payments for about the first year out of grad school–also awesome–but there was also this ingrate part of me that wished they could have sunk that money while I was in school and then I would have had one less year’s worth of education to pay off. Money is weird.

      • idkmybffjill

        “I really wanted to finish paying it off myself and then to have retroactively paid for the whole thing.”

        I’ve felt the same way!! Obviously a wildly privileged feeling, but I wanted to say I’d done it myself. I feel really proud of being debt free, but I also would’ve loved to have attained that all on my own. That said, I know how important it was for my dad to help me out, and I appreciated it enormously. His act of generosity allowed me to build a great savings account, etc.

        • Angela’s Back

          It’s funny because now I’m so glad I didn’t have to pay off the rest of that car, it just let me concentrate on the old student loans, which are officially 21 months out from being paid off and that under two years mark is like the light at the end of the fucking tunnel.

          • idkmybffjill

            Yes! I’m so grateful. And the payment plan I’d set up I just rerouted to savings. I’d already learned to budget for X amount to come out every month, so I just started putting it in my savings account. It was really huge and amazing. Congratulations on approaching the light! That is a big freaking deal.

      • Mary Jo TC

        I wonder if one of the things they’re teaching you with these gifts/cancelled debt is how to accept a gift. And how to accept that not every gift will come in the most convenient form for you, sometimes.

        • Angela’s Back

          That, and who knows if they were in the position to put extra into my college at the time, you know? I get frustrated sometimes because I’m the only one of my siblings with college debt–but I went to a private university out of state, and part of that at least in my house was being responsible for the extra cost. Whereas my brother is a TX resident at A&M so even though my parents are covering everything for him that’s not scholarship/Texas good grade money, it may well be the same amount as them only covering my room and board and books when I was in school.

      • Jessica

        My parents did something similar when lending my brother and I large amounts of money (computer, car, student loans). They put a 1% interest on it and set up payment plans, but ended up just forgiving it partway through once they saw that we intended to follow-through with things.

    • GotMarried!

      Yes. My parents did similar things – canceling debts I owed them for a car down payment etc; or giving me targeted Christmas/birthday gifts to pay off student loans etc.

    • BSM

      My in-laws have done this kind of surprise gifting in the past with my husband (before we met), but I’m not a fan. Due to my own kinda messed up upbringing, I am pretty big on boundaries, so canceling a loan that we owed them feels like it would be a violation of an agreement we’ve made with no input for 50% of the parties involved.

      They haven’t done this to us since we’ve been together, but we borrowed some money for the closing costs on our first house, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they try it as we approach the halfway point of paying it back. I’m sure I could get past it, but, as evidenced by this thread, money + family can make people really weird!

    • Janet Hélène

      The thing that bothers me about this particular approach is that it makes it really hard for Type A people like me to plan and have a feeling of responsibility over my finances.

      I can also see it being problematic if you make a decision you *really* can’t afford with the potential expectation of the debt being forgiven before fully paid off. Obviously, this wouldn’t be a problem for a lot of people, but I do know young people around my age (early 20s) who get a very skewed idea of reality based on these kinds of false expecations.

      • Idkmybffjill

        Hmm, I mean – maybe. I’m extremely Type A. So what this looked like for me: I made plans to pay back my loans and was given the gift of no interest (although had always been in a financial place to pay them all back with interest over time). Then I was given the gift of early debt forgiveness. I simply took the money I was paying back each paycheck to my dad and rerouted it to my savings account. When it came to our wedding we able to keep that money and add it to our down payment fund for our home instead.

        I never once expected either of these gifts, so I never made choices betting I’d receive them.

      • Idkmybffjill

        Also – to be clear. It’s not like they laid it out there that this was what they were going to do. And those two circumstances were the only times it happened. So I haven’t walked around life being like, “I’m gonna make a decision I can’t afford cause my dad might surprise me.”

  • Anonymoney

    I saw this first hand with my husband’s family during our wedding. My husband had (has) a lot of baggage related to his parents’ divorce and years of bickering over child support, school costs, education loans, etc. There were lots of broken promises and unfair treatment between siblings.

    For the wedding, his father “generously” offered to pay X amount for our venue (the majority of the cost) and the venue asked for half as a deposit and then the remainder six months later. That was a long six months. I *hated* wondering every day if he would renege at the last minute and we’d have to come up with the money ourselves. I *hated* that we had to act like he’d done this very generous thing, while all the time wondering if this would actually be another broken promise. Coming from a family that has a much healthier relationship with money and promises, it was quite a window into my husband’s world. We dealt with it as a couple by saving that money, just in case, so no wedding plans would have to be changed on account of his fickle father.

    Happily, in the end his father did pay the second half as promised, and even threw in an extra amount on top. We’re trying to see this as (maybe) the beginning of a new pattern, along with some other good behavior we’ve observed recently. While I usually try to give people the benefit of the doubt, the stress of the venue money really helped me see things from my husband’s perspective.

  • A

    We are in the midst of getting a HUGE amount of money from my parents for a down-payment/renovations on a new home, and my parents are moving with us. They will be next door in a detached apartment, though still very close.

    For me, it’s easy. We all get along very well and have thought a lot about what conditions will be in place (i.e., there will be a red/green symbol that we use in both houses to say “it’s ok to come over” or “privacy, please”). It’s harder for my husband – he is happy to have them nearby but doesn’t like taking their money.

    • MDBethann

      Is your parent’s apartment part of the cost of the home? If so, you aren’t “taking their money” at all – they’re paying for part of the down payment on their new home too. I hope things work out for your new living arrangement. Just remember that things may take a bit to get comfortable – give yourselves a window of a year or so at least to make sure it works. My (5 years younger) sister moved in with me after she finished college to work in DC and save money for grad school. I was 27 at the time and it had been 9 years since we’d last lived together full time. It took several months to get used to one another and my mom later said there were a few times she was worried we’d kill each other. In hindsight, it was a great two years and we are closer than we otherwise would have been, especially since I stayed in Maryland and she’s in Massachusetts now, but it was rough going for awhile. You unconsciously slip back into old behaviors and habits you thought you’d outgrown.

  • Cellistec

    I’ve been through two variations on this: “no strings attached” from my mom generously paying for more than half the cost of our wedding, with zero input (I didn’t ask for it and she didn’t interject); and “we’re going to hang this over your head forever” from my in-laws paying for just the rehearsal dinner. No surprise which one I prefer. When I was growing up my dad always said “when you loan money to family, it’s not a loan, it’s a gift,” and that’s what I live by. So when family gifts money and then demands something in return (in place of getting the money back), it makes my head explode.

    • idkmybffjill

      Yeah in general I’m super grossed out by wanting something (other than the money returned) in exchange for a gift. If it’s a loan it’s a loan and we can agree on a schedule. If it’s a gift, it’s a gift.

      • Cellistec

        Ugh, I know. My in-laws dangle money (or gifts) to, in effect, buy my husband’s time, because we both prefer not to spend time with them. So they’d never say yes to a repayment schedule anyway, because that would invalidate the time they feel they’re owed. We haven’t taken their money since the wedding (that I know of), but they regularly buy meals or other small tokens for us and then hold the cost of those over his head when he doesn’t do what they want. It’s super messed up. I have no clue what to do about it.

        • Jessica

          Power Play Proposal–pay the bill before they can. Try to not hang it over their heads (like I would be tempted to do), but just smile and say it’s your treat.

          • Cellistec

            That’s actually what we’ve started to do–my husband and I caucus before the meal and agree to cover the whole bill, then let his parents know that before everyone orders. It just makes sense to me, but paying for them every time doesn’t strike him as fair. Screw fair…I just don’t want them to guilt-trip him over a $5 bowl of soup at the Olive Garden. But he’s coming around to the “our treat” way of thinking, and so far, so good.

          • Jessica

            Wait…what if this was all their original power play to get you two to pay for all their meals??
            Just kidding, it’s good he’s coming around. Hosting them at your house for dinner or asking them to cover dessert/drinks if you cover the meal is probably a good place to get to eventually.

          • Cellistec

            Ha! If only that was their end goal. Seriously though, they don’t like to come to our place (too far to drive), and we don’t like to go to theirs (emotional baggage), so restaurants are a good neutral setting. Plus, less risk of yelling. And their tastes run to fake Italian decor and free breadsticks, so it’s never a huge bill. If they start suggesting haute cuisine, I’ll raise an eyebrow for sure!

          • Jessica

            Since my MIL’s fave restaurant is Olive Garden (even though we live in an amazing foodie city), my sympathies.

            Best of luck navigating that in the future.

          • zana

            Well, they paid for all his meals the first 18+ years of his life, it’s only fair to buy their meals twice a month for the next 18 of theirs ;)

          • Cellistec

            Oh, not even twice a month…more like a few times a year. And we make much more than they do, so it’s no hardship. I much prefer it to cringing over The World’s Longest Dinner at their house.

          • flashphase

            That whole situation is awful/stressful, I’m so sorry! Also in my family, parents ALWAYS pay for the meals (like it’s insulting to offer), so I find it fascinating when it’s different in other families.

          • Jessica

            My parents did too, but when it’s just one parent out I now pick up the bill or the drinks/dessert. When my mom got fired last year my husband and I picked up the whole thing because that’s what you do when someone has a shitty day.

            We’re starting to move more towards adults hanging out rather than parents and children.

          • Lexipedia

            My parents have kids ranging from 48 (stepdad is older) to 28 (me) and they would never, ever, ever let any of us pick up the check for a meal. Other people, like new partners, find it a bit weird but it’s a battle us kids have been fighting since my oldest stepsister turned 18 – so longer that I’ve been alive. We’ve just given up.

            Flights, however, they tend to pick up inconsistently. Like they have paid for my flights for a family wedding or funeral, as something they want me to come to but isn’t in my budget to pay for. Not like I couldn’t afford it, but something unexpected that they want me at as a family thing.

          • I don’t believe my grandparents (on my mom’s side) have ever let any of their kids pay for a meal. It is the same with my parents, and something I don’t even think about since it’s so expected in our family culture that the parents will pay for the meal. My husband keeps trying to pay though. (Also I run into trouble with his family, where apparently we are supposed to refuse the offer to pay and pay for ourselves because it is just not something I think about. Especially when it is something like getting ice cream).

          • emmers

            I grew up with this too, and so did my husband. But when his parents got divorced, it reset things, so when we’re with either of them either everyone pays their own way or sometimes we pay for stuff. It definitely took me awhile to get used to– just different ways of doing things.

    • stephanie

      “When I was growing up my dad always said “when you loan money to family, it’s not a loan, it’s a gift,” and that’s what I live by. ” YES. This is our plan, in our home. When we have borrowed money from my MIL, she has always been very generous and also like this. We’ve borrowed from her three times (the first two early in our relationship) and only paid back the third, and even then she was like “You really don’t have to” — but it felt great to do so.

  • Amy March

    I think it looks so different when there isn’t an emotional blackmail aspect to it. My parents are paying for my sister’s wedding because they can afford to and really want to. In return, they expect to be involved in planning the wedding- guest list, meeting with vendors, signing contracts etc. My mother and sister don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but at the end of the day they both want her to have a beautiful wedding she loves and it seems to be working out pretty great for all involved!

    • Katharine Parker

      “at the end of the day they both want her to have a beautiful weddings she loves and it seems to be working out pretty great for all involved!” This is exactly how I feel with my parents. We all want the same thing–a beautiful wedding day. So far we haven’t had any fights about wedding planning and I haven’t yelled “it’s MY day” at them once–we’re doing great!

    • stephanie

      YES, I do agree. I really, really hope to be able to have a healthy relationship with my child as he ages when it comes to money. It’s scary when you have NO positive examples of how to do this in your life.

      • Jessica

        Where is @Lisa and her finance blog??

        • Lisa

          I am so sad I missed out on this discussion! I was on vacation, am still catching up on APW articles, and have so many weird feelings surrounding money and family.

      • AP

        This is kind where I am too. My family was broke when I was growing up, so all college and most of my adult expenses were on me. Once I moved out of the house at 18, I tried as hard as I could to reduce my financial burden on them. As my mom became more financially secure later in life, she started helping out as she could (helping me with a down payment for a car when the one I’d inherited from her broke down, helping pay for my wedding because she wanted to invite more family, etc.) And she’s let me move back in with her if I’ve needed to. But I have no frame of reference for asking for money, receiving money, giving money, or even navigating the strings that come with money. My youngest siblings on the other hand, came of age after my family was better off financially, and I’ve watched how asking for money/dealing with the strings has impacted both them and my parents. I don’t really know what to make of any of it, or how to apply it to my future kid(s).

        • idkmybffjill

          Gosh – that’s such an added layer to consider too. How does your financial situation effect how you can support your kids. Obviously it’s amazing if you could give your kids everything if you so choose and then you can decide what you do give from there. More difficult conversation when it’s “what are we actually able to give.”

          • AP

            Exactly. This is why I have a hard time with this conversation. There was no money, so there was no asking for money. Plain and simple. (That said, moving back in with my mom as an adult came with all kinds of strings, and I probably wouldn’t do it again!) But my husband and I have a much different financial reality than the one I grew up in, which is closer to how he grew up. I’m not fully on board with how his parents handle money with their kids (super generous, no strings, but also no awareness of privilege and responsibility) so I’d like to figure out a different way forward for our future family.

          • Her Lindsayship

            Same same same. Except my soon-to-be in-laws are also pretty frugal, even if they’re better off than my parents were when I was growing up. I grew up learning to deal with the fact that basically once I was 18, I had to take care of myself financially. I can’t imagine raising my own kids differently. I know people want to give their kids everything, but for me, my independence is SO important, and I’d want my kids to have that too. And I definitely would want to send them to public school, which is where my fiancé and I clash. Thankfully we don’t plan to have babies anytime soon.

          • AP

            We’ve had disagreements like this too. I originally felt that I wouldn’t contribute toward my future kids’ college, because I felt that figuring out how to pay for college and learning to be independent was a really valuable lesson for me. But that was also when tuition was half what it is now, and state scholarships were much easier to get. My husband has convinced me that we should at least pay for what we can without compromising our own retirement, which I think is reasonable (on a case by case basis though- I probably wouldn’t pay for full private school tuition, or continue to pay if my kid were partying and making bad grades.) One thing I definitely don’t want to pass on to my kids is the money stress and anxiety I’ve had since childhood, so we’ll have to figure out some compromises I’m sure.

          • Ashlah

            What to save towards college is something we’re having to figure out too. We both had zero contributions towards college from our parents, and have that mixture of pride that we paid for it ourselves and frustration at thinking about what else we could have done with that money. We’re absolutely prioritizing retirement regardless, but the amount we’d be willing/able to cover for college is still up in the air. (Maybe in 18 years, we’ll have universal college education? Eh?)

          • Amy March

            I think its important to remember, when thinking about this sort of stuff, that there are lots of different ways to teach children how to be independent and responsible. One way is cutting them off at 18. Another is not paying for college. But those are just tools to the bigger lesson- its entirely possible to help your kids out financially and teach them responsibility and independence.

          • Her Lindsayship

            I can’t speak for AP, but just want to say I totally see this point and recognize that my perspective is based on my experience alone, and that it would probably have been very different if my parents had told me, “We could pay for your education, but we’re choosing not to.” All the same, since I learned independence out of necessity, that will be a bit of a challenge for me – teaching it in a different way. But I do see that just because someone’s parents paid their tuition doesn’t mean they never learned the value of a dollar.

          • Katharine Parker

            What’s hard about choosing not to contribute to your child’s college tuition when you are in a financial position to do so is that in most cases financial aid is determined based on parents’ income and with the expectation that parents will contribute. That doesn’t mean you can’t decide how much you would contribute and make certain expectations clear to your kids (apply for scholarships, hold a part-time job, no failing classes, etc), but choosing not to give any help almost definitely means your kid would be saddled with huge loans, even at a state school (in-state tuition can be easily 10-15k+). Teaching financial responsibility is a long-term lesson, not just one decision.

          • AP

            You know, that’s not something I’d considered. It’s a really helpful perspective, since like I said in other comments, I have no frame of reference for what it’s like to raise kids in a financially comfortable environment. And when we first had those talks, it hadn’t even crossed my mind that I’d ever reach a better financial situation and I kind of assumed I wouldn’t be able to afford college for my kid anyway. But it’s different now, and the conversation we have now is very different as well. We’ve already decided to set up college accounts for our kid(s) when they’re born, and we contribute to our niece’s and nephews’ college accounts now because we can.

          • Emily

            Yuuup. This. Additionally, federally subsidized / unsubsidized loans (which tend to be the ones with 6-7% interest rates) are doled out based on parental income – ie you have to qualify for a certain loan package based on what you submit. If your parents refuse to contribute / you need more, you need to get those in the private markets. My private loans (with a parent cosigner) were at Libor + 9%(!!).

          • Anecdotally, the couple kids I knew in this situation in school had some… Not super healthy attitudes about money and their own privilege imo. Like, they were very attuned to how unfair their financial aid situation was, very not attuned to the fact that they did have at least *some* kind of safety net.

            Granted I’m biased because the person that sticks out in my mind about this was a jerk — She liked to tell me how lucky I was my family was poor because I got real financial aid and once ranted that she deserved food-stamps more then working parents because someday she would “actually contribute to society” and I’m sure this objectivist creep was the exception not the rule. But maybe worth thinking about how having your parents choose not to pay for your school is a different dynamic then your parents being unable to pay for your school.

          • Hannah B

            ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh wow that girl needs a reality check! What a horrible thing to say

          • Katharine Parker

            Yikes, she sounds like a selfish, entitled nightmare of a human. The people I knew who were affected by this were people from complicated divorced families where one parent made a lot more money but didn’t want to contribute more or something like that. The other circumstance that I can think of this happening and deserving sympathy (and an actual solution, which maybe some schools have put into place) is for kids who are cut off by their parents after coming out.

            My original comment was not to suggest that the way financial aid is allocated should be changed, just that parents should be aware of this.

          • EF

            @disqus_CWVZ8DKh2R:disqus i think it’s interesting you said you wouldn’t pay full private school tuition.

            please keep in mind that if your kid can get into a very good private university, and you make under a certain amount (like, 150K-200K/year) you won’t pay much, if anything, to the university.

            a lot of people have this idea i come from a wealthy background because of where i went to school. i don’t. it was cheaper to go to the ivy league school than to my state university, because of the means-testing they did for tuition.

          • Katharine Parker

            Yeah, the kinds of commitments the ivies and their ilk have made to fully funding need-based aid make them often the best financial option for those who get in and qualify for aid. I have friends who were on full aid who got an extra check for a winter coat every year.

          • AP

            That’s awesome! But it wasn’t my experience when applying for college. More than one private college I looked at told us that if I got accepted, I’d be responsible for a certain percentage of tuition (of course I could take out loans.) That’s why I chose the state school that offered a full scholarship and room/board, even though its academics were just average. I’m grateful to have finished undergrad with no debt.

            I don’t have anything against private schools. What I meant was, more broadly, we’ll most likely have a set number of dollars that we can afford to contribute to college, and if our kids choose to go somewhere more expensive they will have to make up the difference with scholarships or student loans. I had lots of friends in college who were from out of state, and it shocked me that some of them were paying 3x the tuition that in-state kids paid, and on their own dime because there weren’t many scholarships for out of state kids outside of sports.

          • quiet000001

            The general rule for applying to colleges these days is – apply where you want, regardless of tuition, unless it will totally gut you if you get in and can’t go because of finances. But a lot of places have more money than you’d think and it can be hard to predict how they will hand it out (it depends on hidden factors also, like how important they think a student is to building the type of student body they want, and you have no idea what they’re doing or thinking on that score) and if you don’t apply you DEFINITELY can’t go, whereas if you apply and get in and have to turn them down, that isn’t a black mark on your permanent record or anything.

            I know someone who was applying for colleges last year and wasn’t going to apply to a couple of schools because she didn’t think she’d get enough financial aid to afford it, and eventually I got her to at least apply and she’s actually going to one of those schools because they were able to offer her a combination of merit and means-tested financial aid that worked for her. The other one she got into and got a better financial aid package than she was expecting to, but it wasn’t quite good enough and since she preferred the other school, she didn’t bother to go back to them to say ‘hey, this other place is offering me a better package, can you match it?’ – which is also something you can do.

            And as far as the FAFSA and only giving kids a certain amount – I also know kids whose parents were well off but would only contribute so much (or not at all) to their tuition because of Principle, and for most of those kids it ended up being a real issue in their relationship with their parents because they felt like their parents were intentionally choosing to make things harder for them and depriving them of opportunities. (In some fields, for example, unpaid internships are crazy important, but also extremely difficult to actually do if you need to work to pay bills. So they’d have to turn down good internship opportunities that would have really been a benefit when they graduated, even though the money to cover costs for the internship period was available.) So you have to really think about that approach and understand what the numbers all look like (or are likely to look like.)

            Personally, I’m fond of the ‘gap year’ approach to teaching independence. Rather than going directly to college after high school, you take a year off and do something productive (like volunteering) but outside of your comfort zone a bit. In the UK there are a number of gap year programs – someone I knew did a gap year volunteering in Thailand with one of the programs, which was really eye-opening for her since previously she’d never left her corner of England – so kids can go to more interesting places and do something useful but still have a safety net that isn’t mom and dad. I.e. if they have a major health issue or something while abroad, the program folks help deal with that, and give lots of safety advice and so on, but there’s no day to day handholding like there would be from a parent. So there’s an opportunity to learn to be independent and make your own decisions without an older adult standing over you, but the parents don’t have to feel like they’ve thrown their kids to the wolves.

            Of course the international option can be a bit of a privileged activity – it depends a lot on the program how many expenses are covered versus how much you have to pay – often at least lodging and a stipend for meals and the like is provided but you may have to pay for your own travel to/from – but the concept is probably something that can also be applied for things closer to home/more affordable. The key is that the kid does not spend the gap year studying their bellybutton lint, they spend it doing something that helps them learn and grow as a person and understand more about the world and how they fit into it.

            (I ended up basically doing a gap year myself – not intentionally, my grandmother got sick the summer before college and it worked out the best way to deal with it was for me to postpone college for a year – no problems doing that with the college I’d arranged to go to – and live with her and take her to doctor’s appointments and help out. So I was still with family, but my grandmother’s health meant she couldn’t do FOR me and I had to be responsible and not expect all my problems to be solved by someone else, and it really did help me become more independent and feel better prepared for college.)

          • Lawyerette510

            I’m late to this party, but thought I’d chime in with the example of my in-laws, who I think have done a good job of super generous, no strings but with awareness of privilege and responsibility.

            1. They are transparent about their investments, finances and business, and how they make their decisions.

            2. They paid for what they considered reasonable, a baseline of sorts, but not for the luxury or over-the-top. For example, they paid for his (and his siblings) college including base-line living expenses that assumed a very modest lifestyle with the condition that he maintain a certain GPA, but didn’t give enough for living expenses that included party-money, lift-tickets and gear (he went to school in Colorado), spring break trips, etc. They took (and continue to take) the family on interesting trips and vacations but stay in mid-market to economy places and cook most meals in, not because they can’t afford higher-end and meals out, but on principle.

            3. They prioritize articulating causes and values and giving accordingly. From the time their kids were little, each kid had to pick causes and explain why they mattered and then were given a dollar amount the kid had to choose (with guidance) how to budget between the causes. Then the parents actually made donations in the kid’s names to those groups. They still do this, and these days husband and I have a pretty significant (compared to our annual income) budget of donations we get to determine on a yearly basis. (We don’t have to explain why the causes matter, these days).

            4. They prioritize responsible investment and money management. From a relatively early age, they set their kids up with small investments and an investment advisor that the kids had to meet with and discuss their investments with.

            5. They give gifts, but at pretty consistent times and never in a way that feels overwhelming or with strings attached.

          • AP

            I appreciate this comment so much. On a recommendation from one of Meg’s posts about money, I’ve been following the Bad with Money podcast and plan to read Mind Over Money soon. Gaby’s experiences on the podcast, especially the first few episodes where she interviews her parents and sister, really hit home for me, that I grew up with what she calls “poor person thinking.” Which is always highlighted on posts like these, where I simply cannot relate to people who didn’t grow up like I did- in a household where money was scarce, scary, and something we didn’t talk about. I’ve done a lot of work to improve my understanding of even the basics of financial management, and I’m proud of the path my husband and I are on financially. But I still can’t talk to my parents about money.

            I love your examples- the transparency about money is one that I experience with my inlaws too. No one is shy about talking about money, and money isn’t this taboo subject. It’s very freeing. I especially love #3, and this is where my husband and I differ. I feel a tremendous responsibility and desire to share what I have, now that I have something to share. He wouldn’t think to give to charity if I didn’t push it (this comes from his parents, who hate taxes and the government and would give the shirt off their back to a friend but not a dollar to a stranger.) I want to raise our kids differently, and I love how your inlaws started that early on! #s 2,4,5 are things my husband and I do already, so I feel like we’re on the right track if we’re able to model that for our kids!

            Thanks for sharing this <3

        • Cellistec

          That’s a really interesting dynamic. Is it weird when you and your siblings talk money among each other, given that you grew up with different experiences around it?

          • AP

            Absolutely! I’m ten years older than my youngest sister and five years older than the middle siblings. Things changed a LOT for my family in the few years after I graduated high school- my mom remarried, bought a house, got promoted. Their quality of life changed really fast, and their spending rose to match. Which I’m not sure did my siblings any favors…the youngest two never really learned how to save or budget, how to tell wants vs. needs, how to plan for the future. In a way it is taking them a lot longer to grow into adulthood. So my siblings and I are on different *planets* when it comes to money. I know my parents wanted to make up for lost time, but it’s not really the example I want to follow either.

          • flashphase

            This happened to a family in my extended family – there’s actually a ton of resentment from the older sibling towards the younger siblings because they always had a more comfortable life. Kudos for you for keeping it in perspective.

          • AP

            I definitely had some resentment when I was younger and saw my siblings with their Coach bags and Costa sunglasses, things I’d never in a million years have asked my parents for. But I don’t have any of those feelings now, and we all get along fine. I can see the resentment maybe coming back down the road when my parents are needing more help and I’m the only one of the kids who is willing/able to step up, but who knows? Maybe they’ll surprise me.

          • Cellistec

            Wow, different planets indeed. My siblings and I are in a similar situation: they’re much older than I am, and from our dad’s first marriage. My mom was very well paid while she was working, so my younger sister and I grew up with more luxuries than our older siblings did. And it feels weird. For example, no one ever mentioned to us that a couple of our older siblings were hurting financially, OR that they needed loans (read: gifts) from each other and my parents. I don’t know why they hid this from me (until about a year ago), but I also would have felt weird if they’d asked me for money. So, weirdness all around. I get it.

          • AP

            Interesting…this is the first time I’ve ever really thought about these family differences, and it is surprisingly comforting to see others sharing similar experiences.

          • Jessica

            Things kind of went in reverse for my husband’s family, where they could afford to help out the two older siblings but could not help with the two younger (including my husband). There are a lot of issues around money and asking for help (of any kind) within his family that I just…hate. It’s not really an issue in my family because my parents were pretty intentional for treating my brother and I equally.

    • Yeah, my parents wanted to pay for the wedding (they had money for it). Although they did end up basically planning the wedding for me, but that was definitely through my lack-of-interest and out-of-town on my part combined with a local and just-retired mother. Anything I had a strong opinion on, I picked out (cake. It was the cake.) So it worked out pretty well for us, but I think we have a generally healthy relationship regarding money.

      • GotMarried!

        Thats awesome … the cake was one of two items that we treated the opposite. My mother paid for and chose my cake and flowers because I did not care.

        • Anna

          My mother is making our cake because I DO care and she makes the best cakes :-) But also, it’s incredibly generous of her to be willing to do that – honestly more so than if we were talking money here – because it’s a pretty major time expenditure, particularly given that she has a full-time-plus job (she’s a hard-science professor, currently chair of her department, in the process of moving into university administration) and a new boyfriend…

    • Katherine

      My parents were the exact same way. They paid for our wedding, and my mom and I went to every single vendor meeting together. We also disagreed on certain things – we only had one real sticking point, and it was over the alcohol – but overall, it was a wonderful experience and brought us closer together as adults in a lovely way that I had not expected.

    • Washingtonian

      I would love to know if all of you in this lil’ baby offshoot thread have any secrets to how things went smoothly with your parents. I’m not even engaged yet (bf and I are thinking in a year or so), but both our sets of parents are chomping at the bit because they know it’s coming.

      My mom has been, quite frankly, a b*tch every time the discussion about my hypothetical future wedding has come up in the past 15 years or so (half my life). She actually screamed at me once when I was in high school I said I wanted to elope. She thinks she’s perfectly reasonable and that she wants perfectly reasonable things–just having a say in how her money is spent. And when she puts it like that, of COURSE she sounds like she’s being reasonable. The problem is she’s NOT. She just takes this awful nasty attitude with me. She snaps at me, gives me the stink eye, a death glare, or gets sarcastic with me if I mention an idea she doesn’t like, and she even called me a bridezilla once because I didn’t like her venue suggestion. She is very stuck in the past with regards to weddings. She thinks it’s her social requirement and birthright to pay for the entire cost of my wedding, and to be involved in the planning–to be the project manager and have the final say. I’m also worried she will have a hard time being gracious toward my bf’s parents and “letting them” contribute to the planning. I’m pretty sure she thinks the vast majority of weddings are still funded solely by the bride’s parents.

      The assumption of involvement and sense of entitlement is driving me nuts. I want her to understand that she has to be invited into this process, and she is not automatically in charge. As far as I’m concerned, she does not have the automatic right to see me get married, she has to be invited. I’m allowed to get married without her there, and I’m allowed to pay for my own wedding and shut her out of the planning process entirely. (I don’t WANT to do those things, but I want her to understand that is something reasonable couples do all the time and it’s a valid option that wouldn’t make my bf and I heartless people.) I’m pretty resentful she sees my wedding as “her” party that she and my father get to throw, and that they think it needs to be a certain way, and that it will be a reflection on them.

      Obviously I am wondering if my bf and I should pay for our own wedding, but I know he’ll be disappointed if I bring that up…because he wants the big wedding and we don’t know if his parents will offer to help financially (I’m not sure what size wedding I want, but I think I could be happy with either a big wedding, or a tiny courthouse-and-dinner thing). Our own budget will be tiny. It kinda comes down to my folks.

      I just can’t stand the lack of self-awareness my mother has towards her own tone of voice and facial expressions when it comes to this topic. It’s like whenever my wedding comes up, she has a personality transplant.

      *Whew!* It feels good to vent. Thanks for reading this far. I don’t know if any of you have advice. Either way, I’m glad you all had a good experience with your parents :)

      • MDBethann

        Introduce your mom to this site. Seriously. Send her links to some of the “Real Weddings” so she can see what a variety is out there and how different families pay for them. The “who paid for what” is in a bunch of the posts. You may just not want to tell her your screen name for posting on this site ;-)

  • Emily

    Money is so weird. My parents have always been of the “if we got it, it’s yours” mentality which definitely is the way they were also raised. I have paid all of my own bills, starting when I got my first cell phone and had to buy my own minutes, and including my student loan payments and living expenses in college. BUT anytime I’ve ever needed something, my folks usually have my back and if not them my grandparents do, and they as a rule do not expect to be paid back but have once or twice expected a payment plan (like when I randomly decided to take off for 6 weeks and consequently maxed my credit card and couldn’t pay for a flight home), which I have dutifully paid-in full, on time. J’s fam is NOT that way. For example, he is expected to pay the parent loans his parents knowingly took out to pay for his college education. The loans are not in his name, can never be in his name, and yet we write my in-laws a check every GD month for several hundred dollars. We would never ask them for money, because they would be flabbergasted and probably angry. We have a great relationship with both sets of parents, but money is def. a dividing line.

    • zana

      Cell phones are weird, because when your kid is in high school you kind of need them to have a cell phone so they can tell you where they are. This is exactly how I ended up with my parents paying for my cell phone…all the way through to their retirement ;)

      • My husband and I are definitely still on our individual parent’s plans. I’ve asked them before if they want me to pay them my part of the bill (overall, it makes more sense to stay on their family plan for now but I could definitely cover my part of the bill by giving them money every month). Their approach to this issue is that they have enough money to cover it and don’t mind and also I think they think it would be too much work to get that money from me every month. But every year or so I reoffer to pay it.

        • Emily

          Of all of my bills, I hate hate hate paying AT&T, I think I’ve developed some sort of mental block on it. If my parents were like “hey, let’s be on a family plan” I would not ever object

          • Yeah they don’t hold me to anything or ever really comment on it (slash I think they mostly don’t remember that they pay it for me except when occasionally there is an issue with our phones) so I really have no problem with them paying it. I just check in every so often to make sure they are ok with it.

          • Lexipedia

            Oh gosh, I can’t wait to get a plan with SO. He’s on his family plan, and pays less than half of what I do as a single person with a different provider. I told him that we damn well better be getting on a shared plan soon, because T-Mobile is making me crazy, and if it’s his family’s I won’t object. He gives them money for his bill, and we would just give them double that amount in future.

          • Lexipedia

            Also, I bet his brother’s partner will do the same. Is there some sort of person max-out for family plans? Like, at six lines will they kick us off? ;)

        • Abs

          I was still on my parents’ plan until this year. Their position was that it was barely more money for four people than three, and I would be paying way more to have my own. I’ve offered to pay them back, but it’s a bit awkward because they don’t like taking money from me. I wanted to be on my partner’s plan to solve this, but he was on this weird one that wouldn’t let me keep my iPhone. Fortunately we’ve moved to another country, so I’ve been forced into adulthood on this one.

          • Yeah, they have 5 people on their plan (plus I think the home internet and phone line) because of my younger sisters, so 4 versus 5 is not much of a difference at all for them, apparently.

        • GotMarried!

          I was still on my parents plan until I got married, because so much cheaper. i just made a payment monthly to Verizon for my part of the bill. Realistically sometimes I’d miss a month or two and then catch up on the amount. This was a problem because it was one way my mother in particular would try and control/stalk who I talked to (specifically my dad).

        • flashphase

          My parents and I are on a family plan – and I pay it! I get a discount through work so it made sense. I ask them for a check every month! We are pretty relaxed about it though :)

        • Katherine

          We both just got off our parents’ plan at the beginning of this year – it was largely necessary because we now live in an area of the country that required a different provider. I hate the added expense, but it won’t be so bad once our phones are paid off (those were also necessary…mine was turning off and freezing throughout the day).

        • Ashlah

          The “when do you leave your family plan” question is such an interesting one, and so unique to our times. We’re each on our parents’ plans too, and send them money every month (automated through our bank accounts). It’s mostly out of laziness, and partly because they are very clearly not charging him the full amount he “owes” for his portion of the plan. Which is highly unusual for them. We’ll take it for as long as they’re happy with it–or as long as he can stand listening to his dad needlessly worrying about their data usage. :)

          • Gaby

            Haha, I thought I would end up finally leaving my family plan after marriage, but we ended up just tripling the data and adding my husband. It’s very affordable this way and none of us goes over the data!

          • Ashlah

            If anything changes (his dad keeps threatening to leave the provider for a much less reliable one), it’ll probably be him moving from his parents’ plan to ours! It just makes sense!

        • emmers

          I find this so interesting. My bro and I are two years apart, but we had completely different experiences. I got a cell phone before my parents, and they gave me money to cover it for my first two years post-college when I was in americorps, but the bill always came directly to me, so I took over payments when I got a regular job. Whereas my bro has been on a family plan with my parents and I think still is. I like the privacy of having my own bill, but I can totally see how there’s not a clear cutoff if you’re on a family plan.

        • Elizabeth

          I’m on the family plan with my parents, and I just collect it personally as a monthly recurring expense and pay them once a year. I definitely agree with being on a family plan as opposed to individual since it makes sense.

      • Anna

        When I was in high school (in the very early smartphone days), I tried to use this as an argument for why I needed a cell phone – just a simple brick phone – to prevent literally getting stranded places if my ride bailed or something. They were completely resistant to this logic (they generally gave me a lot of independence as a kid, and didn’t really expect updates on where I was at all times; they also said I could just “find a payphone” if I really needed to call them, which was only marginally less ridiculous at the time than it would be now), until suddenly they got me an iPhone for Chanukah…

        They paid my cell phone bill from then all the way through college. When I got a new phone shortly after graduating college, I told them I was switching to my own plan and they could take me off theirs – it was at least symbolically important to me that they not pay any of my bills post-college – but it’s not clear that they would’ve ever insisted I get off their plan otherwise.

        Fiance is still on his parents’ plan. He just got a new phone, and I was like “here’s the opportunity to get on a plan together!” but he wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about paying for something if he didn’t have to, and his parents said it was fine for him to just stay on their plan, so…

        • Jessica

          About three weeks after the wedding my FIL called me to get me on their family plan (told me–not asked if I wanted to). My husband was canceling his plan because he would be deployed, but I had seen the nagging that occurred if my husband was even a day late in paying his dad back for the phone bill. I breezily told FIL that I was happy with my current plan and thanked him for offering (he didn’t, he had ordered me to join the plan. It was all weird).

          • Anna

            Oh, that’s deeply weird. Fiance’s parents sometimes nag him about his data usage (mostly during the summer when he’s not at work – he’s a teacher – if we’re traveling and therefore not in wifi all day like we usually are), and I’m like “then take him off your plan! He’s an adult with a real salary! (Not to mention my salary, which is twice his!)”

            Of course, I don’t actually say this to them; I just stay way the fuck out of any discussions about his data usage.

        • zana

          We’re moving to an area where my current (i.e., parents’) cell provider has terrible network. Husband is on his own plan by himself, so it makes sense now to switch off my parents’ plan. For everyone involved.

    • Her Lindsayship

      The parental loans thing is a little tricky – my mom took out a loan for me too, but it was always with the understanding that I’d pay it back, it was not a gift for me. The only reason she took it out instead of me was because she could get a federal loan at a much better rate, where I would’ve had to go for a private loan at an awful rate. You can only get so much in federal loans in the student’s name for undergrad, and it wasn’t nearly enough for my tuition. It was a huge favor for me. Maybe it’s the same for your partner’s parent loan?

      ETA: If this was not the case and they actually took out the loan with the understanding that it was their debt, and THEN told him he had to pay it? Well, that’s awful.

      • Emily

        I know that they took the money out for him because it was at a better rate, but from the limited information I have on their arrangement when the loans were taken out, my husband assumed since they kind of insisted that he go that route that they would be paying it back. I have a feeling that there was only a few very vague conversations about this though and so it’s definitely a lack of communication issue more than anything

        • Her Lindsayship

          Ok yeah, that’s rough. I would’ve had such a hard time talking about the details with my mom if she wasn’t willing to be direct about it with me – I can imagine how your husband got into that situation.

          • Emily

            His family is VERY vague in general about money–I honestly don’t know if they have $100 or $100,000 in their savings account– so even now it’s difficult to raise the issue about repayment, terms, etc.

        • Abs

          Yeah the lack of communication is weird. My partner is paying the loans his parents took out, which wasn’t part of the original deal as I understand it, but he’s making a lot more money than they are right now. But now he feels resentful when they talk to him about things like renovating their house or buying a pool table that they don’t need (to be clear, they are not spending anything like the money necessary to pay back the loans, but he still feels feelings about it). BUT he will never say anything to them about it–there is literally no discussion of the topic between them. I sometimes wonder if they still remember he’s paying the loans.

      • Ashlah

        Similar case with my husband. Loans were taken out with full understanding that he (eventually we) would pay them back. Never any resentment from us, other than the fact that they got to take the tax deduction for the interest we were paying.

        • Her Lindsayship

          Ha, I have no resentment but I also have enough other student loans in repayment that I’m already maxing out that particular deduction without the parent loan interest… So I’m glad my mom can take it, at least SOMEONE gets credit for it! ;)

          • Ashlah

            Ha, well that’s perfect then!

    • GotMarried!

      ooh, I am with you on parent loans. My husband paid the loans that his mom took out to help fund his college and i’m just like “what?”.

  • Katharine Parker

    I have never believed adulthood requires complete financial independence. My parents and my aunts and uncles all received money from my grandparents at different times–some paid it back, others didn’t. It was my grandparents’ money to use as they wanted, and at times they wanted to help their children out with something financial. Sometimes it has caused tension among the siblings, but not accepting the money wouldn’t have prevented that. My parents operate the same way. They are generous with me and my siblings, and have done some of the same things for everyone (they paid for our college educations), but different kids need different things throughout life, from emotional support to money. There aren’t emotional strings attached when they give financial support, but they do chose what to support us on. Right now they’re paying for my wedding, which, therefore, involves inviting a fair number of my parents’ friends and keeping my parents clued in on planning. They don’t want to write me a check and have me use the money however I want, and they’ve never operated that way. But I know and trust that they’ll never use “we paid for your wedding” as an emotional weapon.

    • Amy March

      This is exactly how my parents are. They paid for college- they didn’t demand to see every grade or insist I went where they wanted, but they did expect to be involved in choosing where I went and to know what I was studying and how it was going etc. For our family, this is just what being in a family is, a hodgepodge of help, support, and involvement.

      • stephanie

        UGH YOU GUYS PLEASE HAVE YOUR PARENTS WRITE BOOKS FOR ME. :D

        Seriously ,though. This kind of thing is EXACTLY our goal with our kid – we want to be able to help, to be generous, to set him up for adulthood without massive debt and strings attached. It feels so daunting!

        • Cellistec

          Right? How does one even strike that balance? Even within the same household, a given approach to money can have wildly different results–one kid a financial whiz, one a mooch, say. Maybe it all boils down to experimentation and setting boundaries, like most things?

        • Amy March

          I totally won the parent lottery, it is true. They were always just pretty open about things- “no we can’t do that it’s too expensive” was something I heard not infrequently, and also they talked about things like “we don’t have cable because there are other things we’d rather spend our money on” and “we took a big vacation last year so this year we are taking a smaller one.” They were just matter-of-fact about it. “We’ve saved so we can afford for you to go to college wherever you want, if you want to go to grad school that’s on you.” But they never, ever, even once have made me feel like I owed them anything because of the money beyond treating it with respect. I owe them the world of course, because they are incredible, but not because of the money.

          • Katharine Parker

            I agree with this so much about my own parents. Money is such a small part of how generous and supportive they have been throughout my life.

          • sofar

            My parents were EXACTLY like this too. “We can’t afford that because we want to do/buy this instead” and “Yes, I know your friend’s family has this/that/and the other thing but by not spending money on all that, we don’t have to worry how we’re going to fix the car when it breaks.”

            As a result, I never had any shame in saying, “I can’t swing that right now, you guys have fun” when my friends wanted to do something expensive in college or whatever.

            My husband’s parents, meanwhile, are keep-up-with-the-Joneses types, who have lots of shame around money (they came to the US poor AF, but then made it big). And I’ve had to coach my husband in saying stuff to his friends like, “Hey we already ran through our restaurant budget this month, so let’s meet for coffee instead!” I can tell I make his parents SUPER uncomfortable when I say stuff matter-of-factly like, “We love the house you linked us on Zillow, but it’s way out of our budget.” Like, we must be soooo ashamed of that.

          • SarahRose472

            Interesting to hear that about how your husband’s upbringing shapes his thinking. I also come from a keep-up-with-the-Joneses type of family — both of my parents inherited quite a bit of money from their own parents but never themselves earned as much as their peers, which created a weird dynamic of them pretty much always spending above their means but thinking that this was normal/necessary– but both me and my brother have reacted to seeing that by both becoming pretty frugal and unwilling to spend beyond our means, I think because we saw the stress/shame that my parents lived with because of it.

            (I feel the need to make a disclaimer about how my parents were amazing in most other ways, I just didn’t learn good financial skills from them)

          • sofar

            Yeah, it’s funny about how your parents’ attitudes shape you, even if it’s reacting the opposite.

            It’s funny because, in some ways, my husband thinks he’s the opposite of his parents (because he grew up seeing them trying to keep up). He wears inexpensive clothing long after it has holes; he drives a beat-up car; his apartment (before I moved in) had furniture he literally dug out of the dumpster (or that he’d made himself with “found” materials). All this is a big and deliberate eff you to his parents’ attitudes, and he revels in their discomfort when he drives his junk car to one of their fancy family events.

            But I’ve noticed that he has a LOT of trouble when his friends think we should be able to do something (fancy dinner, vacation, pricey concert). I’m like, “Nope, we already ran through our month’s budget and have other travel planned, let’s meet for coffee.” And he’s like, “But… but… but then they won’t want to be friends with us anymore! They might find cooler friends than us! I don’t want them to think we’re poor!”

          • Jenny

            I agree (both on the parent lotto, and on being open about money and choices about money). I also heard both of my parents express a lot of gratitude about the experiences we had/they gave me (“I feel so lucky that we are able to go to London, I was never able to do that when I was your age.”), and they made sure I knew that I was lucky, and lovingly knocked me down a peg when I said something a little entitled (“Not everyone had gotten to travel and learn how to navigate in a strange city, so maybe you should show her your tricks for orienting your self in a new place instead of getting frustrated”). My parents were also quick to separate money from emotional ties. So when my nine year old self would say stuff, like if you loved me you’d buy me this ice cream/ toy/etc. They shut that shit down.

          • MDBethann

            Amy, my parents were pretty much that way too. Though in one case, they told us we could only get a dog if we agreed to walk and clean up after it, which they knew we wouldn’t want to do (I didn’t like “gross” stuff as a kid) rather than tell us we couldn’t afford a dog.

        • Rose

          I kind of said this in another comment, but one thing that I really think helps make it comfortable when my inlaws give us money is that it feels like an investment in our future. There are things that we want (buy a house, have kids) that they want for us too. It’s not that they give us money with the expectation that we’ll have kids soon, but that they want to help us get where we want to be. I don’t know if that’s at all helpful.

          What I can say, based on my own parents, is that if your kid is worried about your financial situation, they’ll probably worry when you give them money and feel guilty about it. If they’re already worried, telling them not to be won’t help. My theory for how to navigate this is to raise kids with a solid sense of how you’ve budgeted, even if they don’t have all the details, so that they really trust that you’ve got it under control and know what you can afford.

          • NolaJael

            “There are things that we want (buy a house, have kids) that they want for us too.” Same.

          • flashphase

            When I thanked him profusely for paying for a large amount of our wedding, my dad said, “someday you will learn that giving to your children is one of life’s true pleasures.”

        • Sara

          From my personal experience – My parents have always been upfront about money, saving and investing. When we were legally able to work, we either had to find a job or join a sport (because sports take up a significant amount of time and therefore is an excuse, not because it was valued more). If we wanted ‘fun’ money, it was on us to work for and earn it. Or save it like my one brother did. He’s a serious miser.
          When college came up, we discussed at length what they could afford. During that time they explained mutual funds and investing so we knew that they had planned way way ahead for this stuff. And we dug into applying for scholarships like crazy. We discuss retirement funds around the dinner table now and stocks we’re looking at. My dad bought all of us ‘investing for dummies’ when we graduated.
          When I bought my condo, they offered money for a better down payment, but I wanted to do it by myself. But it was nice to have the backup if I needed it.

      • Katharine Parker

        Yes, exactly! My family’s model of caring is that mix of support, involvement, concern, help, and love. It’s not placing strings, it’s caring.

        • Emily

          This is how I’ve always felt–not just between my parents and I but with any family and some friends

      • Alli

        I would love to be able to do that for my kids one day. The idea of paying for college outright was completely foreign to me, my mom cried when I received a full scholarship to a school because she thought college was so unaffordable that I wouldn’t be able to go (which is unfortunately true for a lot of people). But I also saw kids whose parents made them go to school within a half hour of them, or their alma mater and that seemed really crappy in it’s own way. (Always made me think of that cliche movie line of “Son, you’re giving up your dream!” “No dad, I’m giving up YOUR dream!”)

      • Sara

        Yes, my parents paid for my school, but told me if I lost my scholarship for grades they weren’t covering that. So if I partied or slacked off, I had to figure out how to make that amount up.

        I taught overseas for a year after school, and my dad paid off my car before I left so he didn’t have to worry about payments and I wouldn’t have to worry when I got home. When I returned home, we worked out a repayment plan that included interest :) He always says he’ll pay for stuff because he’ll ‘give me a better rate than the banks’

    • Angela’s Back

      That’s a great point that different kids need different things!

    • Gaby

      I have a hodgepodge of several of the experiences other commenters have shared. We were pretty tight on money still when my older brother graduated high school, but I think my parents could have afforded community college for him if he had been interested in it. I worked while going to college but lived at home, rent free, and paid for my car expenses and about 1k of my tuition per semester. My little brother is in college but has severe anxiety issues and does not work, so my parents pay for all of his expenses. My older brother “borrows” from my parents at least once a year but there is never an expected date for him to pay them back and he knows he can ask for more when necessary. He’s the only one of us with kids, and four at that matter, and my parents are more than happy to be able to help his family when things get tight. I don’t think any one of us three kids feels like we are being treated unfairly even if we have all received different treatments, and we’re all very grateful and aware of how lucky we are that our parents are able to do this for us.
      On the other hand! My husband’s father gifted us an expensive wedding gift after not speaking to my husband for years… so we were worried that he would try to hold it over us but just decided that if this happened, we would double down and tell him he was not allowed to buy our time and trust with gifts. It hasn’t happened yet, though, so maybe he just used it as a way to get his foot in the door. (let’s hope.)

    • Lexipedia

      My parents never asked for grades from most of their kids when they paid for our 4-year degrees, but we were generally good students. Most of us also had part-time jobs for non-academic expenses. However, my stepbrother was a bit lazy in college and liked hanging out with friends more than studying or going to class. At that point my parents said that they would only keep paying if he fully devoted himself to school like it was his job. Grades of at least a B- or a good explanation, and complete his degree by a certain point. They also said that if college wasn’t for him then they would totally get it, and he could do something else instead. For the rest of us we were fine without boundaries, but different strokes for different kids.

      After four years without graduating he dropped out, but went back to school later to finish his bachelors at which point I was in grad school and paying for it myself (first degree from savings they had, subsequent degrees were on us). I admit that I was a little pissed when he got to live at home, so no living expenses, and was incentivized to do well because if he got an A in the class my parents would pay his tuition even though he had maxed out his education savings. As a great student I was a little grumpy about what felt like a double standard, but kids need different kinds of support. He graduated and has a great job, and I’m happy for him.

    • MDBethann

      My grandparents were generous with gifts at the holidays and sometimes randomly through the year. My sister and I each got a big gift from our parents when they settled our grandparents’ estate. Sister used hers for grad school; I used mine towards my condo.

      Due to very different school choices (public for me, private for her) and career paths, my sister makes less than half of what I do and lives in a city that is as expensive as mine; I out-earn my parents. Because of this and the fact that she has a lot more student loan debt, my parents have helped her out more financially than they helped me; I’m okay with that. She loves her employer and enjoys her work. I don’t enjoy my job as much as I did, my employer is one of the few likely-stable federal agencies, and I have good benefits so I hang in there, but wish I enjoyed my job more. I recently learned that my parents tell my sister she should find a “government job” that pays better, like mine, but why should she and be miserable if it isn’t what she enjoys? I told her that money isn’t everything and I wish I enjoyed my job as much as she enjoys hers and that she shouldn’t change jobs just for the money – she should LIKE the job too.

      Our parents seem to express guilt that they help her more than they help me, but I honestly don’t mind. If they want to use that money towards a separate 529 account for my children, that’s fine by me – it will be bonus money for my children’s education and won’t count against us when we fill out FAFSA.

      Once we were out of school and had jobs to pay our own way (school was our “job” according to our parents, so they helped with costs while we were in school), my family, when we vacation together, splits costs really equally and “settles up” at the end of vacation (i.e. I bought groceries, my sister bought dinner for everyone one night, my parents paid for the hotel, etc). Sometimes my parents will say a meal is “their treat” and we’ll do the same, but other times my parents won’t let us pay for their share unless we give them tickets for a holiday or birthday. The expectation is that we all pay our own way with the occasional surprise gift thrown in, but we never know when that will be.

  • theteenygirl

    I agree with what has been said. Money is weird in my family. Both my parents grew up without really having any, neither went to college/university, and they kind of just had to figure it out on their own. When they had my sisters and me things were tight but we were definitely better off than they were as kids. Growing up we got a new outfit for the first day of school, a new outfit at Christmas, and a new shirt for our birthday but by the time we were old enough to have part time jobs my parents adopted a “if you need it, we’ll buy it. If you want it, you buy it” method. I worked part time or full time from age 13 on just so that I didn’t have to ask my parents for money. I had seen how much my mum hated asking her mother for help to put a new roof on the house, and to buy a piano for our lessons. So, in a way my parents instilled this sense of financial independence on us at a young age. They taught us a lot about finances, budgeting, saving, etc. and I’m so so happy that because of all that I’ve never had to ask for help, and they have never offered or felt they needed to offer.

    And as an aside, my mum’s dad paid for my parents’ wedding and instead of the 20 person intimate party they wanted, they got a 120+ affair where my grandfather invited every work contact he ever knew… my parents have said since the first day I can remember that they would never, ever, pay for our weddings because of how much they hated theirs.

    • amy

      My family was also of the “if you need it, we’ll buy it; if you want it, you buy it” mentality, and I think it was a good one. We had allowances in exchange for chores as kids and were expected to divide our allowance into spending money, saving money (for some item we wanted to save for) and charity money to donate to a cause of our choosing. When I was 14 I got a part-time job that I held until I went off to college; I stopped earning allowance, but my wages were mine to use as I pleased and because they had instilled good saving habits early on I always had enough saved to buy things I wanted. I think working was great for me, particularly because I worked around mostly adults and learned to handle myself in the workplace. It also made me appreciate the value of money.

      I plan to do the same with my kids.

    • Her Lindsayship

      I’m glad to see someone else in a similar position to mine here… (minus your parents’ wedding story – yikes!) My parents raised us to be financially independent in the sense that they didn’t have any other options, but I’m glad for the way it worked out. My fiancé and I are on track to be in a more financially secure position than they were, but I really hope that if we have kids, we’ll raise them similar to how I was raised.

      It’s funny, I think if my parents had had money, things would have been very different, because they’re very generous. But because of how they raised me, I think even if I had the money, I can’t imagine telling my kid I’d pay for their wedding or even their college education entirely. (I also think education is just ridiculously overpriced in the US and would encourage my kids to go to college in Germany since they’d have family there too. But that’s another story!) I ended up very independent. Maybe I’m a little Scroogey. Pretty sure my fiancé would balance me out though, so it’s ok!

      • E.

        Are you me? Literally everything you said except family in Germany describes my situation.

        My fiance and I talk about this a lot with how we want to raise future kids. It gets tricky when they’re in high school/college because I always did housekeeping at an inn and nannied for the summers because I needed money, while he did unpaid internships and so gained professional connections. I still think working those jobs is beneficial for the perspective and appreciation for money it brings, but if you can afford to give your child that better opportunity it’s hard to turn it down. We each think how we were raised was the best way haha

      • BSM

        We are thinking about moving abroad in the next few years, one big reason being that the cost of living will be lower almost anywhere we’re considering than where we currently live. One other bonus that occurred to me as I read through this thread: a more international upbringing will probably make it more likely that our kids will go to college somewhere other than the US. I have my fingers crossed for Germany!

  • Another Meg

    My parents handled money very differently from how I do or how I will with my kids. They put my five siblings and me through religious school and complained that we were poor the whole time. First of all, NOPE, that’s not what poor looks like. New cars, constant trips to Target for tchotchke, and vacations every year is not my definition of poor. Second, I’m not going to complain about my own damn spending habits to my children as they grow up. Third, public school and paying what we can for college all the way.

    I borrowed money from my parents during my freshman year of undergrad, and it was uncomfortable because the complaints were frequent and they kept asking how soon I could pay it back. One of my older siblings loaned me a giant chunk of money at a low interest rate so I could pay them back in a lump sum- she’d been there and knew how much it sucked to start every family event with “where’s our money?” In short, there was no chance in hell I’d be taking money from them for the wedding, not that they offered. We ended up paying for their house rental for our destination wedding. We budgeted it in because, while they will fly all over the fricking country to see grandchildren for grandparent’s day, our wedding would be a “financial burden” on them.

    • zana

      Ugh. Sorry :(

    • flashphase

      So sorry you had to deal with this! Sounds really difficult.

      • Another Meg

        We’ve gotten used to it. Rice’s parents kind of make up for it, but there’s a part of me that really hates having the “problem” parents while he has the “good” parents. Unfortunately, it kind of causes me to pounce on any flaw his parents may have. For example, we’re adults to my parents, while Rice’s parents tend to treat us like children.

        • Kalë

          “For example, we’re adults to my parents, while Rice’s parents tend to treat us like children.” Didn’t even think on this dynamic until you mentioned it, but this is true for me as well. Because of the awful dynamics in my family of origin, I’ve always distanced myself and valued my independence from them, including financial independence… whereas my fiance has an awesome family dynamic, and his parents are super generous with money – for “us kids”. Interesting.

          • savannnah

            I am on the other side of this and its so stressful to deal with my finance not liking that my parents surprise us with covering expenses. It turns it into a whole big thang when its supposed to be low key and nice.

  • Anon for this

    My parents are paying for 100% of our wedding, and they paid for 100% of my college tuition. They also sat me down at age 21 and told me that they’d established a $10 million trust fund for me, my sister, and our two cousins. Their net worth is somewhere in the high 8-figure range, or possibly low 9 figures (I don’t know for sure because they’ve never been ostentatious about their wealth; both my sister and I grew up with a vague idea that we were upper-middle-class like most of the other families in our town. I didn’t realize how far off that impression was until late high school. My sister is in college now and I’m still not sure she fully knows).

    They’ve never applied any pressure on the basis of “we’re paying for it” – no expectation of input into the wedding (although presumably that’s at least in part because they know me and FH pretty well and have a pretty good idea of what kinds of things we’ll choose), no expectation of input into where I or my sister went to school. There’s some sort of implicit “be reasonable” clause, I guess – they’d presumably swoop in and veto if I said I was planning on coating the entire venue in gold leaf, or something – but they didn’t bat an eyelash at my request to pay all travel, attire, etc expenses for my bridesmaids, who (apart from my sister) are both financially not in a great place right now.

    I sort of vacillate between the two sides of the example they’ve set for me wrt money: on the one hand, they were very not into conspicuous consumption and to some extent deliberately obfuscated how much wealth they had, but on the other hand, generosity is clearly extremely important to them, and sometimes those come into conflict. Like, when a friend tells me she’s wary of coming to a social event out at a bar because she can’t afford the drinks, am I making her more or less comfortable by responding with an offer to pay for her drinks? (In that case, I think because she’s comfortable telling me about her financial position, it’s also okay for me to make the offer?) I try to make it as clear as possible that these offers have no strings attached, but it’s definitely something I should think about that if someone might be coming from a background where money has been used to enforce problematic power dynamics, I’ve got to be careful about how I present that.

    • Emily

      I think the point about loaning money to friends is really interesting. I’ve never thought about the fact that my offering to pay for something, might be seen as a power grab (?). My friends and I are all in similar financial situations so this has not really come up, if I’ve got $20 and I want to buy a beer for a friend, that wouldn’t be seen as anything other. I do often offer to pay for lunch or coffee for my two employees because they’re in college, and I guess I assume that they’re broke. I hope they don’t think of it as like bribery, or anything untoward.

      • Kalë

        As an aside, I’ve always experienced that when there’s a power-dynamic like that already in place, the person-with-power generally (read: pretty much every time, for me) pays. OR, when there is an obvious and known money disparity. When I lunch with my boss, I offer but she brushes it off and pays; when I would go out for drinks with a professor (tiny liberal arts college benefit!), I would get out my wallet and they would insist, etc. So I’ve kind of learned and been inspired by this – when I go out to dinner with my younger SIL, I pay; when I would visit a brewery with my sister when she was in college, I would pay. I feel like it kinda comes full circle, in my experience anyways.

        • Emily

          This is how I had thought of it previously. When I was the college intern, my boss graciously paid for coffee, lunch, happy hour on the regular. I feel like I am just paying it forward, but I will definitely attempt to gauge everyone’s reaction next time I offer.

        • Cellistec

          I’ve read on Ask A Manager that “gifts flow downward” so the lunch-with-the-boss example makes sense. Ditto with younger relatives. With friends, it’s squishier, because you’re peers. When someone offers to pick up a tab for me, I’ll demur once, and if they insist again, I give in and say it’s on me next time. And if I feel like I should pick it up, I offer once, and if they resist, I relent. No need to force the issue, or physically play tug-of-war with the bill as my mom and her sisters do.

          • Kalë

            Ooh, too true. With friends it is a lot stickier. I have a close friend who makes more than I or most of our other friends do (maybe double or triple?), but it doesn’t mean we’re strapped for cash! He ALWAYS insists on paying, like will go settle the bill while you’re in the bathroom, and at this point it’s obnoxious – it feels like he’s lording his wealth over us, or something.

          • Cellistec

            Wow, stealth-paying the bill IS obnoxious! That seems to warrant a chat about how to make things fairer and less necessitating of trickery.

          • Anon for this

            Hmm, I have done the stealth-paying the bill thing to try to AVOID obnoxiousness, i.e., trying to draw less attention to the fact that I’m paying for it… but like, with friends who ARE strapped for cash, not just where my salary happens to be higher. I figure it’s better than, when the check comes, standing up and like all magnanimously saying “I’VE GOT THIS.” This isn’t my usual MO – usually I try to make it clear when I ask them to dinner or whatever that I intend it to be my treat, so it’s already settled by the time the check comes. But it’s always felt to me like it’s preferable to just not make a big deal about it and pay than to point out in their view that you’re paying for their meal.

          • Anon Account

            I second this. My husband tends to do this on occasion when a group of people are out to dinner and he wants to pick up the bill. He does it to avoid being acknowledged as the “person who paid”.

          • NolaJael

            Yeah, I’ve definitely had situations where stealth paying was appropriate. An adult friend would often stealth-pay for his Jewish mother who would never dream of letting someone else pay, but it was as much an issue of low self-esteem as of gifting (like she didn’t think anyone would want to eat out with her, so she thought she was buying time, even though she was really awesome and we were happy to).

          • Anna

            My enormous Jewish extended family raises stealth paying to something of an art form. At one big family dinner out, my uncle sneakily went to pay while everyone was eating dessert, only to find out that one of the cousins had given her card to the restaurant when we arrived with instructions to put the entire meal on the card. The next time, he gave his card info when he made the reservation. The whole doing-whatever-it-takes-to-pay-first thing is supposed to be a good-natured, affectionate gesture (and that’s always how everyone in the family interpreted it) but it really freaked my fiance out the first few times he saw it. He definitely interpreted it as a wealth-flaunting one-upmanship thing, which was not how any of us intended it or saw it (it helps that everyone in this part of the family is in a pretty comfortable financial position).

          • Cellistec

            Ha! I can see how this can be a good-natured game of one-upsmanship, rather than a wealth-flaunting move. That’s the way my mom and her sisters play it too, but they haven’t graduated to the level of your family yet. Something to aspire to! :p

          • $$$

            I used to think it was affectionate in my family until my grandmother got older and straight out said “money is power” to my uncle when he told her he didn’t need her money and she was confused why he wouldn’t want it. She had insinuated that none of her children would see her once she spent all her money.

    • idkmybffjill

      Ugh the generosity dynamic has been hard for me too. I grew up seeing my dad usually grab the bill for large group outings – and it was something I SUPER admired and aspired to. In college my best friend was always broke, but never really found a job or anything to mitigate that. For quite a while I’d always offer to spot her, but it eventually came that she expected if we were going anywhere I would be paying, and it became this really unhealthy dynamic. It’s tough!

    • NolaJael

      I would have absolutely no idea how to plan a wedding in this circumstance. Without a budget, I would be at a total loss.

      • Anon for this

        It helps that FH and I both had one or two things we really wanted (easy to plan with a flexible budget because you just go for it) and everything else, we didn’t really care too much about the details (easy-ish to plan with a flexible budget because you basically take the first option that looks reasonable). I imagine if we’d had a different set of preferences it would’ve been more difficult.

    • Abs

      Oh man, in my family offering to pay is this huge power grab BECAUSE it accurately reflects everyone’s relative financial positions. So like my aunt and uncle would get really pissed when their siblings would offer to pick up dinner, because they saw it as a comment on how they made less money (which of course it was, just not in a mean way). And then they absolutely refused to let me pay for anything (including coffee) while I was in grad school, even though they knew I was supporting myself and wanted to pay, “because I didn’t have a real job”. Moral of the story–there don’t have to be strings attached–it can still be this weird status thing that makes the other person feel shitty.

      • Anon for this

        Yeah, that’s more what I’m worried about – that it comes across as me rubbing in that I have a fairly well-paying job while some of my friends are struggling through grad school with lots of debt, etc. I don’t think my friends will take it as me wanting them to owe me, but I do worry that they’ll think I’m showing off my financial position or like being condescending about theirs. But often the alternative is not getting to spend time with them at all because they don’t have the budget space for drinks/dinner out/whatever activity. I try to in general make my behavior reflect that my intention is some combination of supporting them because I care about them and spending more time with them because I enjoy their company, so hopefully I’m not coming across as obnoxiously flaunting my financial stability, but…

        • Shiloh

          I think it’s great that you’re thinking about these things, and based on the very thoughtful way you come across in your comments, I would guess most of your friends realize your motives and hopefully take your offers in the generous spirit in which they are meant.

          One additional suggestion though, on the topic of how to spend time with friends with less financial resources – one of the greatest gifts my group of friends ever gave me (when I was in grad school and struggling to connect with people because I could never afford to go out with them) was to switch to doing regular dinners where we would all go to the grocery store together and share the cost of ingredients (which I could afford!), cook together at someone’s house, and then eat together. Being able to spend quality time together in a way that fit with my budget was huge, and I still am so grateful to the one friend who really paid attention, figured out why I wasn’t going out with everyone, and was the driver behind the whole group changing. I realize this approach wouldn’t work in all situations (small kitchens, not enough time to prepare a meal together, etc), but it made a huge difference for me.

          • Kara

            Yes! And have potluck nights. Back when we’d rent a movie from Blockbuster, we’d have potluck nights (sometimes we’d even have Iron Chef nights–each dish would use one common ingredient like–spinach or corn). It was a great way to connect

    • EF

      just weighing in on friends paying for things.

      i unexpectedly lost my job a couple months ago, after a really difficult personal time (partner’s mother dying after long illness, etc). there’s not…been much financial wiggle room. i went out for drinks with a friend a couple weeks ago, as a sort of ‘hooray look at all these job interviews i have!’ and whilst i was ok with paying for 2 beers, i really couldn’t afford going to dinner.
      my friend just took me aside and say, ‘look, i come from a well-off background. i have a trust fund. i’m never truly going to want for anything. but you know what, you’re going to end up doing amazing and making more money than me someday! let me buy you dinner this time. you can buy me dinner when you get a big bonus at your next job.’
      that was SO what i needed to hear. it didn’t really make me feel awkward or like the poor friend, but the financial dynamics really are there between us. so i let her buy me dinner, we talked and laughed and got drunk and it was beautiful. and i totally can’t wait to take her out for dinner when things are a little better on my end — though i am 100% sure she didn’t view as an exchange, just a ‘this is what you do for friends’ thing.

    • Jenny

      Something that has worked for my friends( though the money differences have been mostly situational, in and out of grad school, switching careers, just had a kid/big move/bought a house) is to take turns treating. So my friend would pick up a dinner tab when I was in grad school and she had a well paying job, and then I would buy her coffee the next morning at Starbucks, or a drink the next time we were out. It was a way of trading generosity without it seeming like we were keeping tabs.

  • amy

    My parents and my in-laws differ so much in this regard.

    My parents paid for the majority of my college tuition and living expenses (except for about 20k in loans, which I paid back myself) and when I graduated, they gave me a cash gift of a few thousand dollars and essentially pronounced me financially independent. If I had really struggled or couldn’t make ends meet I’m sure they would have given me a loan, but there were no more cash gifts with the exception of a gift to go toward wedding expenses when I got married. This is totally normal and ok to me, and I appreciate the excellent start they gave me.

    My in-laws, on the other hand, are much more of the “what’s yours is mine” mentality. They choose to live frugally and give their adult children large amounts of money with zero strings attached. They completely financially support one of their adult children who lives out of state, doesn’t have a job, and doesn’t have plans to get one, which is something that would never happen in my family (there would be a time limit to the cash flow and we would be expected to pay that money back with interest, and be actively job searching). My husband and I are financially independent at this point but they have also helped us out by paying my husband’s student loans and assisting with a down payment on a house.

    I hugely appreciate their assistance, and they can afford to do it and are happy to do it to help their children. But it also can feel awkward because it’s not the way I was raised and I keep expecting there to be some sort of expectation of tit for tat. The tat (or is it the tit?) is going to be that someday we will be expected to take care of them in their dotage, probably in our home, and that’s something we’re happy to do. So it will come full circle. But it’s a very different mindset.

    • Cellistec

      Excellent point about the tat (or the tit, whichever). That expectation of caregiving for elderly parents is probably a cornerstone of the evolving parent-child relationship, even if said caregiving is decades away (knock on wood).

  • Eve

    This is so timely. I grew up riding horses and especially once I was a teenager, I ended up working for or paying for things myself, via loans or my own money, but my parents were also really generous about supporting the habit. They also set up a college fund for me so I graduated with less than $5000 in debt. I feel like they gave me a pretty solid foundation for how to handle and deal with money, and although I’m now financially independent from them, if she comes grocery shopping with me while she’s visiting my mom will sneakily try to pay for it, and my dad occasionally will send a check for student loans because that’s just how they show their love.

    However, now that I’m engaged and my parents are divorced, it’s starting to feel a little squickier. First because I never expected that my parents were going to be so goshdarn excited about a wedding, and then so willing to pay for it. But allowing them to pay for it means managing my dad’s griping about his support checks to my mom, because “it’s all his money anyway” (wtf, Dad?!).

  • Alli

    Both my parents offered money for our wedding. My mom originally said she wanted to buy my wedding dress, and then upped it to a total of $5,000 towards the wedding, including the cost of the dress and alterations. I’ve never felt it was a power move, she just really wants to help us out and give us a night we really love. It hasn’t felt too weird.

    The situation with my dad has been…unclear. My grandmom (his mom) made the situation start off weird, when we told her about our engagement she said “You two make enough money. Don’t ask your dad for money he pays enough in taxes!” Well he told us he wants to help, but hasn’t given us any indication of what amount that may be. He offered to pay for the music if he could choose the band, but we wanted a dj and that started a weird argument-but-not-an-argument about band vs dj so we just booked a dj ourselves. So right now we’re just assuming he’s giving nothing until we have a better chat about it. It doesn’t help that my relationship with my dad is really off since the election. It’s all uncomfortable.

  • Kalë

    Money is such a weird thing, and its amazing how much division it can create (or like, not). In my family of origin, money was fraught and contentious, probably because most of our family dynamics were… We always *had* some money, like, parents never had trouble paying the mortgage or eating, but also didn’t have cable, my parents drove beaters until I was in high school… but we went on budget, international vacations growing up. My dad was overly frugal and frankly terrified of debt, which caused huge problems and a lot of stress in the household… but then also meant lots of good things. For example, their house has been paid off for many years, they were able to both retire mid-50’s with plenty to go around, college was paid for in full for both me and my sister, but we were limited on where we could attend based on cost. Money is an uncomfortable subject for us, but my parents have also, in the past, given it freely – both loans and gifts. Buuuut the strings attached are control-based (again, like much of everything with my parents) making both me and my sister extremely hesitant and unwilling to accept $ from them, even though they HAVE the money and would willingly give it if we asked. There is also some weird trust stuff going on – my parents would give me $1000 as a loan if I asked, but would be appalled if I asked for their credit card to buy Thanksgiving groceries when they’re hosting and I’m cooking, for example.

    M’s family has a much more… easy? relationship with money, and make quite a bit ($1000,000+? annually), but they also aren’t great budgeters, to the point where they just recently overdrew their account accidentally, and still live paycheck-to-paycheck for the most part – and aren’t financially in a place where they can retire. They are, however, incredibly generous, to the point where I am often uncomfortable. They purchase extravagant gifts for each other, frequently vacation, and have a history of buying M and I things like groceries, or giving him smallish (>$100) amounts of money when we’re low on cash. It’s so interesting to see how these dynamics play out and how we’ve learned from them, or are trying to. I’d love to be as financially independent as my parents as early as they were able to be in life, but without all the fear, anxiety, and extreme frugality that I think came with it for them, especially early in their marriage. And it would be amazing to be as “free” and generous with money as M’s family is, but maybe not… quite so free, to the point of living paycheck-to-paycheck or needing to borrow money from MY children (which has happened for M’s parents, too).

  • JC

    Wow, this brings up some feelings. My parents have always been really open about money, and I’ve always had to earn the money myself or it was a gift– they didn’t do loans, and there were no strings attached. In general, I think this is a nice practice, because I have never ever felt that my parents were hanging the money over my head. I know that I’ll be receiving some money for my wedding, and while I will use it to honor some of their wishes, they know that it is my wedding to use it as I wish. They purchased my car(s) when I was younger, and I was given my car outright as a grad school graduation gift. I’m grateful that they’ve made me really independent, which is a trait in myself that I value. However, I think that had loans been an option, I might have made different choices. For example, I chose a state school for undergrad where I got a significant scholarship and where my parents wouldn’t have to cover much further cost. I knew that they would willingly cover my tuition, but I didn’t want that to be a burden on them because it was a gift to me. If they had expressed that it was a loan and that I’d be attending college independently, paying them back on a payment plan, I wonder if I would have been bolder in my college choice, knowing that it was my risk to take.

    The feelings get more complicated when you bring in another family, so while my family has always been really open about money, boyfriend’s family has not. In sussing out if the family is going to contribute to his brother’s wedding (and thus to our eventual wedding too), he’s been greeted by a big ol’ shruggy face. I’m concerned that because their family is not explicit in how they give gifts that there will be many strings attached here. I’m also mad that the money is gendered. (My family “has” to pay because I’m a woman; his family “doesn’t have to” pay because he’s a man. It makes me very uncomfortable.)

    But then again, some of you know that I’m debt free as of a week and a half ago, so I should really not spend too much time thinking about money woes right now.

    • Eh

      Your relationship with your parents and money sounds like mine with my dad/money (well not the car – I did get some cash both times I graduated). My dad was open about money and gave us good financial skills.

      My in-laws are not good with money. When my in-laws give money (which is rare these days because of their financial situation) and gift (which despite their financial situation they still spend too much on) there are strings attached. Luckily they did not say that my family had to pay for the wedding (but they did give us money and say it was “no strings attached” and then give us some strings) but they did agree to host the rehearsal supper (“of course, the Groom’s family is supposed to do that”).

  • Abs

    This is something that I have been thinking about for literally years before my wedding. My parents are (not amicably) divorced, and both have plenty of money–they’re the kind of people who euphemistically call themselves middle class. My dad came from a messed up family with a history of using money to manipulate people, which he did to me much less than was done to him, but still some.

    So I had this whole plan where I was going to say to both of my parents: “I know I’m going to make some decisions re: my dad’s wife and her family that you’re not going to like, and if contributing money for the wedding is going to make it harder for you to support those decisions, then you shouldn’t contribute.” The speech was really for my dad, but I thought I’d be fair and tell both of them.

    In the event, my dad died unexpectedly two years ago, and we’re funding the wedding with his life insurance money. Of which there is plenty for this and for other things, so in that sense we’re fortunate, although I miss my dad terribly, money fights and all.

    Oddly, I gave the speech to my mom as planned (the context being that I have become closer to my step-family since my dad’s death and want them to have a small role in the wedding), and she said, “oh, ok, I guess I won’t contribute, then.” Which…really? It’s not about the money, which we’re okay on, and she’s being helpful in other ways, and apart from a few “this wedding is going to be so much more fun for me without your dad” comments, she’s been really supportive. But…she has plenty of money, I’m her only child, and she’s not contributing anything financially. I can’t help feeling hurt, although I guess she did exactly what I said and I should just let it go.

    • AP

      Ugh I’m sorry. All of that sounds painful. That’s the hard part about setting boundaries with people, I guess. Sometimes they make the choice we wish they wouldn’t.

  • Alyssa

    My parents and I have a funny dynamic with money. I hate asking for it so I almost never ask them for money, but when I tell my parents that I’m saving for something important, they eventually come back to me and offer to pay for it — no strings attached, more the expectation that I follow through with whatever the money is for (ahem, like them paying for my undergrad and grad degrees). Which — hey, it’s really nice and I have zero school loans, but it continues to facilitate my financial dependence on them for big-ticket items as I know if I start trying to save for something without asking for help, they will reliably swoop in.

    Case in point — we moved in with my fiance’s parents to save money for a down payment for our own house. As I talk with my parents about where fiance and I want to live and the fact that we want to stay in the Bay Area, a few months into saving my dad casually drops the idea that they’d be willing to help us with a down payment. They didn’t help my brother and I never asked them but as usual, they come in with an offer (still undecided if we will take the help or not).

    • Sarah M

      I have a similar dynamic! I battled with my parents in trying to establish my independence from them, but now that I’ve established it, they will make these incredibly generous offers to help me out with something specific. I had to put one of my graduate classes on a credit card once and I’d mentioned to my mom that I was working to pay it down. She offered to write me a check to pay off the class, and after a lot of thinking I reluctantly accepted. The check she wrote was actually 3x the amount I’d told her and I started crying when I got it because I needed to pay off my class, pay vet bills for my dog (who was originally my parents’ dog and they never got her some of the vet care she needed), and put a down payment on a car because mine was on its last leg. It would have taken me at least a year, if not more, to put that money together to pay for everything. On one hand, I feel like I *should* have struggled and done it all on my own… but on the other, when I tried to tell my mom she gave me too much, I got to hear how proud she was of me and that she knew I’d put the money towards things I needed that I would never have asked her for.

  • I like talking about money and parents! My family has always been pretty good with money, in my opinion. My dad worked and my mom stayed at home until I was in high school/my younger siblings were in school, and money was family money even though my dad earned most of it. We definitely always had enough money, too, (see horses) I’m sure, although we didn’t go on big vacations–lots of camping. But we did have backyard horses and a bunch of other animals, and so we would talk about the tradeoffs, etc (we don’t go on big vacations because we would rather have the horses).

    I also was super worried about money as a child (for no apparent reason apparently, but I still don’t like to spend) and also just not interested in a bunch of things besides books growing up, so I’m not really sure what they would have done in regards to buying me stuff. (They were concerned that I didn’t interact with people enough so a lot of times they would try to give me money so I could do things with my friends as way to try and get me to go and do things—apparently my sisters who were much more into things/activities did not get these same offers. They also bought all my clothes through high school, because I wasn’t super interested in clothes, while my sisters had to buy some of their own clothes–but again I think this was because I generally would wear things to holes and they wanted me to be somewhat presentable while my sisters were more into clothes and had a much higher quantity of them).

    I’ve also definitely been mostly financially independent since I graduated college though (cell phone bill, an occasional flight home, plus I was on their family plan health insurance–didn’t cost them extra though because I have 2 younger siblings) and my next sister has not. I think the approach that they take with her (and presumably with me if it ever arose, too) is that she can live at home as long as she wants and they will pay for food (common groceries, etc) but if you want money for other stuff, that’s on you. My sister learned somewhat quickly that sitting around at my parent’s house with no money for gas/a car was not fun and got a job after a little bit. *She also got an excellent scholarship that combined with my parent’s offer to pay part of college tuition, like they did with me, meant she had no student loans, which gave hr less incentive to work** (They did let her borrow a car for driving to work until she saved up enough money to buy one). I think she is perfectly happy for now living at home, (and honestly, if I went to grad school in the same city as they did, I would have lived at home until married, because they are pretty chill).

    • But my husband’s family is different with money! I think they just have less of it? I know his dad has had stretches of unemployment (he seems to have bad luck with working for big companies that go through national scandals and get rapidly downsized or destroyed) while my father had the stability of a government job (and a pension!). (but like upper middle class vs border upper middle class it’s not that different)

      I’m not really sure how they handle their money. My husband lived at home until he married me, and he did contribute to household bills/paid them a small amount of rent while he was living at home. There’s also that weird joint bank account that they have which I think is actually his parents but is also in his name for some sketchy college reasons? They also tend to go on big vacations (or well–vacations to other cities… maybe they aren’t big, but they are vacations where they stay in hotels instead of camping/with relatives and that seems spendy to me, since we did that 3 times growing up–and 2 of them we partially stayed with relatives) and spend so much money on sports. and cable tv! So much. (I mean probably a reasonable amount but I think it is a decent part of their budget).

      But I think his family has greater expectations of financial independence from their children (his brothers have all been much more focused on what to do after college and financial independence) than my family. And while I definitely knew my parents were going to offer to pay for a wedding (because they had told me far in advance) my husband didn’t believe me until they actually had paid for it.

      My husband also says weird things about my family’s money, where he says that we do things because we’re rich (which like, not arguing exactly but you don’t have to say it that way) which is especially frustrating because honestly, we are in a very high income bracket for our age (almost entirely bc of his job compared to my grad student stipend), so we really are, too and you don’t have to be so scornful.

      TL,DR: Basically my husband seems

  • Julia

    I have been thinking about this *so much* lately. Spouse’s family has always been more well-off, and my MIL mother is generous. Meals and occasional gifts I’ve learned to happily/politely accept. When we bought our first house this year, though, she offered -out of the blue, on her own- to contribute to the down payment AND “gift” us a major renovation project. It was SO nice, and there were no visible strings, but…it just felt weird to accept a gift of that financial magnitude. We did accept, but unfortunately other parts of our relationship have shifted lately, and I’m started to see appreciate how that transaction can affect my emotions around other subjects. I don’t think my spouse thinks twice about this, though, since they grew up watching parents “give” this type of gift frequently.

  • Sarah M

    I could write a novel in this thread about uncomfortable relationships with parents and accepting money from parents – ESPECIALLY the fights I got into with my dad when I was engaged. I’d describe my relationship with my parents as “socially pleasant” in that I don’t mind spending holidays with them and I’ll carry on a civil conversation. But they definitely only hear certain bits of my life because I pushed back hard against them trying so hard to micromanage my life because “they knew best.” Sometimes it feels like my mom tries to use money and material things now to maintain a relationship with me after I let them know in no uncertain terms that I did not have to put up with them trying to control every aspect of my life after I became a self-sufficient adult. (Which, on a whole other level of weird – anyone else have to deal with parents jumping SES brackets when they were growing up?? For the first decade-ish of my life, they never would have been able to do half of the things they can do now financially.)

    It’s weird, because it’s not like my parents were selfish or malicious. They deeply, truly believe that they did the best they could for me and my siblings. They wanted to keep us from the mistakes they made, so they wanted to make all of our decisions for us instead of risking us making a “bad” choice. But once they had money, it became a tool they would use to pressure me to follow the path they wanted. Like they covered all of my college expenses that weren’t covered by scholarships, but after one fight my dad threatened to cut all financial support to me and I was freaking out how I was going to go from completely dependent on my parents to on my own in 2 months. (Pretty sure the only reason I survived that semester was my amazing psychologist from my university counseling center.)
    Now I’m torn between accepting gifts from my mom (like offering to cover a $2500 graduate class for me or giving me a lump sum to put towards a car) and not wanting to get entangled with any of their money because I worked so hard to establish my financial independence from them so they couldn’t use it against me. The way my mom phrased the last gift was “your dad and I have watched you work yourself to the ground to make things happen, so we know you’re not entitled or expecting us to financially help you whenever you want. Plus it’s your inheritance so you can either accept it now or get it after we’re gone.” I had just promised myself I’d never let myself get into a position again where they could use money against me. Add in the fact I cover 80% of the household expenses for me and my guy and I’m trying to finish grad school while working full time… the gifts my mom offers make a big difference in what they next 3-6 months will look like for me/us financially. And how I’m expected to “repay” those gifts isn’t any different than how I’m already showing them a “return” on their investment in me (i.e. paying my education) by being present in their lives and letting them feel included in mine.

    I have to say, I’m glad this thread is here because it’s SO NICE reading everyone’s comments and feeling like I’m not alone trying to navigate this weird thing.

  • Katie

    My parents have been really great at establishing a not weird power dynamic around money as I moved from child to adult child. I have been financially independent since undergrad, but as I took the long and poorly compensated academic career route (PhD student, postdoc fellowship, etc) my middle class parents have been aware of the fact that even though I was paying my own way, they were a lot more comfortable and had a lot more breathing room in their budget than me. They would help me out in ways that I could tell were intended to keep me from feeling bad about accepting help – if I visited them they would always make sure to pay for a tank of gas in my car, or send me home with a bag of groceries, or we would stop at a department store and they would ask if they could get me some new jeans, etc. I always knew that they were happy to do this stuff for me and I tried to be as responsible as possible with my money in return. When my fiancé and got engaged, they sat us down and offered us a lump sum about the size of a moderate rural wedding budget as a gift to help us start our life together, and that we could use it for the wedding or whatever we wanted. We gratefully accepted and haven’t heard one word from them since implying that they want a say in how the money is spent. I have tried to make sure that if they have any requests (people they want invited, songs they want played) they are accommodated, which may have to do with the money, but I think I would have done that anyway because I want them to feel included in our wedding day! I hope I can establish a money relationship that is un-weird as this with my kids one day.

  • Rose

    I don’t like taking money from my parents, because I’m not at all convinced that they can afford it–with our wedding, I was super happy that they gave us a venue, but not money. When they do give me/us anything, it’s never with strings attatched, so that’s not the issue–I’d just rather they saved it for their retirement. They did cover a lot of college expenses for me and my sister.

    I don’t mind at all when my inlaws give us money, because i know that they can afford it. It helps that they’re really good about it, there’s definitely no sense of us owing them or anything. If there were, I’m sure it would feel different. They paid for about half of our wedding, and ended up paying off my student loans last year after we got married, which was wonderful. I know I could have handled the loans myself eventually, but it was really nice not to have to. From them, it often feels like an investment in our future as a family. Because I don’t have loans anymore, we’ll be able to buy a house/have kids sooner (as a same-sex couple, having kids takes a certain amount of money up front, as well as the rest of the expenses that always come with a larger family). Those are things they want for us too, and I’m more than happy to let them help.

    We also get cash gifts from my grandparents at Christmas most years, and sometimes from my wife’s grandfather too. Overall, I don’t think that my parents handled talking about money perfectly, but they did a pretty good job. Definitely, nobody in the family ues it as an emotional weapon. I do think it would be rough if the giving was unequal, but in my side of the family equality in all things towards me and my sister is deeply engrained (we’re twins), and my wife is an only child. Logically I can recognize that if my sister needed money and my parents/grandparents gave it to her, that wouldn’t say anything about how they felt about me, but I think emotionally I might struggle with that.

    • Just Me

      This reminded me of something that came up with finances around our wedding. My husband and I are frugal and make a pretty high combined salary. I think that my parents have recently started making around the same amount, but they have always been spendy and are definitely not in a place where they will be able to retire as young/comfortably as they might want. On the other hand, we’re only ~5 years into our careers.

      So, when they offered us cash to help pay for the wedding, we tried to politely decline. We would have been fine accepting $1000-2000 (which is what my husband’s mom offered) but they were talking like $10,000-$15,000. In the end, we did end up accepting the money because it was clear they would be upset if we didn’t. As my husband and I talked about it, we decided that if they didn’t spend it on the wedding, they would probably spend it elsewhere (it wouldn’t be going straight to a retirement fund). Because of their gift, we were able to put that amount straight to savings/investments where it will hopefully grow over the next many years and put us in a better position to help them out later on in life. It’s not my ideal situation…..but I’m glad we found a way to be happier about the overall outcome.

    • Yes, my sister needed more financial support/wasn’t as financially responsible as I was (kept quitting jobs!) and it did bother me a lot that she was getting more financial support than I was (not having to pay bills etc bc living at home, not having to pay for food, etc.)

      It bothered me for a long time, and really only stopped bothering me once she got a job. ( And also when my parents told me that they were fine financially and that I wouldn’t have to take care of her when we were old and they died if she still didn’t get a job, because that was also stressing me out.)

      • Ashlah

        It used to bother me a lot that my brother got more financial assistance than I did. My dad and step-mom have easily paid tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, to fix his ongoing mistakes, while I paid my own way through college. But now that I’m a stable adult, and he’s 100% dependent on his mom and unable to take responsibility for…anything at all…I feel pretty okay about it. I do worry that their spending money on his problems might be taking away from their ability to retire/care for themselves later in life, and I probably need to talk to them about what their expectations are there, but I’m no longer personally jealous of the assistance he gets.

        • AP

          This is me and my youngest sister. It’s hard.

  • Anon Account

    Going Anon for this Post:

    My parents are probably upper-middle class, but who knows. When I chose a grad school, they literally offered to buy me a certain make/model of new car (that I adore) if i’d go to the local option and live with them (for free) while i did so. I declined.

    My first engagement they paid for everything and would have continued to do so had the wedding happened. Because that is culturally expected and ‘what-you-do’. I mention this to provide color to the following:

    After husband and I announced our engagement and began planning our tiny, quickly approaching wedding; my mother asked on the phone who would be paying for what or something. And then suggested that he and I needed to “sit down and talk to them” about the finances. We considered not doing so as we had the money to pay for the wedding ourselves outright, but went ahead and had a sit-down convo. I fully expected they would offer to pay and just wanted a respectful conversation around that. This did not happen. They offered to pay on the condition that we agreed to have dinner with them once per week for the first year of our marriage. We declined and proceeded to pay for nearly all the wedding ourselves. in the end, my parents paid for our wedding cake and flowers … the two areas I cared nothing about and had my mom not planned these and executed them would not have been included in our day.

    • Ashlah

      Wow. Putting myself in the shoes of the parents…I can’t imagine I would even be happy seeing my kids once a week if I knew I had purchased their time. It sounds like you made the right choice there.

      • Anon Account

        Right? Like isn’t it better to spend time with someone because you enjoy each other’s company. This is a dynamic that husband and I work through between ourselves too. When we ask various things of each other (typically communication preferences) … there is always a struggle of “are they doing this because i asked or because they want to” and it makes a difference. In the opposite, i always have to watch my own attitude when i am complying with a request – do I do so begrudgingly because “I have to” (hint: I don’t have to do anything) … or do I choose to honor certain requests because I love my spouse.

      • NolaJael

        I can see that they might have been trying to establish a habit of connectedness post-marriage, which is a worthy goal, and is different than buying time.

        • Anon Account

          I’d believe that was the goal … if it wasn’t for the explicit “If, then” nature of the proposition. Needless to say we are still working through issues.

    • NolaJael

      At least they were honest about the expectation? LOL, yikes. No thank you. I can’t promise to do ANYTHING once a week for a year.

      • Anon Account

        The sad thing is that we live close and would PREFER a relationship where we did see them regularly. Maybe not literally every week, but bi-weekly easily. And husband and i would easily internally decide to see them every so often, but to commit to it in exchange for paying for the wedding … nope.

    • PurplePeopleEater

      They must be watching Gilmore Girls on netflix.

      • Anon Account

        We’re not exactly “tv” people. I’ll mention your reference to husband after work though as he’ll be more likely to understand.

        • PurplePeopleEater

          Ah… the series is about a single mother protagonist who wants to send her daughter to a posh private school but doesn’t have enough money, so she goes to her rich parents, who agree on the condition that protagonist-mom and protagonist-daughter will have dinner with them every Friday night until college, and then the protagonist-daughter gets into Yale so they start the whole thing over again.

          • Anon Account

            ugh, yeah, if i wasn’t so confident in my parent’s solid belief that non-religious TV is evil, i’d say they stole the script.

    • zana

      Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooope.

  • Pingback: What Emotional Strings Come with Accepting Money from Your Parents? | Wedding Adviser()

  • Anon

    We had this dilemma when we got married. Ironically enough, it was one of the desperate google searches that brought me to APW years ago (in 2008!).

    I think it’s definitely situational – depends on the relationship with the parents. I have a very different relationship with my parents compared to my partner’s parents. It’s better than it has been, but in the past they definitely used money as a tool for power, and it was that which made us take great pause in deciding whether to accept money from them for our wedding. Of course we also feared what would happen if we would reject their money, too. We wound up using some from them, some from us, some from my partner’s parents. It created a lot of tension during wedding planning, though.

    On the flipside, we’ve helped my partner’s sibling through some financial difficulties by providing them with no strings money to help with whatever they needed. We feel good that we are able to do that for them, and don’t expect anything further just because we cut a large check.

  • flashphase

    I mentioned this in another thread, but my partner’s parents told us we would be getting money for the wedding/as a wedding gift that we haven’t received (got married several months ago). So it’s not strings exactly, but it’s uncomfortable to be in the position of having to ask someone for money they said they wanted to give freely. Which maybe in itself is a kind of power play.

  • S

    My situation is a little interesting in that I think only one of my (still married) parents likes giving me money/wants to give me money. Since I’ve left home my mother has given me money, always unprompted and always her own money (they have separate accounts after briefly separating), but asked me not to tell my father. Both my parents grew up extremely working class, and for my mother, being able to give me money when she knows I need or or it would very much help me out is a gift. I have no idea how my Dad feels about the idea of giving myself or my brother money, because it’s never come up. They both happily helped my brother in a more structured way with buying his first car when he still lived at home, and he’s vaguely implied on a few phone calls to “let him know if I ever need anything”, but I think he values independence and hard work, and might be disappointed in me if I ever asked for money. I know they have an account set aside with money for my wedding, which would probably be dipped into for my brother’s wedding as well. Anyone else got parents who are still married and don’t necessarily agree on this, or who maybe give to their kids “secretly”?

    • Cellistec

      Secret giving has happened in my family. For most of their marriage, my dad gave money to various of my older siblings (all grown and living on their own) without telling my mom. Turns out it added up to a not insignificant amount. She found out about it right around the time he died. I don’t think he hid the monetary gifts from her because she would have been disappointed in any of us asking for money; I think she resisted giving my siblings money because she feared them falling into a cycle of dependency with my parents. But since he died, she has given them additional money, as well as hand-me-down cars, furniture, etc., despite her own financial hardships. The dynamic has changed from discouraging dependency to taking care of our own. Which I think is ultimately better, though ask me again after someone hits me up for money and I might feel differently.

  • Anon

    I feel so fortunate that my fiance and I both have families who are supportive of us in every way, financially and otherwise, and don’t have money issues ourselves. While our families of origin differ a bit in how they handle gifts and their own expenses, it’s close enough that it has never been an issue. My parents are solidly middle-class and B’s are upper middle class, so we’ve been afforded some luxuries – like vacations – but there are no trust funds, etc. We’ve always had jobs, paid our own bills, and saved for things we wanted, but we were given a basic financial education and have had savings accounts since we were kids. We’ve never assumed that we will get money for anything, and we’ve always been careful about how we spend our own money (out of necessity) and theirs (out of respect). For example, if B’s parents offer to pay for us to fly to see them, we would always choose the cheapest flight.

    We both had our college tuition paid for, with the understanding that their parents’ paid for theirs and we would pay for the next generation. I’ve had fellowships through my MA & PhD, but my family often tells me that this is a time when I’m living on very little so that I can/will make more afterward, and it is very common for a parent or aunt/uncle to gift us money to help pay our travel expenses when we visit them out-of-state. Both of our parents always pick up the tab for dinner (it would not fly to pay for them yet) and we wonder when we can start paying for them. On the other hand, I do the same for my younger cousins, nieces & nephews, & grandparents. Our siblings sometimes treat each other and we don’t keep track.

    Equality and fairness is a big thing in my family (less so in B’s family – that’s a spot where we differ), to the point where my grandmother will call and ask me what she gave me for my grade school graduation so she can give the same amount to my younger cousins (I have no idea and wouldn’t be at all hurt if she gave them more). I don’t have to ask to know that if my brother got help with xyz (college, a house downpayment, etc), I will be offered the same. I’ve never had to ask for money, mostly because I always assume I will pay for things myself, so it’s only come up when it’s been offered as a gift. That being said, we only get funds for things we need or things our parents’ value; Nobody would give us money for something frivolous, and we wouldn’t ask.

    Both sets of parents are contributing the same amount to our wedding, and they’ve made it clear that it is a gift without strings attached. We’re also contributing, and I’m happy to show them our budget but they trust us to do our research. The money goes into one lump savings account so there is no “I paid for X.” And they don’t ask for much of anything regarding the wedding, but we would give them anything they asked for if it was at all possible (we would do that even if they didn’t contribute). When I asked my mother if there was anything important to her regarding the wedding, she said it would be nice if the older relatives had a place to sit for the ceremony & reception. “I don’t know, mom. That’s a big ask….”

  • Audrey

    I’d like a post on this from the other side – feelings and emotions as you are in a much better financial place than your parent(s) and navigating the waters of helping them.

  • Ella

    This has got more complicated for me in a partnership. The monetary gifts my parents gave me never created any weirdness in the relationship (only weirdness for me personally about my privilege). It helped that it was always matter-of-fact and really clear that it was a gift, not a bribe.
    Now I need to figure out how that works with someone else involved. Do parental gifts to me go into my share of our budget, or into a shared pool? My feelings are that if we’re paying our budget 50/50 (which we currently are) then gifts to me are mine. But if we’re paying based on what we can each contribute, his regular amount would be a lot more (and there’s gender privilege tied up in him earning more) but parental contributions would go to the shared fund. (Which would probably land us in a similar position long-term.)

    • Not Sarah

      To me, it depends on the intention of the parental gift. For example, wedding gifts definitely go into a shared pool for us, but other gifts, it really depends on your parents’ intention. Inheritances, for example, are generally considered separate property unless they are commingled.

    • Amy March

      To me, unless you have merged your finances, and you two obviously haven’t, that money is yours and doesn’t change anything. Whereas if you had a system where you thought of all of your money as “our” money, it would make sense that any money you get would be used for the benefit of the family’s finances.

  • -_-

    I never realized until recently how my parents used money to control me until recently, mostly because they’re stereotypical asian parents that feel the need to control everything in their children’s lives. My mother has always had joint accounts with me and pays for my bills out of those joint accounts. As I got older I tried to tell her I would pay those bills several times, she would get overly distraught, argue about it for over an hour and I would give it up as not worth the effort since as she said she “made [my] life easier”. They paid for college and ever since I can remember have said they would pay for undergrad but would not pay for grad school or a wedding. Well when she realized my boyfriend and I were getting serious, she came up with a guest list and budget. I freaked out since the total was 1.5x what I make in a year gross and she had over 30 of her friends on the guest list of over a 100 people. I told her she would have to pay for her friends and she said “I paid for your college so you can damn well pay for my friends to go to your wedding” I also said stuff about not wanting that many people at my wedding and she said “well how many friends are you inviting?” (still very bitter about that comment). After we got engaged, she ended up paying for half the budget she had proposed and she gave me a credit card so that I wouldn’t have to keep asking her for money since she remembers feeling awkward doing that for her wedding.Well the seemingly hands off approach was not so handsoff as she has inserted herself into every decision and ends up angrily opposed to every decision I have made on my own for the wedding. We have had so many fights about certain things. I am even afraid to go against their wishes by moving in with my fiance because I’m afraid my mother will snap and steal all my money and car which is still in her name after I bought it from her for the blue book price. She already jokingly admitted she’s keeping all my jewelry hostage when she nonchalantly said that she was keeping all my jewelry until we moved into a house. We’re going to be living in my in laws house so there is really no reason for her to keep the jewelry for some perceived increased safety in her hands. I was mad and told her “so you’re keeping my jewelry hostage” and she laughed and heartily agreed. She has never given me control over my own jewelry. When I was 20 she even took my silver jewelry out of my jewelry box claiming it was too messy when she keeps hers in a similar fashion. That was the only jewelry she had let me keep myself since it was mostly cheap souvenir stuff.
    In the meantime, my fiance’s parents offered to match what my parents gave us. They are truly no strings attached. Every time I ask them if they want anything or have an opinion about anything they say “we don’t care do whatever you want to”. It’s been bizarre and jarring for me. In the beginning I got tense whenever I asked them for an opinion since I was so used to my parents and that tension would leave until we left their company since I was bracing myself. I even got irrationally annoyed at what I felt was a noncommital answer when they truly didn’t care because my mother’s “I don’t care” was never true.

  • Inmara

    First off, how finances are handled in my culture are kinda different from the way it is in US (of course, my impression is based on what I read in Internet, not firsthand experience). Parents here are socially expected to help their kids get through university if they decide to study after high school (which ends when they’re 18-19yo) and it lasts 3 years for bachelor degree and additional 2 for masters. So basically there is a huge demographic of adolescents not working and relying on parent’s money until 20-22 yo. Parents who would require their kids to pay rent if they live with them while studying (or give money for everyday expenses as a loan) would be seen as greedy and unloving, while this seems to be quite widespread practice in US. Nevertheless, even in this environment of social expectations some parents manage to use money as a leverage to push children into fulfilling parents’ dreams instead of letting them choose their own path.

    I have been very lucky because my parents supported me during university without a single string attached (despite mom wanting me to study something else – joke’s on her because my field of studies led me to very rewarding and financially stable job). Also dad paid a huge chunk of wedding expenses without a hint that he would want a say in planning. I have realized that because I’m the only child it makes him really happy to help financially, even if at times his offers are for something impractical (which I then turn down because I myself can’t justify spending money for these things, and suggest something that would benefit our family in the future).

    It seems to me that emotional turmoils because of money is just a symptom for overall issues in family relationships, and if family members get along just fine in other circumstances, then offering and accepting money will be no problem at all.

  • Our house flooded in August, just one month before our wedding. We spent the first four months of our marriage living in a friend’s spare bedroom. My parents, having just come in to my grandmother’s estate after she passed, gave us $20k and loaned us another $10k to help us begin work on repairing our home.

    The money that my parents gave us came with no strings. They were going to eventually pass on that money from my grandmother’s estate to us anyway, so they just hurried the process along so that we could pay our contractor. The loan has zero interest and we are paying it off over the course of 5 years for a low note to them. They haven’t caused us any emotional grief over it, and I don’t think they will.

    Our friends that let us live with them, however, now believe we should wait on them hand and foot. At the time, we offered to pay rent, pay electricity, pay for all the groceries and they refused all of our money. We thought they were being benevolent and helpful. But after we moved out, they expected us to do things for them, run errands for them, and generally wrap our schedules around theirs.

    All of this to say…. sometimes, the people who could hold things over your head don’t, and the people who shouldn’t do. I’m thankful for my parents (and, consequently, it has helped me work through my grandmother’s death), and, while I’m thankful to our friends for letting us in their home, I’m not sure we will ever be the friends we were before.

    • flashphase

      Wow. I’m so glad your parents were supportive and so sorry that your friends have made things difficult during a stressful time!

    • ART

      Run errands for them?! I mean, yeah it was nice to let you live there rent free, but that was their choice! I don’t see how running errands for them AFTER you moved out has any kind of nexus to that…that is so strange.

  • My dad, who was the financial provider in our household, died when I was six. He’d been a high earner (we had a yacht when I was a toddler) while my mum was a part time yoga teacher. Luckily, he also had good life insurance – it paid off the mortgage on a house we couldn’t have afforded to stay in otherwise and provided enough for mum to invest. Day to day, we lived in a low income household, eating cheap food and only going on holiday to family to save money, but there was always a safety net, which meant even though my sister and I were too young to understand it, we were always secure. Mum did a lot of work to invest his life insurance money so that there were always safety nets – my sister and I had savings towards university (not enough to cover the fees that were introduced post-investment, but enough to make sure we had choices), we have contributions towards our weddings, and my mum had the flexibility to find a job that worked around being a single parent and her parenting philosophies. My stepdad is one of those people who’s always wandering in and out of debt, and I know it frustrated my mother intensely, but she let his debt be his debt, while supporting him financially in other ways (like letting him live in our mortgage-free house!). Interestingly, my sister and I perceived our class differently growing up – she saw that we had a bigger house and more security than her friends and perceived us as upper middle class, I saw that our mum had a lower paying and less rewarding job than my friends’ parents, and perceived us as a couple of notches lower.

    My in laws both came from relatively middle class families, and both have high paying jobs, so J grew up in a financially comfortable household, with holidays abroad and so on. They’ve saved a lot of money up over the years, and are entering semi-retirement (both love their jobs, so they’re not retiring – they’re just taking a lot more holidays!) in a position to spread the wealth. They’ve taken us on holidays we wouldn’t have gone on otherwise, invited us to the theatre with them, and always pay for dinner when we’re out.

    Both J and I have been lucky enough to inherit money from previous generations – neither of us have any living grandparents at this point, and we also both had several single great aunts/uncles who were generous to their siblings’ grandchildren in their wills. His inheritance went on our house deposit, with enough left over as a safety net, and my recent good fortune is our wedding safety net (we planned our budget before we knew about it).

    For the wedding, my mum offered us money first, to match the contribution she gave to my sister out of dad’s life insurance. There were no strings attached, I think because she feels in a way like it’s not her money she’s offering. The in laws asked us how much they should contribute, and are gifting us an equal contribution to the wedding as my mum, with the caveat that they get to invite some friends, which is an interesting kind of water testing, I think – it’s people we were already inviting, which they will have guessed (J’s godparents) and I don’t think they’d actually have withdrawn the offer if we said no. They’ve then asked if we want more, which I’ve said no to – my feelings about fairness are usually the mini-socialism espoused by APW, from each according to their means, but it feels unbalanced to accept more from them when we don’t actually need money from either side. They’re feeling guilty because they want to gift their oldest son money for a house deposit in London, which is a huge amount of money (we know because they asked if we were okay with this) and is a lot about ensuring their new grandbaby has a secure home. Both J and I have similar attitudes to the importance of security, and what security means, and fairness is very much ‘according to their needs’, not equal financial values. One thing that’s been clear on both sides is the wedding money isn’t for any specific costs, but just towards the overall budget. Which I’m very happy about, because (a) we don’t have to show them our budget, which both sides would disagree with in different directions and (b) we don’t have to worry about obeying their wishes over our own on any specific area. That money is a gift – it’s got a purpose, but it’s ours to do with as we will, and if they don’t like it they can’t ask for their gift back.

  • Megan

    Ugh, I totally understand the icky feeling. My in-laws helped us buy a car that we desperately needed and are paying them back for – that was hard to feel like a child needing help even though they offered and we are paying them. Then this past winter my husband had some serious health issues, our insurance was terrible, and my in-laws offered to step in and pick up the bill for whatever treatment costs. That was hard to accept and we’ll never be able to pay them back (maybe 10+ years down the road). But it got especially hard when I had to call my FIL to tell him about whatever new bill came in (because husband was in no state to figure out finances) and explain each bill, what the charges were, hear him *sigh*, explain he’s not a millionaire but they would (of course!) help. It felt like the worst kind of emotional manipulation, when I was stressed and at the end of my rope, having to then deal with feeling guilty and not understanding why they would offer to help but then make it feel like it was a huge burden… I’m still trying to figure that out, but it makes me realize that I want to ensure that I set clear boundaries on financial help with my own children so there’s none of the emotional strings attached for any side.

  • Amy Sigmon

    “I love the idea of being able to give my own child money if he needs it as an adult, with no expectations and no rules.” – Can I just say that this IS possible? I have very, very generous parents, who have the ability to be financial generous with my sister and I. They gave my husband and I a nice chunk of change for our wedding, for us to spend and save as we saw fit. The leftovers from that gift still function as our emergency-for-serious fund. They bought my sister a condo when they knew she would not be able to pursue a freelance career if she had to pay rent. It’s in their name, and she pays all her bills now, but the freedom from an LA rent payment is what makes her fledgling career possible. They lent my husband and I the money to buy him a used car, and when that car was totaled halfway through paying it back, they forgave the rest of the loan. Not to mention college educations, etc. I can breathe easy through this, because I know that they are fine, financially and their gifts don’t have a negative impact to them. And my husband’s parents are generous as well, and often give us checks for our kids’ college funds. And it’s not new- dad grew up knowing that his aunt lent his parents the down payment on their house, and got to see her every week when they’d drop off a check. My husband’s parents helped him with college and grad school. You CAN work toward this relationship with your children, I promise.

  • cpostrophe

    My family also uses money as a weapon for emotional blackmail, and when I was a teenager, I essentially resolved to have a completely independent life to get away from that threat. I wasn’t always successful. I did have to accept help from them when I was younger, in grad school, and still learning how to budget. And I paid for it with some trauma and some terrible furniture.

    I got older and realized that they weren’t necessarily being evil about it, and they do have gift-giving as as a sincere love language, but they never figured out how to separate the sincere expression of love and generosity from a need to also exert power and control.

    When we got engaged, I broke the news to my parents with a very specific plan. My fiance and I were planning the wedding ourselves. We had our intentions and our vision, and we had a budget that worked for us. They wanted to give us cash, and we said we’d only accept it on the condition that it would be used for very specific areas that we would allow them to control. Like, we have this baseline level of open bar that we were planning on having. If you want to add glam to the event by giving us cash to add in some premium liquor, fine. But you only get to have an opinion on the bar selections if that’s where you want your money to go. Or, you can put in money for the flowers and we will consult you on the arrangements. But you don’t get veto powers on the guest list or the venue or our officiant or anything else. We basically treated it like targeted sponsorships, and just established some really clear boundaries right at the outset.

    In the end it all worked out. My family were happy to be involved and they respected our boundaries. I think, after two decades of me being all but estranged, they were happy to have a framework for a happy family event that wasn’t going to devolve into turf battles. Just set the boundaries early and be consistent with them.

  • Eh

    I’m lucky that 1. I have a good relationship with my dad (only parent), 2. that my dad believes that giving money to family is a gift and there is no expectation to pay him back (I have family members that don’t talk to each other because one loaned the other money and was never paid back), 3. that my in-laws are not in a financial situation that allows them to give money or co-sign things (they actually refused to co-sign something for my BIL, even after he showed them that he had all the money and it was just a formality the bank required, because they did not want to be financially responsible if something happened), and 4. that I’ve never been in a situation where I needed money.

    I know someone who recently co-signed a car loan for her 19 year old son who has rarely talked to her since her divorce (4 or 5 years ago). She said she knew she was buying his love but she wants me to talk to her so she was willing to do it.

  • Elizabeth

    Yeah, I accept money from my parents on various occasions.

    I live pretty far from home and they still want to see me often. So they’ll often offer to pay for a flight or so home for me a year, while I also pay for other flights, because we agree that that’s how I want to spend some of my time and they’re happy to offer money to help make it easier.

    We are accepting a decent chunk of cash for the wedding, which wasn’t the original intention. Honestly I’m excited about the planning process of the wedding and I’ve been including my parents in some of that excitement. As a result they were in the loop when we were picking caterers and were like ‘hey, if it’ll help you make the decision you want, we’d be happy to contribute’. I expressed that I could handle it myself, that I had the money and they were like ‘yeah, so do we, and we’d enjoy helping’. Other than figuring out when and how they were giving me the check, and me continuing to talk about how excited I am about our caterer, we haven’t talked about it. It didn’t come with string attached so much as with an understanding of what our relationship is, and I haven’t felt at all regretful that I’m taking the money because that understanding was accurate.

    • Elizabeth

      Although my fiancee’s family giving me money is something I’m less comfortable with, hah. Partly because I know her grandmother has used money to have strings attached and partly because, idk, I just feel overwhelmed by it. My family gifts, but they seem to do it less extravagantly, or rather, more in line with an actual expense, like the airplane tickets or the wedding. Otherwise it feels more like ‘wow, I wasn’t expecting this and it seems very generous/over-the-top/I’ll feel guilty having this much for me’.

  • Kate

    Commenting on this so I can come back later. I’m anticipating a situation like this when we get hitched. His parents are loaded, but they are emotional blackmailers for sure, and we watched his sister go through it when she had money problems.