Cutting Off Your (grown)
Kids Who Are Still Financially Dependent on You
t’s every parent’s job to raise their children to leave home.
Whether it’s after high school or college, most children move out of their parents’ home and make a life of their own.
Some parents, however, continue paying their child’s phone bills and health insurance premiums, buy them a car and pay other bills for years after their young adult should be doing it on their own. Getting failing grades in college and not finding a good job are two big reasons to move back home.
But parents must cut the strings eventually, and that doesn’t make them bad parents. Here are some ways to do it:
You’re Not Being Mean
First, know that your decision to stop paying your adult child’s bills doesn’t make you a horrible, mean parent. It makes you a good one. Don’t feel guilty.
You’ve provided your children with an education, security and comfort, and have probably allowed them to get away with things they wouldn’t otherwise. They’ve made mistakes that you’ve paid for, and your generosity shouldn’t be forgotten.
Give Them Their Freedom
You’ve supported them beyond the age that you’re legally or morally obligated to. Congratulations.
Now is the time to give them the gift of independence and self-sufficiency. What incentive would they have to pay their cell phone bill if you keep paying it? None. Stop paying that bill, and others, for them and let them figure out a way to pay their bills.
Remember the struggles you had as a young adult? In my first job out of college at a newspaper in the Mojave Desert, I could only afford to rent a small house that didn’t have air conditioning. That was hellacious in the summer. I slept on a couch I bought at Goodwill, ate like a college student and hoped my paycheck would last me until the next one. I also had student loans to repay.
It was difficult, but it was my freedom and my choices to make. Living with the consequences of your decisions is part of becoming an adult.
Go for a Gradual Change
Don’t cut the financial cord in one day. Give your child some notice, such as a month or two for cell phone bills and maybe six months to move out, and let them know you’re not going to be paying their bills anymore.
Put it on a calendar and give a copy of it to your child. It’s not based on what your child wants, but on your timeline.
Remind them that it’s not a punishment and that if they have a big financial crisis somewhere down the road, you’ll still be there to help. But the move to independence has to start sometime, and this is it.
You and your spouse must make these decisions together. Present a united front and don’t give in as individuals to paying a bill, either partially or in full, that your child says they can’t afford.
Make it clear that both of you are setting this plan of action together. It’s not a negotiation. Part of what you’re doing here as parents is modeling what it’s like to be an adult — set boundaries, establish goals and find ways to meet them.
Rent or Move Out?
A big decision to make is if your child should be allowed to stay home or not. If you want them out of the house, then do it and give them a few months to get out.
But if you want to allow them to stay, then charge them rent. It doesn’t have to be as high as the market rate in your area, but it should be close. You can also add in a monthly stipend to cover family expenses such as groceries and utilities.
You’ve Protected Them Enough
Part of the discussion with your adult child should include how you’ve protected them from many things in the world, allowing them to be children and learn as they’ve grown.
Paying the way for younger children is normal. When they’re teenagers, some financial responsibilities become theirs — going to the movies, lunch with friends, etc.
But protecting them from every danger in the world — including simple responsibilities such as paying for gas and having clothes — isn’t expected in adulthood.
You’ve helped them develop tools to deal with life, and cutting your kids off financially is part of your toolkit if it comes to that.
Your child’s struggles for dependence should be their struggles. They’re not yours. Allow them to confront them alone. Avoiding them will only prolong their childhood.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the Bay Area who specializes in personal finance writing. He writes for various websites and has worked as a reporter and editor at newspapers throughout California. He also writes about his family’s personal finance journey at CashSmarter.com.