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Dear Liz: My husband and I are having a rough time making it from paycheck to paycheck. We make pretty good money. We have four children and end up helping them every month. We cannot seem to make it without going in the hole in our checking account. Could you please help me with what we should do?

Answer: As writer Erica Jong once said, advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.

You know what you need to do: Cut off your children (assuming they aren’t minors, of course). If you can’t make it from one paycheck to the next, you’re in no position to help anyone else. Your children may not know the financial straits you’re in, or they may not care; either way, it’s up to you to close the Bank of Mom and Dad.

Once that financial spigot is shut off, you’ll need to look for the other leaks in your financial system. Track where your money is going using personal finance software such as Quicken, online tools such as Quicken Online, Yodlee or Mint, or a notebook and a pen.

If you’re still spending more than you make, you’ll need to find ways to cut back so that you not only don’t go in the hole but are putting aside money each month. You need to save for retirement and for an emergency fund, among other goals.

To do all this, you’ll need to use a word that apparently hasn’t been given enough of a workout around your home: “no.” “No, we can’t help you.” “No, we’re not going to buy that.” “No, I’m not going let my finances be in chaos because I can’t say ‘no.’ “

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5 Comments

1

Liz,

This sounds very similar to a question posed to you 3 or 4 years ago where the parents were constantly bailing out their adult children. I have clients in the same predicament and they don’t like my answer when asked for a solution. I have told them on numerous occasions that they are not helping their children by bailing them out. They will not grow and learn how to solve their problems because they know that mom and dad will take care of everything. The parents need to say “NO” and let the children fall on their face and come up with a solution. The parents may ultimately have to pick up the children, but they will have learned something from it. What the children don’t realize is that mom and dad won’t be around forever and then who will they turn to for the help they have become accustomed to receiving. Saying “NO” to the children now will be one of the best things they can do for the children. Tough love is the hardest, but it is the best.

2

Amen to that. I suppose the parents hope each bailout will be the last. Hope springs eternal in the parental heart.

3

YES YES YES.

I say this….but I’m only just starting to do this. With one daughter overseas starting college and another starting college in state, I’ve had to cap my support.

While I used to pay for everything, I recently told them that it’s over.

At first, they were a bit upset – my middle daughter especially. But I think they both actually appreciate it now.

I don’t know why it took me so long to implement this wise advise. Maybe because I wanted to continue to keep them young and me in control.

4

That’s an insightful observation, Neal. Thanks for sharing it.

5

Wow! It’s hard to believe that so many parents are helping their adult children. I was raised by my mother, a single parent, and I knew if I wanted something I had to earn it myself by working. I’m now 33 and can’t fathom having to ask her for money. I know times are tough and children (no matter their age) are parents weakness, but tough love will help them cope once you’re not there to help so readily.