“Kids. Can’t shoot ’em, can’t tie ’em to a tree!” said one of my American friends in a heavy Southern accent to me when my boys were young. It made me laugh.
Most FI/RE bloggers who have kids seem to be young parents, so their posts are all about paying for child care, sourcing cheap clothing, and optimising after-school activities. Fair enough – I used to be concerned with those things too.
I’m writing this to forewarn you all that even when your kids enter adulthood, there are still possible expenses that you’ll choose to bear. I have 4 adult sons, ages 30, 28,27, and 25. You’d think that as a frugal person, I would have locked them out of the house the instant they turned 18 and abandoned them to let them make their own ways in the world. But it’s a funny thing… parents become quite attached to the humans that they’ve made and even when they grow taller than us, we still want the best for them.
So what’s the best thing to do, financially speaking, once the kids grow up?
We all know the wisdom encapsulated in ‘The Millionaire Next Door‘, (excellent book, by the way), that shows that adult kids who rely on their parents’ “economic outpatient care” end up significantly worse off than those who don’t receive it.
So what is Economic Outpatient Care?
It’s substantial gifts, usually financial, acts of ‘kindness’ etc that allow the adult children to live a lifestyle beyond what they can afford by themselves.
Adult children who sit around waiting for the next dose of economic outpatient care are usually less productive than those who forge their own paths. Cash gifts are too often earmarked for spending and the support of an unrealistically high lifestyle. This Economic Outpatient Care to adult children typically results in:
- encouraging more consumption than saving and investing.
- the gift receivers never fully distinguish between their wealth and the wealth of their gift-giving parents. (THIS WOULD ANNOY ME NO END!!!)
- gift receivers are significantly more dependent on credit than are non-receivers.
- receivers of gifts invest much less money than non-receivers.
When I read The Millionaire Next Door more than a decade ago, it cemented the decision I made about whether or not to help pay for the boys’ uni fees. I decided that they were responsible for their uni fees, books, and so on.
They needed skin in the game.
I would support them by not charging them board while they were studying for their first degree, and paying for any medical bills they might incur. Typically, this ended up being dental.
Fast forward a decade or so and I have four sons, all with tertiary qualifications that they’re paying off. (Higher Education Loan Program). They pay their own bills and receive no regular financial assistance from me. Anyone who chooses to live at home pays $50/week board, which I put aside in a savings account and will give back to them when they leave. This is a choice I’ve made because I’m in a financial position to be able to do this. Believe me, if I needed the money, I’d be spending it!
When David28 and Izzy decided they were going to tie the knot, I told them I’d contribute 5K to their wedding. Obviously, in my head, I’ve multiplied that by four to account for the other three boys. I’ve also told everyone that this is a first-wedding-only deal… any weddings after that, they’re on their own.
They are also able to take a week-long honeymoon using points from my timeshare to pay for their accommodation. David28 and Izzy will be going to New Zealand using this offer. They’ll be paying for every other expense themselves.
That was all I thought I’d do for the boys. Giving them a bit of help when they get married, as most parents do. After all, the last thing I want to do is weaken them. Life’s tough enough without deliberately making them vulnerable to every strong wind that blows. I raised my boys to be independent men. No handouts from The Bank of Mum!
But then something changed.
When Tom30 unexpectedly boomeranged home at the end of February, he was already saving for a deposit and was about a third of the way there. He’d been out from home for 7 years, paying around $250/week in rent, sharing a flat with a friend. Initially, he was only going to stay a few weeks, but when I told him about the $50/week board, he did some mathematics. He’s an accountant, poor thing, so doing the maths was inevitable.
He asked if he could stay longer, to accelerate the savings for a deposit.
I liked the sound of this, so I agreed. After all, he was 30 now and it was time to start getting some assets together. He changed jobs last year, nearly doubling his income in the process, so I was pleased to hear that he was looking to get ahead.
Then, I sat back and watched.
Would he be a typical ‘Millionaire Next Door’ second-generation child who’d work out how to make it on his own, or would he loll around and expect economic outpatient care?
Tom30 works in a company with mortgage brokers, so he picked their brains and found out about how to harness Superannuation to stretch his dollars, how to avoid paying LMI (Lenders’ Mortgage Insurance) and which criteria the banks would use to assess his loan application, along with a lot of other stuff that I’ve forgotten. When Tom30 starts spitting out numbers, it all begins to merge together for me.
Once he got his head around this information, he set his budget targets, home loan target amount, and savings timeline. We then started driving around and looking at apartments and units/townhouses in his (then) price range of high 400’s. Given this price range, looking at freestanding houses was simply not an option. He works very near the CBD so his commute time was a consideration.
What did I think of his plans?
I admired how clearly he’d laid out his way forward. I thought there was a bit too much fat with his spending money, but then, I’ve been through hard times where I really had to tighten my belt in order for the boys and me to keep the roof over our heads. But then, I realised that this is an area that could always be adjusted if needed. Flexibility is key.
All things considered, I was happy with it. He was finding solutions by himself and was all set to be in a property by the end of the year.
All went along swimmingly for quite a while until the reserve bank started to raise interest rates. That in itself wasn’t a problem – Tom30 had stress-tested his calculations to account for a 7% interest rate which we’re nowhere near (yet) – but suddenly the banks reduced the amount that he could borrow.
Overnight, this went from around 520K down to 475K. Real estate prices were softening, but nowhere near at this rate! If too much time went by, he’d miss his chance to get into the market for a 2BR place. I could see him getting stressed about it. When Tom30 decides he wants to do something, he gets very focused.
I did some thinking.
He needed a little more to get his deposit together, so I told him about the wedding gift of 5K that I’ve earmarked for each child and asked if he’d prefer to use this money as part of his deposit instead. Seeing as he’s single at the moment, he chose to do this.
Of course, I told him that when he DOES get married, he has to tell his beloved that I’ve already paid for my share of the wedding! There’ll be no double-dipping on my watch!
Then, a week or so later, we saw the perfect place for him.
It’s a couple of suburbs over, in an area that is starting to gentrify. It’s a 2BR unit with minimal body corporate fees and is in really good nick, very close to a train station, which will definitely come in handy. He first saw it when I was away on my Little Adventure in Manly, As soon as he was back in the car he rang me and we talked it through. I went with him to see it the following weekend when I was back in Melbourne.
I liked it. It was definitely one of the nicer properties we’d looked at. Honestly, property prices are crazy. The number of absolute dog boxes we looked at that had asking prices around the half million mark was appalling. This one has new flooring, was freshly painted and had new blinds. The kitchen and laundry will need renovating at some stage but everything else was good to go. It was a definite step up from the cruddy little flat he’d lived in during his twenties and, as he says, it’s future-proof. There’s enough room for two, or even two and a baby. And if he stays single, he’d be able to live there for ages quite happily.
The area it’s in is ok, but is definitely on an upward trajectory. In a few years it’ll be described as being in “a most sought-after location, close to beaches, transport and every amenity.” It’s a good buy, if you have an eye for the future.
He wanted to put in an offer, but he was missing a little from his deposit. Interest rates were set to rise and the banks would cut his borrowing power every time this happened. It was a very depressing balancing act that he was undergoing.
I had to do some more thinking. Honestly, all this thinking was getting exhausting. And expensive. But would I be weakening him by helping out a bit more, or would I be helping someone who deserves it?
The good thing was that it was obvious that he was doing everything he could to get there. There was no lolling around going on. All he needed was a start… some seed money, if you will.
I had 10K in cash in my emergency account, sitting in an online bank. I’ve written a few times before about how important an emergency fund has been to me. It’s saved our bacon a few times, turning what could have been huge dramas into mildly inconvenient occurrences, simply because I had the money set aside to deal with them.
That emergency fund was my first line of defense against things going wrong. But I also have 3 years of expenses put aside in a term deposit to guard against Sequence of Return Risk when the stock market falls. Obviously, I have enough money, combined with my CRT work, to look after myself. Meanwhile, my son needed a hand.
I won’t lie; it was hard to withdraw that 10K and flick it over to him. This was the emergency fund that has represented security to me for well over two decades. But once it was gone, I felt nothing but good about it. He’s taking on a loan of around 450K, which is a heck of a lot of money. Me giving him an extra 10K towards the loan isn’t going to ‘save’ him from having to make sacrifices and to be disciplined with his finances, but it’ll help him right now when he needs it.
This isn’t Economic Outpatient Care. It’s a one-time gift to help him as he’s starting out. He’ll have plenty of time to struggle and develop a backbone! It takes quite a while to pay off 450K.
Besides, even if I was inclined to baby him and lavish money on him, I can’t afford it. I have 3 other children, after all. I have to provide the same help to all of them.
Fortunately, the younger two won’t be looking to get into the property market for years, while David28 has a wedding to pay for before he and Izzy can even think of saving for a deposit. I have time to spread out these gifts.
Anyway, a week ago Tom30 put in an offer, with a bid of 470K. There were 4 other bidders, all of whom were property investors. One couple outbid him by 5K.
Tom30 got the property! The owner decided that he’d rather sell to a young person just starting out, rather than to someone buying their 9th property. Isn’t that fantastic? Who knows, maybe sometime in the future Tom30 will be able to pay that forward to someone else.
The bank put a spanner in the works by insisting on a 10% deposit instead the 5% that Tom30 was aiming for. Remember how I said that his budget was a little ‘roomier’ than I thought was necessary? Now all of that is gone. After he approached his father for a little bit of help and was rudely knocked back, a family friend who has known him since he was a child offered to loan him the cash to make up any shortfall by the time settlement is required. They were disgusted by my ex-husband’s attitude, as is everyone who hears about it, and they decided that Tom30 deserves a start.
Fortunately, he has a long settlement, so he’ll be living with Ryan27 and me until October. We’ll be looking on Marketplace for free/cheap furniture and appliances, though he already has a free washing machine that a mate from school has given him. He accepted the offer from our family friend and he’s determined to borrow as little as possible from them. He’s selling everything he owns that isn’t nailed down and is actively looking for accounting customers to bring into the company he works for to add to his income through commissions.
I’m very pleased, though not surprised, to see that this son is doing as much as he can to get the property he wants with as little help as possible. He’s always been extremely organised with his finances.
It was interesting to see how my thoughts and ideas evolved around the question of how much or how little to help my adult children. When they first emerged into young adulthood, I pulled back on the financial help I gave them. They were told, “My job was to get you through secondary school. You’re absolutely expected to get a qualification, but YOU are responsible for paying for it.”
They have spent their 20’s learning how to rely on themselves and to become independent, especially the oldest and youngest who’ve both been out of home for years.
Now, when they’ve settled into their adult lives and are wanting to take the next steps forward, I’m prepared to give them a little help along the way – if they’ve already demonstrated that they’re putting in the effort.
I’ve come to realise that it’s fair enough. A little help is beneficial… it’s when too much ‘help’ is lavished upon them that the rot sets in.
As I’ve said before, if you look at the cost of an entire wedding or the total cost of a mortgage, the help I’m giving barely moves the needle. 15K in a 450K loan is a drop in the ocean.
But if you look at the up-front costs of getting that seed money together, the help I’m giving will spit off huge dividends in the years to come. Everyone needs to start from somewhere. Getting a little help at the start is a great gift that I can give my boys.
It’s funny – I began the trek of getting to financial independence for a lot of good reasons. But once I got there, the freedom to do all sorts of things I’d never thought of has been amazing.
This is just one more.
Dad joke of the day:
I would love to get paid to sleep. It’d be a dream job.
I love this story and the thought you have put into it FDJ. These issues are things I think about a lot too as I establish expectations for my older teenagers as they think about university.
Actually I think I’ll just copy your policy. Board and basics only while they study and then on their own until they work out their lives. After that I’ll see where we all are.
Great article! And excellent parenting!!!
Thanks Girt. This suff isn’t easy to navigate. It’s a fine line between helping the kids and spoiling them.
Such a thoughtful post with important caveats. I also struggle with the fine line between helping or enabling, especially with a sizable, unexpected inheritance I just received. But as long as her decisions are sound, it feels good to drop her a financial blessing.
If they’re already doing the right things, it feels good to give them a little boost along the way. And the good ones don’t feel entitled for the help – they’re astonished and grateful.
I know every generation says how are our kids going to be able to afford a house/unit but honestly it’s huge. Interest rates were 18% when I was looking for a house and I was very excited that I got the loan at a low 14.4%. Mind you I only had to borrow $100,000 and I had $5,000 and I bought a house 5kms from the Brisbane CBD. I was earning $40K at the time. Getting your foot in the door in the property market is a huge milestone and it sounds like the property and location is a really good one for future growth.
ps my 2 bedroom post war house cost $105,000 and I stripped floral wallpaper off the walls and painted each room a different colour. The kitchen and bathroom remained original and I just painted the walls in the kitchen for a country kitchen style.
Thank God we don’t have to deal with wallpaper!
Love this post and sharing your thought process over the years. We did cover our 3 girls college costs, but they know they are on their own for any weddings. And when the oldest graduated college, she was shocked at first to pay US$700/month for room and board. When I explained she needed to start out with some type of rent in her budgeting to begin living within her means, I could see the lightbulb go off. In the US, I can keep them on my medical coverage until age 26. I do this, with the understanding they invest what they would have to pay in medical premiums in their 401k plan.
As always, I so look forward to your posts and recommendations. I’ve been lmao reading Immune!
I keep thinking about that book whenever I get a cut or something. Thinking about all that’s going on in my body to fix it – all without me knowing. It’s a great book.
When this latest covid variant was described as having many more spikes, so much more transmissible, it left good to have that make sense vs just being scared.