You’ve been waiting for this day. The cap and gown. The diploma. The party. The video. The moving van.
Graduation has long been a milestone. For young people, it’s their first step into full adulthood, and for parents, it’s the time to finally let their little birds leave the nest to fly freely on their own.
Or maybe not.
Your vision for your young adult’s future may not square with reality. For the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18–34 are more likely to live in your home than on their own. Over 30% live in their parents’ home; less than 15% live on their own alone or with friends. In fact, young adults who live with their parents outnumber those who are married or who live with roommates!
Here’s the good news. Your family doesn’t have to be another statistic. You can beat the cultural trends and guide your young adult to a steady, successful future—without ever spending a dime to bail them out of trouble. Here’s how:
- Explain the money-for-work connection early and often.
- Make finances a regular topic of conversation.
- Offer financial tools in their native language—digital, that is.
- Be clear about expectations beyond graduation.
- Learn to say no.
Being a parent means doing what’s right for your children, not what will make them happy. You can be supportive and helpful without pulling out your checkbook. In fact, bailing them out may be the wrong thing to do. With that in mind, how do you help your adult children stand on solid financial ground? Read on to find that answer.
What Can I Teach My Kids About Money?
In the Hogan household, the boys work for the money in their piggy banks. That’s because my wife and I want to instill in them the value of hard work. They don’t just get free money (except for birthdays and Christmas, of course!). If they don’t do the work, they don’t get the money. And, the older they get, the more work they’ll be required to do to earn more money. Yes, they earn it.
Even from a young age, you can teach your children the value of hard work and the reward that comes with a job well done. As they grow and mature, you need to reinforce the importance of working for what they want. In high school, your kids will probably have odd jobs and part-time work, and that’s a good thing. Can you imagine the shock of that first job if your kids have never had to work for anything in their lives? Even if you missed it with the older siblings, it’s never too late to start on the younger ones.
How Do I Talk About Finances with My Kids?
You didn’t want your kids to learn about the birds and bees from a seventh grader on the school bus, so you bit the bullet and started the conversation. The more you discussed the subject as they were growing up (during car rides, while watching TV, as you were doing homework), the more natural it became. The same thing applies to finances.
Track with me for a second: Do you really want your child to learn about credit cards on a college campus during registration? Do you want them to learn about compound interest after they’ve taken out massive student loans? Um, me neither. The topic of money shouldn’t be taboo in your house. It should be an ongoing conversation as your children grow up.
Your kids should hear you and your spouse discuss the budget together. You should include them in conversations, like budgeting for vacation and what you can (and can’t) afford. When you see a commercial about what you have in your wallet, explain to your kids why you don’t use credit cards. When the opportunity comes up, talk about your mistakes with money. Everybody makes them, but smart people learn from them and pass on that wisdom to the next generation.
What Budgeting Tools Are Available for Young Adults?
Here are some thoughts to make you feel old: Kids graduating from college in 2017 have always had access to a USB port. Chatting rarely means a face-to-face conversation. Their rite of passage was getting their own cell phone, not a driver’s license. Digital is their native language.
Rather than fight against their natural tendencies, speak their language. There are dozens of software programs and apps to help young adults manage their finances and feel hip doing it. My favorite is EveryDollar, an app that helps you create and track your budget in real time. (You can even try it out for free!) There are also web sites and apps that show you the return on your investments over time. Show your kids how investing $200 a month for 40 years can make $1 million. That’s a huge motivator for your kids to get their finances on track!
What Expectations Should I Set for My Young Adult?
You may be thinking Junior is out the door as soon as the tassel is tossed, but Junior may be thinking that tassel would look nice in the new car he thinks you’ll buy him. Talk about mixed signals! That’s why it’s crucial to clearly communicate the expectations you have for your kids after they graduate. You can start the conversation with something like, “With graduation coming up fast, here’s what we will expect from you. . . .” And fill in the blank.
Even if you’re okay with your kids living with you temporarily, you still need to outline what you expect. How long will you let them stay at home? Be clear—whether it’s six months or six weeks. Will they pay rent? (This could help them become accustomed to that monthly expense.) Will you expect them to help with cleaning or other household chores? (I highly recommend this!) When will you take them off your auto and medical insurance? Will you withdraw all financial support at once, or will you do that in stages? You and your spouse (or a friend) need to talk through these issues ahead of time and make sure you’re clear when you talk to your kids about what you will and won’t allow.
When Do I Say No to My Kids?
One word is gradually becoming extinct in the English language: no. These days, it seems like you’re a bad parent if you tell your kids no. Hear me on this: Saying no is one of the most loving things you can do for your children.
If you constantly rescue your kids from their financial mistakes—they’ll never learn the consequences of their actions. They’ll make those same mistakes again. In fact, they’ll continue to make poor choices as long as you’re willing to rescue them. And when you rescue, you’re not helping them, at least not in the long run. You’re sending a message that says, “I’m coming in to help because you’re not smart enough or strong enough to work this out on your own.” The more you rescue, the more you reinforce the idea that you don’t believe in them.
Should you never help a son or daughter who’s in a financial crisis? I’m not suggesting that, not at all. However, I want to challenge you to think about what a real financial crisis is. Your kids need to figure out how to catch up on their car payments when they mismanage their money. On the other hand, you may help out if a son or daughter’s house floods and they don’t have anywhere to stay.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: Before you say yes to helping an adult child, ask yourself, What caused this financial problem? The answer will help you determine whether or not you step in. Don’t do for them what they can do for themselves. Could the road get bumpy? Absolutely. But you can’t develop resilience if you never face a problem.
What If I’ve Never Talked About Money With My Kids?
The good news is that it’s never too late to start talking with your kids about finances. Even if bad habits have already set in, there’s still time to set boundaries and communicate expectations from this point on. Whether your kids are graduating from kindergarten, high school or a doctoral program, you can turn the page and begin the conversations that will equip them to handle money well.
Remember, you’re the parent, and your responsibility is to guide your children to become independent, productive adults. You are the primary teacher for your children, not a school system. They may not understand why you’re being intentional and deliberate in talking about finances, but they will thank you later. And by setting the example, you’re giving them a foundation that will serve them well long after you are gone.