Nearly half of middle-aged adults gave financial support to a grown child last year, according to the Pew Research Center.
Whether you’re providing room and board, covering insurance costs, or writing regular checks, you may be doing your child — not to mention yourself — a disservice.
“At some point parents have to help their kids spread their wings, even if it means letting them fail,” says Steve Aucamp, a financial adviser in Washington, D.C.
These cues can help you nudge your child off the dole.
The Ground Rules
Lose the guilt. “Wanting your child to be financially independent isn’t a bad thing,” says Susan Ende, co-author of How to Raise Your Adult Children.
Make a plan. Most experts say it’s best to wean your kids rather than cut them off cold turkey. So think through your terms before broaching the topic.
Pick your moment. Try to time the talk with a life event, like graduation or a new job, says family dynamics expert Ruth Nemzoff.
Not possible? Schedule a chat rather than waiting until your kid needs cash.
When You’re Face to Face …
1. Opening gambit: “We’re glad we were able to help you out these past few years, but we think you’re capable of taking more responsibility now.”
Why it works: “You’re framing this as a positive step forward, not a guilt trip,” says Nemzoff, author of Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships With Your Adult Children.
2. Explain yourself: “You kids have been our priority for years. Now we need to focus on saving for our retirement. And we also want you to become financially independent adults.”
Why it works: Help your kids understand the big picture, and they’ll be more likely to accept the new reality, says Aucamp. So make sure they know why you’re unable to keep supporting them and that your decision is not a punishment.
3. Lay out the terms: “We think it’s time for you to pay your own rent. To help you get set up, we’ll cover the next three months and match what you save up to $1,000.”
Why it works: You’re spelling out exactly what you can offer in the short term and your expectations for the long term. This approach offers support — and incentive — while holding your kid accountable.
If Junior protests that he can’t swing it? Assuming your terms were reasonable, don’t waver.
4. Give the gift of empathy: “We know this won’t be easy. We’re here whenever you need to talk.”
Why it works: “Make it clear that just because you’re cutting off the money doesn’t mean you’re cutting off the relationship,” Nemzoff says. Instead of cash, hand out advice when asked. For example, you can suggest resources to find a roommate to split the rent or go with your child to look at cheaper digs.
5. Underscore the deadline: “We think three months is ample time to set up a cash cushion. So after Nov.1, you’re on your own.”
Why it works: “People rise to the occasion when they have to,” says Ende.
Of course, deadlines — just like plans — are good only if you stick to them. “If your child comes back home and you swoop in with a safety net,” she adds, “you’ll only have to start the process over.”