MONEY

6 Ways to Help Your Adult Kids Without Spending a Dime

Training wheels left behind
Michelle Lane—Alamy

Got a grown child who's struggling financially? These strategies let you lend a hand without offering a handout.

If you have an adult child who’s still on the family ticket, you’re probably getting tired of kicking in for everything from cell phone bills and health insurance to rent and groceries—and you may be more than a little worried about how your kid’s prolonged dependence will affect your own financial plans. (Retirement at 75 instead of 65? Not an appealing picture.) Yet when your child is struggling to make ends meet, what else can a loving parent do but cough up a few bucks (or a few hundred, or a few thousand), as needed?

Plenty, actually. If you’re among the many parents providing financial assistance to an adult child—nearly three quarters of people ages 40 to 59 with at least one grown child say they helped to support an adult son or daughter in the past year, the Pew Research Center reports—understand this: A handout is not the only way to ease your offspring’s transition to financial adulthood. In fact, in most cases, it’s not even the best way, since a bailout doesn’t teach Junior how to stand on his own two feet.

Here are six ways you can help your adult kids financially that don’t involve withdrawals from the Bank of Mom and Dad.

1. Be their financial BFF.

More than cold, hard cash, millennials need guidance about navigating the adult world of money. After all, they don’t teach you how to pick funds for your 401(k) in college or about the best way to set up and stick to a budget. Indeed, a study earlier this year from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation found that only about a quarter of twentysomethings were able to get a passing grade on a basic five-question financial literacy quiz, leading study author Gary Mottola to conclude: “Younger Americans lack the financial knowledge to make well-informed decisions,” which leads many of them to “engage in behaviors that are detrimental to their financial health.”

Since your child may be reluctant to admit just how little he knows about this stuff—or doesn’t know how much he doesn’t know—it’s up to you to introduce the subject. Best bet: Ask a leading question or two, using your own experience to ease the way into a conversation, rather than telling him what to do or not to do. For instance, you might offer that your company has just changed the choices in your retirement plan and you’ve had to switch investments, then add, “By the way, have you had a chance to sign up for your 401(k) yet? Need any help with the forms or figuring out which funds to go with?”

2. Share your own money mistakes.

Over the years, chances are you’ve messed up plenty when it comes to managing your money, especially when you were first starting out. What kid, of any age, isn’t secretly delighted to hear about a parent’s screw-ups? This approach to talking about money makes you seem more, well, approachable, and allows you to introduce a discussion about financial pitfalls and how to recover from them without seeming like you’re judging or lecturing. “You don’t want to be a paragon of perfection,” says Jayne Pearl, author of Kids and Money: Giving Them the Savvy to Succeed Financially. “You want to create this bond where your children can share their own mistakes and hopefully learn to avoid some of the poor choices you made when you were younger.”

3. Offer practical tools to succeed.

Twentysomethings are creatures of the digital age, and will likely feel comfortable using one or more of the many websites and apps that help users manage their money. Sites like mint.com, youneedabudget.com, budgetracker.com, budgetpulse.com, and learnvest.com all offer financial newbies an easy way to create and stick to a spending plan, manage debit and credit cards, track expenses and bills, and generally become smarter about saving, spending, and borrowing. The mint.com app even includes an alert that signals when the user has gone over a set budget. Maybe you should consider signing up too.

4. Help them lighten their load.

Seven in 10 students who attended four-year colleges graduated with loans outstanding, according to the latest stats from the Project on Student Debt—at public colleges, the average is $25,550, a 25% increase in five years, and at private schools, the average is $32,300, a 15% jump since 2008. Little wonder, then, that so many millennials are struggling financially (46% of them worry about having too much debt, the FINRA study found). One way Mom and Dad can help is to provide information about programs that help lower the monthly bills for college loans, such as income-based repayment plans for federal borrowing. Instead of the standard 10-year payback term, monthly payments under this program are capped at 10% or 15% of the borrower’s discretionary income, depending on when they took out the loans. Although your kid may rack up more interest over a longer payback period, the plans make payments more manageable now and any balance remaining after 20 or 25 years of consecutive payments will be forgiven. If your child is a teacher, works for the federal government or has another public-service job, she may also qualify for loan forgiveness after 10 years. (Get details from the Department of Education here.)

Financially strapped young adults can also benefit from having a credit card to fall back on and occasionally bridge the cash-flow gap from paycheck to paycheck. One gift you can provide is to point them to plastic with training wheels — that is, a card that can help them in a financial pinch without allowing them to get into too much trouble. A good option: Northwest FCU FirstCard. Specifically designed for first-time cardholders, this no-fee card has an ultra-low fixed APR of 10% (most cards are variable rate; recent average rate: 15.7%) and a credit limit of only $1,000 so the cardholder can’t get too overextended. Bonus: Applicants are required to take a 10-question quiz about credit, so there’s an educational element too. You must be a credit union member to apply, but this only requires a $10 donation to the Financial Awareness Network.

5. Make some introductions.

To get into the field she wants or maybe even to land that first salaried job, your child will need to network. You know people, and your people know people. Help her out by sharing her job search with your friends, coworkers, and clients, who may be able to recommend folks who’d be willing to meet for an informational interview or who will pass along news of appropriate job openings.“The best thing you can do is introduce your child to a professional in their field who can answer her questions, connect her with others, and just talk about the job,” says Jenny Erdmann, who helps direct Money MindEd, a teen financial education program.

6. Share a valuable secret.

When your kid’s pressed for cash, it may seem odd to stress the importance of saving, but do it anyway. Even putting aside a small, say, $25 a week, can get her in the habit of saving and make a big difference down the line. The sooner your child starts saving, the less of her own funds she will need to contribute to meet her financial goals, thanks to the power of compounding earnings on her investments. That’s an invaluable lesson to learn at a young age.

The secret to saving, as anyone who’s ever signed up for a 401(k) at work knows, is to automate it: Set up a savings plan at work or through a bank or mutual fund company that will automatically shift a set amount of your choosing at regular intervals (say, weekly or monthly) from your paycheck or a checking account into an investment account. Young people can start small, use automated savings plans to build up both an emergency fund and a retirement plan, and then increase the amount every time they get a raise. Studies show that people who do this end up with substantially more money than those who do not automate. “The biggest mistake someone can make is to push things off and wait for years to go by before they think about savings,” says Suze Orman, author of The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke. “Time is the most important ingredient in the financial freedom recipe.”

That’s a pretty cool concept for Mom and Dad to pass along.

Related:
How to Avoid Paying for Your Kids Forever

 

MONEY Kids & Money

The Most and Least Expensive Cities to Raise a Child

Where you choose to raise your child can have a huge impact on your parenting costs. Here are the cities that will run up your spending the most—and the least.

Having a child today will set you back close to a quarter million dollars by the time your offspring reaches 18, an annual study released Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found. A middle-income family can expect to shell out on average $245,340 (or $304,480, when adjusted for projected inflation), with the biggest chunk of the budget going to housing, followed by child care costs.

Of course, your bottom line could be very different depending on where you live. According to data from personal finance website NerdWallet, child-rearing costs can vary by more than $340,000, based on local housing market prices and the cost of daycare (which exceeds the cost of college in 31 states).

Families living in cities in more rural areas can expect to pay the least to raise a child to adulthood, but those living in the urban Northwest and on the West Coast should expect to pay far above the average.

Here are the cities where you’ll pay the most and the least to rear your child.

Most Expensive Cities to Raise A Child

Rank City Cost of raising a child
1 New York (Manhattan), NY $540,514
2 Honolulu, HI $429,635
3 San Francisco, CA $402,112
4 New York (Brooklyn), NY $400,951
5 Hilo, HI $369,559
6 San Jose, CA $363,807
7 Orange County, CA $353,081
8 Washington, DC $342,552
9 Oakland, CA $337,477
10 Fairbanks, AK $334,562

Least Expensive Cities to Raise a Child

Rank City Cost of raising a child
1 Norman, OK $199,298
2 Harlingen, TX $199,694
3 Ashland, OH $206,793
4 Salina, KS $207,525
5 Pueblo, CO $208,155
6 Memphis, TN $208,322
7 Temple, TX $208,593
8 Richmond, IN $209,522
9 Jackson, MS $211,309
10 Hattiesburg, MS $211,451

 

Related: Why the $245,000 Cost of Raising a Child Shouldn’t Stop You From Having One

MONEY Kids & Money

Why the $245,000 Cost of Raising a Child Shouldn’t Stop You From Having One

Baby drinking milk bottle filled with cash
Mike Kemp—Getty Images

A new USDA report will send shivers down the spine of any person of child-bearing age. But these five steps can help you make room in your budget for baby—and prevent financial freak out.

Even if you’ve got baby fever, new data out today from the U.S. Department of Agriculture could have you reaching for the prophylactics.

For a middle income family (before tax $61,530 to $106,540), a child adds an average $14,970 in annual expenses to the bottom line. And to raise that kiddo born in 2013 to age 18 will cost on average $245,340 in total—up 1.8% from last year.

Yikes.

But before you go telling your honey you have a headache, keep in mind that four million babies are born in the U.S. each year, and most of their parents adjust just fine to the new costs. And if you wait until you feel completely financially ready, you may never realize that bundle of joy.

“Having a child is an exciting but scary step, and money can be a big part of that worry,” says financial planner Matt Becker, father of two and founder of the blog Mom and Dad Money. “I wouldn’t dive in without considering the financial consequences, but I also wouldn’t let them scare you off.”

You’ll just need to make room for in your budget for baby. These five steps can help you feel secure enough to add to your family.

1. Assess your current expenses. First step, get a handle on how you are currently allocating your income. Mint.com can help you track your spending.

2. Estimate future income. Then consider how your income might change after the baby, says San Diego financial planner Andrew Russell, who’s also a dad of two. For example, will you or your partner stay home part time or full time? Will you take any unpaid parental leave?

3. Estimate future expenses. Once you know what your post-baby income will look like, get a rough estimate of the new expenses you will be footing, both one-time (like maternity clothes, hospital costs, car seat, crib) and ongoing (childcare, food and diapers). Becker recommends using Babycenter’s child cost calculator.

You’ll also want to factor in the cost of basic protections like life and disability insurance, which can help ensure your child will still be provided for if a parent dies prematurely or is seriously injured. “These will add to your monthly budget, but are well worth the cost for the financial security they provide,” says Becker.

4. Cut costs. You may find through this exercise that your future expenses with baby exceed your income. If so, look for any fat in your budget to cut out—particularly recurring expenses that require a one-time effort to change like switching to a cheaper cell phone plan, cutting cable, or moving to an area with less expensive rents. Keep in mind that while some of your costs will go up, your entertainment costs—like bar tabs and restaurant bills—will likely go down in the first few years.

And what if, like a lot of Millennials, you have some $20,000 in student loan debts standing in your way? See if you qualify for any loan forgiveness programs. If not, dial back to the minimums. “Obviously this is a big life goal with a certain time frame, and if there is not that much room to cut back on spending, then you need to minimize the amount you pay back on loans,” says Russell. “If the debt is too large for you to take a good chunk out of it in the next few years, you’re going to have to move forward with it.”

While the lower payment will add to your interest over time, the federal tax deduction on student loan interest—if you qualify—will offset some of the cost. Plus, every time you and/or your partner receive pay raises and bonuses, you can funnel that additional income toward the debt.

5. Practice your new budget. Once you’ve figured out your post-baby budget, start living on it—even before you get pregnant, Becker advises. And put the money you would be spending into a savings account.

Besides helping you see if you can handle the budget, “this helps you build up a savings cushion that will relieve a lot of the financial anxiety that can come with a growing family,” says Becker. You will need to plump that cushion before the baby’s arrival anyway: With the general rule being to have cash reserves equaling six months of living expenses, you’ll need to make sure your emergency fund now reflects all the new costs you’ll be covering.

In the end, you might be surprised at how easy it is to adjust your spending. especially when the prize is so sweet.

Related:

MONEY Kids & Money

Supporting an Adult Child? Tell Us Your Story.

140618_money_gen_12
iStock

For an upcoming story in MONEY, we’re interested in talking with parents who are helping to financially support their adult children—and with young adults who are getting financial help from Mom and Dad. The level of support could range from keeping the kids on the family cell phone and health insurance plans to subsidizing other expenses (car, rent, or furniture, say) to the adult children continuing to live at home or helping with other major expenses, such as the down payment on a house.

Among the questions we’d like to explore:

  • the specific kinds of expenses you pay
  • why your adult child needs your support
  • how much support you’re giving (estimated amount)
  • how long you expect the support to continue
  • what impact, if any, helping your adult child has had on your own financial situation
  • How you feel about the support you’re providing

If your family situation fits the bill, we’d love to hear from you. Please send us a short summary of your situation, including your age, the age of the adult child(ren) you’re helping financially, the circumstances and any other details you care to share and think are important. Be sure to include your name and contact info (email address and daytime/evening phone number) so we can follow up with you.

MONEY Kids & Money

8 Ways to Teach Your Kids to Be Financially Independent

Kid learning to use abacus
When it comes to money management, your child can't do this alone. Laurence Dutton—Getty Images

Want your children to develop good money habits for life? Then teach them well from the start. Use these tips from parents and top personal finance experts as your lesson plan.

To help your kids master essential money skills—and some day break free from you—devote time to financial home schooling. Parents are the biggest influence on their children’s financial habits, more so than work experience or financial literacy courses, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education. For ideas on how to do this, see how personal finance and parenting bloggers and authors teach their kids.

1. Tie a “No” Today to a “Yes” Tomorrow

“My wife and I have three children, ages 6, 4, and 2. While they are still a little young for in-depth money lessons, we make a point to involve them in family finances and try to make talking about financial responsibility and independence a part of our daily life. This usually happens in a thousand little, ordinary ways. An instance that comes to mind is when my four-year-old son asked if we could go to a local pizza and games restaurant that he loves. I said no, but went on to explain to him that it costs a lot of money for our family to enjoy an evening there. I reminded him of our vacation in a few months and said we were saving up so that we can have a lot of fun on our trip. It was a good way to teach him about the important principle of delayed gratification and the lesson that sometimes you have to say ‘no’ to things you want now, to enjoy better things in the future.” —John Schmoll, Jr., Frugal Rules

2. Let Them Make Spending Mistakes

“From the time our children were three or four years old, we’ve given them opportunities to earn money by doing chores and projects. When we’re out shopping, they can bring their own money and spend it however they’d like (within reason!). Not only do they learn money management skills, but this helps prevent the ‘gimme’ attitude. If a child sees something they want and asks if we can buy it, I always respond, ‘Do you have enough money for it?’ It also gives them the chance to make money mistakes. They’ve learned valuable lessons when they’ve purchased cheap items that broke almost immediately, and we’ve had great discussions on how to make wise purchases. We’d much rather they made $3 mistakes when they are little to hopefully prevent some $3,000 and $30,000 mistakes down the road.” — Crystal Paine, MoneySavingMom, author of Say Goodbye to Survival Mode?

3. Show Them That Work is Rewarding

“’I get an M&M mama?’ my talkative toddler asks. I reply, ‘Yes, if you complete the job.’ Even at 2 1/2 years old, I’m attempting to lay financial foundations in my son’s life. At this age, he doesn’t care a thing in the world about real money, but when I break out the M&Ms he knows I mean business. That’s because chocolate is a special treat reserved for a reward. At this stage, candy talks, and I can teach my son about finances with food. He is learning that when he uses the potty, picks up after himself, or helps me with a chore, he is paid for his work in delicious, color-coated chocolate candies. He’s beginning to understand that hard work is rewarded. That’s a trait my parents instilled in me, and I desire to pass along. Cash and chore charts will eventually replace sweets, but until then, candy paychecks are perfectly fine by him. Coins just don’t taste as good.” — Kim Anderson, Thrifty Little Mom

4. Break Out the 24-Hour Rule

“I’m blown away that my teenage daughter still remembers going to the flea market together years ago and learning a cool buying lesson from her mom. (As all us moms know, this is a rare and exotic occurrence!) Though I liked a pair of earrings, I waited a day to think it over, knowing that they would likely still be there if I changed my mind. Sure enough, after a day of thinking about it, I realized they weren’t all that special and that I’d rather wait to get something that I loved. To this day, whenever my daughter and I are out shopping and can’t make a decision, we invoke the ’24 Hour Rule.’” —Beth Kobliner, author of the forthcoming book Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not) and a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans.

5. Connect Saving, Spending, and Giving From the Outset

“My wife and I have a four-year-old son, and we’re just now beginning to teach him the true value of money and how it is a tool to be used for different purposes. We’re doing that through the use of three money jars. When he earns money through little jobs we have given him, depending on the day he will put the money in one of three jars. One day for giving, one for saving, and one for spending. On the last day of the week he can choose which jar to put his money in. He can never buy anything unless he has the money available in the spending jar. He also sees importance of saving for the future, and the joy of giving to others. It’s truly a joy to see when the ideas of giving and saving start to register, and it’s so fun to see the smile on his little face when he’s giving to our church, or to a friend through his giving jar. — Peter Anderson, Bible Money Matters

“Our kids are still very young, but at ages 3, 5, and 6 we’re doing our best to teach them the importance of spending, saving, and giving. Last summer, we made piggy banks as a family, and each child has three in their bedroom. One for saving, one for spending, and one for donating. Anytime they make money at a lemonade stand or receive birthday money, they split it up equally among their three jars. It’s not a huge act, but it does start the process at a young age that it’s okay to spend some of your money, as long as you’re giving back to others and saving as well.” — Anna Luther, My Life and Kids

6. Show Them the Price—and the Path

“We have young kids, but we’ve started occasionally working with our five-year-old daughter, Kate. One day while shopping with us she discovered My Little Ponies and asked if she could have one. We explained that we were planning on using our money for other things right now (a phrase we prefer to ‘we can’t afford it’). We shared with her that we would love to help her earn the money to buy it herself. We told her to write down the price and start saving money for it. Over the next couple of weeks we gave her little odd jobs to do around the house to earn the money, quarters and dimes at a time. She worked hard until she’d saved enough. Then we went to the store, and she got to buy her pony. She was so proud. It was a great lesson in money math, delayed gratification, and the power of saving.” — Philip Taylor, PT Money

7. Talk About Debt, Too

“My two boys aren’t quite old enough for serious money lessons yet, but one thing I’m excited to teach them early on is the importance of smartly managing debt. If they want to buy something on their own, like a toy, they’ll have three choices: 1) Buy it now, 2) Save to buy it later, or 3) Borrow money from us. If they choose to borrow, they’ll have payment terms and interest just like a regular loan. My hope is that they can learn the consequences of debt, both good and bad, before it has any real-world implications for them and without the lectures and scare tactics. Then they’ll have the skills and experience to make smarter choices once they’re out on their own.” — Matt Becker, Mom and Dad Money

8. Make Them Work for Wants

“A key factor in reaching financial independence is what you spend. Some spending is needed and necessary. But it’s the ‘wants’ that can get people in trouble. Therefore, when our kids ask for a non-essential item, we reply with a two-step plan: 1. First, wait a week. If you still want it, we’ll get it then (most times the ‘want’ goes away by the end of the first day); 2. If you still want it after the week passes, you have to work around the house to earn half of the purchase price—even if you have enough in savings to pay for it. The second step forces them to think if the amount of work required to purchase the item is worth it to them. If they follow through with the required work, then we know that they’re serious about the purchase, rather than just expressing a fleeting, short-term desire.Several times the “acquiring of money to pay for the thing” becomes almost exciting as the actual purchase.” — Kevin McKinley, On Your Money

More on helping your kids become financially independent:

 

 

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