Question: I cut out your articles regularly and send them to my son. But he doesn’t seem to get it. My husband and I have tried to teach him to be responsible, but we are still having to pay his phone bill and his car insurance, and whenever he comes home he asks me for cash. He’s out of college and he’s got a job, though not a good one. He says he doesn’t make enough money, but this just can’t keep going on. What do you suggest?
Answer: You say you have tried to teach your son to be responsible, but actually the opposite is true.
You’ve taught him that charming irresponsibility has hefty rewards. In his case, it gets his phone bill paid, his car insurance paid and a regular infusion of cash.
You are saying one thing with your words, but another with your wallet. I can assure you, your son is listening to your wallet, not your words.
Your son’s financial behavior is beyond your control. You can influence it, but you cannot control it. And unfortunately, you’ve been influencing it in the wrong direction.
So first, give up the illusion that you can control, protect or direct your son in any one particular way. The beginning of the end came when he started walking 20 some-odd years ago, and it’s been over for a while (though I suspect you don’t believe it).
Second, realize that the only thing you can do is release him from the slavery he is in. OK, I’m being melodramatic. Your son is in a slavery of sorts, but it’s one he loves…now. Later, he’ll regret never growing up (or having it delayed too long). But for now, your son is a blissful vassal to your parental largess.
It’s time for you to cut him off. To stop rescuing him. To allow him to experience financial pain, and therefore financial adulthood.
Children are (rightfully) shielded from most financial realities and should only be gradually introduced to them. But before the teenage years are over, kids need to have a firm understanding that there is an expiration date to your financial support. This looming deadline is designed to motivate kids to learn, work and take action before they find themselves out on the street with two empty pockets.
But when parents teach their kids (by their actions, not their words) that Mom and Dad will “always be there,” Junior learns what level of adult whining it takes to open the flood gates (or at least get the cell phone bill paid).
If you have an interest in putting this recommendation into action, cut out (or forward via email) this column to your son with a note attached (or just highlight the paragraph below):
“Son – I see myself in this article. Your father and I talked and we agreed that it’s time for you to get on with your life and learn the hard lessons that only self-sufficiency can teach you. We have paid your last cell phone bill, your last car insurance premium, etc. We love you enough to make you temporarily uncomfortable so that you can become the man we both know you can be.”
Do not apologize to him for this action. Do not call him and ask him “how’s it going with your finances?” Do not rescue him.
He may crash and burn (temporarily), but I doubt it. More likely, he’ll have a negative reaction and try to get you to respond (I mean, it’s worked every time so far, hasn’t it?). If he sees that you don’t respond in the way he’s used to (rescuing him financially), there’s a good chance he’ll see his own adult survival skills emerge and begin to develop a financial game plan.
There are no guarantees with this sort of thing. The closest thing I can give you to a guarantee is how certain I am that NOT taking some action like this will result in a very negative future for your son.
Affirm your love for him. Cut him off. Let him grow up.
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Byron R. Moore, CFP® is Managing Director / Planning Group of Argent Advisors, Inc. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Write to him at 500 East Reynolds Drive, Ruston, LA 71270 or call him at (318) 251-5858. The opinions of any single advisor do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Argent Advisors, Inc. No forecasts can be guaranteed. Argent Advisors, Inc. does not offer tax, insurance or legal advice. The information contained in this column should not be construed as a substitute for personalized investment, tax, insurance or legal advice.