If you suspect that your parents are having money problems, you are probably pondering if and how to broach the topic with them. Of course, if they have already asked you for money, feel free to ask them what is going on. But in most cases, even if they are being harassed by collectors, have had a car repossessed, or keep very little food in the house, they probably won’t say a word . . . meaning you may need to.
One way to do this is to listen to them very carefully for even a hint that things aren’t right. Consider this hint, if it happens, as a green light to ask them if they would like to talk more about their financial issues. If this green light doesn’t happen, however, you may want to share with them what you have been noticing and ask if they would like to discuss it. Obviously, you should always be sensitive to their feelings.
Once you have had this talk and concluded that your parents need and want financial help, the question often becomes, “Should I or should I not give them money?” Hopefully, the following principles will help with your decision.
Helping vs. Enabling
Helping means that you are doing for them what they are not capable of doing for themselves. Enabling, on the other hand, means doing for them what they can and should be doing for themselves. I realize, when we are talking about parents, that this approach sounds cold, but paying off your parent’s credit card debt while they continue to pile up more debt is not helping them. Therefore, if enabling is a concern, and if they are open to changing their habits, you should probably refrain from giving them money. Instead, consider how to help them without giving them money.
How to Help Without Giving Money
- Help them set up a budget. Often, this simple step will be all that is needed.
- Help them set financial goals. Whatever the goal, (getting rid of debt, for example), establish a realistic time frame for achieving it.
- Discuss sacrifices they need to consider. For example, they may need to sell a car or cut up credit cards (instead of applying for more) or move to a smaller home. Or all three. Show them the results if they took certain steps.
- Give emotional support. For most parents, accepting any form of financial help from a child is an emotional and often embarrassing experience. Whatever financial holes they may have dug, be sensitive to their needs. There is never a time when you shouldn’t respect them and honor them.
How to Give Your Parents Money
If your parents are being wise money managers, but have come to a bump in their financial road (such as a roof repair or medical issue or being temporarily without work), you should ask them if they are open to accepting financial help. Here are some things to consider:
- Will this be a one time only gift or an ongoing supplement? This may be an awkward discussion, but the more clarity you establish upfront, the less confusion you will have in the future.
- If you have siblings, ask your parents for permission to solicit their help. There was a time, years ago, when my mom needed assistance. Fortunately, my older sister had the wisdom and gumption to check into mom’s situation, determine that she had a legitimate need, and receive her permission to ask the rest of us if we wanted to help out. It worked out great because no one (except for my older sister) knew what anyone else was giving. All seven of us kids felt good about doing what we could, and my mom was honored to know that all of her kids were working together to help her.
- Don’t give what you don’t have. I realize, especially when you want to help your parents, that “I can’t afford it” sounds lame. However, digging a financial hole for your own family in order to give money to your parents is not wise. This being said, you could consider (1) revising your budget to include gifts to your parents, (2) temporarily working overtime or an extra job to bring in the needed money or (3) offering your organization skills, such as my older sister did.
Deciding when to give or not give money to your parents is a decision which can stir up profound emotions, both for you and your parents. Hopefully, these guidelines can help you navigate through those emotions to find a solution which you will feel good about and will honor your parents.
Have you ever given your parents money? How did it go? If you could do it over again, what would you do differently? Leave a comment!