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So, what DO you owe your adult children?

Well, definitely basic food and shelter needs to be at the top of the list.  You can certainly add in some requirements – such as stay in school, get a job, do a share of the chores, or maybe even pay rent.  I think those are all very good things that are preparing your kid for adult life.  Even if they are in a dorm room or living with a roommate, they will have to meet these basic requirements.  I started paying rent at about 16.  Now I think it’s the biggest favor my parents every did for me because, it taught me responsibility.

Do you owe them transportation?  Maybe, but not necessarily.  We didn’t buy cars for any of our kids, though we did help them save for one.  Right now my youngest is flipping burgers to save for a car to get to school in the Fall.  We will pay the insurance to help him out, but gas, repairs, and registration are on his dime.

Same thing with cell phones and other expensive perks.  A cell phone bill is the one bill they WILL make sure gets paid.  And if it gets shut off a couple of times for non payment, that’s a great lesson.  And if they want other perks, like designer clothes or other stuff, they should pay for them.

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I think the strategy with adult kids is balance.  It isn’t always realistic to expect them to pay their own way, but its smart to gradually ease them into more and more adult responsibilities.  I frequently remind my son that at 18, he is a guest in our house now and if we wants to remain with us, he had better show the courtesy and responsibility I would expect from any houseguest.

“Borrowing” Money

What about adult kids who frequently ask to “borrow” money from you?  Usually it is to meet some kind of “emergency” need, such as their car insurance or repairs to their car.  Now, the term “borrow” indicates that they are going to pay it back.  But let’s be honest.  That rarely happens.  They may have good intentions, (or they may not), but the fact is, it’s a rare kid who ever pays that money back.  I was that rare kid – we borrowed money maybe three times from our parents, but I always paid them back even if I had to give them $25 a week.

So, let’s call it what it is – your kids are TAKING money from you rather than BORROWING it from you.  The question is, what do they learn from that?  Other than learning that Mom and Dad are running a free ATM?  The next time Junior comes with his hand out for money, realize that you have some options.

  •  You can refuse to give him (or her) the money.  Sometimes the consequence of having to take a bus or ask friends for a ride to work for several weeks is very effective.  They’ll be mad, I guarantee it, but it’s a great lesson that “adulting” is sometimes hard.  We’ve learned that lesson ourselves, but many times we have prevented our children from learning it.
  • You can give them the money with strings attached.  Mainly, the string should be that they set up an automatic savings plan until they have that $1,000 emergency savings account that Suze Orman is always talking about.
  • You can lend them the money with the understanding that it is a true loan with a reasonable payback schedule.  Then comes the tricky part, you have to ENFORCE it.  Your best bet is to teach them about the magic of direct deposit and automatic transfers.  Expecting them to show up on your doorstep with a check in hand every week – probably not going to happen.  They’ll just stop showing up.  You can even ask them for security on the loan in the form of a guitar, their video game system, or the note on their car.
  • Or, why not take them to the bank and help them arrange for a genuine loan?  Even if you have to co-sign for it, you’d be better off than giving them a large sum of money that you maybe can’t afford.  There are no retirement loans, you know.

Kids should have some freedom as an adult, but it’s your house and you are still the parent.  It’s fine to set high expectations and enforce them, and I think it’s an excellent idea.  And in our case, it is working out quite well.   Two weeks after graduation, he has a full-time job, is saving for his car, and does daily chores.


Here is a pair of great books to help you to cope with managing your adult children.  This one is called Boundaries with Teens, but I think it applies equally to older teens and young adult children.


This one is called “When our Grown Kids Disappoint Us – Letting Go of their Problems, Loving Them, and Getting on with your Life”.  I haven’t read the book yet – I have it on order, but the reviews on it are outstanding.  I could see where this could be a very helpful book for this specific situation.

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3 Comments on What Do We OWE Our Adult Children?

  1. I borrowed money from my parents when I first got out of college. I used it pay the first and last month’s rent and security deposit, and then they supplemented me about $100 a month because the rent was expensive (NYC metro area….) I appreciated and needed their help, but I did pay back every penny because it was important to me. As a parent, I can see that they preferred to help me out rather than have me live in a location they felt was unsafe for a young, single female. They never asked me to pay it back. To this day, I’m so glad I did!

    • That’s exactly how I felt and I’m always surprised when others don’t feel that way. I agree with your folks about wanting you in a safe place. I lived in some very seedy areas growing up and even all these years later, I still feel very uncomfortable going into bad parts of town. I would rather have a tiny home in a safe neighborhood than a much larger house in a rough neighborhood.

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