Traditionally, parents provide financial support to kids only until they’re out of the house or graduated from college — but is that changing?
A recent survey published by Merrill Lynch says yes.
The survey, based on a group of 2,500 respondents, presents some eye-opening numbers about how much parents spend on their adult kids. For example:
1. Parents spend twice as much on their adult children (ages 18-35) than they do investing in their own retirement. A whopping 72 percent of parents say they’ve put their child’s interests ahead of their own need to save for their golden years.
2. Parents in the U.S. are spending $500 billion annually (yep, billion with a “B” and lots of zeroes) on their adult children, making this phase of parenthood the most expensive when compared to the infant-toddler stage and the elementary-through-high-school stage.
You’re probably thinking “Wait, what?” I am, too.
I have an adult daughter. I also have two boys in elementary school, and their sports program and equipment fees are starting to make my eyes pop. This is on top of feeding them and buying them shoes every four weeks because their feet are growing so fast (I’m exaggerating, but only a little.) I remark all the time about how my kids are getting so expensive, and yet according to this study, we haven’t even hit the expensive part yet.
Then again, I do remember a period of my own young adulthood when I struggled with managing my money, using credit wisely, and general adulting. My parents bailed me out time after time with 20 bucks here, a hundred bucks there, and various “loans” to pay for those speeding tickets I ignored for over a year. I cringe to think about what a hot mess I was.
Looking back, I am grateful that I had parents with the means, the kindness, and the patience to keep bailing me out. I eventually “got it,” but I never once considered that they could have been short-changing their own needs to help me. Until now.
I also think of my own daughter, who I’m happy to say is much less of a hot mess 20-something than I was. Although she stands on her own now, I did provide a measure of support to her at a couple of points in her early adult life. I still paid her phone bill for quite some time after she was out of the nest and mostly self-supporting. I was also prepared to pay for at least some of her wedding, even though she eloped.
I never expected her to be magically self-sufficient the minute she turned 18 — and while the adult she’s become makes me incredibly proud, I’d absolutely step in with my checkbook if she needed me to or asked for help.
While the numbers in the above-mentioned study are pretty shocking, I don’t think parents providing support to their adult children is a bad thing. Graduate and advanced degrees are becoming more and more necessary for career success, and there are very few disciplines where a four-year degree alone is going to get you to the top of your game. So, adult kids might live at home longer or even boomerang back home after moving out. I boomeranged back to my parents twice and my own daughter came home once.
Helping your kids get their start in life doesn’t always equate to “enabling” them, and young adults who get financial support from their parents don’t always grow up to be irresponsible adults.
Take 36-year-old Courtney Lynne, for example, who says her parents paid for a lot of her big ticket items as a young adult.
“[My parents] paid for my college, and the car I drove in college and the places I lived in college,” she recalls.
She also adds that her parents paid for her wedding — even though she didn’t marry until age 31, after she’d already established herself in her career. Still, she doesn’t take any of it for granted, saying instead, it made her more focused.
“In the end, I think all this made me work harder,” she explains. “I wanted to maintain those nice things and have the same level of things (but with my own money) after I graduated. All those things as a motivator really worked for me, since to this very day I’m a workaholic who takes pride in her work.”
On the other hand, 34-year-old Thena reminds us that nowadays, many parents are helping their adult kids pay for insurance, which can also be very costly.
“With the Affordable Care Act, so many parents are paying for health insurance for their adult children up to age 26,” she says. “That’s a huge savings for kids and a big expense for parents.”
However, like anything else in life, I think providing support to adult children is a balancing act. If you have the means to keep an adult child on your insurance a few years longer or take care of a phone bill while your kid establishes themselves in their career, why not help?
Granted, this study is a good reminder to not neglect those retirement accounts. Yet at the same time, a mom doesn’t just stop being a mom once her kids are a certain age — and putting your kids’ needs and wants ahead of your own seems to be inherent to parenthood, right or wrong.