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5 steps for cutting off your adult kids

Here's how to wean them financially while continuing to give them love and support.

By MSN Money Partner Oct 30, 2013 12:48PM

This post comes from Marilyn Lewis at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyIf you're the parent of young adults, you may be wondering if the kids are ever going to make it on their own.

It's small comfort but, if you're helping support grown kids, you're in good company. Nearly 60% of American parents were financially supporting adult children, the National Foundation for Financial Education and Forbes reported in 2011. That included help with housing, insurance costs, spending money, living expenses, transportation and medical bills.


More than half of the baby boomers responding to a 2012 survey (.pdf file) told Ameriprise Financial that they'd let their adult children live with them rent-free. Many boomerang kids are overstaying their welcome.

How do you cut them off and launch them into independent lifestyles?

Younger workers wobbling

The recession may be mostly behind us but young American workers still are struggling to stand on their own feet financially.

The recession dealt them a tough blow but it's not the only reason that 20-somethings, 30-somethings and even 40-somethings are wobbling on takeoff, says "Failure to Launch: Structural Shift and the New Lost Generation" (.pdf file), a report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Younger adults' difficulty finding steady work and accumulating savings is also the result of longer-term economic trends. More jobs today require advanced skills. Fewer high-paying factory jobs are available for workers who have only a high school diploma, The Wall Street Journal writes.

Student loan debt is holding back younger workers, too. Between 1984 and 2009 the net worth of households headed by someone 35 or younger fell by 68% -- from $11,500 to $3,700, says the Georgetown University report.

Supportive emancipation

If you're the parent of one of these late-bloomers, you know the trends firsthand. You may have taken on debt or delayed your retirement to help your kids.

Your questions are likely to be practical ones:

  • Does supporting grown kids really help them?
  • How do you wean them from the bank of mom and dad?

It's important to consider whether your support is really good for the kids. By helping them financially you may be subtly signaling that you don’t trust them to be capable of caring for themselves.

Also, helping your kids may endanger your own financial stability. Interviewed by email, Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, says:

This is of course an additional financial burden on the parents, and one they had not likely planned for. What was intended to be a temporary situation often turns into a permanent one, potentially burdening the finances and the relationship.

 Senior couple holding champagne flutes, smiling at each other© PhotoAlto/Eric Audras/PhotoAlto Agency RF/Getty ImagesHere are five steps to help break your financial ties with your kids:

1. Set boundaries gently but firmly

When you do decide to cut off financial support from your adult children, cut the cord gradually.

Begin with a conversation. Tell the kids how much you love them. Tell them that you believe in them, and mean it. Of course they have failed sometimes. Most of us need to try and try and try again until we figure out how to get it right.

Pointing out their failures undermines their confidence. Their confidence is likely to be shaky enough already right now, even if they appear to be full of bravado. Try to focus on the times when they got it right, on ways they've proven their capacity to succeed.

Tell them that you'll be there for them as you gradually shift more and more of the weight for their financial responsibilities to them. Ask them to help identify nonfinancial ways you can be supportive and then commit to the ones you can, in the place of money.

2. Make a plan to end help, with dates

This is a big change and it could be tough on all of you. Tell the kids what they can and can't expect from you. Make a road map for this journey, with milestones -- goals and the dates for achieving them.

If possible, include your kids in setting these goals and in discussing how to reach them. Involving them respects and supports their independence. It also may give you important information about what’s realistic for them to achieve and when.

Of course not all kids will be able to respect their parents' need to pull back. Some won't be able to participate in this planning with you.

One way of defusing the difficulties may be to get help from someone who's neutral, a nonprofit financial counselor. NFCC counseling is free or low-cost. Counselors can act as "an independent third party, helping to peacefully and reasonably facilitate the transition to independence," Cunningham says.

Find an NFCC counseling agency near you here.

3. Help them create a budget

"You have to teach them the basics of finance," Kimberly Foss, founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, Calif., tells U.S. News & World Report.

One practical way to do this is to create a budget together. Try not to make it overly complicated.

You might use one of the free online budgeting sites. Or maybe the kids will go for a simple spreadsheet like Excel.

Foss advises clients to budget 50% of their income for needs, 30% for wants and put 20% in savings.

4. Pull back gradually

Foss suggests that parents take 12 to 24 months to get their children on their own two feet financially, starting by removing support for smaller expenses first. For example, you could tell them that for the first six months, you'll pay for their cellphone plan, but after that, it's up to them.

She advises easing them into the real world by continuing to help with student loans longest -- for about 18 months -- while they get used to assuming other responsibilities and get some success under their belts.

5. Lead by example

You may have kept family finances private from your kids in the past. Many Americans do. But some increased transparency can help the kids watch how you do it. Be sure you pay bills on time, work on your credit score and save whenever possible.

They'll be watching your spending closely during this period. Make sure you model the frugality and careful habits that you want to see in them.

Have you had to cut off financial support for your adult kids? Tell us what worked and what didn't.

More on Money Talks News:

Oct 30, 2013 1:40PM

For people over 50 it was considered a total embarrassment to be living at home, except for summers if you were in college, a year after graduating from high school. Amazing that young people today have no shame, no self-respect and no will to work.  Yeah I heard about the lack of jobs, but the simple fact is that if you have to work 80 hours a week at 2 low level jobs to make it, it should be better than pretending you're an adult while you sponge off your parents and destroy their lives and ability to retire.

Oct 30, 2013 2:49PM
People's standards have gotten sky high. Gone are the days of "simple living", where families ate at home, home was a small house that everyone lived in fairly comfortably, clothes were bought once a year, and most people owned two pairs of shoes: nice and daily. Now, families eat out regularly, houses are enormous, and two closets are needed for one wardrobe. I think that's why it's so hard for young people to realize they need to start small to end big.
Oct 30, 2013 2:18PM

"For example, you could tell them that for the first six months, you'll pay for their cellphone plan, but after that, it's up to them."


If their 16 or older and not paying for their own cell phone bill by then, you've already screwed up.

Oct 30, 2013 1:50PM
My parents divorced, my mom remarried but my dad never did (or wanted to). I started having seizures and lost my license to drive, plus I have to take a pill while or after Im having seizures to get them to stop. So I had to move back home with my dad. I pay my fair share, its just me and him and he seems worried I will move out. We get along better now then we ever did.
Oct 30, 2013 4:45PM
I left home when I was still 17, and never lived with my folks or accepted money from them afterward. I made damn sure my kids knew that, and I expected pretty much the same from them. I got a PhD and had a great, lucrative career. My rules included: 1) You will leave my house by your 18th birthday or high school graduation, whichever comes last. 2) Don't expect money from us. I hated kids being "put through college" when I was a student, and later when I was teaching them. They were generally worthless. A kid working a job to pay for his college expenses learns to respect both a work ethic and education. I've been available for small loans, usually involving a house (I don't loan for cars), and they sign a promissory note, its totally amortized, and reasonable interest is applied. Don't pay and the interest accumulates, probably wiping out your inheritance. I  never co-sign or agree to cover an expense. You want a smart phone with a plan? Take a second job. I love my kids, and am proud they're doing well. I gave them no choice.
Oct 30, 2013 4:44PM

I have a brother who just turned 51 (in June) and he had been depending on my mom ALL HIS LIFE!  He is the OLDEST of 4 kids and the ONLY ONE that can't seem to get his S*IT together and it makes me so angry at times!   My mom is 74 now and she still gives him $$ (just did yesterday).  He won't give up the Marijuana so he can't get a REAL JOB because of DRUG TESTING.  He works and will work, but lives by the seat of his pants-paycheck to paycheck.  He has never lived off "the system", but still he could do so much better if he would apply himself!


My sister allows him to LIVE in her HOME she bought before she got married and he PAYS RENT (Whenever).  She is STILL PAYING A MORTGAGE PMT EVERY SINGLE MONTH!! (STUPID)  My  husband and I have tried to tell my mom & my sister to STOP enabling him-he has GOT to learn to live on his own w/o help!   My mom is not going to live forever and I wonder what is going to happen to him when she dies?   Will my sister be stupid enough to pick up the slack? (Probably-until her husband cracks that whip on her) 


Worse yet, my mom's is that going to pan out?  She lives in a nice Lake front property and is 100% debt free!!!  Will she leave this to him? (PROBABLY) but he won't be able to pay the taxes and I'm sure most of whatever investments (LIKE $50k OR MORE) she has/cash in her checking account (which is usually around $12-15K) will go to his sorry ****!   JUST MAKES ME WANNA PUKE!


I think it's a HUGE mistake NOT to teach your kids to be on their own by the time they are 21.  I have NEVER in my 47 years asked her to help me and I wouldn't dare knowing what my brother has done to her.



Oct 30, 2013 1:54PM
A minority of people have landed a good paying job right out of the gate, even in manufacturing and other manual labor jobs.  You have to (and should have to) work your way up to a living wage regardless what degree you have.  If you only have a high school diploma and you're competent, you're typically on a longer road, not a dead end road.  I started working at 15.  Actually younger than that if you want to count lawn mowing and house cleaning, but when I got my first real job, I was 15 and worked full time each summer until I graduated high school.  After graduation, I had 5 yrs of work experience on my resume.  It took 3 or 4 years before my pay increased enough to support myself, so at 22 I was financially ready to move out.  Lots of people graduate college with an MBA, yet their only work experience is cleaning their bedroom & taking out the trash.  Guess what?  You're going to find a job, but you're going to start off sorting mail and cleaning the bathrooms until I see you have some work ethic.
Oct 30, 2013 1:47PM
We did this with our son who is 30 a few months ago....he agreed to everything and when the time came to step up to the plate he got nasty and threatened to shoot me....unfortunately, had to have a protective order against him for 6 months and his weapons taken away!!! Love him but really!!!!!!!!!
Oct 30, 2013 1:38PM

New world huh?  I went to college and got a job and bought a home.  Guess those days are over.

Oct 30, 2013 2:41PM
"They'll be watching your spending closely during this period. Make sure you model the frugality and careful habits that you want to see in them." It is none of their business, and if you allow them to scrutinize, you have far more problems than "cutting the cord" financially.  The parents must set the limits on the child, and I use this term loosely if you are out of college you are no longer a child, regardless of the parents' wealth or financial stability.
Oct 30, 2013 4:01PM
The real problem is the parents that let them. I kick their butts out. I have a 23 & a 21 year old that live on their own and pay their own bills including student loans. I supported them till they were out of school, After that, see ya!
Oct 30, 2013 6:57PM


Excellent Wall Street Journal article published in February 2012.  Describes how American parents coddle their children and states that American parents "expect too little" and American children "expect too much."  When a child is raised to think he doesn't answer to anyone he'll grow up into a spoiled, self-entitled narcissist. 

Oct 30, 2013 5:48PM

6 steps to prevent your young kids from growing up into lazy, narcissistic, sponging young adults:


1. Enroll your kids in religious schools, or home school them if you have the financial means.  Public and non-religious private schools coddle children, discourage critical thinking, teach them everything they say and do is just splendid, and are afraid to punish kids when they make mistakes or behave badly.


2. Don't tell your kid that he's "special" or "exceptional" and that everything he says and does is just splendid.  Don't be afraid to tell your kids when they screw up.  Point out what they did wrong, and ask them to think about and tell you what they could have done differently to avoid the mistake.  If the mistake was stupid, lazy or careless, make that fact very clear.  Make sure your kids understand that they're equal to other kids and subservient to adults, not superior to everyone else, and make sure they understand that although they're good people, they do make stupid mistakes and behave badly every now and then.


3. Don't be afraid to say NO.  Don't buy your kids things they don't need just because they "want" them.  Make them spend part or all of their allowance or money earned from odd jobs on the material things they want.  If they play the "But all my friends have it!" card, cut them down and make it very clear that it's unacceptable and if it happens again they will be grounded.


4. Limit TV time for older kids, and don't let younger kids watch TV until they're 8-10 years old.  Commercials are dangerous to young kids - they disempower parents and manipulate kids who aren't developed enough to properly analyse the content of the ad.  Kids younger than 10 aren't cognitively developed enough to think critically, recognise when they're being lied to and understand that sometimes people have ulterior motives (e.g. companies whose products are advertised on TV care more about getting your money than whether their products are healthy or safe).


5. Make them earn their keep - a small weekly allowance of, say, under $10 until the kid is around 12, and between 12-16 they can earn money by doing chores around the house or around the neighbourhood, and after 16 they need to get a part time job.  Don't buy your kid a cell phone or a car unless they can pay for part of it themselves.


6.  Make it unequivocally clear to your kids that the parents are in charge of their lives, and what they say is the law, and is ABSOLUTELY NOT up for negotiation.  Be a benevolent dictator.  Don't tolerate backtalk.  You're the boss, and the kids need to remember that at all times.

Oct 30, 2013 6:17PM
I wish someone would write an article about parents who have moved back in with their kids and then refuse to get a job, take responsibility, help out around the house, etc.  Parenting your fully able adult parents is hard and getting them out is even harder!
Oct 30, 2013 1:39PM
Well, I guess if they aren't willing to help you when you're old, then I guess they aren't gonna be in the Will!
Oct 30, 2013 7:27PM
I'm in my late 20s and I have fought through some serious health issues, so many trips to the ER... I have over 100 grand in school debt.... I am struggling to get on my feet beneath crushing school and medical debt.... I buy my own food, my own clothing, I pay my own bills.. However, I do live at home... I must say, i want nothing more than to be independent.... I am both ashamed and heart broken to see my friends have their own places, get married, have children.... and to miss these major milestones in my life.... I want to reach them.... I want independence....I am praying my hard and smart work pays off.
Oct 30, 2013 5:51PM
This is ridiculous.  The current economy and baby boomers have put our generation in this position.  College tuition has risen something like 500% since 1970...and with a failing economy, we're told to go to school and pay thousands of dollars on education only to graduate into a world with few jobs or jobs that pay little.  Read on if you want to hear from someone who's worked hard and is succeeding just barely...
My parents helped me start a savings account when I was 5 where I would put birthday $, holiday $, babysitting $, and side job $.  At age 14, I started taking AP/IB classes, at 16 I was in over my head with multiple extracurriculars, college-level courses, and a part time job.  In college, I took over the max credits, took on multiple leadership positions (one as an RA), and skipped studying abroad in order to graduate early to save money.  Despite working all these jobs and multiple years overtime, I still struggled to pay for school and felt hopeless many times..and still do.  Luckily my parents chipped in for some of my college tuition, but a year out of college I have a stacked resume and many useful skills and still find it hard to come out on top after bills every month.
No, I have not moved back in with my parents, but from someone who is a workaholic (due to the economic circumstances) and an 23 I am still terrified that if the smallest thing happens with my health..or some unforeseen problem, I will have to turn to my parents.  

Treating this generation like the past ones is ridiculous.  We're shoved into working overtime, told to go to schools we can't afford, then on to grad school....etc, we're in debt before we're even considered legal adults.  I don't blame anyone for relying on their parents or living at home.  In other cultures and countries, it's normal to ask family for help.  In America.."pull yourself up by your bootstraps.." how do you buy bootstraps if you owe hundreds of thousands of dollars to the "education" system.
Oct 30, 2013 3:06PM

How in the world are 20 somethings in college expected to do it without help? My son is 21 and has 5 more semester of college before he graduates with his degree.. His dad and I help cover his tuition (after scholarships and student loans), as well as his cell phone bill, medical insurance, as well as car insurance and maintenance. He works 20 hours a week for gas and run money.

So for at least the next 2 years, we are out roughly 13,000.00 per year to get him to a place where he can be financially independent. If we don't help out now, there is no way he will be able to afford rent, utilities, student loans and other loans, gas, food, insurance and all the other stuff it takes just to live. And before anyone thinks he is living a life of luxury, he isn't. He drives a 12 year old car, lives in the dorm with a room mate, and eats the food plan at school.

Oct 31, 2013 11:20AM
From my early childhood, I understood that we each had our roles to play in the family to make it work  My job was to be as good a student as I could.  We were compulsive savers but lived comfortably. Summer job income went to my school fund.  My parents paid for all of my education and refused to accept reimbursement.  So, as soon as I had saved the money, I bought them a new car for Christmas and secretly paid off their home mortgage (the only debt they ever had). And I saw to it that my parents wanted for nothing for the rest of their lives. How did my parents "control" us?  The concept was foreign.  I just don't understand the comments made here about "control", "discipline", etc.  What bound us all together, and still binds us wherever we are, is love. Years after I was on my own, my Father said to me a few times that, if for some reason things didn't work out, I could ALWAYS come back home.   I never did and always had a house that was large enough to accommodate my parents should health of other issues require it.  This is what a FAMILY is about, LOVE!
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