Generous gift to son ‘drives daughters crazy’

Michelle Singletary
Columnist July 22, 2013

This online feature may include questions adapted from my weekly live chat. It’s also an opportunity for me to answer questions I couldn’t get to during the discussion. I may also respond to questions you send by e-mail to (colorofmoney@washpost.com), Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary.com).

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.” View Archive

Do her daughters need money more than her son?

Q: We have three children in their 20s. Our daughters both went to private colleges. They worked summers and part time during the school year, but we paid the bulk of their expenses and they graduated with no student debt. We are now helping one daughter pursue her master’s part-time. The problem is neither has been able to find a job in their fields. They are both living at home and working in retail while continuing to job hunt.

Our son, while bright, is not academically inclined. He took a nine-month course at a local career college to become a certified auto mechanic on high-end cars and is now doing much better than either of his sisters. We’ve been giving him around $25,000 per year to reflect what we would have spent had he gone to college. He is careful with his money and has used our gifts to buy a downtown condo, save and invest.

This drives our daughters crazy. They claim we have always preferred him and they need the money more than he does. I know “fair” does not necessarily mean “equal” but in this case I think we are being fair. We are not charging our daughters rent but expect them to save a third of their earnings so they can eventually move out on their own.

Michelle Singletary: You have every right to dole out your money any way you wish. If you wanted to help your son and you can afford to provide financial aid to him, there is nothing wrong with that decision. It really has nothing to do with being fair. It’s your money. And what a great gift to help him train for a career, become a homeowner and invest for his future.

But I don’t think you should have felt that you owed him the same amount of money as if he had gone to college. He found a different path to a good career. And that’s good for him. It’s the idea that you felt he was entitled to the same amount of money his sisters received just because their path required a college education. That’s a sense of entitlement you didn’t need to foster.

However, your daughters have no right to argue with you about what you’re giving your son. It’s none of their business. Frankly they are just being batty and envious. They received what you thought was fair for them, and they should be grateful. They shouldn’t begrudge what their brother has received because they want more.

Asking your child to help out with expenses

A: My youngest daughter graduated from college a year ago, debt free, and now has a good job making about $40,000 a year. Since she lived at home for the last two years of college, we bought her a car, now paid for and in her name. She is carrying the insurance herself.

About two months after she graduated, her father was laid off. His unemployment income is about to end and despite diligent searching, he hasn’t been unable to find another job. To help make ends meet, I would like my daughter, who is still living at home (her sisters are already out and on their own), to start paying us $250 a month to help cover our household expenses.

I don’t think it is too much to ask, but my husband is unhappy about doing it. I feel like it would help us, and it will help her take on more responsibility. Your thoughts?

Michelle Singletary: Your husband is probably feeling he’s the man of the house and doesn’t want to be seen as a failure by asking for help from his child. I get that. Just be sensitive to his feelings right now. It’s hard to be unemployed when you want to work and support your family.

As for your request of your daughter, I think $250 is too little to ask of her. And I don’t mean that in a mean way. You gave her a good start in life. Now she’s grown and should be paying more of her fair share of living expenses. It’s not a punishment but out of necessity. You need the money, and you are doing the right thing by asking her to contribute as she would if she had roommates, which she does. In this case, her roommates just happen to be her parents.

Sit her down. Lovingly tell her you need help now. Figure out her share of expenses including rent, food, utilities, etc. I would even go as far as to ask her to continue living with you until you can get back on better financial footing. You would also be helping her realize the true cost of what it takes to be independent.

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or e-mail michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to postbusiness.com.

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