This weekend, we celebrated our nation’s independence with fireworks and cook-outs. But according to a recent Busted Halo® survey, young adults are struggling for an even more personal kind of independence this summer—financial independence.
More than 40% of respondents said they hold credit card debt, and nearly 50% are floating school loans. We’re the first generation in American history to be less well off at age 30 than our parents were at that age. And with the economy’s frequent hiccups, rising gas prices and falling home values, nearly half of respondents said financial discussions with loved ones have gotten more tense.
How can we declare independence from financial problems straining our relationships?
Busted Halo® readers responded in droves to our recent financial questionnaire, and one thing was clear: the old saying “money is power” is as true as ever, especially when it comes to Mom and Dad.
Do your parents control you with money?
This generation of young adults marries later, is more likely to live at home into their 20s and is more likely to receive financial help from Mom and Dad for longer. Indeed, nearly 4 in 10 adults age 60 or older give money to their adult children, according to the Pew Research Center.
Young-adults are aware that those purse strings are tied up with the family apron strings: More than one third of respondents said their parents have used money to control their decisions.
Sarah, 26, said her parents had the final decision on where she lived, because they were helping to pay the rent. Ann, 26, said her parents’ financial help influenced her choice of colleges. “They were willing to pay for the tuition for the school that I got a half scholarship to,” so she chose that school over a more expensive option. And Michael, 33, said until he finished graduate school, his parents meddled in his finances. “I discussed almost every purchase, aside from basic necessities with them. But, I guess they were helping with most of those bills.”
These young adults are fortunate to have parents with enough means to help them out as they start their careers. And families unable to help out with cash often help in other ways, like by offering free childcare or letting adult children move back into the family home at low or no cost.
But sometimes, young adults feel they are pawns, unable to make the decisions they want, for fear that the financial support—and their educations, or ability to pursue a career dream—will end.
Karen, 29, said her mother threatened to cut off financial support for school if she moved in with two male roommates. She was angry, but did what her mother wanted in the end because school was more important.
These are tough negotiations, with few cut-and-dry answers for how to proceed. If you can support your life without your parents’ financial help, the decision is ultimately yours. But remember, they’re your parents: They hold more over you than money.
“I could have just said ‘To hell with you, your money isn’t worth it,’ but that seemed stupid because what would I be proving? I mean, I still care what they think and want their approval,” said Krista, 31. “But I do think there’s a way to set boundaries, I just haven’t found it yet.”
If your parents are using money to influence your decisions, ask yourself a few questions:
- Forget about money for a minute: What do you really want to do?
- Be honest with yourself: Are you really doing all you can to be a financially self-sufficient adult?
- Can you afford to pay for your goals on your own?
- If so, how can you explain your decisions to your parents in a nonconfrontational way?
- If you can’t pay for your goals on your own, are they so important that it’s worth going along with what your parents want—or do you need to re-evaluate your goals?
- Is this really about money, or are there some bigger parent-child issues at stake? Do they miss you? Do they disapprove of your career choice? Many other issues mask themselves as money problems. Take a moment to figure out what’s really going on before you make any decisions.
Share your experiences with me at firstname.lastname@example.org and check this spot soon for the next column in the finances series: How—and when —to talk to your spouse or significant other about money matters.