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Ask Dave

Changing The Money Relationship With Grown Kids

Norman and his wife have two married daughters. They eat out a lot, and it's getting more expensive. What's the best way to handle it so that paying isn't always Norman's burden?

QUESTION: Norman in Lexington and his wife are in their 50s. They have two married daughters. One of them makes good money, and the other just gets by. They eat out a lot as a social gathering for their family, and Norman doesn’t mind paying, but now it’s getting more expensive as adults. What’s the best way to handle it so that paying isn’t always Norman’s burden?

ANSWER: I don’t think it’s wrong mechanically or ethically to do it either way. The big problem in this is that it’s just bothering you. That’s a fair thing. It’s okay for it to bother you. You don’t feel good about it anymore. If it wasn’t your kids, if it was a friend doing it, we’d call them a mooch. If they weren’t your kids, that’s how we’d be talking about it. I know exactly what you’re saying.

I’ve got grown kids, and I usually pick up the tab on that, but I don’t think much about it. They have offered a time or two, and I appreciate them doing that. If they would just offer and mean it, you’d probably be okay.

These are your daughters, and I’ll bet if you bring this up with them, that’s probably going to hurt feelings because father-daughter relationships are interesting. I’ve got two daughters. I think I’d have a cup of coffee with my sons-in-law man-to-man. Just say, “It’s time for us to finish the conversion of releasing our daughters to you. So when we’re around, we’re to be treated financially like friends. That means how you’d treat your friends on picking up a tab. How would you treat your friends if they offered you money? You’re to treat my wife that way and me that way going forward. I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings and I’m not trying to be mean, but this is the last stage of evolution in our relationship with our daughters, and I need you young men as the men of your houses to pick that up and run with it for me. Can you help me with that?”

I’ll bet you man-to-man over a cup of coffee the two of you guys can figure this out. You put the ladies in the mix, it might change the formula. I can sit down with either one of my son-in-laws and have that conversation, and neither one of them would have feelings hurt, and I wouldn’t be mean. If I put my wife or my daughters in there, there might be drama. I’m not saying that’s true in every house, but that’s the way it would be in my house. There might not be, but I can tell you that the three guys could get together and have this talk, and they wouldn’t even blink.

When you go out, it’s just like it would be with friends. Sometimes, I pick up my friends’ tabs. Sometimes, they pick mine up. Sometimes, I’ve got guests, and I’m doing something nice for a guest. Sometimes, I’m their guest. I need to receive, and I need to give. I don’t need to feel taken advantage of. They don’t need to feel like they’re taking advantage of me. Guys our age don’t run around with people who mooch off of us. If you’ve got a friend who forgets his wallet, they’re pretty quickly not a friend if it’s a repeated offense.

It’s time for them to mature to that level. This is the last step in you releasing your daughters to the care and feeding of these young men. For them to carry their part of the weight, we’re just going to treat this like equals now from this point forward. What happens with my father-in-law is I pick up the tab with him quite often, and occasionally, he gets that grin on his face and that little laugh, and he pays for everything. And I let him. We swap back and forth on stuff. But he doesn’t pick it all up all the time. He would. He’s a nice guy and wouldn’t think anything about it. And I’d pick it up with him all the time and not think anything about it. But we swap back and forth, and we’ve done that for many years. That really did happen probably when I hit about the age of your daughters. When you start hitting that 30 mark, that’s when you start buying your own dinner or you start treating Daddy instead of him treating you.