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Ask Dave

Learning To Help Themselves

John and his wife are have been helping their grown kids and don't know how to say no. How can they teach their grown kids how to make their own budgets instead of relying on John?

QUESTION: John in West Virginia and his wife are debt-free. They’re both totally disabled on a small income. They’ve been helping their grown kids and don’t know how to say no. How can they teach their grown kids how to make their own budgets instead of relying on John? Dave says they have to stop enabling them.

ANSWER: Guilt is going to stop, because you’ve done nothing wrong if you don’t give them money. You can certainly feed the grandchildren if you want to feed the grandchildren, or if they need a place to live, they can live with you until mom and dad aren’t homeless anymore.

I think you and your wife sit down with each one of them individually with their spouse, and say, “I have been giving you money for a long time as you come in here asking for it. You have not changed your behaviors with money. You continue to misbehave with money. I’ve reached the point that I realize I have been harming you, and I want to apologize to you for harming you. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I’m going to stop harming you. I’m no longer going to give a drunk a drink. If you need help with money, the only money that we will give you—ever—from this day forward will be to cause you to do something good with your life and money. But I’m not going to give you money because you’re screwing around, not working, not saving, not living on a budget, spending more than you make, and thinking I’m your freaking bank. This is over. It’s not happening. I love you too much to continue to ruin your life. From this day forward, you are going to be on a budget, or I’m not giving you money. If you need help with something, the only way I’m going to help you is as you help yourself.”

Let’s say one of them had a little bit of debt you thought they ought to pay off. Maybe you agree to pay part of it as they pay part of it. You match them as they work their way out of debt. They need to learn to grow some money muscles. You and your wife learned that. My wife and I learned that. When you die, do you know what your kids are? They’re screwed, because they have no skills. You’ve got to give them some skills even though it’s late in life. You’ve got to force them to do that.

They may choose not to accept your offer. Your offer is you’re only going to help them to the extent that they help themselves. There are all kinds of things you can do that help them toward positive, good behaviors. No matter how you say this, you can expect to have at least one of them have a negative reaction. Don’t argue with them about it. There’s no point in having an argument. It’s a statement by you: This is over.