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Ask Dave

Too Proud To Work?

Marty wants to know how to help an adult child without enabling. His daughter is married, and they're living paycheck to paycheck. Dave says Marty needs to determine what help really looks like in this situation.

QUESTION: Marty in Houston wants to know how to help an adult child without enabling. His adult daughter is married, and they’re living paycheck to paycheck. She’s pregnant, and they kind of expect Marty to give them money each month to get by. Dave says Marty needs to determine what help really looks like in this situation.

ANSWER: This is not really about you as much as it is about your son-in-law. Let’s say we were going to look at this young couple and what is going to be best for them and what help really looks like and what is best for them five years from today or 10 years from today. You have an idea of what that is, and you don’t like that they’re not doing those things.

He ought to go get a job delivering pizza and another one throwing newspapers while he’s looking for the big job. At 4:30 in the morning, nobody’s interviewing anyone anyway. You need to be throwing a newspaper. At 9:00 at night, nobody’s interviewing anyway. You need to be delivering a pizza. That’s what you and I would do. We’ve got to feed our families. It’s not what I want to do with my life necessarily, but it does mean that I’m going to first take care of my electric bill, and since there’s no one to help me, that’s what I’ve got to do. That’s how you and I think, and we think that that’s a problem for him.

I’m not going to help him in the sense of just giving him money because he sits on his butt. I’m going to give him money only as a reward for doing things that are good for him. In other words, it might sounds something like this. He gets a job delivering pizza and a job running newspapers, and he keeps that job for a week and you give him $1,000. They get into Financial Peace University and graduates from the class, and they get another $1,000. They save up $1,000 in their emergency fund, and you’ll add $1,000 to it. We’re rewarding activities by them that are helping them fix their lives rather than turning them into welfare recipients. Find things that you think he ought to be doing or she ought to be doing, and you’ll give them some money when they do those things.

It’s going to be fun because you’re going to see people’s faces turn inside out. He’s going to look at you like that dog with its head turned sideways and go, “What? Really?” You’ve got to have calm, gentle conversations and be smiling while you’re saying it and not insulting them in any way. “If I was in your shoes and I was your age, here’s how I would react. In order for me to give you money, I’m going to have to see you react that way for your own good.” To get my money, you have to do what I say. You’re not a control freak because it’s not about you controlling them. It’s about you leading them into behaviors that are going to cause their lives to change. You want them to become savers. You want them to learn how to handle money. You want them to be willing to work. Those are three things I keyed in on. That’s what helping your kids looks like. You cannot give them money while they’re watching Oprah reruns.

Right now, your son-in-law has to feed has family. There are two things we work for. The first thing we work for is food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and utilities. The second thing we work for is to self-actualize, as Maslow would say, meaning to find our gift and function in it and go into the marketplace and become all that you can be. But right now, he’s got to feed his family. Pride is out the window. If he can’t do that, then I’m going to let them suffer.

Think about what would happen if you and your wife died and there was no money for them. What would they do? He needs to learn this lesson. It’ll be good for him because apparently his dad didn’t teach him this. If you want money, you have to work. It’s a surefire moneymaking scheme.