As a father of three young ladies, I understand that no matter how old we get, our children never stop being our children. We never stop worrying about them and wanting the best for them. Probably more than anything we want to keep them from making mistakes, particularly ones we might have made ourselves and this doesn’t change just because they’ve grown up. The kids may be adults now, but the parenting isn’t over. And yet, giving financial advice to an adult child can be particularly tricky.
Times change and the world is a different place than the one we saw as young adults. For instance, far more families have more than one breadwinner these days. When my wife, Jill, and I were first raising our girls, large daycare centers and large student loans were a relatively new phenomenon. Since our first daughter Maeve was born, things like pension plans have virtually disappeared, replaced by new ways of saving for retirement, such as the 401(k). And I must tell you, investment strategies practicing downside risk mitigation usually involved much simpler techniques like a savings account at your local bank.
Hmmm . . . how times have changed.
These days it’s not unusual for folks to come into my office less concerned with their own situation and more focused on some financial situation one of their adult children is experiencing. Just last week, I was catching up with a Maritime buddy of mine, I’ll call him Billy, who brought up this very issue.
Billy’s a good guy, he’s my age, married to the same gal for 25 years, and a father of three boys. Billy and I sailed together a bit after graduation in the Persian Gulf, and we have kept in touch over the years. After we reminisced about the “old” days, the conversation turned a bit more serious. Billy mentioned that he was struggling with how to help his son, Matt, with a money-related problem without seeming controlling or patronizing. He was certain that Matt was about to make a mistake that could potentially have long-lasting financial consequences, and he was hesitant to approach him. He was worried that his son wouldn’t be receptive to his advice and he wanted some tips to break the ice and start the conversation. We talked through a number of potential approaches and solutions for Billy to give Matt more confidence for the discussion, and when the call ended, my buddy Billy was armed with his strategy. So this week with our time together, I’d like to share some of the topics and tips that Billy and I discussed for the benefit of other parents who may encounter a similar situation.
Now, for starters, how much you give your adult child financial support may dictate how much your opinion matters. If your kid is financially independent, how they spend their money ultimately is up to them. I’ve found over the years that the best approach, even if you are asked for advice, is one based on listening to their concerns. A calm conversation goes a lot further than a rant about what they are doing wrong and directions on how to fix “their problems.” Sometimes helping your adult kid avoid mistakes means revealing the ones you made yourself. Above all be respectful and remember you are talking with a fellow adult.
At one time we probably all heard someone say, “I’m not your friend, I’m your parent.” Once your child reaches adulthood, though, this probably won’t play too well. Yes, they are still your kid, and always will be, but as an adult, there is far more equality in your relationship now. Few adults want to be talked to like a teenager and conversing with them as a friend or peer will be more likely to be well received and considered. Be positive and let them know you also struggled with certain financial aspects of young adulthood. They may be experiencing a multitude of new experiences, including being a parent themselves or buying their first home, and hearing that others – including their parents – faced similar situations, might make them feel more confident that they can handle the situation.
And to have a positive conversation, you want it to be productive. Keep it short and sweet and make sure your information is accurate and up-to-date. Quite often your adult kid is more technology savvy and can readily vet whatever information you are providing (that is the case in the Cutter house). Depending on the situation at hand, you might start with the basics like the importance of budgeting, saving for retirement, the power of compounding market returns and managing risks with things like an emergency fund and insurance.
If things are more complicated, you may suggest engaging a third party to assist. They may be more receptive to a financial advisor or another less emotionally invested adult. Every parent out there has probably been told their advice was good, but only after their kid confirmed it with someone else.
You know, I have been a financial advisor for quite some time now, and I explained to Billy that I, too, am just starting my journey as the parent of adult children. With Maeve at twenty years old and the twins turning 18 next month, the same rules of respecting my girls’ financial journey into adulthood apply to me. And I do realize that the most important things I can offer are love, support, and wisdom. My financial advice to my kids will always be available when it’s requested or needed, delivered with compassion and good intentions . . . because my girls will never stop being my girls.
So as always – be vigilant and stay alert, because you deserve more!
Have a great week.
Jeff Cutter, CPA/PFS is President of Cutter Financial Group, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor with offices in Falmouth, Duxbury, Mansfield. Jeff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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