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Is your child bad with finances? Oversight, accountability helps



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Peter Dunn, Special to USA TODAY
Published 7:00 a.m. ET June 21, 2020 | Updated 8:50 a.m. ET June 21, 2020

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Sometimes children don’t always have financial problems, they have discipline problems. Giving them money won’t solve the discipline problems.

Dear Pete,

I have a 27-year-old daughter who recently broke up with her boyfriend of five years. She doesn’t have a way to get her stuff moved to a new place so she will have to hire someone to move her. She also has a vehicle that is breaking down. She has never been good with money, but I haven’t given her any for the past several years except for birthday gifts, etc. She told me a couple of weeks ago that she had about $2,500 in her account, but when talking to her yesterday, she tells me she’s broke and doesn’t have enough to even get moved or pay her security deposit, etc. – let alone get her vehicle fixed. She gets a little money in her account and it burns a hole in her pocket. If she doesn’t have the vehicle to get to and from work, she will lose her job and that will create another of problems. Do you think it would be wrong of us to go help her get moved and look at her vehicle? How can I help her to help herself, and understand money?

Mary

Based on the global pandemic and economic shutdown, it’s hard to find someone who isn’t experiencing some form of economic pain. Throw in a breakup with a boyfriend, who may have shared finances with, and you’ve got yourself a very stressful financial situation.

But your urge to not help here is there for a reason. And it’s not because you’re a terrible person. You know her history, you know the way she thinks, and you know her strengths. Money management doesn’t happen to be one of those strengths, based on your own observations.

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What you might not realize, Mary, is your daughter doesn’t always have financial problems. She has discipline problems. Giving her money to move her stuff or fix her car won’t solve the discipline problems. Her problems have likely been exacerbated by the economic shutdown, and she is currently dealing with housing instability due to her break-up.

Ideally, you could help her fix the problems, which have arrived via unfortunate circumstances, while not enabling them, which are the result of bad habits. That would be very difficult to do unless you dug deep into her financial life.

If you choose to assist her now or any other time in the future, there’s a relatively easy way to find out whether you’re throwing good money after bad. Ask for a budget and last month’s bank statement. Is it Big Brotherish? It is. But look, you are trying to help her learn how to properly handle money, and nothing does that quite like scrutiny and knowing someone else is watching.

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At the very least, you should help her figure out exactly where the $2,500 went. I don’t view that any differently than showing someone how to count calories. Who knows, maybe her ex-boyfriend still has access to her bank accounts.

I don’t believe your consternation is about wasting your money. I think you’re torn because you truly want the best for her, and you aren’t sure whether or not giving her money will provide the best outcome.

Like you, I’ve witnessed countless young adults successfully leave the nest without requiring financial assistance from their families. And conversely, I’ve witnessed countless young adults turn into older adults, while still receiving financial support from their parents. There’s a difference in knowing your parents have your back whenever you need them and your parents having your back whenever you think you need them. And from what I’ve witnessed, this is the key to a successful launch. 

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Lording over her finances can cause relationship stress, but honestly, if she freaks-out because you’re truly trying to help her, she’s unlikely to use this experience as a learning lesson anyway. Remember, if you go this route, you have to make it work. Because if you don’t, this could further enable behaviors which will make her challenges worse.

One last note, until she admits she has financial behavior issues, nothing will change. Credit cards and parental bailouts make it easy to deny reality, no matter how much circumstances play a role in current troubles.

Peter Dunn is an author, speaker and radio host, and he has a free podcast: “Million Dollar Plan.” Have a question for Pete the Planner? Email him at AskPete@petetheplanner.com. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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