A majority of parents has financially supported an adult child in the last 12 months, according to PewResearch. But how do you actually gauge this topic and ask money from mom and dad?
My money strategy in my early 20’s was very simple: Don’t get so broke that you have to swallow you pride, pick up the phone and call mom and dad to tell them you’re broke.
I failed at that strategy. Twice. Once in college when I had severely over drafted my checking account and again when struggling to pay off some credit card debt.
My parents bailed me out (begrudgingly) and in each instance their handout came with an appropriate lecture. I always felt appreciative but also utterly embarrassed and childlike.
As adult children, when you’re relying on your parents for any degree of financial support, it’s impossible to feel totally mature. A study finds that only 6% of those 25 years or older would call themselves “independent adults” for this very reason. They’re depending on their parents to make ends meet due to either a lack of income, student loans, rising expenses or all of the above. In other cases, it’s just because mom and/or dad insisted on helping and we gladly accepted.
But if you’re thinking about asking your parents for money, I want to arm you with some advice – in chronological order. While I’ve totally been there and understand you can feel you have no other options, it’s important to follow some guidelines. Your adulthood might well depend on it.
Step 1: Strategize a Way to Help Yourself
Before you confess to your parents that you’re in a financial rut and could use their help, ask yourself: how can I help myself on my own? Can you live on a stricter budget? Find a more affordable place to live? Refinance your debt? Sell your belongings?
The fear and shame of having to confess to my parents that I was in financial trouble (after already doing it twice) was enough to force me to stand on my own two feet by my mid-20s. Instead of begging, I decided to spend my free nights and weekends earning more money through side hustles – pet sitting, babysitting and freelance writing. It killed my social life for a short time, but felt better than letting my parents come to the rescue.
Now it’s much easier to find side gigs that won’t cramp your style or take up much time. Whether it’s a site like airbnb that lets you rent out a spare room in your house or TaskRabbit that offers an array of jobs in your neighborhood, there are many ways to increase income at your leisure to help bail yourself out.
Step 2: Be Mindful of Their Financial Needs
If you do need to ask for money, be respectful of the fact that your parents, despite their willingness, might not have the means to really help you. Is it a fair to ask of them for financial aid if they, themselves, are juggling a mortgage and health care costs, while supporting aging parents and preparing for their own retirement? That describes many baby boomers and older adults today.
Of course, they won’t always tell you that they’re financially stretched. Parents want nothing more than to help and protect their children, even if it means jeopardizing their own finances to do so. In fact, one in four parents admit to taking on debt to provide for their adult children, a NEFE study found.
Consider it your responsibility to be sensitive to their financial priorities. This may influence how much money you ask for or whether you ask at all.
Step 3: Besides Money, How Else Can Mom and Dad Help?
If money is tight for your parents – or you feel weird asking for cash – think about what other resources they can more easily provide to help lighten your financial load.
Would moving back home temporarily be one way to shore up savings or get out of debt? (For what it’s worth, research finds that close to one third of young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 live at home with mom and dad.)
What about just visiting home more often to enjoy free meals, which could significantly reduce your food bill? If one parent is retired could he or she help to drive you around for a while or let you borrow the car (in lieu of financing a new car?)
While it may still feel you’re “dependent” on your parents for financial help, asking for lodging, meals and transportation, as opposed to a blank check, may make it easier for them to help you out.
Step 4: Have the Discussion. Bring Up Solutions.
You’ve decided to go in for the big ask. You need money and your parents, you’ve concluded, have the resources are the only ones who can help you out in a pinch.
Start by mentioning your goals and how you’ve been focused on improving your finances yourself, which shows you’ve been thinking of your future and are solutions-driven.
You can begin by saying, for example, “You know how I’ve always wanted to go back to school?…or “Lately, I’ve been on a serious mission to pay off my student loans.”
Next, bring up how you’ve been working towards these goals. This requires that you actually do take important steps prior to speaking to your parents like reviewing your budget, paring down expenses, getting on a debt repayment plan and, perhaps, applying to higher paying jobs. Bring any and all of this up. Reference that you’ve made mistakes in the past but want to get on the right track. This will reassure your parents that you haven’t just been going on a spending spree and now need a bailout – and that they cycle could continue in the future.
Along the way, allow them to chime in. This isn’t meant to be a soliloquy. You want to engage your parents and allow them to comment along the way.
Now that you’ve provided some context for them and established that you have been maturely thinking about your finances, you’re ready to ask for help – but even then, ask for advice, not money.
Try something like: “Despite all my efforts, it’s been really tough to finish the month with any savings. I’m determined to work my way out of this hole as best I can…But do you have any other suggestions for me? What would you do if you were in my shoes?”
Parents love when you ask for their advice, so leave your question a little open-ended and see what they say. They may offer some valuable suggestions you never even thought of that could make a difference. Or, they may offer some cold-hard cash.
If they don’t offer cash right away – and that’s really all you want – be respectful when you ask and show that you’ve thought ahead. Try saying, “I know you have a lot going on, but would you be open to supporting part of my housing costs for the next 6 months until I find a more affordable place to live?” or “Would you be able to support part of my student loan bill until I work out a refinancing plan? I’ve already spoken to a few different lenders and feel positive I can reduce my interest rate soon.”
Step 5: Treat it Like a Loan.
If they do offer to give you money, for large sums, say more than a few hundred dollars, consider this an actual loan and vow to repay your parents. Create a simple agreement that includes the amount of the loan and terms like interest and payment dates. Sign and date it.
Looking back, I should have done this myself in my 20’s. It would have sent the message that I don’t take their help for granted – and that I’m really an adult. Or, at least trying hard to be one!
Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.