Should parents help out kids equally?

Occasionally one of us will flip to the Mr. Money Moustache Forum and poke around while procrastinating.  This thread on whether or not parents should help kids out equally was really thought provoking.

DH’s mom is excruciatingly fair when it comes to doling out presents.  This means that our kids get a TON of stuff from his parents even though we don’t really need it because DH’s siblings are in much worse financial shape than we are (and also live close to DH’s parents so they can see what the kids need).  It was especially bad the year DH’s then-unemployed brother and SAHM wife were living in his parents’ basement.  We don’t really have a choice in the matter, and, since they focus on the kids, we don’t really feel like it’s our place to suggest they cut back (or put the money towards a 529 etc.).  It is, after all, their money, and they’re giving it to the kids, not to us.

My father is much more like Jacob from ERE than like Mr. Money Moustache in terms of spending, infrequent cold showers and all.  That means over the years my parents’ small nest-egg has grown enormously.   I don’t know how much, but I do know my father is concerned about avoiding inheritance taxes and wants to give up to the gift limit every year.

With the exception of when DC1’s school was about to go under (and he donated a considerable sum to it on our behalf), I have told him no.  I do not want their money.  I want them to SPEND it, or failing that, give it to charity.  I want them to move some place nice after my mom stops working and just enjoy life, even if it costs more to live there than it does in my small college town home town in the Midwest.  They’ve taken me up on the giving to charity bit and have set up a number of local scholarships for graduating high schoolers to go to college or for the library to reward customer service or to keep the paper version of the stock books he loves to spend hours going through to do value added investing.  (He says he needs to consolidate everything to index funds, but he keeps not doing it.  If he ever dies, the estate is going to be a nightmare to unravel.)

My sister, on the other hand, does not mind accepting their money.  So she does.  Neither of us needs the money.  It just gets put away and saved (or rather, it stays in whatever complicated 1980s mutual fund or single stock it was originally invested in because having to deal with selling it is a pain in the rear, which may be part of the reason I’d rather they just give the money to charity(!)).

It doesn’t bother me.  It’s their money.  (Though to be honest, a little bit of me worries about the extreme cost of assisted living expenses and wonders if it might be a wise idea to accept that money and put it in a “for parents’ assisted living expenses” account in case they’ve underestimated their health costs in old age.  I know there’s Medicaid for nursing homes after the money runs out, but I also know that $ buys higher quality care.  They don’t have long-term care insurance and my father is too old to get a policy.)

In terms of fairness for college– they paid for both of us, room, board and supplies.  My sister’s college cost substantially more than mine did, but a portion of that is that I got a lot more need-based financial aid because they were wealthier when my sister went to school than when I did.  Should she be penalized or I be rewarded for the stock market doing well or my mom taking on a temporary administrative position?  (They did give my sister more spending money than they gave me– I had to work for my spending money, but that probably didn’t add up to much and she did take on a heavier class-load and more hard-core extra-curriculars than I did.)

We used the same ancient Oldsmobile to learn to drive on.  Then my parents gave me a no-frills (as in 2-door, manual, no a/c) new Hyundai Accent as a college graduation present that my sister drove the two years (and seriously dented) because I couldn’t afford to pay for car insurance while in graduate school.  They gave her her own no frills new Accent when she went away to college, but she also went to school in driving distance of home whereas I went half a country away.  She paid for her own new car post-graduation (one with a/c!), the same  year we moved to our real jobs and bought our own new cars for ourselves.

They paid for my wedding (~3K, though 1K of that was alcohol my father insisted on providing)– it was either that or there was not going to be a wedding because DH and I had no money just out of college.  My sister doesn’t have a boyfriend, and when/if she does get married it will likely be much fancier than mine was.  I do not know what my parents will do if she does settle down.  And I won’t mind whatever happens.

I suspect though, it might bother me if they hadn’t offered both of us the same deal.  We’ve both been offered stock transfers (though after I said no the second time, they stopped offering).  We were both told that college would be paid for us– not that we’d get the same amount of money, but that we could each go to whatever college we wanted (the reward my mother negotiated with my father for her to go along with his frugality-to-the-extreme ways).  We both got new cars, even the same type, though at different times in our lives.  So the offers seem fair, and we’ve been allowed to react to them in ways that seem fair.  That choice means that if there’s any favoritism going on, it isn’t going on through money channels.  And that seems like a good thing.

I suspect DH and I would not mind if his parents showered a little less on us, but in this case we are so much better off than his entire family that it really feels like the money should be flowing in the other direction.  And maybe it will, some day.  Until then, we accept their generosity and save the money we would have spent on clothing and toys.  We’re pretty sure his parents can afford what they’re doing, but at the cost of working longer than they might otherwise have.  Still, while I wouldn’t say they enjoy working, they do get value out of work, so perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.  If it turns out they miscalculated, we will have savings to spare.

What are your thoughts on financial assistance to individual kids when there are multiple children?  If you have siblings, do you think your parents treat(ed) you fairly?  If you have kids, do you have a philosophy for financial assistance?


62 Responses to “Should parents help out kids equally?”

  1. KatieB Says:

    My sister and I are totally different. I am conservative she is flashy I think that is pretty much the norm in most families. I think if your parents give you money, stocks etc you should accept them and then do something special with them. Put them in a fund for your children someday, donate it to a charity or start an organization with the money. There are so many good things you can do with this gift from your parents. Sometimes those gifts can make huge changes in the world or in someone else life.

  2. Leah Says:

    I go back and forth on this. I think it’s important not to show favoritism. However, we’re much better off than certain members of our family. Should I begrudge a family member receiving two cars (over the period of 5 years or so) while we’re saving up for one? We can afford a car, and that family member can’t and was driving something unsafe for his children.

    Most of the time I don’t care. Like you said, it’s the parents’ money to spend. But it does rankle some times. I paid for my own health insurance right away out of college, at my mom’s insistence, but then she kept paying my younger brother’s health insurance for years. But, in truth, my brother probably did need the help and wasn’t going to pay for it on his own, whereas I had to make sure I continued care due to a health issue at the time.

    On the whole, though, I’m not bitter about all this and it hasn’t clouded my feelings about my sibs and sibs in law. It’s more just passing thoughts.

  3. hollyatclubthrifty Says:

    One of my siblings is suffering from chronic depression right now – so chronic and devastating that he has been in and out of the hospital on suicide watch. He’s incredibly sick, and they are having trouble keeping his meds balanced. Some medicines they have him try make him over-the-top manic, while others just make him more depressed and suicidal. This was all brought on after his wife filed for divorce a few years ago. He has always struggled with depression, but the divorce sent him spiraling out of control.

    After years in a successful job making almost six figures, he is now living at my parent’s house and struggling to keep a job My parents are currently paying his child support for him.

    Is it fair? I don’t know, but I worry about other things. I worry my parents will bleed themselves dry paying for his medical care and the next 14 years of child support. If that happens, I’ll be left taking care of all of them financially, because I’m the one with the most means. On the other hand, I don’t feel as if my parents have a lot of choice. When your kid is sick, you do what you have to do. I just hope they don’t lose everything in the process.

    I am doing what I can to help ease the financial burden as much as possible. For example, I am currently in the process of giving him my minivan so he will no longer have a car payment. We’re also selling his car. And we are probably going to have to get a lawyer involved, to which I already agreed to pay the $3,500 retainer. Sorry to go so far off-topic.

    • chacha1 Says:

      Yes to the lawyer. Child-support payments are necessary, but they need to be renegotiated when circumstances change.

      Best to you and your family.

    • Revanche Says:

      I’m so sorry you’re all going through this right now. We’ve had slightly similar circumstances and I know it can be both worrying and frustrating, particularly when considering the long term effects. I hope that the lawyer earns that retainer and helps you as much as possible.

  4. Engineer Cents (@engineercents) Says:

    For our family this has been a non-issue since my mother has no financial resources to give. That said, my brother and I have been treated differently in that he’s been given more money by the extended family for his ventures. I think it’s fair, though, given that his desire is to pursue a less lucrative career than mine and, in general, I wouldn’t begrudge him financial support seeing as our natural alignments about money differ and thus our needs for it are different as well.

  5. Perpetua Says:

    My parents always insist on doing everything equally, which means that if they give my brother something to help him out (he’s financially more in need than I am, by quite a lot), they try to give something to me. I’ve never liked this system, mostly because they are always generous and helpful; they have never turned me away when I’ve had a need, whether financial or practical. They don’t need to “prove” their love and devotion to me, because I see it every day. So I wish they didn’t feel like the money stuff had to be “equal”. I have never once cared if it was equal, and neither does my brother, probably for the same reasons I don’t. I think the person who needs help should get it (except in cases where you have a child taking advantage of parents, etc – but this isn’t the case in our family). A friend of mine used to say that was her mother’s mantra when they were growing up – it’s not about “equal” it’s about the individual child and individual needs. it seems healthier to me not to constantly try to make sure the scales are balanced, and it pains me to watch them go through mental gymnastics to justify giving my brother some kind of help without giving me anything (they used to dredge up old – and sometimes not true -things from the past – oh, we did such and such for you in college so we can buy your brother a laptop now. I wanted to scream, that’s not what happened at all, but if you want to buy him a laptop, just buy him a laptop!).

    • Ana Says:

      I agree with you completely. Fair does not always mean “equal”…it means meeting the needs. That’s how my parents did it (and now that our needs ARE equal, the help/gifts are equal, too) and that’s how I plan to do it with my kids. If one kid gets a scholarship or goes to a less expensive college I wouldn’t give that kid $ to make up the difference—but I know a lot of people disagree with that.

  6. Jenny F Scientist Says:

    I think fair is far more important than equal, though grossly unequitable may have a hard time seeming fair. My parents gave my middle sister something like $12,000 for her divorce from her abusive first husband- who had blown their $80,000 savings gambling- and they called it a loan but when she had saved it back up, told her to keep it for her kids. And they paid for two weddings and I only got one (but I’ll skip the abusive spouse, gambling losses, and divorce, and keep the perfectly good spouse I have, thanks). So financially it’s very inequitable. But I live pretty close by. So they’ve helped us move twice, and my dad refinished the floors in our house when we bought it, and just split up a whole tree for firewood, and they watched our kids for 10 days last year so we could go on vacation, and they came to help out with the baby. So maybe I get an unfair share of their time rather than money (my two sisters live in Israel).

    Though in return, I get to be the executor when they die, God willing in many many years.

    The spouse’s parents are so imbalanced in the time and affection they apply to their two children that the money takes a far-off back seat. For example, their third grandchild, who is my third child, is nearly nine months old and they haven’t bothered to come see her. At all. Plus they’re terrible with money (hint: don’t buy a new convertible and then complain to the four people living on $37,000 a year that your six figure income is insufficient) so we have zero expectations. Actually, that summarizes my whole relationship with them pretty well…..

  7. Rosa Says:

    It really depends if the kids are equally needy, doesn’t it? Or equally non-needy. And you can’t really know that until the very end of your life – bad things can happen to any of us and knock us from non-needy to needy.

    My mom remarried after we were all grown, and her husband’s family is *very* different about money than my family of origin. So there’s no equal to be had – some of us kids were raised knowing college would be paid for, and sports and music lessons, but not getting snacks and sodas or a newish car. Some of us were raised with all sorts of immediate wants satisfied but no college help, but they’ve gotten continuing help ever since, when they needed it. I’d have to do the math on the present value of those decades of having a degree and no debt to even figure out what “equal” might look like, here – plus a lot of snooping to even know how much emergency help has happened, over time.

    I tell my mom that, first, it’s her money and she can do what she wants, but second – I’m middle aged. She’s going to be around another few decades, I hope. Even if we weren’t doing fine (which we are) there’d be no point in waiting for her money to make my dreams come true. Who wants to pin their hopes on an inheritance that might come just as we’re gearing up to retire?

    I know for my husband’s parents, who grew up without much and were very frugal (and paid for both their kids college educations at the same time, since they are so close together in age) they really want to structure things to avoid taxes. It seems like unseemly cheating to me, but again – it’s not like I can control it. I assume if they start offering us money my husband will accept it, and sock it away into savings, and it’s not like they’re my parents. I know when he was in his early ’20s and stopped needing their tuition checks and expensive Christmas gifts (like, winter boots & coat – things 20somethings in less lucrative careers still need help with) it really hurt their feelings, and took several years for them to adjust to.

    Our main worry at this point is not spoiling the kid. Our kid-spending budget is pretty much fake – in reality he could have anything he wanted, all basic bills & savings are covered and he’s our top priority. So when we make him save up for stuff, or delay gratification, it’s just to “teach him about money”. I worry that we’re actually teaching him justifiable/frivolous instead of in budget/out of budget. But when he can basically get anything he wants if he tells Grandma and waits for his birthday, there really is no “out of budget’ in his life.

  8. Leigh Says:

    My parents believe in giving equally to both children, to the penny. It drives me nuts because I don’t need their money and they won’t take no for an answer. My sibling’s degree cost more than mine, so I got money for other things, for example. There is also always strings attached to their money – you have to use it by their rules.

    I’m really hoping by the time my sister gets married, she doesn’t need their money to pay for the wedding and then I won’t be expected to take it either when I get married because I don’t want to deal with their strings on the wedding with them contributing money to it.

    My parents, one is a spender and one is a saver. The saver is finally coming around to spending though, which I’m really happy to see. Home renovations, a month-long trip this winter, etc.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Attached strings are the worst!

      edit: qualifying: Strings attached for money that you did not ask for and do not need nor want… that’s seriously irritating.

      Strings attached to money that you’ve requested, that makes a lot of sense.

      • Leigh Says:

        My parents give equally to the penny to both children because my grandparents only gave to the child who expressed a need for money/things, which was because they spent their money “frivolously” and then needed money/necessities like a car, while the child who lived within their means never asked for money… My parent is still bitter about this and now gives equally to the penny to both me and my sibling.

        My parents like to know exactly what you spent every penny of the money they gave you on. So I have to put the money in an account and spend it down. I can’t just put it in savings. I usually end up using the money to buy things that normally would have been in my budget and then saving my money, which people, money is fungible! For example, when I decided I maybe wanted to buy a car, they started talking about giving me the down payment. That ended up being $7,000 from them and they thought I should buy a $7,000 fancier car since they gave me money! Sigh. And when I decided I maybe wanted to buy a house/townhouse/condo, they again offered money, to make it easier. But then they were really pressurey into convincing me I should buy a place and even down to trying to pick which place I should buy! I’m really, really glad I didn’t buy some of those first places I looked at. They were actual houses! I don’t want a house! But my parents thought condos are silly and didn’t want to give me money unless they approved of the place I was buying (???), which is insane because the amount they gave me clearly affected what kind of places I could afford. My saver parent likes to give me the advice I think they wish they could take and they would tell me I’m saving too much money for retirement for being in my twenties and I should live more, so I eventually told them how much money I was actually making and then they stopped telling me I was saving too much money.

        A wedding is really the only life event left that I could foresee them giving money for. But like they even pick out Christmas gifts for my sibling and I that come down to the same amount of pennies. My parents have even admitted that I can afford to buy whatever I want and yet they still spend hundreds of dollars on each of us at Christmas each year…

        Parents and money be complicated!

  9. Nanani Says:

    In my family, the desire to be fair has actually manifested in unfairness because the things my mom has decided she will pay for are geared toward conventional paths.
    What I mean by that is my sister had assistance buying a car and making a downpayment on her first house (both things she could have managed without parental assistance, but having the help means better financing/nicer things).
    My mom has repeatedly said she’ll do the same for me except – I don’t want, nor do I need, a car or a house.
    I live downtown in a walkable neighbourhood and do a fair bit of globetrotting (= renting in various cities). Owning a vehicle or house doesn’t fit in to my life, and I’m not going to change that for money.
    I’ve told mom I would gladly take the money and stick in savings / investments, but she just says “Oh lets just wait a few more years” every time I do.

    I don’t exactly NEED the money, but it does grate to be told things are fair when I’m in fact getting none of this supposed fairness.

    • Nanani Says:

      Re-reading that sounds a bit bitter. I’m not. It’s just that I hear “Everything is going to be fair” from my mother pretty often, including right before I read this post.

      Also, hello I’m a lurker.

    • Ana Says:

      Thankfully my parents let me just take the “for a car” money when we insisted that, no, having a kid does NOT mean we are going to buy a car, in our urban walkable city. I put it in my kid’s college fund.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’m guilty of attaching strings to a gift for my parents… I’m insisting they spend last year’s Christmas present on a window unit air conditioner because I want them to not die in a heatwave and their current window units are optimistically from the 1980s and haven’t been anything other than extremely inefficient fans for decades. I would have just bought them a unit, but after some discussion they wanted a more expensive unit than the one I thought we could realistically buy them, so they were going to put in money for the difference. (Of course, they didn’t buy it right away because it’s December, we don’t need it, then they didn’t buy it when summer started because they were waiting until end of the season sales… my mom swears they will get it soon.)

  10. Mrs PoP Says:

    Both of our families have seen some unequal distributions from (and in one case, involuntary subsidies to) parents, but aside from the involuntary subsidies it doesn’t really bother us. (Even those are in the past now, and it was more the “involuntary” aspect than the “unequal” aspect that was the problem.)

    Maybe I’m weird, but I tend to think a lot of these kinds of discussions on “fairness” and “jealousy” over distributions of parental cash stem from feelings of entitlement towards that money and we just don’t have that feeling of entitlement so aren’t bothered by it. We’ve accepted gifts that went with major occasions (ie wedding) and things like Christmas and b-day gifts, but have turned down other offered monies since we don’t need it. Sure, we’d rather see parents not waste their money subsidizing the vices and immaturity of siblings, but it’s more about the stress those vices cause the parents than the money. When it comes down to it, the parents have every right to spend their own money as they see fit. The only time we’d probably step in to prevent this would be if the distributions were hurting the parents financially or if the parents were no longer of sound mind to be able to make these kinds of decisions and were being taken advantage of in that state.

  11. Sandyl FirstgenAmerican Says:

    I think it only becomes an issue if the parents give at the expense of their own financial stability. There are parents who are so giving, they would put themselves in financial jeopardy to help a child and when the other siblings have to pick up the financial slack, it’s not fair. Because there are a lot of people who would help their parents if they need it, but not their deadbeat sibling or grandchild or whatever. There are a lot of social services out there that provide for people’s basic needs. At some point, if a person is putting you at risk of going under financially, you just have to start saying no and it’s the hardest thing in the world to do.

    I’m an only child so it’s not really an issue for me personally as far as fairness goes, but there are a lot of deadbeats in my extended family that want/expect/feel entitled to handouts. It’s one thing to be going through some crap in your life and need a hand. It’s a whole other ball of wax to not want to work for a living to support yourself. No amount of money is ever enough with some people. So, yes, I don’t necessarily think everything needs to be split equitably but I also think there is a point that shouldn’t get crossed and that’s the point where you put your own financial security in jeopardy to support someone who’s taking the easy way out.

    • chacha1 Says:

      We’re almost at this point with my 80-yr-old MIL. She keeps giving money to her oldest son – for his rent, he claims – a year after he was supposed to have moved in with *her* to help take care of her (widowed last year, brain tumor, hip replacement). She tells him “this is the last time” but then she doesn’t remember. She has a decent amount in savings, but her primary asset is her house. She has no income to speak of.

      I’m not sure what we’re going to do about it, or rather what my husband and his sister are going to do. All I can do is nag.

    • Revanche Says:

      “There are parents who are so giving, they would put themselves in financial jeopardy to help a child and when the other siblings have to pick up the financial slack, it’s not fair.”

      This, exactly.

  12. J Liedl Says:

    I’m more of the feeling that it’s better to give according to needs than to fairness. DH is an only child now (his sister died as a teen), so he’s his frugal parents’ only focus. Well, our daughters are in there, now, and they are helping with Eldest’s college costs. My own father has to be more concerned with my sister who has not married and is her own sole support whereas DH and I are, in our turn, more concerned with supporting Autistic Youngest. Thank goodness she wants to attend my university where she qualifies for a fee waiver!

  13. Flavia Says:

    Yeah, my parents believe in scrupulous equality, too, even in situations like yours where I really don’t care and/or never considered the situation unfair.

    When I went to college, paying for it was tough for them, but with loans and work-study and their cutting their own budgets it was fine. Five years later they were much better off (my grandparents had died), and they payed full-freight for my brother’s education. My mom really worried that this was inequitable, and started giving me $200/month for my last several years is grad school. I was broke and grateful, and they had it to spare, but I never felt “owed” the money.

    Similarly, when my spouse and I were in the process of getting married and buying a house, my folks gave us $10k to use for either or both. I thought this was amazing, and we used most of it for the house (we had an inexpensive wedding). Several years later my folks did the same for my brother, but then also paid for their rehearsal dinner. Out of the blue six months later my mom emailed me and said she and my dad “owed” me $5k. Since my brother lives in SF, and his house cost 10x what ours did, it never occurred to me to be bothered by (or even notice) this. But we do have lots of student loans (and a bit of consumer debt), as my bro & wife do not, so perhaps that factors into their thinking.

  14. SP Says:

    Fair, but not equal. Showing favoritism is obviously not OK, but I don’t expect my parents to give equally. This also stems from the fact that there isn’t a lot for them to give. They aren’t broke, but they don’t have excess wealth and were never super careful with money. If one of us needed help, and they could afford to give it, they will. My little sister has received a lot more help than I ever will, and I certainly don’t envy the situations that made her need it, nor resent the fact that my parents resources go to help her.

    If my parents had resources and were offering stocks, I’m not sure I’d turn them down the way you do. I just don’t know if I could!

    T’s parents are a little more “even steven” about things. It’s small enough that it doesn’t matter, and I think none of us need it more than the next, so I guess it makes sense.

  15. scantee Says:

    This is a pretty easy issue to deal with if you have parents that provide no support whatsoever, to you or any of your siblings, and haven’t since any of you were in your early 20’s. My father paid for part of our college tuition and that was it. My mother has given each of us $100 on our birthdays since age 18 and that’s it. It’s very simple. I have never expected to get any financial or in-kind support from my parents and neither have my siblings. For the most part, receiving very little is absolutely fantastic. No petty or not-so-petty fights about fairness. And while I’ve gone through periods where it would have been really nice to have someone to fall back on, I’d mostly not trade that luxury for its complications. I take the support they are willing to give me, am extremely grateful for it, and I keep my mouth shut about what I personally think is “fair.”

    My mother’s side of the family is obsessed with financial equality and it has been a really gross thing to watch the fights that have played out over my grandmother’s nest egg. I have no interest in instituting that rigidness in my own life, with my own children should I ever have enough to help them out in adulthood. Be fair, use common sense, try to keep things from becoming grossly unequal. And if my adult children don’t like the amount or type of support I’m offering them? Well then they can go live their life their way, by their own rules, without my support, as adults should. That sounds super pissy, I know, but adults fighting over money that they themselves have not earned is much, much pissier.

  16. notofgeneralinterest2 Says:

    My parents and DH’s held to a code of fair but not necessarily equal (that is, needing more meant you got more). If they could see that we seemed to be doing all right, they didn’t offer, and that was all right with us. The only thing that rankled is when siblings whom we knew got a lot of help proclaimed loudly that they had “never taken a dime from the folks”–when, of course, they had.

    The main thing is this: let it go. Brother or sister talks mother or father into giving him/her the favorite clock that’s been promised to you since childhood? Let it go. It’s just a thing.

    Also, do think about socking that money away for long-term care. You two will know more about this than I, but people in the position you describe will never be able to spend down enough for Medicaid, and LTC even in minimal assisted living is $6,000 per month and up, which could be for many, many years.

  17. Sue Says:

    You have a right to be concerned about their possible long term care needs. My father did not have LTC insurance and his dementia at the potential to take every penny they had-even though they had saved a sizeable amount. I think your well within your rights to ask your parents their LTC plan. We dodged a financial bullet and my mother now has LTC insurance and we all sleep better at night.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My mom says not to worry about it, they have plenty saved. I don’t think either of them could get LTC insurance at this point, my father because he is in his 70s and my mother because she is in her late 60s and has had cancer and her mother had alzheimers. I’m hoping that they go into a retirement community that transitions into long-term care before it is too late, but they’re still grown adults with 100% of their mental faculties, so all I can do is nag.

      • Sue Says:

        They probably could get it but it would be pricey. If they have 2 million or more saved they probably don’t need it. Any less and it’s worth paying for (IMO). The good thing about my dad’s disease is that the financial talk had to happen and yes they had money but not enough to pay for a years of nursing home and in the NE the better nursing homes are very expensive. GL with the nagging : )

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        From what I’ve seen (and I did look), people in their late 70s really cannot buy LTCI. My mother might be able to still get it, but given her medical history it would be very expensive if any place was willing to take her on.

  18. chacha1 Says:

    If I had kids my financial support for them in adulthood would be based on “equitable” not “equal.”

    My sister and I have received different levels of cash support. We both got the “go to the hometown college and you get the new car of your choice at graduation” offer; I took it, she didn’t; she got a car anyway. That was annoying at the time. :-) She got more junker cars than me, for high school & college, because she kept crashing them; that was also annoying. We both got summer trips to Europe during college.

    Sis lived in the same town as our parents for a long time. They helped her buy a house (in small-town Georgia, the down-payment was something like $10K and they paid it). They gave her good hand-me-down furniture. I fled the scene ASAP and so they weren’t in a position to do material gifts (plus our relationship was kind of strained for years), and I’ve never tried to buy a house. They bought us a La-Z-Boy couch when we moved into our big apartment (Mom came to visit and shop). They also contributed $1000 to our wedding and – more importantly – came all the way across the country for it and spent a week with us before we left for Hawaii for our honeymoon.

    My sister didn’t (couldn’t) get married for a long time. When she and her partner finally did, it was here in CA and we threw it together for a couple hundred bucks. I think the folks gave her a little something after that.

    My sister has always made less money than me, and has some serious health problems (COPD from allergies, asthma, and recurrent bronchitis). Now that we are middle-aged I am glad my parents helped her, and actually wish they would give her more money now, versus after they die. I would not say no if they offered *me* some right now since it’s been an expensive year. :-)

    There was a time when I really could have used financial help; pride kept me from asking, and I’m glad now that I didn’t.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      If my parents had given us money that first year of graduate school when we were paying off DH’s undergraduate debt, we totally would have taken it. I would have bought so much meat! But they did pay for the wedding and they did buy me a car, even though I didn’t actually use it for a couple of years.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      And to be technically correct, they actually did give me stocks that year that I’d had in a trust since the 1980s but didn’t know about. The problem was that the transfer (that nobody bothered to tell me about) happened when the stock was at an all time high, so I ended up having to pay taxes on the transfer, but I didn’t find out that I had said stocks until the market had crashed and they were worth literally 0. Thanks, Dad. (After the company went through bankruptcy, the stocks are worth something again and every quarter I get ~$800 in dividends. But at the time it was hugely stressful, and I actually did demand money to pay the taxes because we couldn’t pay. So he sent me the last sets of dividends from the stock. Money from my parents = hassle.)

      • chacha1 Says:

        LOL. My dad, the former stockbroker and certified financial planner, bought me Enron stock at one time. I would have been better off selling it immediately and paying the tax on it, than ignoring it till it lost 100% of its value. Oh well, it was never “real” to me.

  19. Katherine Says:

    I’m an only child, so I don’t have to worry about equality. However, my relationship with my father is complicated by money for reasons that I don’t entirely understand. I think it has to do with the fact that he grew up poor in another country and ended up being able to provide me with (what felt to him like) an incredibly extravagant upbringing and education. I cannot talk to him about money at all.

    My grandma helped out her two children unequally and apparently feels a little bad about it. Supposedly her will says that the difference will come out of her estate for the less-helped one before the rest of it is divided. I don’t think her less-helped child feels that anything was unfair (they both got help that they needed, although one has on the whole been much more stable and therefore got less help than the other and both are doing well now), and she has said that she won’t be enforcing that clause – it seems like a recipe for sibling resentment.

  20. Cloud Says:

    I agree with the people saying fair is better than equal. My parents have given my sister more cash, but since I have kids and she doesn’t, they’ve given me far more of their time. I have no complaints! I guess I think the best thing is to try to give each child what they need- from when they’re little through when they’re grown. Even now, with a 5 year old and an 8 year old, it would be foolish to try to be strictly equal. They are different kids, with different personalities, and already what they “need” is diverging. I imagine that will only continue.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      With grandkids I’m not sure if it’s more fair to give by grandkid or by sub-family. Probably by grandkid. All these difficult decisions– I am glad we’re not keeping track! (And as of this month, all of DH’s siblings will have two kids, which will make it easier for our in-laws. :) )

      • Katherine Says:

        My grandma has always given by grandkid – I’m an only and my three cousins on that side are siblings. For a while she gave equally to the penny, and she still does that for b-day and xmas gifts (and she treats significant others as her grandchildren, too which is nice). She also now does as-needed help. I don’t at all feel like it’s unfair, but if I was one of the siblings and saw an only child getting as much as I and all of my siblings did I would feel very slighted!

        I see the argument for giving more time to the adult kids who have kids, but as someone who doesn’t yet have kids my husband & I can’t help but feel slighted when my in-laws spend more time with my BIL and his family (they now have 2 kids). We live in the same metro area as my BIL and his family, and it’s very clear who the in-laws come to see – even though they absolutely don’t mean any harm and we have a great relationship with them.

        Family dynamics are so complicated!

      • Cloud Says:

        My parents do try to split visit time fairly equally. But they recently came and watched my kids while my husband and I went to a friend’s wedding in France. There would be no equivalent time donation they could give my sister! Her houseplants just aren’t that needy… That said, they did come over to help her move and settle in to her new place (e.g., helping with painting).

        It would be interesting to see my sister’s side of this story, really. I don’t *think* there is any resentment on her part for the time differential, but maybe she’s just a really good actress. I am certain there is no resentment on my part for the money differential, though! My parents have helped when I needed it, and would again if I needed it. It seems silly to transfer money from them to me right now, when we have as much as we need.

      • Katherine Says:

        My in-laws are making more of an effort to split visit time equally – and my FIL has now helped us move multiple times, which he hasn’t done for my BIL and SIL. And I don’t feel resentful or think that they should be doing anything differently! I totally understand that they want to spend time with their grandchildren. It is absolutely more about mine and my husband’s feelings than anything my in-laws are or aren’t doing.

  21. middle_class Says:

    My experience has been that the “needier” sibling remains needier for life, and gets the bulk of financial assistance. I feel that parents should try to be more equal, even if one sibling is doing better than the other(s). Having said that, as a parent myself, I know it’s hard. It’s not like you’re keeping a ledger totaling $ help to each kid.

  22. becca Says:

    My parents paid for my community college, mostly out of HOPE tax credit, and everything they were “supposed” to contribute to university, according to the FAFSA. They let me take out loans for the rest, even though they had savings bonds available that had originally been intended for college- but that provided a nice E fund for them, and I got them when they passed away and used them to pay off my loan anyway.
    They did not buy me a car, though my Mom offered to cover payments for one when my car was getting old and finicky. However, she died before the car did, and now I’m driving her old car.

    When my parents were alive, they’d regularly kick in for random things without me asking (money toward travel home, random cash to help out during grad school, ect.) when they had a surplus. They also bought me a nice futon mattress so I wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor when they came to visit. They got really nice toys and books for my kidlet though, because getting those things for him made them happy.

    Compared to many of these responses, it doesn’t seem like very much, yet I was always embarrassed with how much help they’d given me when I talk with people who have faced real hardship. I think those real hardship stories are much more often when people get real hangups over fairness and siblings.

  23. M Says:

    Interesting discussion. I was (am?) the most gifted of the children in my family (four of us) – at least when it comes to academic achievements – and thus was able to pay for all of my schooling on my own through a combination of savings, scholarships, and student loans. My siblings did not get the major scholarships I got, and my parents helped them out more. My parents also helped my siblings with vehicles, and I bought my own (subsidized largely by scholarships in grad school). And I don’t care at all. I have absolutely no feeling that I need to be given x amount of money to make up for the money I did not receive. I think the only way I would care is if I felt that my siblings were taking advantage of my parents, and none of them are. In fact, I feel proud that I was able to “help the family” by not being a burden on my parents so that they COULD help my siblings (we went through some pretty tough financial times, and my parents could not have afforded to put us all through school). They all worked hard to save money, worked hard at school (did not flunk out or meander about in varying degrees), and took out more in student loans than I did. And I know that any one of them or my parents would sacrifice the shirt off their back if I needed it. My parents helped me out in many ways including helping me move, helping me with health insurance while I was still of age to be a dependent, helping to organize my wedding, etc. I know that everyone truly tries their best to do what is right and fair, and as far as I know there are no hard feelings. I think it’s pretty awesome to come from such a rational and down-to-earth family.

    My husband’s parents… they have lots of money and so they give us lots of money. Not sure if it’s “fairly distributed” amongst siblings… haven’t really been keeping track. My MIL buys me really nice things, and I accept them mostly without guilt (even though we can buy almost whatever we want) because my husband is too cheap and if I bought all the nice things I wanted, he would definitely be on my case constantly (and I am fairly frugal as well, so I do have to convince myself to actually buy stuff), so it is kind of awesome to get nice things that we probably wouldn’t otherwise buy for ourselves (practical things like a Keurig or decent maternity clothes). Sometimes it gets uncomfortable because she just doesn’t need to buy us that much stuff, but I try to not let it get to me and to make sure I express my gratitude. My FIL has lots of money and also tries to give it away as gifts for tax purposes. We accept the money and put it away with the intention of using it toward a greater purpose (possibly college fund, but I think we really want to start a company – and that is how he would want us to use it – he is an entrepreneur).

    The most awkward financial situation probably involves gift giving with my husband’s siblings. In my family, we just do whatever – sometimes there are gifts – sometimes not – and nobody is offended if they bought something and did not receive something, etc. We have bought presents for our nieces/nephews, but usually pretty simple things… like a relatively inexpensive game or activity. His brother buys our kids much more expensive things (like a game console), even though they really don’t have very much money to spend. I think it’s a status thing… like trying to show that they can afford to buy nice gifts. And it’s not like I’m trying to be cheap, I just don’t feel like I should be buying my nieces and nephews super extravagant things (am I just off base on this?)… Or they insist we don’t get them a gift, and we get them a small gift anyway (for fun! like $20) and they are super offended because they didn’t get us one. It’s just not that big of a deal. The important thing is that you care enough to try and do something special (or not – but at least sometimes!) Right? So I think that has led to some tension…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, gift-giving in DH’s family is a major deal and I wish so much we didn’t do it. We have so much more money than they do and when we try to give them more presents, they seem to feel like they have to reciprocate.

      Our kids don’t need stuff because MIL and FIL are so generous (and BIL’s family needs stuff even less because their in-laws are equally generous). On top of that, my BIL more often than not forgets to mark off the amazon thing that he’s purchasing for us so he usually gives us duplicates that we’ve already gotten and my SIL seems to do this thing where she very carefully gets me something she knows I don’t want very much (because it’s on my amazon list and it’s the only thing marked “low”), or if I make that difficult, she gets me something generic I don’t want and I’d rather they keep the money.

      We’ve tried offering to put cash in 529s for the kids, but only SIL has taken us up on that (and only the one year– we’ve had to look up the information to contribute more). So generally we buy stuff off their amazon wishlists, but they don’t always keep them up-to-date or sometimes we’re not fast enough. *Sigh.* I know it’s DH’s problem, not mine, but it stresses him out, and thus it stresses me out by extension.

      Which reminds me that we should get SIL a gift-card for the the new baby.

  24. Angela Says:

    My grandmothers are both interesting in this regard. My paternal grandmother feels that she was given less than her siblings because she was female, so she is scrupulous with her gift giving that every child & grandchild gets the same number of gifts and same cost of gifts from her for holidays. My other grandmother just gives checks for gifts but it is my understanding that in her will, it gives different amounts to each grandchild based on her assessment of their likelihood of future financial success. I have no idea how much inheritance there might be, and have no need or plan for mine, but I idly wonder whether she ever revisits these amounts — for example, one of my cousins has a large family now, etc., but these changes have come since my grandmother turned 90 and her mental state is somewhat diminished, so I don’t know whether she is actively managing these things now. But it is fascinating to see the way every individual and every family makes difference decisions.

  25. Revanche Says:

    “…wonders if it might be a wise idea to accept that money and put it in a “for parents’ assisted living expenses” account in case they’ve underestimated their health costs in old age.” — If possible, especially considering what you’ve said about the difficulty of untangling things, I would lean towards this. Elder care is frighteningly expensive.

    For myself, it’s been so long since I wasn’t in charge of the money that I literally cannot remember if my parents intended to be fair. I think it was. At least, I like to attribute the best possible intentions that seem reasonable, under the circumstances.

    As it happens, the lion’s share of money and attention went to my sibling by the time we were in our 20s and it never changed course. I now think I do resent it, but less about the money and more because our relationships suffered so severely from the stress of bad decisionmaking, and we never really recovered from that.

  26. life_of_a_fool Says:

    Interesting discussion!

    I think my parents try to be fair and fairly even, though it may take different forms (I assume they helped pay for my sister’s wedding. I’m not married and don’t want a wedding, but they gave me money for a computer when I started grad school. And I studied abroad, which I’m sure was way more expensive than I was conscious of. Etc.).I don’t keep tabs, and don’t want to (my sister might a little more than I do), but I think they at least roughly keep track of what they give us and try to be even. This is coming from a place where both my sister and I are self sufficient and don’t need anything. Also: neither of us has kids. I’m quite sure they wouldn’t let us go hungry or suffer, but neither of us has been in that position. If one of us really needed help, I hope they wouldn’t try to balance it out by giving unnecessary money to the other (and would argue against it).

    I want them to spend their money on themselves and not worry about us.The one exception to that is that I really hope they are planning for a loooong life that may eventually require more support. I don’t need or want their money, but I’m not sure I could afford to take care of them if they need assisted living, etc. So, I can see the argument of taking some of the money your parents offer (or would give, if they no longer offer) and putting aside to take care of them, should they need it.

  27. A student Says:

    I think this is interesting! My parents (thanks to the help of lots and lots of tuition benefits) helped us both with college, but I worked all through college and and had a scholarship while my sister didn’t, so when she was getting equal or more money (she also asked for more while I cringed and just worked at my teaching job more hours), I got a little snippy.

    Now though, she is on her own, and I’m in a 8 year training program which is fully paid (they were expecting to help with med school tuition…) + stipend. However, my stipend is so small, I need more financial help here and there to help with various health-related expenses, the random emergencies etc…So they help me more financially, but there’s an unspoken pact that I will be helping with their care exclusively in the future (for other reasons, mostly because my sister tears up when she talks about our parents getting old and I’m callous enough to shove advance directives over the table at brunch and insist they get signed).

    There’s no rancor or resentment on our parts, this is just how it is! And YES, we want our parents to spend money on themselves, and I think they are!

  28. Verbatim Says:

    What’s better (and, perhaps, even more humbling), taking your parents’ money now, when thay can see you enjoy it, or waiting until they are dead? I mean, if you’re going to take it when they’re dead, why not now? As for asking them to give it to charity in your name, that kind of boggles my mind. Better for them to hold onto it and do what they want with it than that.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’d rather they give it to charities in their name if they want to give it away (which is the second option I suggested after suggesting they spend it on themselves and my father saying he doesn’t know how to spend). There’s plenty of charities that need it more than we do. And they’re doing that with charities local to them that they care about.

      We’re not going to enjoy their money, it’s just going to go into savings. Whether or not we take it when they’re dead, hopefully we won’t have to figure that out for another two decades at least, preferably three.

  29. Matthew Healy Says:

    My late sister got way more financial help from my parents than my brother and I did; he and I agreed with that decision because she needed it much more. When she died in a 2007 car accident my wife and I declined our share of her life insurance so my brother and his wife could put it all into their kids’ college fund since they have kids and we don’t.

    To each according to their needs seems right to me.

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