Straight Talk Advice

Oct 30, 2012

Kids in hard-hit family not pulling weight

Dear Straight Talk: I have two daughters in college. Due to the recession, our economic situation changed drastically since they were in high school,  where they enjoyed private schools, lessons, cars, trips abroad, etc. How do I get through to them the duty and joy of pulling their own weight? — Overwhelmed father in Monterey

Brandon 20, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

Many kids of relative affluence go into shock on their own. My parents completely spoiled me through middle school with “whatever-you-want” treatment. I'm happy they weaned me off or I wouldn't be where I am today.

Some parents think that once college hits, it's too late to influence their kids. Wrong. The first thing to do is insist they earn money. It's nice to help with tuition, but don't instill dependence. Direct them toward work-study, internships, or other part-time jobs that will provide spending money. They might not take the change well, I know I didn't. But it was either that or give up my “spoils”. Plus, getting a regular paycheck is definitely rewarding. Keep your foot down on this.

Akasha 18, Los Angeles Ask me a question

My family was also hit hard. Even though I took AP high school classes, I worked 15 hours a week to fund all my simple needs: clothes, makeup, gas, outings. If my mother had hidden our situation, I would've felt terrible! Plus, without earning money, I wouldn't have been able to do things that make high school fun. I not only enjoyed high school, I also felt more capable than my peers and learned how to spend both money and energy wisely. Your daughters are adults! Tell them the way it is.

Taylor 15, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

My parents don't want to worry me, but I find it more frustrating to be left in the dark when I know we are struggling. My mom has actually told me she doesn't want me to work. Yet I am bursting to join the workforce. It makes no sense! They expect me to pay for my own stuff (movies, outings, etc.), but at the same time I am forbidden from having an income? I think some parents have too much pride.

Lara 21, Concord, Calif. Ask me a question

We never had much, so I was always conditioned to pull my weight. I'm putting myself through a private college, working several jobs, driving a super old car that I bought — oh, and no iPhone. Yet I feel empowered, happy and successful. Seeing the money leave my bank account to pay for school makes my ambitions stronger than ever. Some friends feel sorry for me, but, honestly, I feel bad for those whose parents pay for everything (well, I do envy those with paid tuition). After college, they won't know how to function or be happy with life's simple things. It might be hard to give your daughters less, but their reward will be independence and maturity.

Dear Overwhelmed: They probably got the “sex talk”. Now they need the “money talk”. Quick, before they catch a case of narcissistic entitlement. Oh, they already caught that? The best cure is to pull back the curtain (see kids, no wizard). They're big girls, at least that's what you're hoping for, and you don't want them dependent upon a fantasyland male figure anyway. 

Call a meeting and do a thorough family balance sheet together. Do this lovingly, matter-of-factly, and without fear-mongering. No sugarcoating or martyring allowed either — all are terrible role-modeling. Let the numbers talk. Once the balance sheet sinks in, problem solve together. Better they offer to get part time jobs, sacrifice luxuries, and adopt a DIY mentality, rather than you having to insist. But be prepared to insist. Be the CEO holding the company together through the storm. That'd be you.

Editor's Note: What makes a successful adult? Sound management of love, sex, drugs, money. Today's families don't spend enough time, nor do our high schools, on money. Families and schools do a lot on drugs and sex. But little on love and money. Hmmm, now this  has me wondering... luckily, I'll spare you those thoughts.

High school is a great time to introduce deeper principles of money and raise financial IQ. Parents: For the home "money talk", if you don't already do a balance sheet, it's a great time to start — for the kids, right? As I said, it's important for them to see that there is just a regular man and/or woman behind the curtain, working to keep roof patched and automobiles in tread, not a magical mysterious force.

Hopefully there are at least place-holders on your balance sheet for old age, disability, and premature death. And that your "money talk" includes ideas of "enough", "value", "happiness" and "giving" versus a "big lots" mentality. Finally — and hopefully you've been inculcating this from early childhood — there is that part about the duty and joy of everyone pulling their weight. A good CEO knows that fortunes can come and go. What lasts is one's character.

Good books on money are "The Richest Man in Babylon" and "The Soul of Money". To learn things beyond a balance sheet, a great money game is "Cashflow 101". —Lauren

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