How Much Financial Help Should Adults Receive From Their Parents?

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financial help

I always find it fascinating to discuss financial relationships between parents and adult children. There seems to be a wide range of experiences among my group of friends, and I’m not sure there is a “right” or “wrong” answer to the question of how much financial help adults should accept from their parents.

Right now, I have friends whose parents are paying for their medical school education out of pocket. My husband attends one of the most expensive medical schools around – about $25,000 per semester in tuition alone – so I’m not talking about a quick $8,000 check here or there. I also have friends who have been on their own since they were 18 years old and have paid for their own cars, tuition, insurance, etc. since then.

Some people have very wealthy parents who don’t offer any financial help at all. Some people have middle class parents who give their adult kids every last dime to ensure they are taken care of and don’t have to pay student loans. Essentially, there is really a wide spectrum of experiences.

My Own Relationship With Parents and Financial Help

As someone who is very hard headed and independent, I’ve been trying to take over all of my bills and all of my expenses for the past few years. Just recently, I finally got off of my family cell phone plan and on my own. It would be cheaper to stay on their plan, but I don’t feel like my parents should pay for anything for me at this point. I want them to spend it on themselves!

After all, I’m almost 27 years old and about to be a mother to two kids (or maybe I am a mom to two kids by the time you read this!) I have to be able to take care of myself. My mom and dad are very generous and are always offering to help in some way or another. I have accepted their financial help in paying for my student loan interest every month, which makes it so every payment I send in goes directly to the principal, and I feel like that’s more than generous. All other bills and debt and other issues that pop up are on me, but I know they’d help me if I really needed it.

Money and Parental Control

Conversely, I have a friend who comes from an exceptionally wealthy family. Her father owns a well known company that has several hundred employees. He often takes the whole family on exotic vacations and pays for first class tickets, etc. for everyone. At first, it seems really generous and nice and might make you jealous just hearing about it.

But, at the same time, there is this underlying and unspoken control where his adult children have to act a certain way and do things they might not want to do just because their father is in charge of a lot of their bills and cash flow. Honestly, even if my parents were multimillionaires like his, I still would want to pay for my own things (but like I said, I’m hard-headed like that.)


So, what do you think should be the financial relationship between adults and their parents? When do you think it’s time to be 100% on your own? When would you like your own kids to be 100% financially independent?

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Catherine Alford is the go to personal finance expert for parents who want to better their finances and take on a more active financial role in their families.


  • I have no trouble with parents helping out their kids if they hit rough spots like not finding a job after college. Sometimes letting them rent your house can really help them gain their financial footing. On the other hand there needs to be an agreement on how long this arrangement should be. Any time financial support is given there should be clear guidelines attached i.e. how long it will go on, why it is happening, how the ‘kid’ will move forward, etc.

  • My parents helped me all the way through college with what they could. On my college graduation day my dad pulled my brother (who is older than I) and I aside and held out his wallet. He asked us to both touch the wallet. Then he asked my mom to take a picture of it. We were all very confused about what he was doing until after my mom snapped the picture, when he said, “There, you’re both graduated from college. This is the LAST TIME you’re touching my wallet.”

  • Now that my wife and I are going to be parents (only 6 weeks away!) we’ve been discussing our financial goals for our growing family. One thing we agree on is that we want to pay for half of our child’s education. This way they have some incentive to minimize their costs and work hard. Other than schooling we don’t think that we’ll support our kids financially past the age of 18. Of course if things come up we’ll be there to help, but no cars, vacations or houses, that they have to do on their own.

  • Growing up I always knew that my single mother was never going to be able to pay for my college or much of anything else, so I worked four jobs in college and received minimal help from her and graduated from undergrad without student loans. Hubby’s family never had much growing up, although his parents did pay for his undergraduate education. Both of us were on our own from early 20s. I think that really instilled a sense of self-reliance in us, which i think is hugely important for adult children to have.

  • This is such a tricky topic because there is a fine line between “helping” and “harming” with adult children. As a parent, I understand the desire to “help” your children; however, there comes a point where they really do need to help themselves if they are going to grow and become responsible adults. I liken it to carrying around babies too much. If you do this, they will never learn to walk. It is tough to watch kids struggle financially; however, they need to also learn to make smarter choices and sometimes the best learning lessons come from the most painful ones.

  • kathryn says:

    I was on my own at 17 (my choice) and I always told our 4 kids that when they finished school they must move out and stand on their own 2 feet.
    On occassion, they ask to borrow stuff, and they return it. If they need to borrow money, it is written down, and repaid promptly.
    As they have gotten older, they ask for less and less. Very proud of all of them.

  • Average Joe says:

    I’d want to be on my own, too. Once I reached adulthood I wanted to see if I could stand on my own feet. It was nice to know that I could count on my parents but it was nicer to know that I didn’t always have to.

  • Michelle says:

    I have been completely independent since the day I turned 18, but I also don’t have any problem with parents supporting their children, as long as the child isn’t lazy. I have friends who are almost 30 who still live at home and have never had a job… They don’t try because they KNOW that their parents will continue paying for everything.

  • Liz says:

    I would love to be able to send my kids to college someday. After we finish paying off our loans we plan on actively saving so we can make this dream come true. If we can’t pay for all of it, hopefully we can he;p our future children out significantly!

  • I had a very scary surgery in my early 20’s (I was 21) and my parents basically supported me for the months before and after. I’ll never forget how wonderful they were to me! With that being said, I tried to support myself as quickly as I could after that. I never wanted to be a moocher.

  • I’ve been self supporting since after high school and Mr PoP since after college, though we both have siblings that continue to heavily mooch off parents, so it’s weird.

  • That control thing is what really gets to me. I’m not comfortable with my family still paying for stuff because I need to be able to completely make my own choices. I think the ideal is that the child stands on their own financially, but when in a jam, the parents can help out. Thanks for the interesting post!

  • I think it’s a very loaded question! Very difficult to answer because I have so much to say on the subject. I was fortunate to have my college paid for, but I tried to be as independent as possible since college, especially after I moved away from Detroit to Seattle when I was 25. But here and there my parents HAVE helped me out, but I consider it a last resort, it wasn’t that much, and I never take advantage of the situations. My brother on the other hand… anyway, I think it’s very personal and something that needs to be worked out with each family.

  • Lauren says:

    If parents are willing to help out their children financially without using it as a form of control, I think that’s great. My parents helped me out as much as they could when I started college, and I hope to do the same for my daughter.

  • I’ve been paying for my bills since I graduated high school. I think it made me more responsible. I also have a friend who was supported by her mom for many years after being an adult but as you mentioned there were always conditions or strings attached. I believe that was a bad thing for her because it wasn’t until a couple years ago that she finally saw that depending on her mother financially was crippling her independence and self reliance and actually allowed her to overspend and end up with a lot more debt. I’m glad she finally saw the light.

  • My parents supported me until I graduated college…though I worked and used the money I earned to fund things that were not necessary…they’d pay tuition, room, board, etc. I lived with my parents after graduating but I paid rent…I’d say it was market rent too. I think adult children need to learn responsibility, but I also have no problem with parents helping out their child if the parents have the means and the child is a hard-worker.

  • E.M. says:

    My parents have helped me out in the past. They took out a parent plus loan for my first year of college, and let me live with them rent-free the entire time I attended. Even after I graduated, they only asked for $100 in rent, which I’m very grateful for. I would help them out in a heartbeat if they needed it. Once I moved out on my own, that was pretty much it. I wouldn’t want anyone helping me out if it meant me acting a certain way – I like to be in control of my own finances.

  • I would have a hard time kicking my kids out. They are welcome to live here until they are done with college… then I think they need to be supporting themselves. On the other hand if they are working, being responsible, and saving up for a house or something like that, then I could totally see continuing to let them live in house for free.

    I think that’s the main point.. the being responsible part. If they are working towards something worthwhile then I would like to support them and help them. However, if they are just being a lazy butt or working some dead end job and blowing all their money on stupid stuff, then out they go. But then what if you have one that is being responsible and one that is being a lazy butt. GAH! It’s tough being a parent.

  • I like the point my husband and I came to (independently). We were pretty much fully supported by our parents through college, and then there was a transition period of a few months after college while we were moving for our jobs, but quite quickly we each were completely financially independent from our parents. However, we still accept gifts from them, like $1,000 for a birthday, part of a family vacation, and money for our wedding. We think that is all right since we don’t expect or depend on those gifts (and they don’t come every year!), they are just bonuses for us.

    I think right after high school or college is a good point for young adults to become independent, depending on their career plans and the ability of the parents to give support. When parents are paying for anything in grad school I get pretty suspicious of whether that is helping or hurting the young adult.

  • Having your parents monetary contributions is not worth the subsequent control the have over your life. I learned that early on. I was lucky to have the support when I needed it though.

  • My parents are so awesome! They don’t quite believe that parenthood ends the second your kid turns 18 (I don’t think any parent does!) They helped my sisters and I all through college – but when I graduated, I told them that they no longer have to support me – I can do it myself. I know they lost a lot of time saving for their retirement by putting us through private school when we were younger and helping to pay for college. I wanted to make sure that they stay on track and stay the course with their retirement plans.
    Now, my mom has volunteered to retire from her job to help take care of our baby, should we choose to start a family. That’s huge help – something I’m not sure we should take advantage of.
    I consider myself so very lucky indeed! I have amazing parents 🙂

  • Kim says:

    I think if you raise your kids to be independent, there is nothing wrong with helping out of giving a gift if you’re able. However, I don’t think it’s right for kids to expect parents to be the gravy train. I hope to help my daughter with college and maybe even later if we can, but not so much to make her irresponsible. My parents didn’t pay my way, but paid for stuff like car insurance moving expenses. I never asked or expected it, but it was a nice thing for them to do. When I see a 40 year old who brings in their Mom to pay for their eye exam every year, that drives me nuts.

  • Abigail says:

    My parents and I had an agreement about college: they’d pay for housing (which, while in the dorms, included food) and I’d deal with tuition. It helps that they made me sock away money throughout my childhood. So by the time I got out of college, I had enough to pay off the student loans.

    When I had to go on disability, my mom supported me completely. Which is saying something because we were living on her savings during her divorce. Once I got my SSA approval (18 months in), I was able to cover a lot of my expenses. But she still had to pitch in until I moved in with my now-husband. At that point, my check covered rent (for a one-bedroom in Seattle).

    I think the important thing is that parents aren’t bankrupting themselves or hurting their own (sane) lifestyle if their kids aren’t really in need. But if the kid is really trying to find a job, or has health problems, I think parents should chip in according to their ability.

    That said, I’d stay on a family plan as long as possible and just send a monthly check for my line. And if someone were willing to pay for a vacation, I doubt much would deter me from buying a swimsuit and sunscreen!

  • I’ve been quite hard-headed about adult children (post-college) needing to be 100% independent. I stick by it. Even in college I think students should hold down jobs, save up money and have a financial stake in their education. I have a ton of pride in being financially independent from my parents, in New York City, from the time I graduated college. Even though they could easily help me without any burden to their own financial well-being, it feels better to be on my own with no strings attached. Plus, when I get those exotic family vacations as a present there are no strings attached.

  • My older brother was laid off in 2008 after the Great Recession hit. He did a bunch of odd jobs and consultant work to try to make ends meet. Unfortunately, he was not making enough to pay the mortgage. Rather than getting foreclosed on, my mother stepped in and has been paying his mortgage for the past several years. I think we (I also have two younger brothers) are all happy that she has the resources to do that. She is a multi-millionaire with an additional state government pension, so it’s not that big a deal for her. My brother’s wife recently posted about their weekly trip to the food bank on Facebook. We assume that Mom will continue to pay his mortgage, or some portion thereof, as long as he does not have a well-paying job.

  • I may have an unpopular opinion about it, but I just think that if you are an adult, you should be acting like an adult and paying for yourself. I’m jaded though, as my parents have never helped me out much as an adult. My dad paid for my car insurance ($70/month) when I was in college and my mom took the same program right before I did, so she gave me her textbooks. Other than that, I’ve been on my own financially since I was 18. I enjoy being independent though!

  • barry says:

    Question on where some of you all come down on this:

    30 years old, spouse and 2 kids
    your parents would like you to go away for a long weekend as a sort of “family reunion” with your 95 year old grandmother (!). As a frugal person, I may or may not want to go along with certain aspects of this trip – where to stay, when to fly, etc, but a lot of it seems not to be open to discussion. Do I allow them to pay for our trip?

    I’ve often had the theory of “if you want me to do that, you’re buying” for things I would otherwise not do, or do differently. Thoughts

    • Prudence Debtfree says:

      I think that if there’s pressure to take part in a family reunion in a way that’s more expensive than you would normally do it, it’s fine to allow your parents to treat you. It is pretty special to have a grandmother at that age who is able to take part in such a reunion. Enjoy it! Some day you might be the one treating your adult kids to events like this.

  • Prudence Debtfree says:

    You are very right about the wide range of parental support for adult children. And like you say, it’s not directly related to how wealthy the parents are. We have paid for about half of our children’s undergraduate degrees. The other half has come from savings from their part-time jobs, and grants, scholarships, and bursaries that they’ve managed to get. Our eldest went on to graduate school, and she paid for it completely on her own (and graduated without student debt). If we weren’t so keen to get out of debt ourselves, we might support our adult children more, but I really think they are gaining from the limits we have imposed. My hope is that they will be much better money managers than I was as a young adult.

  • I’ve paid for everything on my own since I turned 18. Not because my folks didn’t want to help me with college and all that, but because they just didn’t have the money to do so. I hope that some day when I have kids I’ll be able to help them with college and some basic “getting started” expenses when they move out. If we’re really well off financially I’d love to be able to help with other major life events (weddings, buying a first home etc.).

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