Drawn in by all of the media hoopla, I recently found myself watching the first episode of Lena Dunham’s new show “Girls.” Early in the show, Dunham’s character explains to her parents that their decision to cut her off financially (in her mid-twenties, two years after graduating from college) is unfair and unrealistic, because all of her friends receive financial assistance from their parents.
My views on the show aside, that was the (first) point where I stopped and thought to myself, “Ha ha, what?” Because while it might be realistic – I spent my first year out of college working with a great many twenty-somethings in New York who are at least in part supported by their parents – it makes me pause and consider how my generation handles finances.
As readers know, I lived at home for a year in order to save up some money and pay off my college loans in full. For this, I’m very grateful to my mother – many parents wouldn’t agree to this arrangement. And yet the moment I moved out, it never would have occurred to me to ask my mother for money, for anything, ever. Indeed, while I was living at home, when her financial situation changed for the worse, I started paying a small, but not insignificant, amount of rent. I view the situation in this way: my mother helped pay for college, which is an incredible help; she allowed me to live at home to make my post-college financial transition easier; she has her own finances to deal with and no large sums of money to throw about; she does not “owe” me anything, and to expect some sort of financial contribution to my adult life would be – here comes the judgment! – profoundly selfish and spoiled.
That said, I can sympathize with taking money when it’s offered. I grew up in an affluent area, and as a friend from a family where finances are generally not an issue once told me, “It’s hard to say no when your parents are offering you things.” I get that! Why would any sensible person turn down a hand-me-down car, or a spot on a family vacation, when it’s being offered? But I think a key issue for our generation to prove that we are functional, financially independent adults is to learn to say no, particularly when we know that we should. A different friend once confided that her parents had offered to help her pay for law school. “But didn’t your parents have to take out loans for you and your sister to go to college?” I asked, “And didn’t they take out a second mortgage on their house to finance those loans? And didn’t you tell me that they have credit card debt? Do you really think they can afford law school tuition right now? Have you talked about their retirement with them?” My friend agreed – it was generous, but unrealistic, and a prime example of knowing when it’s time to cut your financial cord.
My husband is in a similar situation – his parents helped him to pay for college, and thereafter he was/is on his own, in part because he views this at as the adult thing to do, and in part because his parents are now putting his sisters through college and, like my mother, do not have large sums of money to send our way. How does this affect our finances? The main issue revolves around our emergency fund and other savings accounts. If something catastrophic were to happen, we are on our own, financially. Many of my friends, on the other hand, could turn to their parents with the knowledge that they have the money to help them out. And when we want to buy a house one day? We’ll be footing the bill independently – no stowed-away down payment fund waits for us later on (unless I have a very rich, heretofore unknown relative who would like to fund my dream colonial).
Of course, like so many financial matters, how your parents do or don’t support you can vary greatly given the circumstances. But if Warren Buffet can teach his children how to handle their money, and push them out of the financial nest, then I don’t think it’s unfair to expect my generational cohort to support themselves as best they can.
What are your views on early financial independence? How do (or would) you plan to support your children?