Teaching your children to be financially independent is no easy feat. A lot of baby boomers have had to learn this the hard way. More than half of boomers say they have allowed their adult children to move back home, rent-free, according to a recent survey by Ameriprise Financial. What's more, the vast majority (93 percent) say they have provided some form of support to their adult children, like helping them pay for college tuition or a car.
"I think having your kids financially dependent on you is one of the biggest issues I see today with investors, and baby boomers in particular," says Laura Scharr-Bykowsky, a certified financial planner with Ascend Financial Planning in Columbia, S.C. "They are sacrificing so much of their retirement for their children. They don't want to say no to their kids. And they want to be their kids' friends."
"Part of our job, as parents, is to teach our children fiscal responsibility," says Kimberly Foss, a personal finance expert and founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, Calif. "You have to teach them the basics of finance." To do that, Foss suggests starting with a website like Mint.com, where you can teach your kids to track their spending. "It takes all the guesswork out of budgeting," Foss says. The site enables you to manage your budget with easy-to-use personal finance tools and calculators. There are also kid-friendly websites, like the new presidential financial literacy page for kids, moneyasyougrow.org.
Once your kids have figured out budgeting (assuming they have finished college and are living on their own), experts suggest you slowly wean them off your expense account. Granted, a number of parents stop paying for their children's expenses once they've finished college, especially since many parents struggle with their own expenses and retirement prospects. But if parents can afford to help their children financially at the start, experts say, it'll be better in the long run. "When students graduate from college and enter the real world, they're hit with a load of expenses—rent, deposit, utilities, student loan, medical insurance, car insurance, cell phone. Those are an awful lot when you've been completely dependent on mom and dad alone, and then you go to, 'Oh my gosh, I've got all these bills,'" Foss says. That's why she recommends easing your child into their financial responsibilities rather than overwhelming them with all of their expenses right away.
Foss suggests that parents take 12 to 24 months to get their children on their own two feet financially, starting by removing support for smaller expenses first. For example, you could tell them that for the first six months, you'll pay for their cell phone plan, but after that, it's up to them. Then do the same for their car insurance, but Foss advises you allow them 12 months before they take over payments. Finally, you may want to tackle the largest financial strain for your child, which will likely be student loans. Foss recommends that you help them pay the loans for the first 18 months. "This way, you're easing them into the real world, and it makes it a much easier transition. Plus, it makes them feel successful and makes them want to stay on their budget," Foss says. "Better to do that then have them move back in with you at 25 and stay with you until they're 40." However, not every parent will be able to take on this financial responsibility.
You'll also want to get your children into the habit of saving money. Encourage them to save 20 percent of their paycheck each month, Foss says. "Take the lesson that we teach people in real life, which is a 50, 30, 20 program: setting aside 50 percent for needs, 30 percent for wants, and 20 percent of your budget for savings," Foss says.
Another key concept worth explaining to your children is the idea of trade-offs. "You don't want them to think money is this unlimited, free-flowing thing," Scharr-Bykowsky says. This could be as simple as teaching your child to trade dinners out for meals at home.