Providing Equal Financial Assistance to Adult Children

by TDS Reader Contributors

Providing Equal Financial Assistance to Adult Children photo

When it comes to helping out your adult kids financially, do dollar amounts have to be equal to be fair? Here are some tips for providing financial assistance to adult children.

We have two children in college for whom we are paying tuition. The older of the two has one more semester until he graduates. Our younger son has decided after a year and a half that he does not want to continue. He feels that since we paid for his brother’s education, he should still receive what we would have paid for his college so he can buy a home. Has anyone been in this situation with their kids? How did you choose to handle it? On one hand, we do want to help each of our sons equally, but we also do not think helping our youngest buy a home is in his best interest at this time. We are really torn by this decision and it is causing tension in our family. Any advice?


Do You Worry About Providing Equal Financial Assistance to Your Adult Children?

We asked our readers this question and here are the tips and advice they had to share:

Financial Assistance to Adult Children Is Gift, Not Entitlement

You decide what happens to your money, not your children. Your decision was to pay for college tuition. If your son has concluded that he no longer needs to go to college, then you no longer need to contribute to his upkeep. Once they’re out of college, they are on their own. I would think more of your son if he were not trying to guilt you into paying his down payment. The college tuition was a gift from you, not an entitlement, and it does not transfer.

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Your Money, Your Decision

Helping children equally does not necessarily mean giving each the same amount of money. They may have different needs and wants.

I would not give a lump sum to a child because he demands it. However, I might consider giving “matching funds” if he saves a certain amount to help him get toward his goal.

There is also the question of whether he might want to return to school eventually. Where would he get the funds then? In fact, what will he do for work now? Does he have the skills required for a good job?

It’s your money and your decision.

Adult Children To Prove Self-Sufficiency

I have friends in exactly this same situation. They chose to ask the son wanting the house to save 20% down and show job stability for five years and timely payment on all of his bills and credit cards. They want him to prove that he has learned to handle his money with care. The reasoning is that if he is able to do these things, then he would keep the house and not simply flip it for cash after it was purchased for him.

For the son who went to college, the agreement was that they would pay for college but he had to attend classes, maintain his grades at a certain level, and work part-time on campus for extras he might want. If he failed to keep up his end of the bargain, then he would have to pay the next semester of college on his own (or borrow and create debt), take a full load, and bring in only A’s and B’s. If he was able to do that, then they would pay for the next semester. It was a semester by semester agreement. Payment of college tuition and books was not guaranteed unless he performed the work.

It all worked out pretty well, but as you can see, each adult child had to demonstrate responsibility and follow-through. Everyone benefited. The parents became confident that their sons would be able to handle the problems of life and be self-sufficient.

Financial Assistance To Complete College Only

My advice would be to point out firmly that you offered both your children the opportunity to complete college. If he doesn’t choose to utilize this, so be it. I am assuming you never offered each a large sum to spend as they would!

Equal Financial Assistance May Never End

It sounds like your original offer was for tuition, not for funds to be used at your son’s discretion. I would not give him a lump sum of money, but instead offer that should he choose to return to school at a future date, you would resume paying his tuition. To give him money for a down payment could very well lead your other son to ask for a down payment since that is what his brother received. The quest for “equal financial resources” may never end.
Carolyn in Marion, OH

The Tail Does NOT Wag the Dog

That money was intended for an education, not funding for a home. His life choice might be to waste the education his parents were willing to pay for, but let this be his first lesson in that how he “feels” about that money or what’s “fair” doesn’t matter. The money does not belong to him. As one of eight children, we learned early that the tail does not wag the dog. The dog wags the tail. The parents should stand firm that the money is to be used for an education. His choice is to go or not go, but that’s the only choice he should have. He should be very grateful to get that free tuition. It surely didn’t happen in our house!

There Is No Obligation to Adult Children

Parents have no obligation to help their children after the children are 18. Your son chose not to take the gift of education and the other son did. This should be the end of story. He is not entitled to your help after he has reached adulthood and should be supporting himself. You offered him one last boost, an education, and he rejected it. You should explain to him that he is not owed anything past that.
R. Steele

You Can’t Treat Adult Children the Same Because They Aren’t the Same

My approach is to treat my kids fairly but not the same because they are not the same. The money I set aside for education is to be used that purpose only. There is no repurposing those funds for whatever the child wants. Helping with the down payment of the home is a completely separate issue. I hope it was just a wishful request on your youngest child’s part and not an expectation.

Financial Assistance Is Not Owed

You gave them life. You don’t owe them anything else. That includes explanations about what you do with the money you worked your tail off to acquire. Do what you think is best. Hurt feelings won’t last long. Whenever your son finally does experience the nightmare that is home ownership, he will understand why you were not willing to flush your hard-earned cash down the toilet.

What Is the Definition of Gift?

I think you should go back to the original definition of your “gift.” Your gift for college is “to provide a way for your sons to support themselves,” not a dollar amount. Offer to pay for a trade school if the other son doesn’t want college but don’t be emotionally blackmailed into giving “gifts” on demand.

Life Lessons Don’t End for Adult Children

I think this family has a spoiled child on their hands. I would tell my children that I have some money I will spend on education if they choose to use it. If they don’t, then the money stays where it is. He is not “owed” education money or any other money. It is his parent’s money and they may spend it as they please. He may come back in a few years and decide to finish his schooling, and then they could pay for it if they choose to do so. The parents need to stand firm. That child will be back to the well many times if they don’t stand firm now.

I watched my son struggle to save, get his credit score up, and buy his first home. It was hard. I wanted to help him. I wanted to make it easy for him. I didn’t. I let him do it. He grew as a person and I am very proud he knows that he did it on his own. There were some “perfect” homes that got away from him, but the home he has now is lovely and he enjoys knowing he did it on his own. Nobody can “give” somebody that feeling.

Focus on the Adult Part of Adult Children

Finances can be tricky, especially with adult children. We found it easier to focus on the “adult” and not the child part. It is your son’s decision to continue or not continue with his education. It is also his responsibility to accept the consequences. Don’t give your son the immediate gratification of cash to purchase something he wants, even though a house is a sensible purchase. By helping out with tuition, you are hoping to give your son better career options and, of course, an education that should benefit him his entire life.

When confronted with a similar situation, we explained it to one of our sons this way. Every child in our house is covered by medical insurance but not everyone got the same medical treatment. When one child broke his arm, we took him in for treatment; obviously, we wouldn’t break everyone’s arm to ensure everyone got the exact treatment. Somehow the negative example helped our son see that equal opportunity isn’t the same as equal dollars. While he didn’t agree with our decision, he understood our intentions, and we continue to have a good relationship.
Rae Ann

Reviewed September 2023

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