4 Steps I’m Taking To Handle My Parents’ Financial Mistakes

Politics. Religion. Money.

These are things you don’t talk about at the dinner table. But if you were like my family, we didn’t talk about them at all. Maybe religion on Sundays and politics every four years, but money? Never — children should not be burdened by the family finances.

Fast forward to present day: I’m 27, married, and just bought a house. My mom dropped the bomb on me last week that she’s being foreclosed on in less than three months. She also shared that the process has been going on for nine years, but got serious eight months ago.

I was in complete shock.

To put it into perspective, I’ve spent the last five years trying to help my mom with her finances. I knew they’d gone downhill since my dad’s death in 2006, but I’d never gotten any straight answers. I bought her easy reads on retirement and increasing income, I sat with her through Financial Peace University (while this situation was escalating), and suggested she sell my childhood home for something more affordable.

I asked her questions, and the answers never fully added up. She offered to give us her washer and dryer for free, saying she’d rather use the Laundromat. She asked to take the boxes from our recent move for a random friend. I even saw her house on Zillow while we were looking to buy, and it read “in foreclosure.” She said the website was incorrect. When she did finally bring me up to speed on what’s been going on, a scenario that could’ve just been an inconvenience, if we’d worked together on it over the past few years, is now a mess that I have to clean up. All because of this culture of “we don’t talk about money.” By lying to me, she made things so much worse.

Millennials are at a point where in order to take care of ourselves, we have to start thinking about taking care of our parents, whether they deserve it or not. It doesn’t mean I’m letting my mom move in with us or paying her future rent, but I’m establishing habits in our relationship now so I’m protected in the future.

1. Start Talking

To hell with the idea that “polite adults don’t talk about money.” I think we should talk about money everywhere, but if you can’t at least talk about it at home, where are you supposed to talk about it? In fact, you’ll probably need to hire a therapist if you don’t, so save the money by starting open and honest conversations now. Sure, there are ways to look like a jerk talking about money, but there are also constructive and lighthearted ways to do it. I believe the best way to encourage someone to develop better habits is to talk about your own wins and losses. Like “I made a big student loan payment this month” or “I forgot a bill and totally screwed up my budget.”

They might think you’re weird at first, but remember this saying that I love: “At first they’ll ask you why you’re doing it, then they’ll ask you how you did it.”

2. Establish Boundaries

Some parents are travel agents for guilt trips. Passive aggressive text messages, reminding you how hard it was to raise you, and assuring you this is the last time they’ll ask you for money, and they will definitely pay you back this time are just a few of the lines I’ve heard, personally and from friends. Know that their financial situation is in no way your fault. No matter what it cost to raise you, if they put you through college or if you still live with them, their money is NOT your responsibility. Parents give their children money, credit cards, and other material items of their own volition (though whether the amount is appropriate is another topic entirely).

Don’t be bullied or guilted into giving more than you’re able. Prioritize your financial and emotional state, then give your money and time accordingly. And never give money directly to your parents. If they need a bill paid or to buy something, then you pay it or buy it. This way, you know where your money is going, and that you’re getting the best deal.

If you want a good book to read on this subject, I highly recommend Boundaries by Henry Cloud. It covers boundaries in relationships, family, work, etc. If you feel overwhelmed and overworked, you might benefit from it.

3. Give Some Grace

Our parents get a lot of financial flack for the recession, with good reason. But so many were suffering from a lack of financial knowledge, which wealthy companies were capitalizing on. To an extent, I think millennials can relate. We’re labeled as having a collective poor work ethic and entitlement, when in reality, we had to start from a point far from the platform baby boomers launched from. I love this article by Sarah Kendzior on Quartz about the myth of millennial entitlement being created to hide the mistakes of our parents. It’s not all pointing fingers; she explains instead of the media vilifying each generation, our struggle is actually the same:

There are plenty of older people with few retirement savings, with their finances drained from paying for both elderly parents and jobless children. We need to acknowledge the way our struggles are intertwined, instead of allowing the media to stoke manufactured class and generational resentment.

So while it’s okay to be angry, give grace to your parents. Their generation was much more isolated, openly judgmental, and oblivious to what was to come in 2008. We all have our own struggles, and while they are different, they often have similar root causes.

4. Break the Cycle

In the end, you can do all these things, and see no positive changes in your loved ones. The only person you can change is yourself. If you break the cycle in your own family, you’ve won. Even if you have to pay for your parents’ financial mistakes, your children won’t have to pay for yours.

Jeff Rose, a financial planner, author, and blogger behind Good Financial Cents, explains how to not make you parent’s financial mistakes. One way is to educate yourself on finance through classes and blogs. There’s no shame in undergoing a course about money management. And if your family won’t listen, talk about money with your friends; you might find it’s less awkward than you’ve been led to believe.

Have you experienced financial stress due to a parent’s mistake? What have you done to break the cycle?

Image via Unsplash

  • Yes to having more conversations about money! I joke that the most intimate conversation you can have while fully dressed is about money. Before I moved in with my boyfriend we laid all of our finances out for review. It can feel humiliating, like “I’m a failure for not being better with money” but everyone has to learn at some point.

    • Jen @ Saving with Spunk

      Amen Christine! Talking about our finances helps us heal and teach others. It’s good for everyone!

    • jdub

      Yes! And for me personally, I felt like it was a very real way to get truly vulnerable with someone I was considering building a life with. Yes, I do already love you, but now I’m showing you all of my past mistakes and hoping you’re still willing to embark on a life with me together.

  • Lauren

    I am very fortunate to live in a family where money is discussed openly. My dad is a CPA and we have conversations about salaries, investments, grocery spending, apartment costs, college costs, travel costs, being a freelance writer for a time and how to write off your business expenses, everything. There are a few specific questions that I know will never get answered, but even with those I’m not afraid to ask. I just know I might here a friendly “We’re not telling you but you’re allowed to ask.” I wish every family could be this open.