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Footing the Bill for Adult Children? How to Stop – for Your Good and Theirs

You can tighten the purse strings without hurting the relationship

mother watching young man looking over mounting debts at kitchen table

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En español | You don't stop being a parent when the kids are grown.

That could be why nearly half of parents with adult children — 45 percent — helped them financially during the pandemic, according to a survey by But helping your kids financially can be detrimental to you. That same survey found that 79 percent of those who helped their adult children did so with money they would have otherwise used for their own daily expenses.

"A lot of times, parents are coming from a place of good intentions — wanting to help their adult children — because they're wanting to prevent them from feeling some of the very pains that they felt themselves at that same age,” says Ed Coambs, a financial therapist in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Yet some parents may have mixed feelings about supporting their adult children. More than half of American adults (55 percent) say parents do too much for their adult kids, according to a 2019 Pew Research study. For parents feeling the financial or emotional burden of footing the bill for adult children or grandchildren, the road to change can be rocky, particularly if they are intent on preserving peace in the family. Here's how to make the journey a little easier, for you and your children.

Getting to the root of the giving

It's important to make sure your giving is coming from a healthy place, says Denise Kautzer, a financial therapist based in St. Paul, Minnesota. A clear sign it is not: You're using cash you need to reach your own important financial goals. For example, if you're giving money you had planned to use to pay off credit card debt, or if giving has you considering delaying your retirement, you probably don't have the money to spare.

It's always a good idea to “take a step back and make sure that you feel like it's constructive and mutually beneficial,” says Meredith Stoddard, vice president of life event planning at Fidelity Investments. Some giving can be okay if your finances are in order and you feel like you have a healthy dynamic with your children, she says. “The problem comes into play when you start to get those gut feelings like, ‘Argh, I didn't really want to do this,’ or, ‘Ugh, I really don't have a lot of savings, but I guess I can find a way to make it work.’ “

Try not to judge your motivations as “good” or “bad,” Coambs cautions. Instead, try to understand where the behavior is coming from. If you feel in your heart you can't afford to give, you probably can't.

You also may be stunting the financial growth of your adult children or grandchildren when you constantly help them financially. “Part of your job as parents is to get your children to the point where they're financially independent,” says Kautzer. If you are always bailing them out, they may not act responsibly when it comes to handling their finances themselves.

It's a good idea to do a quick check on a retirement planning calculator if you're giving substantial money to your adult children or grandchildren, says Stoddard. By doing so, you may realize that you are woefully short on money and need to make saving a priority. Conversely, you might find that you're in better shape than you thought you were, and that, if you choose, you can afford to offer more, she says. Either way, it's best to know before you give.

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Approach the conversation carefully

Preparing yourself for a conversation with your adult children or grandchildren about the financial support you give can be challenging. While a part of you may know that it's time for them to stand on their own financially, another part of you may feel guilty about ending the financial support. One way to prepare yourself emotionally: Identify your reasons for making the change and know that they are valid, Kautzer suggests.

You need to include your spouse in the conversation. Some couples may disagree about how much financial support for adult children is enough. In that case, the two parties may have different values and beliefs, and if they can't work through them, they may need to seek professional help, either from a couples counselor or a financial planner, Kautzer says.

Other things to consider

Expect the conversation to be difficult. “If this has been going on for a long time and this was a well-established pattern, when you go to change that, it can be a very stressful conversation,” says Kautzer.

Prepare in advance. Think about what you want to say before you say it, Kautzer says. You may say you're willing to provide support, but only to a certain extent. If so, be ready to lay out those parameters, Stoddard suggests.

Explain your own needs. If you are less prepared for retirement because of the help you've given your children, they may end up taking care of you years from now. “It's kind and generous to take care of your own needs, because the reality is, if you don't, then you are making your situation their problem down the road,” says Stoddard. Make sure they understand that.

Give the kids time. It's a little unfair to blindside your adult children and tell them the financial help they've been depending on will end tomorrow, says Kautzer. Instead, give them some time to prepare by cutting back incrementally, or by letting them know things are going to change and giving them a timeframe for when the monetary help will stop.

Don't blame them. Even if the adult child is the one who has been asking for, or demanding, the financial support, the situation has developed over time and it's a reciprocal process, Coambs says. Instead, focus on your feelings. For example, Coambs says, “You can go to the adult family member and say, ‘I have some discomfort about the way this is working for us now financially. I'd like to be able to talk with you about it.’ “

Make it an ongoing conversation. Everything doesn't have to be decided at once. Perhaps you talk about it and let everyone take some time to think it over before reconvening to determine a resolution, Stoddard says.

Be willing to let go

Just because you end the financial help doesn't mean you can't assist in another fashion. “Can you help in a non-monetary way?” says Kautzer. For example, you might help them look for a job that pays more money or brainstorm with them to come up with other solutions.

Also know that you can always make a different choice if your child encounters a true emergency, such as a job loss or an illness, and you want to help out, Kautzer says. “You can say, ‘For this period of time or for the next three months, we'll help you.’ “

Parents with adult children must pull back at some point and allow their children to learn their own lessons and recover from their own financial mistakes. “Trust in your children that they are going to be okay,” says Stoddard, “and that they can stand on their own two feet."

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer and editor. She has written extensively about money, entrepreneurship and careers for more than two decades. Her work has appeared in such publications as USA Today, Working Mother and Essence.