We are a generation that wants to--especially if we have the wherewithal to--help our kids out financially. Whether it's a gift to assist with the downpayment on their first house or money to pay health insurance premiums, we're often very generous with our grown children.
Whatever the reasons behind the gift, there is always a question of whether they do with it what we intended. That is, if we hand over a chunk of cash to pay down their car loan, will we be angry if they use the cash to buy new clothes.
In a recent Social Qs column, Philip Galanes answered a reader who told Galanes she often sends her brother and sister-in-law, who were living in financially tight circumstances, a check "to make their lives easier." Her aim, she explained, was to make sure they had money for emergencies; that her largesse would, in effect, be put aside as a safety net. But when her brother called to thank her for a recent gift, he mentioned that he and his wife had used it to travel to Europe. Her question--and one that applies directly to those of us who are financially generous to our grown children--was, how could she make sure, without dictating how they use the money, that they use it responsibly--at least responsibly in her eyes.
Galanes's answer is a practical one for those of us who struggle with the same or a similar issue:
There is nothing wrong with calling your brother to say: “Please tell me to butt out if you like, but I worry about your financial security. If you ever have an emergency and can’t pay an essential bill, please let me know, and I will try to pitch in.” From a distance, this seems to be what you want to do: help protect them without becoming their bank or fairy godmother.
But to continue giving them money and then feeling resentful when they spend it differently from how you imagined, isn’t fair to any of you — particularly given your hazy sense of their financial condition and prudence.
In other words, we can tell our kids there's a string attached to a particular gift--paying off of a car loan, say--and hope they use it that way or we could pay off the loan directly. No point building up resentments over gifts: they're supposed to be joyful and helpful not a sourse of future ill will.
Blessed are those of us who are able to give the gift and trust our children to use it as they see best.