When To Refuse Financial Help from Parents?

Is there ever a point at which one is too old, too financialy stable, or too something-else to accept financial assistance from his or her parents?

I am assuming that the answer to that question is “yes,” but it seems very difficult to pinpoint the exact time or circumstance when that is the case. Surely it must depend on a number of factors such as:

  • The “child’s” financial status
  • The parents’ financial status
  • The age of both parties
  • The form of assistance (cash, gifts, time, labor, investments)
  • The reason or motive behind the assistance.

On the other hand, perhaps the acceptability of receiving a parent’s generous offer is never truly extinguished. Otherwise we would have to turn down inheritances, life insurance proceeds and even gifts and educational funds for the grandkids.

There is one situation in my personal life which has brought this dilemma to my attention. I still accept financial assistance from my parents in one key area: they reimburse me for the cost of my flight whenever I fly home, which is usually twice a year (at Thanksgiving and Christmas) and averages around $350 per round trip flight.

There’s really no other time or circumstance during which they offer me money, but this offer has stood ever since I left for college. And they continue to offer every year despite the fact that I graduated several years ago and am perfectly capable of affording my own flight. Well, my mother continues to offer, I should say. I think it’s really her way of showing how excited she is that I’m coming to visit; in fact she always ends up offering in a moment of exuberance when I tell her when I plan to arrive – and/or when I casually mention how much flight prices have gone up.

I’m starting to feel a bit guilty about this. Reason One: I can easily afford to pay this expense now. Two: I spend at least that much every month on going out and other discretionary items. Three: I happen to know I have a higher salary than my mother (she’s a teacher and works mainly for fun and for the insurance benefits).

Of course I know they can easily afford it, or else I would never accept at all. But I think it’s time I stand up and say “no, mom, don’t worry about it” when she offers this year (which she’s already done once). Besides, I’m the oldest, and I should set an example for my three younger siblings. I shouldn’t be accepting this kind of “help” when I have a well-paying job and when they see me strolling in with a designer purse or other item I splurged on during the year.

HOWEVER, if my parents ever offer to set up education funds for my future children, instigate an annual financial gift for me and my siblings as part of an estate plan, or even take the whole family on a trip, I plan to graciously and happily accept.

More from Meg at The World of Wealth

22 thoughts on “When To Refuse Financial Help from Parents?”

  1. I made a point of not taking my parents up on their offer to pay for my flights home at Christmas last year or this year becaus I felt like I could afford it and they were gracious enough to host me for the week and feed me for the week and let me borrow their cars to go see friends – the least I could do is pay to get there (though this year, I joked with my mom that I was going to need her to pay for my flight – I bought it with miles, so it cost me $10 in taxes only).

    That said, my mom paid for me to fly home for Father’s Day to surprise my Dad. I couldn’t have afforded to do it on my on, and so I took her up on that offer. And my parents also paid for me to join them on the family vacation this summer (another expense I wouldn’t have been able to afford).

    It’s tough to say no when they offer to pay for things that I know I can afford, but I feel like it’s an important step.

    I don’t think there’s a set time when a person should stop accepting financial gifts from their family – for the reasons you stated. I know a number of people who have older family members who are passing down their inheritance in dribs and drabs in order to not have to pay as much at estate tax time. But I suppose that’s a very different situation from accepting money for a plane ticket.

  2. I think there does come a point when you say no Mom…thanks so much, but I’ve got it.

    My Mom always used to send me new undergarments….I finally had to tell her thanks, but I’ve got it.

    I think it’s good for both of you to do that.

    I told her, to buy something nice for herself, that would make me happy.

  3. I’m 47 and my parents still pay for me to come visit them once a year (they’re on the other side of the country). It makes them happy and even though I make enough to pay for it myself I let them for that reason. They also send a much larger amount of money every few years as part of an estate plan but that’s a different story.

    I did, however, draw the line at underwear many years ago.

  4. I think gifts are always acceptable. If it honestly makes her happy to pay for you, I’d let her. If she does it just because she wants to see you, but you could easily afford it, you should pick up your own tab. When you’re grown, treat your parent’s generosity like a friend’s. If they weren’t your parents, but just good friends, would you take it?

  5. as perhaps the elder knucklehead on this blog with two sons in their 20’s and with a wife who loves to dole out the $$ to ’em – suggestion – take the financial gift and put what you saved in an ira acct etc… saving for the future, not satisfying immature short term consumer needs, that’s what makes your parents (my wife included) truly, truly happy.

  6. My dad would always send me a check for my birthday, I’m 41, by the way, even though I’ve been helping him out with some of his bills and I told him just a card is fine.

    Rather than not cash the check, which is rude, I set up an electronic transfer to his bank account. I send him the amount of the check back plus a bit extra.

  7. When my parents help me out financially, I figure they want to do it. I don’t ask for help, but I’ve always been given to generously.

    If the money was given for the purpose of buying something, I feel the obligation to be wise with the money.

  8. I don’t think there’s any set rule that you have to start to refuse the gift. It makes your mom happy and is a sort of memory to a younger time for you. At the same time, you mentioned college savings. Why not initiate that conversation? Why not say, “Hey mom. You know I really really appreciate your paying for my flights… But I don’t really need it. I love to come see you… but here’s this thing you can do.” You could do the research on what states you like and even help her set up an automatic draft if she bites.

  9. For me, the traveling party pays the traveling and the hosting party pays the hosting. I have tried convincing parents and grandparents that monetary gifts are just noise in my portfolio and that I would rather have a hard to find $5 CD or hot sauce or candy or something, but it seems to make them happier to do the check writing.

  10. I think you’re right to refuse assistance this year. It’s nice to be at a point in your life where you can say that you are 100% self reliant, that you can do things like visit your family on you own dollar, without having to be reimbursed as an incentive.

  11. I have the exact same problem. My mom always offers to pay for my flight to visit (mostly xmas and thanksgiving too). I know she really enjoys it and it’s her way of showing how much she wants to see me (I’m the only sibling that lives far from home). Still, it feels weird and I try not to let her do it too often. As in your case, I know I make more than my mom (although of course she can afford it too). For me the biggest issue is that is makes me feel less independent to accept that type of gift.

    On another note, a had a friend telling me about issues with her brother and parents just yesterday. The brother is still in college and supported by the parents entirely. His parents are trying to instill in him responisibilty and ambition, but don’t cut the strings at all so that he needs it. They found him a summer job and are disapointed that he doesn’t seem to care about it. That kind of financial help from the parents isn’t really helping in my opinion. I think he needs to be weaned a little – or else they have no right to expect him to take care of himself.

  12. I think its good to decline the offer .. or at least to try and decline it. Its possible that your mother will insist. In that case as long as they can afford it then I’d say continue to accept the gift since it makes her happy. If you do accept the gift then you could return the favor to your parents with gifts of equal value. But its possible a parent could be paying for an adult childs trip home to make SURE that they come visit (i.e. its effectively a bribe). In that case if you make it clear you’re coming no matter what and she doesn’t need to pay then it might be a relief.


  13. You know, reading the comments I realize there is more to this story. See, my mother still receives lots of financial generosity from HER mother, who is alive and well. I have grown up watching them argue graciously over who is picking up the tab no matter how large or small, and I think there is very much a “trickle down” effect going on.

    My grandparents don’t dole out gas money anymore, but I found out a few years back that she has given each of her kids a credit card in her name with which they were/are supposed to pay for things like back-to-school shopping for their kids (i.e. me) in addition to any emergencies or last minute trips. Last month, for instance, I heard her encourage my aunt to stay overnight in a hotel rather than making a long drive home after a long flight. “Just put it on the credit card,” she encouraged.

    I doubt my mom uses that card much, but I bet her own mother’s attitude plays a big role in her giving – just like my other grandparents’ “you’re on your own” attitude probably helped shape my father’s “I raised you to be independent” mindset.

  14. @#13 Isn’t sharing a credit cards a ticking timebomb? Fraud, cavalier use, etc… Not all relatives are prudent and trustworthy…

    I haven’t had parents who could supply cash gifts of any consequence due to their own restricted financial situation; however they have taught me thrift (sorry, no designer purses or manicures for this gal), showered my children, husband and me w/love (and TONS of babysitting), and have put in hundreds of “sweat equity” hours with us on our 2 homes. Beats a plane ticket any day, in my humble (and grateful) opinion…

  15. My parents help me out sometimes because it something they want to do. I usually except the offers when it is for something like flying home for the holidays because it helps me out with getting home to see family more often.

  16. My fiance and I had that discussion regarding our wedding. We’re 30, been together forever, and planned to pay for everything ourselves and warned everyone that we have everything, and did not want gifts. I think even before we told our parents, however, we knew they’d want to give us something, so we agreed we would accept gifts from parents, grandparents, and siblings, but try to discourage others. We make plenty, really, we can afford it.

    Flash forward to 2 months before the wedding. We have 2 registries because well wishing relatives threatened to buy us stuff and wanted it to be things we liked, and our parents are paying for everything we hadn’t already written a check for. Wow. We attempted some feeble protests, but everyone is really adamant.

    I try to be very independent, so accepting so many gifts is killing me, but I know they are meant with love, and I appreciate the well-wishing.

  17. Tricky subject! It depends on the individuals, family dynamics, values, etc. Personally, I am very uncomfortable with the concept of “bribing” relatives to see one another.

  18. My parents are going to pay for my flight home for Christmas. I will be using their cc also. My parents also paid for my bridesmaid dress for my sister’s wedding. At 27, I feel like I should not accept their generosity, but I can’t seem to get no through my mother’s head.

  19. I always say no I got it, but accept the check when it is given to me. It makes my parents happy and they keep saying they’d rather see it spent now than after they die. I figure it’s their money they can do whatever they want with it. I refuse at first just so they know that I don’t expect it.

  20. I am currently living at home with parents, and express in no interest for any financial help from parents. However, my parents felt that I am obligated to take care of them (culture belief) and have decided to give me their retirement money (say: they can earn additional benefit from government when they retire, but created huge tax bundle + responsbility for myself). Moralty wise, I should take care of them. If i accept the money, I FEAR (many reasons: lack of freedom, lose control of future). If I reject the money, I also fear (can’t support them/ access their money when they are sick, losing all their hard working money to the horrible money loving in laws)

  21. Honor your parents. They are still your parents and you are still their child. By accepting their gifts, you are acknowledging that and giving them honor.

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