Money Mic: Why I Stopped Taking Money From My Parents

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refuse moneyIn our Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses. 

Today, one Brown University senior tells us why she won’t accept any money from her parents—how she’s learned to bank 85% of her limited income and what taking control of her own finances means to her. 

I’m a senior biology major at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and despite the fact that I’m in college and only working two minimum-wage on-campus jobs (at the library and organizing art exhibits for a creative friend), I refuse to accept spending money from my parents.

For most of my life, I didn’t really think about money because it was always just there. It was something I asked for in high school before I went out. During my first two years of college, when my parents were putting money into a checking account for me, money was just a debit card I swiped when I wanted to buy something.

It wasn’t a tangible thing that I ever dealt with. What’s more, my father minimized its importance for my entire life. He stressed that I should study hard so that I might one day earn a better income than he and my mom, both of whom are librarians for the government.

As for my mother, I would see her worry about bills, yet she continued to refill my debit card with unfailing consistency. “Your school is so expensive,” she’d tell me over the phone. “I just gave you $500 last month.” I’d feel a little bad for spending it all … but she always gave me more.

RELATED:  Confessions of an Over-Saver: Why I Hate Spending Money

So when I took my second year off school and went to live with my aunt while doing research at Stanford University School of Medicine, earning $500 a week, I spent that money too. I loved going to art and fashion sales and dropping $200 dollars on nice jewelry or dresses right from the designers—pretty, artsy things have always been my weakness.

I come from a middle-class family, but I spent like my upper-middle-class friends. My parents supported that: They were hoping that enabling me to live that kind of lifestyle would motivate me to become a doctor and eventually truly live that life.

My Aha Moment

One of my best friends at Brown graduated two years before me, in the class of 2012. She was a pre-med student and earned a B.S. in neuroscience. However, she never had a paying job during college, and as a result she had no savings. What my friend really wanted to do was move to Boston and get her own apartment, but instead, she was forced to move back home after graduation. Among my classmates, going back home after graduation is like having your tail between your legs. It’s totally disappointing. When my friend, who I saw as an older version of myself, had a “failure to launch,” I realized that it could happen to me.

In that moment, I recognized how a lack of savings could impact your life. By moving back in with her parents, it meant they controlled the flow of her life, and if I wasn’t able to secure a job right after graduation, I knew I’d be in a similar situation. I wanted to become in control of my money so it could enrich my life, rather than dictate what I could and couldn’t do.

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Soon after that happened, I was browsing through TED talks online and stumbled across LearnVest founder Alexa von Tobel’s amazing TEDx Talk. In it, she explains what young people need to know and start doing at an early age in order to have financial freedom. I watched it once, stunned, and then I watched it again and took notes. And then I started learning as much as I could about personal finance. I learned the basics by reading a lot of articles on LearnVest; I read books on budgeting and investing. Many of my friends at Brown will go into investment banking, so I started talking to them about how to invest my money.

All of this helped me come up with a plan for how to save and spend. I have student loans and financial aid, but my parents cover the rest of the costs, so I’m lucky enough that my food, rent and essential expenses are covered. I have dealt with guilt over my privilege, but although I’m not paying for everything, I decided that I could take control of my own money situation if I really wanted to—I didn’t need to wait for my parents.

  • cj3wilso

    Good article but I think you really should talk to your friends about saving. Some people don’t really have the aha moment for a long time.. which can really hurt them in the long run. Sharing is caring!

    • Coco

      I think the author is trying not be a goody-goody or a meddler, but maybe she can give some thought on how to plant some seeds, because it’s true that some of us don’t have that aha moment for a long, LONG time and could have used a gentle steering years ago. And something coming from a peer, rather than a parent or another elder could make a big difference to someone. After all, the author did look up to her friend before that friend’s “failure to launch,” so the author’s own influence could change someone’s course if they knew what she was up to.

  • Alina

    While I admire the author’s determination to save money, I find the title incredibly misleading. It sounds like she is still taking a sizable amount of money from her parents in the form of tuition, rent, and even groceries! It is not as though she is entirely financially independent from them.

    • KD

      Agreed entirely – it seems she didn’t “stop taking money from her parents,” she simply learned to live within the means of a college student. I’m disappointed.

      • brig

        Yes. It should be more like “How I learned to live within my means” It does however seem that she had taken less help with money which is very good and inspiring.

    • Meg

      I agree, the title is a bit misleading, but I really admire what the author has done. She may not be financially independent from her parents, but she is taking financial responsibility and preparing to be financially independent from her parents come graduation. She will leave college with a savings and sans credit card debt — which I find to be a huge accomplishment. She already has a solid living plan for when her parents’ cash-flow comes to an end and understands the importance of saving. She did this not only on her own, but with resistance from her parents, who are supposed to be her financial role models. Kudos. This girl is wise beyond her years.

  • beth98

    I had to stop reading. This is nothing new. My daughter has worked since the 11th grade, part-time, minimum wage job. We “give” her few things. She does well at managing her money. I am a little aghast at this writer’s drinking & eating out budget, but then again, my kid isn’t a bar fly.

    I will admit, we’ve taken out the Parent Plus loan. That’s about as much help as we’ve given. Other than picking up a few grocery items occasionally, we expect her to pay for her own entertainment, clothing, travel, gas, oil changes, cell phone, etc. Oh, and she has one of our old cars that currently has 240,000 miles on it. It runs pretty well, good enough to get around town and trips home.

    My daughter tells us that her friends think she has a lot of money because she works. She tells them what’s what. They are horrified that we don’t give her spending money because that’s what their parents do, even when they have a job! I just don’t get it–your kids need to grow up and learn this stuff! (End of rant)

    • Kelly

      Agreed, this may not be anything new but the author took the time to share her experience. It will be helpful to someone. Her efforts and those of your daughter are commendable.

  • Stephanie

    So… She’s still letting her parents deposit money into her checking? Is that part of the “savings” or will she give it back? I stopped taking money from my parents because they could not afford to give it to me. I’m better for it, but some of us don’t have a choice. No matter what the headline says on these money mic articles, all of the authors seem to make more than I do, and all seem to have some family or other cushion to fall back on. Please post some realistic stories for the rest of us who aren’t so lucky.

    • Nara

      Hi Stephanie,

      This is the author.

      I opened a second checking account that my parents cannot see and that is the account that sees flow in and out. Because my joint checking account remains stagnant my mother does not know what to do: giving me money is her way of feeling like she is taking care of me from afar (I live 3 hours away via plane), and since I don’t spend that money she has no reason to add more to it.

      I did not choose the title of the article. Also, I am very cognizant of my particular situation and wholly grateful. The two parts of my journey have been th following: 1. I fell into my spending habits as a teenager because I never received any education on personal finance or needed to develop thriftiness for the reasons detailed in the story. 2. I’ve started to cultivate a healthy relationship with my finances so I can avoid debt and control my life better. Several adults live pay check to pay check from lack of planning and I am making sure during this crucial life phase of habit formation that I do not keep/develop poor financial habits.

      My circumstances are what they are and of course they do not apply to everyone. However, just because they do not doesn’t mean my personal journey has any less value.

      Ultimately, we are all on a journey to find liberation from structural limitations and rigid glass ceilings on our abilities to achieve what we want out of our lives. Unfortunately, money turns into a structural limitation for many middle class Americans. I want to avoid debt, pay check to pay check lifestyle, overspending, lack of savings, being ill prepared for emergencies. For some these skills may be common knowledge but I was never taught these things so developing this sense on my own has been incredibly empowering for me as a young woman growing into the adult I want to be.

  • http://sjmarathon2012.tumblr.com/ WhitneyF

    This is how I got through school. My parents paid my tuition and rent and I worked in order to have spending money. While I didn’t have the stress of student loans, I DID understand the value of a dollar. My good friend’s parents footed all her bills throughout college, no questions asked. They paid for items like spring break, sorority dues, clothes, and bar tabs. I had all of those things too, but I paid for them myself.

    Today we are three years out of school. I secured a full-time job before graduation, purchased a car, and am currently saving for a house and retirement.

    My friend with the generous parents? Not so much. She had to move back home after graduation. She finally has a job, but has no savings or 401K. Her parents still pick up the slack from time to time. Now that she is older, they are beginning to resent it.

    So I think the author’s point is valid, even a *little* financial responsibility can go a long way to building good habits. Parents should realize that there is more to college than just studying. College is a time to prepare to be an adult and that means learning how to manage money properly.

  • Sar

    I see both sides of the argument – she definitely took a step in the right direction and at least seems to be appreciating what her parents are doing, but it is a very small step in the whole scheme of things. I took out loans for college alongside my parents, which paid for my tuition, room & board, etc. (I ended up graduating with loans for just shy of 2 of the 4 years.) I also had part-time jobs to pay for my spending (mainly food because we didn’t have a normal food plan with points, it was a money debit system, and after freshman year I had a kitchen in my dorm room). At the beginning of every semester though I had to give my parents everything that was in my bank account – I actually had to convince my father that I needed to keep $500 in my account at the beginning of each semester for incidentals like books! My parents expected that almost everything that I made went toward school. It sucked, and as a result, I didn’t have savings after graduating and had to move back in with my parents for a short period which was tough, but I definitely learned how to budget. When I initially moved out on my own I had $30 wiggle room every month (with no personal spending money) but I did it. On the other hand, I know that I was lucky that my parents helped me at all, either financially or by providing a roof over my head.

    I think it’s great that she’s graduating with a sense of pride, some budgeting habits, and $15,000 in savings, but it definitely isn’t the story for everyone.

    • Conor

      Agreed. While the title is mis-leading, the story is a good one, good realisation and education on her part to figure out how to manage her money better.

      The way I see it, it is only a matter of time before she stops her parents giving her money…and that time is shorter than if she didn’t learn about money management.

      Good story, well told…don’t blame the author for an error by the website editor.

  • Christel Ridao

    i like this article. the author shared the story of how she learned to live within her own means, which is something many college-aged students and recent grads should learn. i’ve seen friends with sizable college loans spend money they didn’t have on shopping and dining out (charging it to the CC), crying about the amount of debt they are in, yet not really taking any material steps to stop bad spending habits. bad habits can take years to break. this author has started developing good money habits at an important time in her life. i’m sure her story resonates with other readers out there. a lot of the country after all, is comprised of the middle class.

  • Cat

    I’m sorry to post this here as it is a little counter productive, yes? I have huge problems spending money. It’s really pretty bad (I’m in high school at the moment) and all my siblings (I have four) are big spenders. My parents make an average income for a middle class family but with my siblings, me and my older brother being teens, it’s not easy. My problem is that when I spend money, in larger amounts, my parents feel the need to reward me, with…. money. We’re middle class, this is probably hurting them. I have my own bank account, I swipe my own card, and I write down everything in my checking book, I even write checks if need be. My parents think that the incentive of money will help me spend, but in reality I’m afraid that if I spend to much and they feel obligated to ‘reward me’ I’ll put them in a hard spot! Please help me explain this to them.