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Are you an adult who is financially supported by your parents’ money? How do you deal with that?
December 10, 2010 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Are you an adult who is financially supported by your parents’ money? How do you deal with that?

My deal: I’m an adult who’s depended on my parents for a lot of financial support through my life. At times I’ve been financially self-sufficient, at times my parents have provided a lot of the money I live on. My partner and I are both work in fields where it can be really hard to make ends meet, even for people who are hard-working (we are). We live in a major city in the US where rent and costs of living are high.

My parents are pretty well off : Not crazy-over-the-top rich, but they have more or less enough money that they could retire reasonably comfortably, and still have enough left over that if my partner and I “inherited” that money, we could probably get by pretty reasonably okay, if we were careful, with little if any additional income of our own. They’re happy to supplement our income when our own work doesn’t make enough money to pay the bills. Their attitude is “We have all this money we’re not doing anything with. We’re really happy for you guys to use it to support yourselves as you do interesting things that are not always financially remunerative. You're going to inherit all this money anyhow, you may as well have some of it now."

I realize, of course, how incredibly lucky I am to be in this situation. At the same time - it's confusing at times to be an adult who is not financially self-reliant. I’m posting to try and get a few suggestions from other folks on MeFi, in this thread or in memail:

1) Does anyone have any recommendations on how to handle this situation? Advice from personal experience would be particularly helpful. I’d be really interested in hearing about other peoples’ experiences, either in this thread, or in memail.

2) Does anyone have advice on dealing with the shame that sometimes arises from this, in how to talk about it? I feel like there’s a taboo about this in our society. I often don’t feel comfortable talking openly about my financial situation, which at times makes me feel like I have a Big Dark Secret in my life.

3) Does anyone have advice on how to motivate yourself to work, when the need for money is not present in a day-to-day way? (This is usually not a challenge, but sometimes it is…) If you are in this situation: Do you still feel that making money is an important part of your working life (as opposed to, say, volunteering). If so, why?

4) Can anyone recommend any books or other resources? I did a search on Amazon, and it seems there are quite a few books on how to raise kids if you are very very rich, and on how to handle super-large inheritances, neither of which quite applies.
posted by meta_asker to Work & Money (63 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
(Oh and: The subject line is directed at people who are in similar situations. Of course I'm also interested in thoughts an opinions from other folks. I guess I'm just particularly interested in hearing from people with first-hand experience...)
posted by meta_asker at 10:13 AM on December 10, 2010


A practical recommendation - If you don't do this already, manage your finances carefully anyway. When I was a (young) adult, my parents were happy to support me in sporadic supplementary fashion, and as a result I never really understood how to get a clear picture of what was coming in and what was going out. I think that if I had had some basic money handling skills then, I would have needed a lot less money from them.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:14 AM on December 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Does anyone have advice on dealing with the shame that sometimes arises from this, in how to talk about it?

A lot of people will tell you you're not a Real Adult until you're financially independent. A lot of these people are complete assholes who have weird ideas of what it means to be an adult, or are simply envious. I equate them with the same assholes who think that women who choose to run the home instead of getting an outside job are inherently unfulfilled. Unlike what our society wishes you to believe, money is not a yardstick of self worth. It is a means to an end. That is all.
posted by griphus at 10:15 AM on December 10, 2010 [28 favorites]


One thing that might help you organize your thinking, and figure out how you want to spend your time and energy in this life, is that each and every person has an impact. Between this moment and the moment you die, the world will be different as a direct result of what you, yourself, do as an individual. Because of the relative lack of monetary constraints you have more freedom than most people to choose what you want that impact to be. Pick something that matters to you a lot, and do your damndest to make it happen.

Also, for reality check's sake: they have more or less enough money that they could retire reasonably comfortably, and still have enough left over that if my partner and I “inherited” that money, we could probably get by pretty reasonably okay, if we were careful, with little if any additional income of our own does actually qualify as "crazy-over-the-top rich".
posted by Sublimity at 10:22 AM on December 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


1. My recommendation is if family members want to help and you feel like they're not going to hold it against you, let them help. It makes them feel good and helps you. Accept their generosity, thank them profusely, and let them know from time to time how much their love and support means to you.

2. I know how you feel about the shame aspect of it. There are a lot of negative, jealous people who are quick to sneer "Daddy's money." It's their problem, not yours. Try not to let their negative natures interfere with your private life. If the topic of "How did you afford this" comes up, mention your parents' generosity and you and your partner's decision-making process, emphasis on the decision-making and what you're going without. Most people don't ask because it's considered a bit rude, but close friends may ask, and they shouldn't judge you.

3 and 4 I can't help you with so much. But I do want to share an anecdote from my life. When I was eight, my parents weren't quite as well off as they are now, and I needed braces. My mother's parents paid for them, and back then I got the impression that my mother was ashamed that she had to ask them for help, and that my grandparents were confused that she was ashamed. Recently, my wife and I both got a big gift from all our parents to help with our house. Remembering my braces experience, I reasoned with my vestigal WASPy shame and made sure never to display any signs of shame to any of my or her parents. My wife and I are careful stewards of our money and new house, and are proud to host our parents any time they care to visit. I have not once sensed any confusion, anger or shame from any of the parties involved, and, hey, life is good!
posted by infinitewindow at 10:25 AM on December 10, 2010


I'm guessing you've always had your parents' financial support. i think maybe you're having trouble dealing with your situation because you've never been on the other side?

My advice - try for at least a year to scale back expenses and see how life is different when you're not taking money from your parents. Then you can see more clearly what the tradeoffs are in taking the money.

I don't mean to say that taking money is bad, but that you won't really know what it's like until you experience both sides of the coin.

Move an hour or more from the city, find a lower rent place, deal with the commute, deal with the stress. See what it's like.

Then you will understand where you are now much better.
posted by zippy at 10:25 AM on December 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I often don’t feel comfortable talking openly about my financial situation, which at times makes me feel like I have a Big Dark Secret in my life.

Why would you talk openly about your financial situation? It's not anyone's concern where your money comes from or how or why you have it.
posted by crankylex at 10:26 AM on December 10, 2010 [11 favorites]


I would keep the macro, longitudinal perspective in mind. You don't say where your parents made their money, but chances are it was in some industry that boomed in the last dew decades that is not experiencing the same kind of growth now. There are fewer opportunities for you to out-earn your parents if they had a college or higher education. The expectation that most people will end up better off than their parents is not a realistic one anymore, unless your parents were immigrants from a place with a low standard of living.

Express your gratitude frequently to them and do the best you can managing the money.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:27 AM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's really nobody's business but your own, and your parents. If you're that ashamed about it, try to reorganize your resources/downsize so you don't need to borrow any money.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:30 AM on December 10, 2010


One thing to remember is that intergenerational transfers of wealth (meaning, in this context, being supported by one's parents or grandparents, as compared to supporting them) is very much the norm in middle- and upper-class America. Sometimes it's a regular or sporadic allowance, like what you seem to get. It's also help with tuition or student loan payments, help with a downpayment on a house, invitations to tag along on an expensive foreign trip, a chance to stay for free at the summer cabin, etc.

What's important here is that these transfers are rarely discussed, and the people receiving them usually think of themselves as totally independent. I mean, I have a friend who just bought a new house. He is in his 50's, and his parents provided a large "loan" (interest free, and probably won't be repaid) to help with the purchase and remodeling. He'd be incredibly insulted if you called him a freeloader or anything other than an independent, self-made person, but the reality is that without that kind of continued help from his parents, he might never have gone to school, bought his first house, be living debt-free, or have just bought this new house.

It's an incredibly advantage to have access to this kind of support, as you have noticed. You are able to pursue your dreams, rather than grinding away at debt repayment. But as others have mentioned, it's contrary to the myth of being an Independent Adult, and it isn't openly discussed.
posted by Forktine at 10:30 AM on December 10, 2010 [19 favorites]


Yeah, take everybody's comments on your finances with a grain of salt. People are going to be jealous and will tell you they would do all these wonderful things if they were in your situation, or they will tell you how they would work 80 hour weeks rather than be you. They would not.

If I were you, I would start by not telling anyone about it. It's none of their business.

Second, realize that you are lucky enough to be in the situation many people strive for. You can do anything (art, music, philosophy, volunteering, etc) without being concerned about making ends meet. Take advantage of that.

If it would make you feel better, consider studying more. You could specialize in a particular branch of your line of work, become an expert. Publish about it, become an activist, start awareness campaigns, etc.

and really, don't feel li you have a big dark secret. Nobody's straight up about their finances. Some pople like to pretend they are better off than they actually are, some like to appear as if they have way less than they do. Unless we're talking about life-long friends, steady romantic partner, or a sibbling, there's no reason to feel compelled to "come clean".
posted by Tarumba at 10:35 AM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


My wife and my daughter and I all live with my parents. My situation is a little different. I live with a life threatening illness and living with my parents makes it possible to save money for future medical expenses.(FWIW I'm waiting for a major organ transplant).
Even though, to most people, this sounds like a reasonable explanation for living with the parents it still stings when I tell people our situation.
My wife and I cope with it this way...
1. We live simply. Most of our money goes to medical bills and savings. We have enough income to live semi-large. We could have a new car and a new big screen etc. But we don't. We don't spend a lot of money on luxuries. We make it clear to my parents that we are putting money away and saving for the future. We are not leeching off them because we want a 3D plasma TV.

2. I still haven't figured out a way to say to people "I live with my parents." without embarrassment. I think that's nature's way of getting bums to leave their parents house. My wife jokes about it. "We live in Hotel In-law." She says.

I would also say if your job is your dream job... then don't sweat it too much. Think of living with the parents as one of the costs of working at a job you love. If you see yourself becoming successful in the future and getting out on your own, then just go with it. Take the opportunity to build a strong relationship with your parents.

Hope this helps. Good luck.
posted by hot_monster at 10:36 AM on December 10, 2010


I spent a year being really, barely-making-rent, Ramen-and-leftover-pizza broke. Didn't ask my folks for money, although I could have. It was a useful experience for me, and taught me some things about what my real necessities are, how to budget, how to buy food efficiently, what kind of low-paying work I like, etc.

That being said, it also taught me that being poor kind of sucks. So now I severely overtip my pizza delivery folks and don't push back too hard when my mother insists on funding a trip home or sending a bunch of cash for Hanukkah. It goes both ways, and will throughout my life, I expect. So I don't worry about it much.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:38 AM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does anyone have advice on dealing with the shame

I suggest dealing with the shame by firmly rejecting it.
posted by kindall at 10:39 AM on December 10, 2010


Phew!! Thanks! So many great helpful responses here! Let me start with one quick reply to one point, from Sublimity. Maybe more in a bit.

> does actually qualify as "crazy-over-the-top rich".


Sublimity, Point very well taken. :) I wish I'd chosen those words more carefully....
posted by meta_asker at 10:43 AM on December 10, 2010


I'm not in this position, but rather likely more in the opposite. My family will receive no financial wind in our sails from our families but we will likely need to supplement their incomes down the road. Be glad that they aren't living with the assumption that you will bail them out. That said...

As long as the parents aren't attaching conditions to the gift you should consider this A Good Thing (tm) and graciously accept it. If you feel awkward about it, make a commitment to help others in need when your resources permit it. We are all benefactors of someone's generosity at some point so just make sure you find a way to be giving in some manner that suits your talents -- money may be the method for your parents, but time or talent may be your gift to someone in need.
posted by dgran at 10:44 AM on December 10, 2010


Are any strings attached to this money? Are you and your partner productive people whether or not the productiveness makes a ton of money?

As long as you can say no to the first question and yes to the second, go forth and do your thing and don't worry about it. As long as you are not taking your parents' generosity for granted and as long as they are not trying to control you with it, it's not anyone else's beeswax.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:45 AM on December 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


I am not in this situation. However, my parents were, to some degree, and I've dealt with a large windfall from another source that made it possible to think less about the minutiae of what I'm spending.

1) You shouldn't have to hide this fact, like having nicer things or being able to take vacations, but a little self-knowledge goes a long way. I remember sitting silently as a friend of mine complained about how awful it was that her choice of medical specialty meant that she would ONLY get $150k a year, and she'd have to pay off her med school loans in two years, instead of one. Wowie wow wow.

This is not a matter of shame. This is a matter of being aware of your situation in life and that of the people around you. Find good friends with whom you can discuss some things honestly, even if they're not in your situation or don't have the same relationship with money that you do. Just being honest goes a long way.

2) That old chestnut: therapy! You need a safe place to discuss your feelings honestly, and therapy can be both a good place to start and a place where you can work on some strategies for finding balance in your mind and in your life. It can be tough integrating some of the things you feel in your life with each other, whether it's because you feel like the people supplying the money are ultimately in control or because you feel like nobody would understand (with or without judging you). Again, find people who will listen -- friends, therapists or both.

Not being in your situation, I don't have ideas for 3 or 4, but here are some other thoughts:

--Money is not the only way that people can provide support to each other. You are in a position where, if money is not a motivating factor, time may be. I think people will appreciate genuine offers of your time and expertise quite a bit.

--To that end, cultivate a sense of being grateful for various things -- in whatever way is meaningful to you. Unless you directly connect with something, it's hard to just say, "Oh, I'm glad I'm not homeless" or whatever. But being grateful because, say, you've been through cancer and came out better on the other side is a different story. You can be grateful for the good people you work with, or for the ability to take a trip and spend time with family and friends. Being thankful has been clinically shown to reduce depression and improve your sense of being resilient/recovering from traumatic experiences.

I haven't read any of his books, but it looks like Robert Emmons is one of the go-to guys for this sort of thing.

Resilience is a big thing, and it's hard to develop resilience if you haven't had to struggle. Consequently, it's easier to feel unhappy with smaller things (including shame about your money!) if you're not used to hardship, or if you have fewer hardships on which to focus. Challenge yourself to develop this in a non-monetary sense and share it with your potential kids.

--Personally, I think it'd be a lot easier to deal with things on a business level, not as personal, and know I had control. Can you take the money out of a sort of vague parental pot and make it more tangible or quantifiable? (Like the lottery offers winners a smaller lump sum instead of yearly payments; then you're the one in control, not them.)

My grandma used the "future inheritance" money for college funds and paid my parents' mortgage, among other things. (They paid her back, at least in part.) However, we had a bunch of investments taken care of by a money manager. He lived near her (far from us), but we knew that if we had questions, we would call George. I think that was a lot easier than calling up the Bank of Grandma -- she was awfully passive aggressive :P This would likely take a lot of the shame out of the situation, since money questions are hard enough without worrying if you'll have to deal with something like "Why didn't you call your aunt last week?"

No matter if you have control over money or your parents do, speaking with a good financial advisor is just as crucial as speaking with a therapist. You'll have a longterm relationship with this person, so find a solid, reputable firm with a lot of recommendations and the knowledge that someone will be able to help you if your main person is unavailable. (Because you should go for the old guys not named Bernie)

--If you think you might have kids someday, think about how they'll live. I don't know if your amount of money will carry over to the next generation, but I can tell you that I have a slightly weird relationship with money because of the way I grew up (and not having the monetary options that they had). I have no idea how I could buy a house, since they didn't buy theirs on your standard two-small-income plan. I modeled my relationship with money on theirs, which is absolutely not the same situation I find myself in. And when you don't think about having the ability to buy something, but then you suddenly can't... that's weird.

Whew! I hope some of this helps!
posted by Madamina at 10:47 AM on December 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Just an "outsider's" advice on dealing with the shame -

A friend's boyfriend was very tight-lipped about his source of income for the time that we knew him and it was awkward because he was trying to imply that he might be some kind of shady, hard-ass. It turned out that he was just a 30 year old trust-fund kid that did nothing but play a lot of hockey.

While it's totally fine that you don't discuss your finances with strangers, I'd be happy to be told, after I've gotten to know you a bit, "I have some investment income that allows me to pursue X".
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:53 AM on December 10, 2010


Are you and your partner productive people whether or not the productiveness makes a ton of money?

We are.

At times,though, it feels like having access to money makes this challenging. For a lot of people, what makes them get out of bed in the morning, what makes them stick through the hard part of job, of a project, of whatever, is the fact that they need to show up at work to make the rent. Without the pressing near term need to make money, I think it can sometimes become to a little too easy/tempting to quit things when the going gets a little rough, to endure the boring parts, etc.

One thing I'm curious about in this thread is whether there are other folks out there who share this sense, and, if so, if they had any strategies for dealing with it.

(Of course, in a million ways, having money also makes is easier to be more productive, in ways that likely outweigh the challenges. But the challenges are what I want to ask about here...)
posted by meta_asker at 10:55 AM on December 10, 2010


It's possible, that by accepting your parents' money, and continuing to pursue non-economic endeavors of your own, that you're being marginalized in the larger society, which depends on real streams of economic activity for much of its vitality. Your sensibilities may "naturally" gravitate to the production and distribution of exquisite candle snuffers, but if you live in an age of LED light sources, you could be giving up seriously interesting and far more remunerative endeavors by continuing with your non-economic candle snuffer ventures, as opposed to being forced to find a productive economic niche in the LED economy. That's the kind of tragic unintended consequence many wealthy people try to avoid visiting on their heirs by donating the bulk of their estates to charity, and I think that there is good reason for that kind of thinking, in most of human nature.

In my experience, wealthy people rarely beget saints as offspring, and those that bequeath their children only a decent education, followed by the same kind of life of striving and personal accomplishment, combined with some luck and some shrewd personal judgement, that it took for them to "make" it, is a better bequest scenario, by far, than passing the offspring chunks of cash, as people like Mark Cuban, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet all seem to agree. The one instance where lifelong parental support seems ethical to me, is the case of disabled offspring, who will never, due to physical or mental defects, be capable of independent living.

At the least, perhaps you'd feel better if you could bring yourself to view any money you receive in future parental support as "risk capital," to be applied not in the continuation of your admittedly non-economic current pursuits, but towards the founding of new ventures likely to provide market rates of return. Thus, you'd at least demonstrate your interest in becoming a capable steward of money, and building capital for future endeavors, or to pass on to your heirs in the form of viable businesses, if you choose at later date, thus extending to future generations the ease afforded you. It's never a good feeling to be the last trust fund baby in a long line.
posted by paulsc at 10:58 AM on December 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I guess it's because I was raised in a non-American culture, but I do not understand the "shame" that supposedly comes from being financially supported by family or by another person. As others have said, as long as you're appreciative for what's being given to you and aren't frivolously spending the money, there's no need to hang your head down. If people ask where your money comes from, give a snarky response - it's really no one's business.

If it would make you feel better, take on a job in whatever field you'd like, and use some of that paycheck to repay your parents. At least you'd be working because you want to, not because of financial necessity. I find that people who are in these situations are much more productive and happy workers.

There are people who would gladly trade places with you right now. Please be grateful for what your parents are doing for you, and don't take it for granted.
posted by Anima Mundi at 11:03 AM on December 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


It's often good to try on the other shoe: if you had kids, and a bunch of money, wouldn't you be happy to help support them?
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:08 AM on December 10, 2010


Without the pressing near term need to make money, I think it can sometimes become to a little too easy/tempting to quit things when the going gets a little rough, to endure the boring parts, etc.

Don't you have professional goals, hopes, ambitions? That's what keeps me getting out of bed, totally apart from the need to support myself with my income. I'd obviously have to do something for work, and I'm really fortunate I can do something that interests me, challenges me, allows me to learn and to contribute to the culture. There's a degree of fascination with my career that keeps pulling me along, dealing with the boring parts, etc.

If you don't feel that way about your work, I wonder if it's the money, or just your connection to your work or choice of field.

If I didn't have to earn the steady paycheck, I think I'd transition into more project-based consulting work, and/or writing and speaking work and/or teaching and academic work, but all still within my field - it would just let me get more interested in the most interesting parts of my job, and drop away a little from the managerial minutiae and all that other less-exciting stuff. It could offer a more flexible schedule which was still really interesting but allowed me to change pace now and then, or set off in a new direction. So I can see my career as it is, and my career as it would be if I were able to be less concerned about getting by. It sounds like you are somewhat satisfied with your career, but maybe don't have exciting ideas about how it can change shape as you have more freedom. I'd look at that.
posted by Miko at 11:11 AM on December 10, 2010


If you think you might have kids someday, think about how they'll live.

I was going to mention this. Another way to think about it: are you just consuming resources (monetary and otherwise), or are you producing? Are you adding beauty, works of art, building institutions, or whatever field you are in? Or are you a dilettante, playing at those things, but without meaningful contributions?

These are interconnected questions. If you just consume all of your parents' money and leave your kids in the lurch, that is honestly kind of cheesy. And if you are taking their support and not adding anything of worth to the world, that's also kind of cheesy.

In other words, think long-term, and make sure that the balance sheet (overall, not money only) is totaling out in a way you are proud of.
posted by Forktine at 11:15 AM on December 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think the danger here is that because you're getting the money in drips and drabs, you're not really getting the full benefit of it. You're just kind of thoughtlessly wasting it (in that you don't have goals for it, not passing judgment on your spending per se) instead of making real choices about what do do with your financial life and how to manage your money. It seems like since it's a periodic gift from your parents you don't consider it part of your budget, which leads to all sorts of vagueness in your entire financial/work picture. No wonder this makes you feel juvenile -- it's like you're still living on an allowance.

On the other hand, if you had a lump sum, then you'd be able to set certain goals like: deciding to buy a house so that you could cut rent expenses and work only periodically; put it into a retirement account and then figure out exactly how much you have to earn to support your lifestyle; deciding what luxuries are important to you (travel? clothes?) and then allocating your resources accordingly, and seeing if you need to work more to support that or can subsidize it with your inheritance instead; seeing if you prefer to invest it in grad school to increase earning potential rather than spending your inheritance as a supplement to your low income. It goes on and on.

So, I'd sit down and have a talk with your parents and tell them that you appreciate their help, but it's hobbling your personal/financial/professional development the way their doing it. Ask them to establish a trust fund for you -- or to give you a big one-time gift, like a down payment or grad school tuition, if you decide that's the way you want to go. Sit down with a financial planner and work it out with them.

This may have the added benefit of having your parents consider what they can actually afford to give you. I know you think they can afford these gifts to you, but it's possible that their financial situation is not as great as you think it is. They may need more than they think for retirement and may need to spend a lot for care at the end of their lives, and it would be terrible if you were spending that now.
posted by yarly at 11:17 AM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


2) Does anyone have advice on dealing with the shame that sometimes arises from this, in how to talk about it? I feel like there’s a taboo about this in our society. I often don’t feel comfortable talking openly about my financial situation, which at times makes me feel like I have a Big Dark Secret in my life.

Don't talk about it. As has been pointed out, how you support yourself is no one else's business as long as you aren't a meth dealer or pimp or Bernie Madoff.

There is indeed a taboo about this, in American society at least, since we are the home of the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps, only a self-made man is a true man" mores. But you can eliminate that judgment from others by just not discussing your finances with other people. That's not a Big Dark Secret; it's regular discretion.

Do you personally carry a lot of internal shame about this? There are two ways to deal with that. One is to stop taking the money, and only live within the means that you and your partner can provide for yourselves. This proves to you that you can be independent, and it also gives you the pride of knowing that every brick over your head, every crumb in your mouth, every stitch on your back, was a result of your own labor.

The alternative is to simply get over it. Feel blessed and grateful, and acknowledge that you are in a position that millions of people would happily trade for. Come to terms with the fact that you are living a different life, but not a lesser one, than someone who paid for every brick, every crumb, every stitch.

And, get comfortable with the idea that your parents are doing what they want with their money. You are not the otherwise-healthy, freeloading bum living in their basement who refuses to get a job, for whom they are skipping their prescriptions and meals. Your parents are circumventing some estate tax, investing in your continued professional development, and enjoying how it feels to make your life cushier. It's perfectly okay to let them do that.

3) Does anyone have advice on how to motivate yourself to work, when the need for money is not present in a day-to-day way? (This is usually not a challenge, but sometimes it is…)

Absolutely: your motivation should be imagining that gravy train coming to a full stop. It's great that, right now, your parents have enough money to support themselves and also support you so that you and your partner don't have to stress over bills and income. But what happens if catastrophe strikes? I don't mean to be a doomsayer, but there are a lot of things that could happen to end your parents' largesse. A natural disaster. A big lawsuit. A terrible and expensive illness. A stock market crash that tanks all their investments. A crooked financial advisor. A scam artist.

Many people have gone from "rich" to "scraping by" in a matter of days or hours. The world is a capricious place. You and your partner ought to strive toward building your own emergency fund that could support you for a full year. If you reach that point of savings, then maybe you start rolling part of it into investments for yourselves, so that one day you have built the same level of personal wealth as your parents, and can gift it or bequeath it as you see fit.

I would also add that receiving gifts from your parents is no excuse for not being fully on top of your own finances. (Which you might well be, I'm just throwing this out based on the folks I know who are living off annuities, family money, etc., so I don't mean to presume.)

You and your partner should know, to the penny, how much you make every month on your own, and how much you can reasonably count on each month from your family, and how those fit into your budget. Accepting money from your parents doesn't render you dependent; but shrugging blithely and going, "Oh well, who needs to worry about the bills, someone will just take care of that for me" is definitely not independent.

If you are in this situation: Do you still feel that making money is an important part of your working life (as opposed to, say, volunteering).

I'm not in your exact situation but let's say it's not beyond my scope of imagination. When I reach the point that I have enough money to live on comfortably live on, and to provide for my descendants the way I want, I will immediately go to full-time volunteering. I agree strongly with the sentiment popularized by Muhammad Ali that "service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth," and I see the ability to retire from employment as a means to that end. I personally don't care about receiving money for work. I will care about continuing to build wealth via investments, estate planning and financial planning, but I won't feel obligated to go somewhere every morning and earn a paycheck, which is how I'm interpreting your question.
posted by pineapple at 11:20 AM on December 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


You might also like to think about what you could do with your wealth if you increased it rather than just ran through it. If you supported yourselves mostly on or near your incomes, what's left of your parents' money could be used to start a foundation or build more investment income to do something charitable like that eventually. Sort of what yarly and Forktine are saying.

Have you talked to a financial advisor? You might not be thinking through the full possibilities this additional income could represent. You might also want to check your assumptions about your parents' use of the money. You really want to consider what form it's in, and whether the cushion is enough to sustain something like long serious illnesses, full-service retirement community/assisted living for 20, 30 years, etc. I've seen a few families where what looks like a lot of money ends up being maybe a new car, or maybe nothing, after the end-of-life-care expenses are taken care of and liabilities are settled. Maybe that is all being anticipated, but do you know for sure? What's the plan?
posted by Miko at 11:21 AM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


The desire to Not be as dependent has often been my motivator toward more productivity and work -- in that sense, I think the shame helped me. But I also agree with Forktine that a lot of people get parental support, but don't tend to think of it that way. I don't borrow money from my parents anymore, but they helped with my condo downpayment, they provide gifts (like appliances), etc. And I know a lot of people in similar situations: independent adults whose lives are at least a little easier thanks to parental "gifts".

Continue to communicate with your partner and parents to be sure that everyone is on the same page and there aren't strings or resentments. If not, use your gratitude to continue to motivate yourself toward greatness.
posted by ldthomps at 11:35 AM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


(Phew! Reading through all this. So so so much useful thinking here. Thanks!! Madamina's post alone has at least a full thread's worth of useful stuff to think about! Maybe more replies soon...)
posted by meta_asker at 11:37 AM on December 10, 2010


For some reason I am assuming your work is in some form of the arts (music, dance, acting, fine arts, etc.) If so, you can always look at the family financial contributions as patronage-which allows you to create without having to necessarily be "commercial" about it.) If you are in some sort of business endeavor, perhaps you would be better served by setting longrange planning goals to eventually be selfsupporting. Heck, I'd do that even if you are doing the arts thing-but remember, through the ages much very worthwhile art, etc. was produced precisely because of patronage.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:44 AM on December 10, 2010


2) Does anyone have advice on dealing with the shame that sometimes arises from this, in how to talk about it? I feel like there’s a taboo about this in our society. I often don’t feel comfortable talking openly about my financial situation, which at times makes me feel like I have a Big Dark Secret in my life.

I'm going to cut against the grain here -- both against the grain of your question and against the grain of the answers you've been receiving -- but please understand that this response is a good faith recommendation rather than a criticism of you.

Our culture prescribes feeling shame in these circumstances for a very correct reason: in order to motivate people to become as self-sufficient as they are able to become. When A pays B's way, B is not only inclined to consume more of society's wealth than would be maximally efficient, but B is also disinclined to produce as much wealth as he otherwise would have produced. The result of both of these forces is that real prices rise -- making it harder, for instance, for the poor to buy food.

The best way to cope with the shame you feel is to adjust your lifestyle toward supporting as much as possible of your own consumption: you may find that you are able to wean yourself more easily than you imagine, and in doing so you will replace that shame with well-earned pride.
posted by foursentences at 11:47 AM on December 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


3) Does anyone have advice on how to motivate yourself to work, when the need for money is not present in a day-to-day way? (This is usually not a challenge, but sometimes it is…)

I grew up in a family with enough money that we all assumed we didn't have to work for financial reasons. That has turned out not to be true, especially the last few years. (As people above have suggested, such a reversal could happen for anyone, any day.) I went into education and nonprofit and have always been motivated to work by thinking that it was work someone needed to do. In saying that, I realize how lucky I've been every step of the way. I chose my college major knowing I wasn't going into debt for it and was able to get an advanced degree because no one would miss my earning potential while I was doing so. But thanks to all that, I've mostly done stuff I would have kept doing had I won the lottery.

There's also: wanting to keep busy; the fact that much of my social life has been work-centered; and, shamefully enough, having something to say for myself when people at cocktail parties ask what I do. In the richer branches of my family, there are people who truly never had to work, and a lot of them have not handled it very well in that sense. Work gives you a kind of safe-conduct in society, a sense to other people that you are "normal." I don't even really approve of that in the abstract but I confess that for me it is a motivator.
posted by BibiRose at 11:48 AM on December 10, 2010


FWIW, your concerns are very normal for someone in your position.

One of the peculiar side effects of my current profession is that I have ended up with huge sympathy for the hardships of inheritors, despite living nearly hand-to-mouth myself. Many are both entitled and insecure. Many I've met have a hard time correctly valuing their own contributions to their job, art and other outside projects because if people know they have money, they get a lot of both prejudice against them and sycophants. They're used to getting what they want, but through the merits of their money and position, not through their own efforts. Is this person a friend because they really like you? Or because you might have something they want?

The ones that do the best are the ones whose parents have made sure they understand that they are privileged and that with that comes a responsibility to use that privilege for the greater good. They still have jobs, but their jobs aren't rewarded in the mainstream financial way. Their job is to be stewards of money and privilege, which means making sure this power is applied properly. It's a tricky thing to teach, because it isn't the mainstream, and I am very impressed with the people I know who've managed it.

I don't know the best way for you to get there, but one way that springs to mind is to carefully budget money in and money out and see if you're applying the "extra" in a way that is bringing about things that you value. If you're frittering it on electronic gadgets, or whatever, you may not be doing your job as steward. If you're using it to supplement your social worker income, that's different. This isn't to say you should be living like a monk to atone for the sin of privilege; just be proactive and aware of what your money's doing.

As a datapoint, the ones I know you wouldn't guess had money if you met them on the street. They don't flaunt it in any way. They all have jobs that they love, and if their clothing or travel budget doesn't quite match their pay rate, people don't seem to question it, as far as I can tell.

As for how to talk about it... just don't, unless you're with people in your same position. No good will come of it. Most people will be envious, or at least judgemental. Not everyone needs to know everything. This isn't the same as a secret- it's just not their business. Find some people who are in your same position. I think it will be a lot easier to stay motivated if you're working toward a goal you've shared and talked about with other people.

Philanthropic groups can be a good place to network. For some reason I'm only coming up with women's groups, (Resourceful Women, and Women's Funding Network), but I'm sure there are others. It can really get isolating to not be able to talk about your (very legitimate) issues without the other person rolling their eyes and muttering "cry me a river!"

If you're isolated and feeling guilty and defensive about the crime of being well off, you aren't going to be as efficient at using your privilege for good. You have power a lot people don't have, even if it's just working at a job that most people can't afford to live on. Own it! Use it! Be proud of the good you do with it!
posted by small_ruminant at 12:01 PM on December 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm in this situation, and I don't feel shame. And although I don't go around telling people my personal business, it does come up. So I've thought a lot about why this doesn't bother me even though it seems to be a problem for others:

Why do people bother to make a lot of money? To provide a good/better life for their family and children. My dad busted his ass his whole life to make his money. He gets the benefit of that, and so do I and my brothers, and so do other family members who need help. It just doesn't make any sense to him or to me that he should have more money than he needs while I grind away at a job that I hate just to make enough money to scrape by. The quality of life I can have while living at home and receiving financial assistance is much higher than I'd have otherwise. I can take jobs and have experiences and work on projects that are worthwhile (by my standards) that people who are less fortunate wouldn't get to do because they have to earn their own living. I don't measure my self worth by my job title or how much my paycheck is. I know exactly what I contribute to everything I think I should be contributing to, and it's not measured in dollars or by other people's standards.

It's kind of pointless to look around at other people's lives and say that their lives are harder or easier, or that this person is a spoiled, privileged layabout and that person's not. You have to judge your own life. Don't listen to society or your friends about what it means to be an adult or a real hard-working American -- they're probably the same people who were threatened to clean their plates because people in China were starving.
posted by thebazilist at 12:11 PM on December 10, 2010


I think another problem with this kind of support is that it might be enabling you to stay in a job that's not really making you happy.

The one really wealthy person I know was enabled by their parents to spend years and years in a pretty futile pursuit of a creative career, but the talent just wasn't actually there. I always thought that they would be more happy had they been forced by economic circumstances to realize that they didn't have what it took to succeed in the creative field, then gone and found a job-job that made them money and gave them a sense of accomplishment, and just enjoyed the creative stuff as a serious hobby. Instead, they spent years doing mediocre work, half-heartedly.

So I don't think you should necessarily accept that doing "interesting things that are not always financially remunerative" is the right thing for you! There's no shame in making money or pursuing "real" jobs; just because you can afford to do the "interesting" things doesn't mean you're beholden to some notion of being an artist/do-gooder/bohemian or whatever.
posted by yarly at 12:12 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


When my husband and I were first married, we were in this situation, and it was pleasant at first, but after about 5 years, we decided to cut the cord. It was very difficult. His family (who are pretty much what most people call rich) thought we'd lost our minds, and wrung their hands. It was the best choice we ever made. They still give very generous presents, and paid for our kids schools for a while, but we've been on our own for the majority of our marriage.
Being able to budget and handle money and credit is incredibly empowering. I'm glad that we learned to do this. They set up trusts for us and our kids with the money they had been sending to us.

Having a big trust fund or inheritance is one thing, but just getting checks from the parents puts one in a dependent position. At least with a trust or big bank account, you're pretty much in control of it, for good or for ill. Investing, saving and donating the money is complicated and worth learning about, I think. If you and your parents want to continue the way you are, fine, but I think a formal trust arrangement is more adult, and may have tax advantages for them (don't know about that part.)

I love what I do for work, as does my husband. I'd probably do it even if I didn't get paid, but I like getting paid.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:17 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ideefixe - Are you saying that you still get money from your husbands family, but in the form of trusts rather than checks? Or that you don't get money from them anymore?
posted by meta_asker at 12:26 PM on December 10, 2010


There's no shame in making money or pursuing "real" jobs;

True. I remember the relief one young woman felt when she "came out of the closet" to her artist parents as a math person. Turns out she loves accounting! Unfortunately her parents only value art.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:28 PM on December 10, 2010


Our culture prescribes feeling shame in these circumstances for a very correct reason: in order to motivate people to become as self-sufficient as they are able to become. because American culture values independence over every other facet of life, including happiness.

People from most other cultures I'm familiar with would laugh to think that this was even worth considering. In many culture, entire extended families support each other in times of need, and it makes them all stronger, not weaker.
posted by zug at 12:30 PM on December 10, 2010 [12 favorites]


From someone who also works in a low-paying profession: please be careful with how you talk about money around your coworkers/colleagues who are trying to get by on the same salary as you but without additional help.

Do you suggest going for drinks or out to eat in places that are too expensive for them (or, maybe not too expensive to do occasionally, but it adds up)? If they turn down invitations, do you consider that it might be for financial reasons rather than social reasons? Do you ever say things that refer in some way to how their neighborhoods are less nice than yours, that you couldn't consider living there, etc.?

I admit I have moments when I get frustrated thinking about how my colleagues get money from their parents, but it's mostly because of issues like that, not because I think it's inherently shameful - so I think those kinds of social problems are avoidable.
posted by synchronia at 12:33 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


People from most other cultures I'm familiar with would laugh to think that this was even worth considering. In many culture, entire extended families support each other in times of need, and it makes them all stronger, not weaker.

We are not discussing momentary assistance in "times of need". We are discussing an ongoing umbilical relationship during times of want.

Your tenor implies that this is a lefty/righty issue, but it is not. If anything, those who believe in interdependence should be precisely the same people who raise an eyebrow when a wealthy parent protects a non-impoverished child from needing to pay his own way, all to the detriment of those who are not so lucky as to have such a resource.
posted by foursentences at 12:37 PM on December 10, 2010


Our culture prescribes feeling shame in these circumstances for a very correct reason: in order to motivate people to become as self-sufficient as they are able to become. ....
The best way to cope with the shame you feel is to adjust your lifestyle toward supporting as much as possible of your own consumption: you may find that you are able to wean yourself more easily than you imagine, and in doing so you will replace that shame with well-earned pride.


Yeah, no. That's some weird Calvinist thing going on there. Take what you like and leave the rest.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:39 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am from the other side of this aisle. My family grew up hand-to-mouth. I managed to escape that chaos and become independent and successful. I am in my mid twenties now and I send substantial money back home. I have some pretty strong convictions about that end of the spectrum, but that rant is a little irrelevant here.

On your end I have a couple stances as well:
-In general, don't discuss it. It is not really anyone else's business.
-If it does come up and you are comfortable with the timing and audience... "I am actually just really lucky, my parents help us out a lot. Without them this would not be possible."
-NEVER, EVER look down on anyone for not being able to do the things that you do (going out to a show, eating at a nice restaurant, going on trips, having a nice car/place-to-live). You do not have permission to do that. People shouldn't do that in general, but you should double not do that.
-Be a good person and take pride in it. This goes for everybody, but I think you should take it to heart. Your parents have taken it upon themselves to pay it forward and help you out. If you can't find a way to leverage that in to more success, just be a good, nice person. Make sure that you are adding value to the world by making it a better place. Do favors for people, make others happy, spread smiles.
posted by milqman at 1:01 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is it likely that when your parents get older and presumably more ill that they're medical bills will be taken care of? Like, for instance, if they need in home helpers and expensive treatments, or a very good nursing home, would that stuff need to be paid for by their savings or are their health plans able to cover it? Or would it take a large chunk of what would be presumed to be your inheritance?
posted by anniecat at 2:06 PM on December 10, 2010


I'm bristling a bit at all the 'people can be envious and negative' comments so far. There's a really good reason for this kind of jealousy, and you shouldn't dismiss the potential strength of feeling your relative wealth can invoke in people who not similarly priviledged.

However, having a grip on your finances really helps with your self-respect however much you've got to play with, and a knowledge that you can exercise self-control will help mitigate some of the shame you're currently feeling.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:51 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is becoming a billion times more common in the last couple of years, I'm sure we all know why. A lot of young folks aren't able to support themselves these days. At least you work and try your hardest instead of vegging out and doing nothing, which is kind of where the real shame kicks in.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:58 PM on December 10, 2010


I'm bristling a bit at all the 'people can be envious and negative' comments so far. There's a really good reason for this kind of jealousy,

What would that good reason be? If the asset were something besides money, would you consider envious and negative comments reasonable? Intelligence? Beauty? Race? There are all sorts of privilege. People shouldn't be judged for being born wealthy any more than they should be judged for being born poor. That it still happens is beside the point. People are judged for all sorts of BS they can't do much about.

Also, giving it all away willy nilly would be an irresponsible use of its power, although in some ways it's the easier path.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:00 PM on December 10, 2010


If the asset were something besides money, would you consider envious and negative comments reasonable? Intelligence? Beauty? Race? There are all sorts of privilege. People shouldn't be judged for being born wealthy any more than they should be judged for being born poor. That it still happens is beside the point. People are judged for all sorts of BS they can't do much about.

Small ruminant, your analogy is not on point.

If the question had been, "How do I stop feeling ashamed because I received more beauty than other people did?", then the answer would indeed be, "There's nothing you can do about it, and it's not hurting anyone, so let it go."

But the question amounts to, "How do I stop feeling ashamed because I am consuming more resources than I am producing?" The answer must be some variation on, "Actually, that is indeed a problem; the world is poorer (and real prices are higher) as a result of it; and while you shouldn't necessarily feel ashamed per se, you should at least be thinking about other lifestyles."

The perspective has nothing whatsoever to do with Calvinist guilt, nor with righty ideas about the upstandingness of financial independence, nor with lefty ideas about disliking the idle rich. Whether you're a Calvinist, a secular humanist, a progressive, or a conservative, it is still objectionable that someone should cost society more than he or she contributes to it.

Moreover, to all of these people, there's a big difference between consuming more than one produces during a particularly hard period in one's life and consuming more than one produces continuously throughout the long-term course of one's life.
posted by foursentences at 3:37 PM on December 10, 2010


This...
And if you are taking their support and not adding anything of worth to the world, that's also kind of cheesy.

...and this...
Our culture prescribes feeling shame in these circumstances for a very correct reason: in order to motivate people to become as self-sufficient as they are able to become.

...are exactly the type of unhelpful judgments and belief systems that likely trigger your shame - and as you've no doubt noticed, these concepts permeate American culture. They are rooted in America's Calvinist / Protestant past and are part and parcel of our Capitalist bent.

They are nonsense.

We have a terminal delusion in this country that a person's self-worth stems from their work. From their "contribution" to society - the arbitrary metric of which is usually jobs / widgets / legal entities created. This belief system is useful in that it enforces the status quo and keeps the machine running smoothly. While this narrative helps a lot of people hum along in the quest for validation and fulfillment, its a fiction that isn't well suited to making you feel good about yourself in your particular situation. Never allow anyone else to judge your "contribution" to society...whatever that really means. You are not automatically second-rate because some of your income doesn't come from your own two hands. There will always be people who have passive sources of income and inhereted sources of income and they are no better or worse than anyone elses.

Its ok to live on money from your parents, and its even ok to waste it all away if you want to - which it doesn't sound like you're doing at all. Your finances are no one elses business and inhereted income doesn't automatically mean you have some magical burden to start a fund, a charity, a business or anything else for that matter. Live your life.

I would, however, second some other posters and recommend simply taking the time to be self aware about your position. Cultivate an attitude of thankfulness and gratefulness for what you have, and be vigilant in delineating, non-judgmentally, what it is you actually earned through your own work, and what was bestowed unto you by your parents. Do let this self-awareness inform how you talk to others, and understand that what may be possible for you in your life may not be possible for someone under a set of different circumstances - But that this makes you no better or worse than them. Just different.
posted by jnnla at 3:47 PM on December 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


it is still objectionable that someone should cost society more than he or she contributes to it.

No. Its not. This is a reality of world we live in. I personally enjoy producing things to put out into the world...but I understand that there are those who don't have that proclivity. I don't hate them or allow their choices to undermine my own decisions. I produce because I choose to...and the thought of some people getting more by putting in less isn't going to stop me from producing or get me upset.
posted by jnnla at 3:54 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ironically some of what you're saying still sounds a little hand-to-mouth to me - not in a financial sense, but in lots of other ways.

I wouldn't feel guitly about your parents supporting your profession (I'm assuming the arts), but what are your goals in that profession? Or are your goals simply to get a bit of work when you can? Cause that wouldn't be satisfying for anyone, and it's hard to say "I'm a sculptor" or whatever when you're actually more of a trust fund kid. It can leave you feeling like a bit bit of a fake, and somewhat invalid as a sculptor or whatever.

I sense a bit of ennui in your question which is perfectly understandable if your career/creative life etc is essentially static. The frustrating sense of development stalling might be somewhat mollified by the balsam of money, but not overcome.

Make sure you're setting goals and working to achieve them. It's very easy to "top out" or plateau in creative endeavours - and there's nothing wrong if you're happy with that level, but if your parents are funding your pursuits, you should take than inbuilt advantage, and run with it baby!

Also, what are you doing in terms of charity? Being an artist doesn't count. Knowing how lucky you have been and are doesn't invalid the millions out there who dying from malnutrition, or simply working too hard to follow their own creative pursuits. I hope you're sharing some of your advantage with them, through donating some of your time and/or money. I find a lot of existential angst can be dealt with by some charity. It's a great panacea for what ails you.
posted by smoke at 4:03 PM on December 10, 2010


foursentences > We are not discussing momentary assistance in "times of need". We are discussing an ongoing umbilical relationship during times of want.

Your tenor implies that this is a lefty/righty issue, but it is not. If anything, those who believe in interdependence should be precisely the same people who raise an eyebrow when a wealthy parent protects a non-impoverished child from needing to pay his own way, all to the detriment of those who are not so lucky as to have such a resource.


(What are needs vs. wants?) I think you may misread zug's comment, which I saw as a reference to families from other countries, not other political persuasions. As Forktine and Anima Mundi said, intergenerational support is very common in upper-middle and upper class families and in families from more collectivist or family-centered cultures. It was probably also very common in the past.

Among my immigrant parents' peers, it is taken for granted that adult children will be financially supported at least up through any professional- or graduate-level education and if the family can afford it, beyond that to some extent until the adult child is making a salary that enables a certain standard of living. For your child to live much less than reasonably comfortably when you could afford to help them would be shameful. It is also not uncommon to purchase cars or to help purchase houses for adult children, especially the young and unmarried.

The flip side of this is that adult children are expected to work hard to begin a "worthwhile" or at least a financially safe career, and to devote a great deal of care and any necessary financial support to their parents once the parents start aging. All of my grandparents lived with one of their adult children or alternated between their children's houses throughout the year, once they got old.

I declined offers from my parents to assist with rent, food, and stuff like cell phone bills once I was out of college. Not only did this make me unusual, but it also made my parents uneasy. They cried after a visit to one of my shabbier apartments. They also saw it on some level as a frightening rejection of their value system — if I'm steadfastly turning down their checks now, does that mean I'm also going to prevent frequent visits, shared housing, or unreserved financial support for them when they get old?

Shame and duty are deeply culture-bound concepts.
posted by hat at 4:10 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


"it is still objectionable that someone should cost society more than he or she contributes to it."

No. Its not. This is a reality of world we live in. I personally enjoy producing things to put out into the world...but I understand that there are those who don't have that proclivity. I don't hate them or allow their choices to undermine my own decisions. I produce because I choose to...and the thought of some people getting more by putting in less isn't going to stop me from producing or get me upset.


You and I can afford food, and so we have no reason to feel personal resentment that other people may consume more than they produce.

Some people cannot quite afford food. The fact that another person is consuming more than he produces, raises prices just beyond their ability to eat.

It's easy to scoff at the arbitrary metric of. . . jobs / widgets when you HAVE a job, and when you HAVE enough widgets to eat. But there are people for whom the total number of "widgets" being produced is not mere dry, abstract, "arbitrary" economic theory, but rather a matter of comfort, discomfort, life, or death.

I am saying this as someone who leans more or less left. I'm not trying to prop up The Capitalist System on behalf of The Man. I want fewer people to be homeless. These stakes are real, not ideological.
posted by foursentences at 4:16 PM on December 10, 2010


"How do I stop feeling ashamed because I am consuming more resources than I am producing?" The answer must be some variation on, "Actually, that is indeed a problem; the world is poorer (and real prices are higher) as a result of it;

I disagree with you categorically on this, and would argue, as jnnla does, that this exactly has to do with the Calvinist ethos, though it's easy in America to be so absorbed in it you can't see it any more than a fish can see water especially in the northeast, ime. To continue the generalization, ime the midwest has a strong work ethic, but when you can't work, it's not shameful to have other people support you. In some ways it's more like the communist ideal: from each according to his abilities, and to each according to his needs, only the distributing body is the family, community, or church, not the state. The understanding is that you will contribute as much as you can, which may or may not mean financially, and that's all that's asked of you.

It IS hard to disassociate yourself from your work in the US, but that's a very US problem, not a human one, and I would argue that it causes a lot of damage to our social structure. Go on disability for awhile (or permanently) and see how you feel about yourself. Who are you, in America, if you aren't your job? If you aren't "producing" you are less of a citizen, less of a person. This isn't how it needs to be- ask most foreigners. (And in olden days, meaning only 100 years ago, it was considered boorish to talk about work at a social engagement. To suggest that one's job was in any way a reflection of their value as a person wasn't to be admitted to, even though, of course I'm sure it was thought.)

jnnla is much more eloquent than I am, and I should leave the argument as he put it, but here are two things. First of all, unless you're personally planting rainforest, you are probably consuming more useful resources than you produce. Some exceptions apply,but not too many. That's the way the world works. I would argue that the US could do with a lot less producing, because our mad compulsion to produce produce produce is actually consuming resources, not creating them.

You and I can afford food, and so we have no reason to feel personal resentment that other people may consume more than they produce.

Whether you consume more than you produce on a societal level is something no one but you can judge. As jnnla says better than I can,

Never allow anyone else to judge your "contribution" to society...whatever that really means. You are not automatically second-rate because some of your income doesn't come from your own two hands. There will always be people who have passive sources of income and inhereted sources of income and they are no better or worse than anyone elses.

But the long and short of it is that I don't need to justify my existence anymore than the tree on the mountain does or the crazy guy on the street corner. "Producing" more does not make me more worthy to live on this planet.

QFT:
We have a terminal delusion in this country that a person's self-worth stems from their work. From their "contribution" to society - the arbitrary metric of which is usually jobs / widgets / legal entities created. This belief system is useful in that it enforces the status quo and keeps the machine running smoothly. While this narrative helps a lot of people hum along in the quest for validation and fulfillment, its a fiction that isn't well suited to making you feel good about yourself in your particular situation.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:33 PM on December 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


foursentences > But the question amounts to, "How do I stop feeling ashamed because I am consuming more resources than I am producing?"

No, I don't think this is what the question amounts to at all, unless you define resources strictly as financial ones. It is possible to contribute net value to society even if you are not generating your own income.

OP, if you were embedded in a circle of people where everyone felt the same way about money, you'd have less social awkwardness to deal with and an implicit understanding of the obligations you incur by accepting parental support, in exchange for a circumscribed set of acceptable life choices. But you're not.

So you've been given the chance not only to make use of the money or not but to also understand exactly what people give up, what risks they take, and what obligations and current harms they incur on both sides of that opportunity.

These are actually pretty good starting questions to sit down and enumerate specific answers to along with your partner.
  1. What am I currently doing with the money I receive? What are other things I could do with it, especially those that would multiply its value, monetarily or in terms of societal benefit? What could I do with the money if I received it according to a different schedule or far in the future, as opposed to now and in the amounts I'm getting?
  2. What am I giving up by accepting the money now and informally as opposed to formally or far in the future? (Moral independence, abstract or concrete; e.g., the chance to do frivolous or truly risky things now because I may need to guarantee the ability to care for the parents later. Large-scale undertakings that require lump sums or consistent cash flow. Whatever else is relevant to you, including potential legal or financial trade-offs that you may not yet know you're making.)
  3. What risks am I taking by accepting money informally now instead of in a lump sum in the future? What would I stand to lose if I waited for many years to accept the money? (What if the money isn't there waiting for me years from now, for whatever reason?)
  4. What does having this money now pragmatically or legally obligate me to do, now or in the future? Do I or the people I respect feel that taking the money now presents moral obligations or standards for its use, if not pragmatic or legal ones? Does my personal ethic indicate that I'm misusing the money? (Does having this money morally obligate me to see through a certain nonremunerative project to its fullest extent and benefit to other people, since other people don't have the financial freedom to do this?)
  5. What harm am I doing to myself or my partner by accepting informal support now? (As mentioned: possibly encouraging a lack of persistence, inability to tough out difficult situations for a greater later reward. Removing the chance to understand what would really be required to support my family without our buffer. Not understanding what my dollar really buys in a variety of markets and under a variety of circumstances. Removing a range of human experience and uncertainty that can teach important practical skills as well as empathy for have-nots.) Am I doing harm to others?
  6. (Possibly most importantly, since this may frame how the other questions get answered) What am I getting from this money that I wouldn't otherwise get, or that most people don't get? What risks am I being spared by having this safety net? What obligations does this money free me from, now or in the future? What advantages am I gaining? Do I care whether I am consuming more value than I am producing? How do I define consuming and producing?
I think if you can come up with clear and satisfying answers to these questions (and probably a lot of others), the guilt and possibly the sense of diminished motivation will begin to take care of themselves. After all, they are coming from an inkling that you have some nebulous responsibilities that you might not be fulfilling.

Do you have trustworthy financial advisors whose values align with your own? Define those responsibilities and things will get easier for you. Then the next hard part is figuring out how to fulfill them.
posted by hat at 5:20 PM on December 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


"We have a terminal delusion in this country that a person's self-worth stems from their work."

But work doesn't have to mean work outside the home, paid by someone else, and I think plenty of people are pretty clear about this. If you're really doing nothing but smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo, how do you value yourself and why would you expect anyone else to do so? I know far too many people who value themselves very highly, with no actual reason to do so.
I see lots of scorn on the internet for Paris Hilton, but she's certainly active, if not hardworking in the manual labor tradition.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:08 PM on December 10, 2010


3) Does anyone have advice on how to motivate yourself to work, when the need for money is not present in a day-to-day way? (This is usually not a challenge, but sometimes it is…)

This question gives me the impression that you don't make any attempt to accumulate savings. Start doing so. You should be saving for your own retirement also, start a roth IRA.

If your parents are simply topping off the money supply when you run short of your monthly budget, talk to them about other ways this could be set up. It won't teach you good money skills, and ultimately that may not be good for them either, should they eventually require someone else to manage their finances if their thinking gets less clear as they age.
posted by yohko at 11:41 PM on December 10, 2010


I don't know how to say this without it coming across as judgmental, but I think you should try to stop taking your parents money for a time or least reduce what you do take. Not because it's "bad" or it means you aren't a "real" independent adult because you do receive funds. But you are an American and live within some cultural stigma associated with getting help as an adult from parents and even though it may just be an American phenomenon to strive for financial independence without the support of parents (or in-laws or family), it's really empowering to feel in control of your own finances, your career, and your ability to provide for your own self. I know it was a turning point in my mid-twenties when I realized taking money from my parents was taking away from my ability to empower myself to go after my own goals, financial and otherwise, in a proactive way.(Took going to therapy to realize some family dynamics,but it was a big lightbulb). My mother only gave with a lot of string attached, so it was different that your situation, but still. Having financial goals in addition to setting boundaries with my parents gave me the ability to have career related goals and personal goals. I'm not saying I'm never taking another dime from them (for example, they are offering like $500 towards a car I'm buying soon) but I don't rely on them for help with bills, etc.

I don't mean you have a get the shittiest job just to make ends meet, but start striving actively towards financial independence. Like others have said, plan for retirement, start a savings account, make a budget, spend less at times, get extra freelance work. Just making some action towards financial independence might mitigate the guilt, as well as set into motion unexpected goals.
posted by Rocket26 at 4:36 PM on December 11, 2010


Why would you talk openly about your financial situation?

If you're working in publishing or nonprofits (almost the same thing ...) and your friends come over and see you have your own place, rather than a three-bedroom apartment split six ways with a bunch of interns, it's going to either come up in conversation or be a medium-sized elephant in the room.
posted by zippy at 5:21 PM on December 11, 2010


zippy: I think that's an important point, especially with regards to the folks who have posted things to the effect of "why are your finances anyone else's business"?

Everyone: Thanks thanks for all this! It's a huge amount of super-helpful and super-thoughtful stuff here. Lots to think about and absorb.
posted by meta_asker at 7:31 PM on December 11, 2010


As for how to deal with it socially, I can only plead: be sensitive. You're lucky. Others may not have had the same luck. Be thoughtful about the financial resources of your associates and friends in any situation involving money. For instance, if you're going out to dinner together, let them propose a restaurant and be gracious about the choice, rather than raving about a high-end place that would be a strain for them to afford. Be aware that unrequested chatter about your travel and recreational experiences might rankle. If someone proposes an office holiday swap or charitable gift, be aware that your budget is different from theirs. If someone picks up the drinks and you agree that you'll pick up the drinks next time, don't forget about it - follow through on your end of that agreement. Most of the tension that comes up between me and wealthier friends comes up because they have lost track of what it means to live on a tighter budget, and have forgotten that disposable income isn't an everyday reality for everyone. Just be thoughtful about it.
posted by Miko at 8:02 PM on December 11, 2010


It's wonderful that your parents care about you so much, but also be aware of the dangers involved in this sort of a situation. Part of the unease you feel might be related to the fact that you are not financially independent. In a past life my finances were a mess, debt, etc, etc... and turning them around was very liberating. Now I have comfortable safety nets that take much of the stress of personal finance away.

I'd encourage you, if you haven't already, to make sure you have an accurate view of your parents financial situation. You don't want to end up in this situation.

More about the dangers of financial dependence

and

related reading

If your parents want to support you, and have the means to do so, just make sure that you are all on the same page and you aren't in for a nasty surprise later in life.
posted by cheesyburgercheese at 5:17 AM on December 12, 2010


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