Payback time
April 30, 2018 12:37 AM   Subscribe

Do you give your parents an allowance, and if so, what percentage of your salary/ in what form? [Chinese snowflakes inside]

I am starting my first job in a few months and need to start giving my parents an allowance. They are near retirement and financially comfortable - the money is about filial piety rather than necessity. I will be earning upper five figures and have a low cost of living as I will be travelling for work most of the time. Do/did you give your parents an allowance, or some other form of monetary support, and how did you decide the amount? FWIW, I do want to be generous with it.
posted by ahundredjarsofsky to Work & Money (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Hi, I am ethnically Chinese. My parents are retired and live comfortably on a pension. I.e. they don’t really need me to give them an allowance.
Similar to you, it’s more a token symbol of appreciation.

I try to set aside around 5-10% for them. I am the youngest of 3 children.

The amount given I imagine would vary between families based on need, how many of you are chipping in (higher amount if only child) and personal expectation.
posted by ianK at 2:49 AM on April 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Public service announcement: For anyone considering commenting, please consider this question from a Chinese/ East Asian perspective, where the traditional model is that Chinese parents invest literally **everything** into their children's education, including but not limited to, selling of family home, farm, retirement assets. In return, the child is expected to provide for the family into old age. In China, this obligation has been made into law.

I am not saying this expectation is right, or wrong, or good, or bad, or should be applauded, or denigrated. However, your sensitivity to the cultural norms and nuances to this question will go a long way, i.e. criticizing from a first-world, white or otherwise, American perspective will be particularly unhelpful.
posted by moiraine at 2:59 AM on April 30, 2018 [75 favorites]

I struggled with this question a lot. Mainly because I am the successful eldest sibling and my parents are comfortable, though would like more to go travelling, etc. And also because they are not very good at managing their finances. It makes me frustrated that they will not take my advice, but still expect contributions from me. It is even more frustrating when there appears to be some sort of oneupmanship competition going on between all the parents: Which daughter/ son provides more? Oh wow, So and So son's bought all their plane tickets for Holiday X. I don't know if you have the same sort of expectation from your parents, but if you do not, count your blessings.

I used to provide 10% of my salary when I was young and single. This went on for few years. Now I am no longer young and single, and would like to save for a house/ financial independence, I am not giving them any more monetary contributions. I do buy them expensive items that they do not buy themselves: hiking gear, iPads, etc, and will subsidize when we go on trips together. I buy all meals. I also stopped giving them money when I also found out they were subsidizing my other siblings (why am I paying for my sister's deposit on a car indirectly!).

The amount I chose to give was also based on how much I thought would come my way back again. In some families, a larger % of their salary is handed over, but in return, they get it back as a "present", like a car or house deposit. In my case, I could see that even if I gave more, the money would be redistributed among my less-financially-successful siblings, so I was very resistant to giving more. YMMV.

It's a tough question and a lot to consider, so I wish you luck!
posted by moiraine at 3:13 AM on April 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

I am ethnically Korean. My parents paid for me to go to university and graduate without debt. I’ve struggled with this question because I don’t think my parents would actually be happy about accepting an allowance from me. They really just want me to be in touch more often (they are in California and I’m abroad in he UK). I do buy things for them because they are extremely frugal and don’t like buying things for themselves. For example, I’ll take my mom clothes and makeup shopping, get them a tablet, take them out for nice meals etc. I did buy them one big ticket item, a new car to replace their 20+ year old Maxima. That was a joint purchase with my husband who is white but is extremely understanding and supportive about this sort of cultural thing.

In their advancing years my support has been more around admin - deciphering their medical care,, organising their finances, etc. They don’t necessarily need my money, but they def need my help in navigating American processes and red tape.
posted by like_neon at 4:54 AM on April 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

Not Chinese/East Asian, but from a culture with similar expectations of filial duty. It plays out differently because we usually don't enjoy the SES advantages common to many East Asian diasporic communities, and filial duty is often satisfied by co-running an intergenerational household. But still, it's not a "western" perspective because intergenerational wealth almost always flows backwards for us.

I'm in a somewhat similar situation to moiraine in that my parent is inveterately financially irresponsible, even when one considers that they have a modest income. I made a decision early on that I wasn't going to foresake my own financial independence or ability to raise a family of my own to subsidize their unwillingness to get their act together. I'm not going to routinely hand over money that they'll burn through on carrying costs because they can't bring themselves to go into their bank and ask about low-interest credit cards. So, instead of a set allowance, I've always provided gifts-in-kind - I pay for all restaurant meals, I'll take them shopping, I'll buy first-class plane tickets to fly them out. I feel like this is a way of being generous without subsidizing their BS. We have a tacit understanding that I'll be responsible for their elder care as I'm an only child.

In the long run this is complicated by, to be delicate, dating people from cultures without the filial duty expectation, regardless of their SES of origin. If you date outside of your race you may want to consider discontinuing the allowance around the time you get serious in your relationship.

The most important part is that I ignore the one-upmanship that comes from families comparing their childrens' gifts. Living far away from my family and diasporic community really helps with this so I don't have to deal with the nonsense associated with being a selfish [insert ethnicity] daughter.
posted by blerghamot at 5:09 AM on April 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

My parents aren't near retirement age just yet, but my financial habits and ambitions are partly driven by knowing that I will need to provide for them in their age. I'm not sure whether your parents expect it now or later but if they're too proud to take the money (or if they would get insulted) you could just buy or pay for things they've deemed too luxurious or unnecessary. I get my adventurous and open minded taste buds from my dad so I'll take him out and pay for a nice meal. For my mom, nice appliances or craft items (really whatever she expresses interest in and has a hard time sourcing - chinese knitting book or w/e). Sometimes it's just paying up-front a lump sum of money for like.. the tax for their half of the duplex they're in or paying for both of their car insurance for the year.

Otherwise I don't actually give them money now. And that's because I'm busy earning it and growing it (investment). I think you could take that 5-10% and after an assessment of your personal situation with your parents and where they are, put it into a bond, buy stocks, high-yield savings account, whatever works. This also provides a really great cushion for when they are very elderly and may need more money for health issues or just splurging.
posted by driedmango at 5:23 AM on April 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Most people I know who don't live with the parents (thus enjoying free rent, meals and housekeeping) pay either a direct amount, give a significant hongbao at CNY and birthdays, or pay for a particular bill/set of bills like the phone and utilities. This changes for single children - you're the only one they're dependent on, so you have to set aside money for your own retirement and their retirement simultaneously, and when you have siblings, some with kids.

The siblings with kids will pay less if they have costs for the kids, but then they might pay more if they are dependent on the parents for childcare. In the sane families, the siblings actually talk about this, but it's not at all unusual for this to be all passive-aggressive and silent grudges for years.

Do you have the first month tradition where you're expected to hand over the entire first month? My kids balked at this unsurprisingly but instead took the whole family out for a big meal they paid for and also bought some nice gifts. Those dinners are very happy memories for me, seeing them as young adults, shy and proud of their first paycheques.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:42 AM on April 30, 2018

It's changed over time. When I first came out of college, I was living at home while my parents were paying for my sister's education and the mortgage. At that point, I gave them almost all of my paycheck. Now, my sister's out, the mortgage is done, I'm buying an apartment, and expect to be married within a few months and a father within a few years. I give them almost nothing now, except for paying for dinner.

Depending on how "polite" (I mean, ke qi) you and your parents are with each other, you may be able to have an honest conversation about what they want. My parents were pretty up-front about asking me for money when they needed it, albeit with some discomfort (on their part), and also quite up-front about not wanting it any more once I had plans for my own family.

I was lucky that my parents are relatively light on symbolism. If they weren't going to use the money, they didn't want me to give it to them just so they could return it later, losing a chunk to the government each way. I did take them and my grandparents out to dinner when I got my first paycheck. (I hadn't known about the first month tradition; they just chose not to tell me about it.)

I think the key is to consider yourself and your parents a single unit for accounting purposes, and try to balance cash flow across the entire unit. I think that knowing you have this approach will provide your parents more security and satisfaction than compliance with any specific protocol.

Also, looking a bit farther out, +1 to everyone who mentioned the non-financial end of things. My parents aren't there yet, but the time will come when they will need administrative and logistical assistance as well, and that may take some prior planning. E.g., my fiancee and I have agreed that we will stay in my parents' area (where we both currently have jobs as well) and that both our parents will be welcome to move in with us when that is helpful.

And, may I say, this thread is going really well for a question about not-white cultural norms on the green. We' comments in and so far every answer has relevant experience and engages with the question using the OP's premises. Thank you, Metafilter.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 6:58 AM on April 30, 2018 [22 favorites]

My parents are financially secure and responsible (on the frugal side), though not well off. I used to send them money regularly (a few % of my income) but when the bank ended that particular convenient method of transfer, my parents told me I don't need to send them money any more. I am still not sure if it is because of love, pride, or practicality (i.e. they don't need it, I can invest it). In my mind, whenever I think about my annual disposable income, I generally set aside 5-7% that I tell myself to spend on my parents, for like when we travel together or to buy them things they may not get for themselves. In reality I have rarely actually used up that budget. I think we do have a common understanding of what meaty shoe puppet said "a single unit for accounting purposes, and try to balance cash flow across the entire unit" in that we would transfer funds such that neither side is strained when the other has excess.
posted by bread-eater at 8:03 AM on April 30, 2018

My parents are not particularly traditional -- they immigrated here in the early 90s. We grew up pretty frugally, but there was always enough, and I think they're now starting to enjoy life / travel / etc. They paid for my college / lessons / coaching and tried to give me experiences that other upper-ish middle class kids would have.

We have never discussed an allowance, but they have asked me for loans to facilitate various financial transactions they wanted to make at whatever time. Here's the thing: they have always offered to pay it back, but the tacit deal I have (with myself) is that anything up to my college tuition can be a gift.

This is obviously not the healthiest, most communicative relationship; it is what it is.
posted by batter_my_heart at 3:27 PM on April 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am Korean, and my family still lives in Korea. What I have observed with relatives and family friends was that it depended on the family, and in particular how financially comfortable were the parents. Well-off parents did not expect a monthly allowance, and tended to continue gifting their adult children in various ways. The monthly allowance from the children seemed to mostly be expected when the parents really needed the money for their living expenses. But there was an almost universal practice of gifting parents in some way with one's first paycheck - handing it over entirely, paying for a fancy meal, or funding a trip for one's parents. When the children do not provide a monthly allowance, they will still pay for special occasion meals, or make cash gifts around major holidays like the Lunar New Year. With some parents, they will accept the monthly allowance, but save it and hand it over to the child when they are about to get married or want to buy a house.

In my case, my parents did not expect a monthly allowance from me, but I always figured in the back of my head that I would be helping out financially when they needed it. In the past year I have paid for medical expenses and other unexpected expenses that arose as their health has deteriorated.

> I think the key is to consider yourself and your parents a single unit for accounting purposes, and try to balance cash flow across the entire unit.

+1 to this. Apply this thinking over time, too - giving them X dollars over Y years, or paying XY dollars due to sudden acute need, such as medical expenses.
posted by needled at 5:23 PM on April 30, 2018

Thanks, all - these are helpful considerations to have; I didn't think about it in any other way than giving money straight up (and will have to find out about this first month tradition). FWIW I am an only child and lucky to have financially prudent parents. Paying rent doesn't seem to be as expected in my Singaporean social circle, maybe because of the barriers to entering the housing market?

blerghamot, I definitely get the oneupsmanship. I'm pretty sure my whole extended family knows how large my first red packet to them was.
posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 12:12 AM on May 1, 2018

I'm ABC and this is actually the first time I've heard of this formal allowance concept. My parents are frugal and yet still loath to let me pay for things, but I try to pay for meals and so on. I fully expect to support them in their old age as time goes by.
posted by Standard Orange at 12:17 AM on May 1, 2018

I paid for dinner for my family and extended family when I came home after getting my first real job. I think it was $350 for about 12 people in Chicago's Chinatown. I also sent a check for $300 maybe after the first paycheck. Nothing since, though I do try and pay for a meal when I go back to visit or bring gifts of wine or flowers. My parents are fine on their own financially.
posted by mlo at 11:22 AM on May 2, 2018

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