Dear Ms. MoneyPeace,
My two boys graduated from high school this year. Though they are twins, they are as different as can be. One, I’ll call Tommy, was planning to go to college several states away until the school went online. The other, Timmy, was planning a gap year of traveling and working abroad.
The coronavirus upended a lot of people’s plans, including theirs. Timmy decided to go to a trade school for plumbing. Tommy is going to stay home and work odd jobs and may even “take a class or two” (his words). They want to know what their allowance will be! The economy isn’t great, though for now we are holding our own and have college savings in a 529 plan.
My wife and I went to college. She says, “Whatever they want, I’m OK.” They are only 18 — so young to make a life decision. I was the first generation of my family to attend college and want my boys to go. But how do I make them? Or what do I do to support them? What are other families doing at this time? Is giving an allowance reasonable?
Dear Double Trouble Parent:
We all have been adapting to this new world of living in a pandemic. The goal: Being alive and healthy.
People are changing careers, moving house and spending more time with elders. Other young adults have decided to skip college or attend a school closer to home because of what they have lived through the past few months.
Your sons sound like reasonable young men. Now take this opportunity to teach them about money.
First, sit with your wife. The two of you must have had a plan for their college education. Were you going to pay tuition? Living expenses? Personal expenses? Have them contribute by working and taking on loans?
Readjust your plan, given the changes in your financial life. Then discuss what makes sense for each twin. Standing together and setting up expectations are what’s important at this point.
Second, talk to your sons with your wife so everyone is on the same page. Explain how you are going to help them as they transition to financial independence. Each child is different, but you can set up ground rules. Discuss everything from health insurance, to cell phones, to gas for the cars. Include living-at-home parameters: Do they pay rent? Do chores? Help with groceries?
Then, the issue of the allowance can be brought up. Every family handles it differently: From nothing to carte blanche with a credit card. Do not overpromise what you can afford, especially if your job is at risk or your income dwindling.
Treat them as the young adults they are, allowing them to contribute to the conversation and their future. You may even share the amount in their 529 plans and say it’s for education, not an allowance. They will have a finite amount of money for education. Whether you contribute to their living expenses beyond keeping a roof over their head may depend on a number of things — if they are in school or until they are a certain age, for example.
Be sure to explain that the situation is fluid. When they understand that a handout isn’t assured, you help them become better financial decision makers.
I hear some stress about your children not heading off to college. As one parent acknowledged to me last year: “My ego is involved in where my child goes to college.”
Let go of this issue being about you. College served you and your wife well. That’s great. That was a different time, and your twins are different people. This is about them, so do not make this about you.
Your boys are being thoughtful about where they spend their time and money. Be glad about that. They are not on autopilot, taking on student loans as 54% of college attendees do.
Educate Tommy that a gap year is not a goof-off year. Let him be creative and devise something he can learn from and help him get ready for the rest of his life. Maybe he can volunteer or take a class while working part-time.
Support Timmy with your joy that he knows what he wants to do. Plumbing may be just what suits him. Or he may go back to school down the road but still retain those trade skills. There are plenty of tradespeople who start off at a company and rise up to management because they are hard workers with other important skills and experience.
A couple of decades ago, my sister with her newly minted graduate degree in nursing was out with a group. She discovered a plumber friend was making more money per hour than she was. After the shock was over, she realized she still preferred being a nurse. Money is not the demonstration of success. After all, works accounts for 2,080 hours a year, and it should be satisfying.
Besides, people change careers. The average adult changes jobs more than 12 times. An 18-year-old is not making a lifetime decision. Help relieve their stress rather than add to it.
Finally, if money is left in your 529 plan after your boys are settled and have their career plans in action, the money is still available. You or your wife or other children could use it for education. Or to pay for college loans. Or you and wife can take it out and enjoy the money for your retirement — after you pay income taxes on it, of course.
The world is changing. The pandemic has shifted so much. Revisiting every situation with a grounded consciousness of today’s information will help you maintain your health, including mental and financial wellness.
CD Moriarty, CFP, is a columnist forMarketWatch and a personal-finance speaker, writer and coach. She blogs at Money Peace.