Ask the Readers: How Can I Talk to My Parents about Money?

In many families, money is a taboo subject. It's not something that's discussed openly. But this weekend, as people gather to celebrate Christmas, there will be lots of opportunities to bring up the topic with parents — and other loved ones. But how do you do it? That's what Sean wants to know.

He feels it's important to understand his parents' finances, but they're not willing to share. What should he do? Here's Sean's question:

I'm a sophomore in college. My father sold a company several years ago and now has a small business selling things online. Because of my father's previous income, I don't qualify for any financial aid, including loans. However, I know that he no longer makes much money anymore. I'm worried that all of my father's income is going to paying to my tuition and living expenses (about $50,000 a year). I have a strong suspicion that he's drawing from his savings to pay for my tuition, and it's only going to get worse because my brother will be attending college next year.

My parents tell me not to worry and have kept a strict policy of not telling me how much my father earns. My father is financially responsible, but his focus is on increasing income rather than on decreasing expenses. My worry is that I'm being a drain on my family's savings.

How can I ask my parents and get a straight answer about their financial situation?

There are actually two issues here.

  • The first is Sean's concern that he's a financial burden on his family. That's worth an entire column itself, but for today I'll simply encourage Sean to do what he can to actively decrease this burden by applying for scholarships and earning as much money as he can on his own. (It can be done. My parents couldn't afford to send me to school, so I funded my entire college education through scholarships and lots of off-campus work.)
  • Today, though, I want to talk about Sean's second question: How can he get his parents to discuss their financial situation?

My own family has always been relatively open about money. When I was growing up, my parents weren't shy about letting us know there wasn't much of it. I can remember looking at their tax returns when I was in high school (though they didn't make much sense at the time). Before my father died in 1995, he explained how he was structuring the business and the income stream for my mother. That said, there was still a mess to untangle when I took over my mother's finances while she was in the hospital this summer. (Now, though, I have them running like clockwork!)

My wife's family is a little less open. It's not that they're secretive, but until recently, they just didn't share details. After the crisis with my mother this summer, though, Kris and her sister sat down and point-blank asked their parents for the information they felt they needed. Over the past several months, the entire family has been swapping account numbers and balances so that if anything happens, somebody can step in to take care of things.

Really, though, Sean isn't asking about the mechanics of sharing. He's asking how to get people to talk about money in the first place. How can you get your parents to open up when they steadfastly refuse to do so?

I think it's important to approach this in an almost clinical manner — not an emotional one. This is business, and it's important business. If I were in his shoes, I might forward the recent reader story from Jody, whose father involved her in the entire estate-planning process. That story demonstrates the advantages of being open about your financial situation, and the advantages of involving the family in the process.

Have you introduced the subject of money with your parents? How do you get them to talk plainly about their financial situation? Or did you? What advice can you give Sean for talking about money in a way that won't make his parents feel threatened? If you were in his shoes, what would you do?

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Sarabeth
Sarabeth

Tuition has risen faster than inflation for decades. Comparisons to the experiences of those who attended college several decades ago are far enough off the mark that they risk just being insulting. It may be true that it used to be possible to work one’s way through college, but Sean’s family is paying $50,000 a year. Even the most hardworking, initiative-taking student is only going to be able to put a small dent in that kind of bill. On the cost-saving side, a more realistic suggestion would be to transfer to a public university, if there is a good one… Read more »

BB
BB

I wonder how accurate Sean’s number are. When his father sold the business, did Sean never fill out the FAFSA? Uni financial aid officers tell you to let them know when circumstances change. Selling one’s source of income certainly fits that description. I disagree with the advice to transfer to a public uni. Public universities are no longer the bargain they once were; some have tuitions approaching those of private schools. They have far more required classes that are not part of one’s major, making the time to graduate longer than 4 years. In NJ, Rutgers College takes over 6… Read more »

Beth
Beth

It’s unfortunate that Sean probably won’t get the maximum financial aid package his college probably can offer. Those usually are given to first year students with their acceptance letter to get them into the college. The packages thereafter for a qualified student aren’t usually drastically less but once the student is involved in the college they’re probably more likely to take out loans to continue. But, Sean and any student who is “on the line” so to speak to qualify for financial aid should apply EVERY YEAR. Financial aid for school year 2012-13 will be based on the family’s tax… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole

That’s only true at schools with cruddy endowments. Schools with good endowments meet financial need no matter which year it is. My senior year of college was actually free. My sister got a lot more aid when my mom’s salary decreased. Some schools play those financial aid games, but not all of them do.

grace
grace

I go to Rutgers, and I’m going to be graduating in 3.5 years. The “state” has no control over university graduation requirements, only high school graduation requirements. The individual colleges and departments each control their degree/major/minor requirements, and these stay the same from the point of entry into a particular college/department. In my experience, most people who do not graduate in four years do so because they change majors, transfer between schools or are incredibly ambitious and want to graduate with three or four majors. I also know many people who graduate semesters early, or even after three years. Public… Read more »

Bella
Bella

Thanks you someone who is a current student at Rutger’s replied! I went there about 10 years ago and managed to get two DEGREES (B.S Electrical Engineering, B.S Computer Sciene with a Psych minor) in 4.5yrs. Anyone that was having a hard time graduating in 4 was either working their way through school – so they had a lower course load – but was able to work, or partying their way through school – same low course load but no income. I only worked summers but I sure partied plenty during the school year. Sorry – truth hurts…

fruplicity
fruplicity

Agree with everyone about filling out a FAFSA asap – you could even do it now to potentially receive aid for the 2011-12 school year, and then do the new one available Jan. 1st for the 2012-13 year. A huge misconception is that people assume they won’t even qualify for a federal student loan. Unless you have grants/scholarships to cover your entire cost of attendance, virtually EVERYONE who completes the requirements of a FAFSA can get a federal loan for $5500 or more in undergrad!! Loan is a four-letter word to some, but federal student loans are the BEST way… Read more »

Sara
Sara

I agree with completing the FAFSA as soon as possible. My parents’ circumstances changed before my senior year of college, and we didn’t fill out the FAFSA until the middle of fall semester, yet we were approved for federal loans for the spring semester. Give it a shot!

Kat
Kat

So true about the cost of college! There is almost no way you can work your way through college like people used to. Even if you went recently, things have drastically changed. I worked 30-40 hours a week and that paid for my rent(no on campus housing), some small amount of food and supplies. My working paid for none of my schooling. I begged for money and got about 50k in scholarship money, but when it costs 30k a year for a 5 year program, it doesn’t go far. I barely slept through college years since I was in a… Read more »

Beth
Beth

When my parents were students forty years, summer jobs actually paid a decent amount! Now you’re lucky if you can find something nominally over minimum wage.

Many of the “good jobs” go to people willing to stay on throughout the year, so sometimes it can help to work a shift a week just to keep your seniority for the summer. (If you’re lucky enough to live in one place the whole year, that is — I wasn’t!)

Andy Long
Andy Long

I just want to add another plug for the local community college. It may be too late for this student as he is finishing up his sophomore year, but students can save $10,000s by starting off at a community college. Some private colleges also have students complete the CSS inventory in addition to the FAFSA and it does way assets a little more than the FAFSA, but this still shouldn’t stop them from filling out the FAFSA. I would agree with some others on while the student is still in college the parents do have the right to be private… Read more »

BB
BB

The talk to have isn’t about whether a child is a burden (honestly, what a notion!) but how a child can help aging parents manage money before dementia, blindness, other infirmity strikes.
In addition, parents should assure children that parents have been saving adequately for retirement (assuming parents have been responsible by saving for retirement as they should).

If parents haven’t spoken about retirement plans, this might be a good thing to bring up- but maybe not at the holidays.

The Frugallery
The Frugallery

He could try bringing up the subject in a context that is not directly related to him.

“I read an article about…”
“My friend so-and-so just experienced a problem because….”
“I saw a statistic that said…”

Personally, I find that the first sentence or two are the hardest to get out. This can be a nice transition into talking about something personal.

I suspect that once they start talking that his parents will be relieved to have this all out in the open.

Agatha Tefora
Agatha Tefora

I do agree. You just need to be calm in telling them. If they don’t want to talk about it, then just don’t push the issue.

Jean
Jean

My mother was very reluctant to talk about matters like this (which I think she saw, in a protective way, as something she didn’t want her children to worry about) until I put it in the context of HELPING her children by sharing information. And it took a few attempts to get her to begin sharing. Rather than framing the conversation as a request from me for information, I brought it up obliquely, by explaining that some of my friends has taken me aside recently and advised me to have a talk with my mother about finances and future plans,… Read more »

Brad Moore
Brad Moore

JD…I agree with you about the matter-of-fact approach. I recently did that with my dad regarding what would happen with his house when my parents passed. Just kept it objective and detached…stayed away from the whole death thing. At the same time, a person has to keep in mind that YOU COULD TRY THE TOP TEN PROVEN METHODS FOR COMMUNICATING ON DIFFICULT TOPICS and that person can still choose not to tell you a thing! I have a coaching/ counseling background so we would say you can’t control anyone! The only part you can control is how much you rely… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa

We raised the issue with one set of parents, after hearing a really alarming offhand comment that implied they had very little saved for retirement, and what we learned was that the couple didn’t even share information between them – one held all the info, the other had no idea.

Adrienne
Adrienne

A sophmore in college trying to have this conversation with his parents is much much different than JD or Kris with theirs. If they haven’t shared financial info so far I don’t think they will start with someone they still view as a kid. The best he can do in this situation is talk to his parents about HIS FEELINGS (feeling like a burden etc.). Then he’ll have to take his parents at their word (if they tell him it’s not a burden perhaps it is not). Having the talk as an older adult in several years will be different.

Beth
Beth

I agree with you there. It’s a totally different beast when your parents are still paying your way. My parents re-did their wills after my siblings and I were through university and able to support ourselves. That’s when we had the later in life/retirement conversation. It’s a separate issue from the OP’s.

Liz
Liz

This. I was in a similar situation to Sean’s when I went through college, and I only get bits and pieces of information about how my parents are doing financially through my mom. Now that I’m a productive member of society she’s told me where all the bank info is, etc., but I suspect that’s all I’m getting out of them until I need to actually take care of their accounts when they’re gone. My recommendation is to try to keep the lines of communication open – my dad and I don’t talk about anything very much, let alone money;… Read more »

Robert Zaleski
Robert Zaleski

Talking to some parents is difficult, certainly. I wouldn’t worry about talking about feelings too much, especially with guys, it’s just not how most guys I know, myself included, work. Like you said, your dad is financially responsible, so for the most part it probably isn’t something you need to worry about. I’d also look at it like this, in 10-20 years, you’ll probably be doing well, and if your parents need help then you’ll be able to provide it. I know it gives me some consolation with my dad, but he’s a lot less responsible now. I wouldn’t make… Read more »

Sam
Sam

My Father in Law is in town for the holidays and we had a frank discussion with him. First, we told him if he wants us to care for him as he ages he needs to move to Florida. And if he is going to move to Florida to be closer to us he should live within an hour of us otherwise its still going to be difficult for us to help him as he ages, he is 65 now. Harsh I know, but its unrealistic to expect us to care for his medical needs as he ages and to… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew

If I were your father-in-law I would head as far away from you as I could, as fast as I could.

Kristen
Kristen

That seems a bit harsh. Sam here is being very pragmatic. I’m in my late 30’s and have watched my parents care first for my 90’s year old grandfather, and now for my 94 year old grandmother, who still lives on her own. She could NOT do this if my parents didn’t live close by. If you want your kids to take care of you when you get old and frail, why would you expect them to pick up and move to your area, especially when you’re retired and they’re likely still working? Such conversations aren’t ever easy, but pragmatism… Read more »

Sam
Sam

Thanks for giving me a good laugh. I did recognize it is a somewhat harsh option. You should hear Mr. Sam . . . But the only way we can help him as he ages is if he is close to us. We can’t move due to professional licenses and our real estate investments which happen to be in So. Fla. It is totally up to him as to what he wants to do. He could stay where he is or move into a retirement setting where he would have options for assisted living. FIL has already had a hip… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1

We haven’t had the full extent of this conversation, but I’ve definitely told my parents that if they get to the point where one or both of them need to be watched over, they are going to have to move near either me or my sister. Because that eventuality is likely to occur, if it occurs at all, while the two of us are *still working*. Meaning we really can’t pull up stakes and move near them, or move in with them, without completely wrecking our own financial plans. I don’t think it’s harsh at all and I think the… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew

Has it occurred to you that what you see as “isolated and unsupported” may have been seen by those relatives as being independent? Help that comes with conditions, such as “uproot yourself and move!” is seldom seen as entirely benevolent.

Den
Den

Just don’t blindside/surprise them with this talk…and/or demand to discuss it NOW! We casually mentioned to my parents “hey, Mom and Dad, when you have some time in the next few months could we get together to talk about finances – we want to be in a position to help you in the future, but will need more details – not today, but in the next few months when it’s convenient for you – sound good?” That gave them time to think about it, time to gather their financial records and also – biggie here – gave them the control… Read more »

Beth
Beth

Oh good — so I’m not the only one who thought discussing this over Christmas might not be good timing? If I tried to ask my parents about anything right now, I’m pretty sure the answer would be “let me get through the next week first!”

honeybee
honeybee

If he’s really a sophomore in college, it’ll be another months before he has his next opportunity to ask. That six months could make a huge difference.

Do it now. Wait for the end of christmas/hanukkah… but do it now.

Ivanka
Ivanka

You say that your parents have a strict policy of not telling you how much your father earns. Why is that – has there been a particular reason (and have things changed) or was it because they didn’t consider you an adult yet? I agree with #7 that a conversation about financial details is not something they may be willing to do while you are still in college and dependent on them. But if you open a conversation along the lines of “I am often stressed out about finances – will we have enough for both mine and my brother’s… Read more »

honeybee
honeybee

I asked this of my father, and all he would tell me was “it’s fine, we’ll be fine”. Well… we weren’t fine. He died shortly after I graduated, and he was hopelessly in the hole, leaving his widow with nothing and an insurmountable pile of bills to pay. I guess the point is… there are people who are prideful and emotionally unprepared to deal with the topic. At the end of the day, I had to live with that. If you can, though, see if you can get details. Maybe even offer it as an educational opportunity. See if you… Read more »

javier
javier

In my familly my dad is secretive and my mother is open, that makes that I talk about finance with my mother and she with does my father. Maybe approaching the most open parent might help. I also talk openly about my financial situation with them, so I think that will make it easier. Something like “TThis month I’ve saved €XXX or this month I’ve saved €XXX more than expected. Although my parents situation is nt bad (they’ll pay their mortgage soon and have no other debts, it’s just they need a new car soon as my father’s one goes… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole

If I were in the kid’s shoes, I wouldn’t worry about it. The one thing to make sure of is that his parents fill out a FAFSA this year (after they do taxes). With no income, unless the family is super-rich (in which case the kid’s fears are groundless), the kid should be eligible for more financial aid next year. Aid does change based on parental circumstances but it lags by a year. When the second kid starts college, then both kids will be eligible for more financial aid. The important thing is that the FAFSA gets filled out otherwise… Read more »

Trina
Trina

My parents are, and have always been, very secretive about their finances. They have very little money — my dad has been a self-employed welder for 35 years and my mom quit her secure union job in a factory because he didn’t like it that she made more money than he did. Instead, she supports his business. To say that they make very poor money decisions would be putting it mildly. I believe that they filed for bankruptcy and have had trouble with the IRS in the past, but don’t know for sure because of the secrecy. My dad is… Read more »

Trina
Trina

Besides save like crazy, of course, so that I can support them when they don’t have money to live.

imelda
imelda

I’m in something of a similar situation; not exactly, of course. But I often feel a little lost and panicked, wondering about how to keep them from poverty when they’re too old to work and have nothing but SS.

I’m just starting my career in a lowish-paying industry, and I just don’t see how I can ever make enough for all of us.

If you ever get any bright ideas, please do share them via GRS.

Jen
Jen

My suggestion is to get a job and to get a good paying job. I attended college in 2002-2006 and unlike my friends who work at Victoria Secret or Macys’ for about $6.75, I looked for a higher paying job and was able to land a legal receptionist position, earning $10 (the first year) and up $12.75, by the time I graduated. I worked 20 hours per week, which I think is completely doable considering the flexibility of college courses and the ability to set your own schedule. I also was a babysitter and tutor. Tutoring earned me about $15… Read more »

Amy
Amy

This is hard one. I was never able to talk to my parent constructively when in college about money. We had a bad relationship anyway, so there wasn’t even a good foundation on which to start communicating about difficult topics on. Hopefully you are, and it sounds like you might be, in a better relationship with your parents. So I’ll give you a few thoughts that popped into my head: 1)talk to them sooner than later. Never mind that it’s the holidays. This might be a perfect time as you will all be together hopefully and you do not have… Read more »

Danielle
Danielle

Okay, maybe my suggestion is self-serving because I am one, but I’d suggest getting your parents to see a fee-only financial planner. If you don’t know one, check out the Garrett Planning Network or NAPFA referral sites. Even very high earning people can have finances that are a mess, or they have no idea what their investments actually are, and not facing this causes all kinds of problems. Parents of college age kids need to see if they’re on track for their own retirement. If they meet with a planner, they will be able to sort out where they are,… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew

Implicit in this article, and in some of the replies, is the assumption that the younger generation / adult children are wiser about financial matters than their elders. Also implicit is the belief that the older generation will, at some point, have to come crawling in desperation to their offspring for financial relief.

Both assumptions are at best silly and at worst condescending and ageist. Financial savvy is not age-related.

For every senior citizen who is helpless and dependent upon their children there is another who is raising grandchildren abandoned by their irresponsible 20 or 30-something parents.

Beth
Beth

Really? I’d be interested in seeing some numbers to back that up. It sounds like you’re only looking at the extremes here. (I’m not trying to be rude — maybe I’ve just seen different numbers.) In my experience, and I realize this is anecdotal, I’ve met many seniors who are independent and living in their own homes who do rely on their children for some kind of help. Wherever illness is involved, it’s the spouse, not the children, who are the primary caregivers. Also, it’s the baby boomers who are often supporting their grandchildren, not the previous generation. People tend… Read more »

Ash (in US)
Ash (in US)

To me, implicit in this article is that the writer feels a certain guilt about what he perceives to be his family’s money situation. To me (admittedly with my own baggage) there’s a lot of guilt around taking money from parents when you think they may be sacrificing their quality of life–now or in the future. If you feel like that and you don’t want to be a burden, get moving. Now, thinking about it, I DON’T think the best option is to confront his parents head-on about the money situation. I think asking them to provide the FAFSA info… Read more »

Ash (in US)
Ash (in US)

Whoops, forgot a few things. Other options: Resident/Dorm assistant — usually covers housing, so you are just left with tuition Residence Hall Association (or your equivalent of the Student Dorm Administration)– for some positions this is paid room/board Lower-class level tutoring/assistant– even if independent you can make a bit of money on this Prep-work (depending on your degree) — media prep for the microbiology lab, plants for bio classes, etc. This is school-size and degree specific. Dorm Front Desk– Minimum wage and you get study time (some places have student workers staff odd hours). When I worked the front desk… Read more »

Trina
Trina

Many baby boomers are not doing well financially, and we (their children) are not well served by sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that their poor financial decisions will not affect us in the future. Of course, no one can make someone else do the right thing financially. All we can do is prepare ourselves for how those decisions will affect us. The more informed we can be, the better we can plan.

Monique Rio
Monique Rio

The reason the comments sound like the younger generation is more financially responsible than the older generation is because people in that situation will resonate with this post and respond in the comments. Irresponsible kids aren’t going to ask about how to talk to their parents about money. The kids of parents who are open about money don’t need to ask. And plenty of fiscally responsible parents ask how to deal with their irresponsible children.

JA
JA

I think its important to teach kids the value of money. But I don’t think they need to do what the bottom line is. If you as a parent are able and willing to fund your child’s education, tell them to shoot for the stars and then when the acceptance and scholarship letters start coming in, you can have an honest discussion about what makes sense and what doesn’t. I would be afraid to so burden them with my situation that they give up on options simply because they think its unaffordable. At the same time, if all they want… Read more »

PB
PB

OK, I went to college in the 70s, so I hope this advice is not out of date, but … At one time, my father had two of us in college, we had just moved and built a new home, my mother had brain surgery and was in the hospital for over a month, with my father travelling 200 miles round trip to see her every night, and my younger brother was boarded out with friends for a month or so so he could cope. In spite of this, we could not get financial aid because technically he was making… Read more »

Jeffrey Trull
Jeffrey Trull

This is always going to be a tough subject. Any talks about money in my family have been very emotionally charged and not very positive. I think that’s unfortunate, but we don’t always see eye-to-eye. I feel like Sean may have some concerns about how much his father spends since he says his dad isn’t interested in decreasing expenses. My one comment to Sean would be: Are you really going to act or change something even if you can get this information from your parents? I’m not really sure what Sean is thinking of here if he finds his parents… Read more »

Karina
Karina

I agree with the first commenter, JD, that your comment about it can be done is no longer true in today’s economy. It’s distressing to see such a flippant comment when you usually do a nice job of researching and looking forward. You graduated 15+ years ago. It really can NOT be done anymore-said by someone who ALMOST managed it. My first two years of of public university were completely covered by scholarships because of my good grades, my gender (female), my degree choice (music), and that my father was both a veteran AND a police officer. Between the scholarships,… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth

Karina, you’re making me feel old. 🙂 You may be right. Maybe it’s much more difficult to do what I did nowadays, but I’m not so sure. Ramit at I Will Teach You to Be Rich is much younger than I am, yet he devised a strategy whereby he applied for a huge number of scholarships in order to pay for school. I know other people have done similar things. (My friend who used to work in financial aid wondered why more people didn’t do this.) It is possible to make it through school without debt nowadays — but it… Read more »

Karina
Karina

OK, I amend a bit: it is possible with LOTS of effort and in particular circumstances. My circumstances for example. Or people who are members of very specific majors, ethnic groups, organizations, sports teams, children of veterans. I myself am getting my Master’s full funded as a graduate teaching assistant. Once again though, I realize how incredibly unusual that is because of my field. But Kathryn below is a perfect example of unusual as well: single parent, funding through grants (also specific to your degree or circumstances, I can guarantee as I have received multiple grants in my education career)… Read more »

Kathryn
Kathryn

For a little rebuttal, I’d agree with J.D. I AM doing it now. Admittedly, it’s a junior college, half-time enrollment, and I’m a single parent. So it’s definitely going to depend on circumstances, but it IS possible to get through school without debt. In fact, I haven’t paid a dime of my own money for school yet. Grants, scholarships and waivers have been enough thus far. I’ve saved the refunds so if I do have to pay, it’ll still be someone else’s money.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski

I just looked up the tuition at the school I went to. It is currently $3,286.00/semester, or about $6500/year. I think Karina is wrong, and J.D. is right. Can you put yourself through school and come out of it with no debt?

Sure you can, but you might have to pick a less expensive school.

Karina
Karina

I was citing the tuition at my state’s STATE university. The cheap, public option…. Ok, so let’s say a student makes $7.50 (above federal minimum wage by .25), and they work 40 hours a week for 15 weeks in the summer. That’s $300 a week, $4500 the summer before taxes. That WILL cover tuition at your school yes. But it won’t cover books, fees ($600 this semester at my state university), rent, groceries, and utilities. Then school starts, and they can’t work quite full time anymore. Let’s say they have no life though, and that they work 25 hours a… Read more »

Karina
Karina

My last point-all this is assuming a teenager or young college student can actually GET a job. But with the unemployment of higher educated, older population being so high, these folks are now working retail, restaurant jobs more traditionally held by younger age groups. This article discusses the unemployment rate of teens in the summer of 2011, saying some states have teen unemployment rates three times the average of the national unemployment…

http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/206588/20110831/us-unemployment-teens-obama-jobless.htm

Jacq
Jacq

My 23 y.o. is working 3 jobs right now to pay for his next year of school. Minimum wage is $9.40/hour here and he’s making $15.50, $12 + tips and $10.55 (plus shift differential). He’s had one day off in the last 3 months with an average work week of 70 hours a week. He has lots of friends that can’t find work or different work too but I guess he must just be exceptionally “lucky”. There’s often better paying jobs than minimum wage around if you’re over 18, have built up a network (yes, it’s possible to do at… Read more »

Mark
Mark

Don’t give me that crap about how you can’t make ends meet while making minimum wage. If you are making minimum wage you need to go find a better job. Don’t give me crap about how there aren’t any jobs, there are, you just need to learn to market yourself better. Plus, if you are trying to make it through school, work more than 40 hours a week in the summer. Plenty of people do it every year. If your tuition is $30,000 a year, then it might not work very well, but you made the decision to go to… Read more »

Quest
Quest

My initial reaction is this: 1. Sean can’t force his parents to share their financial details. Perhaps they are hiding something. Perhaps they are embarrassed. It seems to me that they may be afraid of being judged, therefore they will not want to open up UNTIL they are ready. Sean should begin a conversation of gradual disclosure, perhaps letting his parents know about his own finances, what he’s doing to improve them, etc. Just open a dialogue. As the opportunity arises, stretch that dialogue a little and encourage more input from the parents. Once they can see that Sean is… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa

Sean should at least be able to get the information he needs for the FAFSA, though.

El
El

Data needed for the FAFSA is tax data- he can only have it if his parents give it to him. He has no actual right to it. It’s not his. Speaking from experience, my mother refused to provide tax info; no financial aid for me. Solution: go to a school I could afford.

Rosa
Rosa

At many schools, if your parents won’t fork over the data, the financial aid office can help – probably not in Sean’s case, since his parents are just paying in cash. but parents who don’t pay and won’t share FAFSA information can be worked around by the school certifying the student as independent.

On the other hand, MOST parents will give the information even if it makes them uncomfortable.

Jenny
Jenny

I filled out my own FAFSA every year while in college; perhaps Sean can offer to do that same thing to help? Growing up my parents were always very tight-lipped about finances. I have a very general idea of how they’re doing based on indirect comments and behavior. You might be able to gather more about their financial situation than you think just based on those types of tells . I agree with everyone else, though, that finding an on- or off-campus job to help pay for day-to-day expenses, books, etc. It might be a matter of pride for your… Read more »

El
El

It sounds like you’ve broached the subject and they said ‘No’. That should be the end of it. They are competent adults, I take it. If you don’t want to be a ‘burden’, you could take action to provide your own support, at least in part. Although you mean well, your parents don’t seem to feel your concern is warranted. Respect their decision.

Janette
Janette

We filled out FASFAs in private. We did not discuss how much we made until they both were out of the house and fully employed. We felt caring for them was our choice. Unless your dad is elderly or ill, if he said don’t worry I would say don’t pry. My dad had a strong team of financial people who helped us when he passed. He never talked his money- felt it was rude. He sold his business when I was in college and paid for two more after me. He had saved plenty of money. My sister now runs… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew

JD–why are you assuming that Sean’s parents don’t want to talk about finances because they “feel threatened?”. From where in his letter are you inferring this bit of psychobabble?

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth

Hey, Andrew. If you read the post carefully, you’ll see that I don’t assume Sean’s parents feel threatened. But I don’t want them to feel threatened either.

I know from past discussions with readers that parents often do feel threatened when their children begin to ask about money (I just had a talk with a friend this weekend about how her mother feels threatened by financial discussions), so as I set up the question I was trying to ask readers for ways to avoid that situation.

Michael
Michael

My parents didn’t/don’t like talking about money with us kids because they make a decent amount, and most people in the town we live in don’t. They didn’t want us feeling richer or superior to our classmates and friends. There’s lots of reasons parents might not talk to their kids about money. As long as parents realize when those reasons are no longer the most important factors, that’s OK. Growing up I felt like I had less than my friends did. Many of them had 4wheelers, snowmobiles, cabins/camps in the woods, etc. When my dad started talking with me about… Read more »

Maddy Han
Maddy Han

My problem with the OP’s letter is that “Because of my father’s previous income, I don’t qualify for any financial aid, including loans.” He shows a real lack of understanding about how financial aid works, and as a result, how could his parents possibly have a mature talk with him about finances? The FAFSA, which is how 99% of college determine financial aid, is based off of only last year’s tax return, and there is usually a space to indicate if your financial situation has changed, so he could still qualify even if his father claimed a lot of income… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole

I want to second this.

This comment is 100% spot-on.

A lot of people, including the guy asking for advice, seem to have misconceptions about how financial aid works.

Deserat
Deserat

As many commenters have said, this young man needs to understand that maybe his parents don’t consider him at an age or maturity to reveal what they might consider their business. Has the OP done anything to become independent? There are many ways to fund a college education – AND a college education is not necessarily the only way to meet ones future economic needs. There are lots of other options – which also might include going to college later when one has the funds or ‘sponsorship’ through either a scholarship or assistance through employment, etc. Also, shifting down to… Read more »

Harry
Harry

If I was Sean I can think of two ways he could bring up the subject of tuition and his parents financial status. 1. He could first start by talking about applying for financial aid again and he could suggest to his father that since he has sold his company maybe he would qualify for financial aid now and then use that as a opener to talking about more serious money issues if that is his concern. 2. I think this one could work too. He could tell his parents that he thinks its time for him to really become… Read more »

The Tim
The Tim

I realize this isn’t really answering the question that was posed in the post, but your parents are paying $50,000 a year for tuition + room & board, and your main question is how to talk to them about it? I definitely agree that sitting down to have an open talk about finances is important, but how about attacking this from another angle while you’re at it? I have two main suggestions: 1) Ditch the super-expensive private school and find a good community college. Seriously, $50,000 a year is robbery. I could barely stomach paying $20,000 a year for the… Read more »

Stacie
Stacie

I went through this too when I was looking at my college acceptances and deciding where to go. On one hand, I had a top-tier school with only loans as aid, on the other hand a 2nd-tier school with a full tuition merit scholarship. My mother was really pushing me to ignore the financial aspect and choose the school I really wanted, but I couldn’t turn down effectively $180,000. Of course I found out later on that a wealthy aunt would have paid for the top tier school… Anyways, I second everyone about the FAFSA. But if your parents have… Read more »

DreamChaser57
DreamChaser57

If no one told you that your wealthy aunt would pay for the more competitive school, you were robbed of your right to make a fully informed choice. You should have no regrets.

Carol in Mpls
Carol in Mpls

Hopefully it helps Sean to hear the stories of others. Our family really opened up the money conversation & estate planning pieces 20 or so years ago, when my parents created their trust. Since then we’ve had many conversations (every Xmas we’d have a sit-down in my father’s office), understanding our future roles as trustees, how the assets are structured, etc. Best of all, I think, was all the information was out in the open, no secrets. They initiated the process, but we are definitely the beneficiaries. Over the past 5-10 years the situation has shifted, my mother has passed… Read more »

mrs bkwrm
mrs bkwrm

I am a youngish (41 y/o) parent of a college freshman. My daughter was eligible for grants and got some scholarships. They were enough to pay for her tuition, fees, and books at our state university as long as she lives at home. She would rather be living in the dorms and I would rather not have to drop her off at school every day, but neither is a huge deal and totally worth it to all of us. My husband and I have a lot of student debt and have never made very much money — we were from… Read more »

jim
jim

Sean, Your parents told you not to worry. They are paying the bill and you say they are responsible. Your dad also “sold a company”. You believe that you don’t qualify for any aid at all. That all adds up to paint a picture of a family who has enough money to afford college. Do you see any signs at all of your parents struggling financially in any way? People paying $50k bills ain’t poor, thats for sure. But its feasible your parents are putting you first and emptying their savings so you can go to a fancy school. Still… Read more »

Bella
Bella

To be honest I’m a little confused… Sean is a sophmore, where was all this concern about money 2 years ago when he picked the school that was $50K a year? Second – if his parents sold the business after he started school – surely the cost of his and his brother’s education must have been factored into that decision To have a successful business to sell – the father must not be a financial moron. I think that Sean should really do his best – TO GRADUATE ON TIME – so the bill doesn’t get any higher. Furthermore –… Read more »

Ben from Sydney
Ben from Sydney

My parents were recently under the pump and became forced sellers of the family home, in a down market. Dad is 68 and still working hard with deteriorating health and a 20 year old daughter at home still. I know exactly how you feel. My parents and I were often at logger heads at the dinner table. Obviously they are in investing defense as they near retirement and I’m in asset accumulation mode, but the real issue is an emotional and ideological one. My main goal is to build a folio of properties, which they ideologically see as too risky… Read more »

AP
AP

Sean, I just graduated from a similarly expensive school. I got considerable financial aid (full tuition grant, plus loans and work-study) but my parents still paid roughly 8k each year for my living expenses. Believe me, I understand school ain’t cheap, and I was also worried/felt guilty about my parents’ financial situation the entire time I was in school. One commenter suggested you try to become an RA — I second that. At my alma mater RA’s get free room and board. Second, definitely reapply for FAFSA every year, because your parents’ circumstances might change, especially when your sibling goes… Read more »

Margaret
Margaret

Implicit in Sean’s question and many of the responses is the idea that he is somehow responsible for his parents and their financial future. I come from a family where it was always made clear that children are NEVER responsible for the parents and their choices. Thus, my parents never shared their financial information with me, and I never expected to receive it. There is a a subtle, although no doubt unintended, insult to the intelligence of Sean’s parents here. They sound capable of making their own financial plans; and unless they chose to involve Sean in the process, his… Read more »

Young Investor
Young Investor

Another great recommendation for buying wine on the cheap is places like Walmart. Our local Walmart features 5 different brands under $4 a bottle, each of which has 3-5 different types of wine in both red and white. These are actually cheaper than the Boone and fruit wines. Most are from California, Argentina, Chile, South Africa and Australia. They are excellent weeknight wines, cooking wines, and wines when you are in a rut.

v
v

If this is something that’s bothering you, then good for you for bringing it up! Those who say it’s not your place yet, just ignore them. Be oblique/polite..whatever you think works best when discussing something difficult with your folks. If your parents say ‘hey we understand you’re concerned, but everything’s ok’ then to some extent you can let it stop bothering you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t help with your expenses. Two good moves I made while in college: – I was an RA. In my case this meant free housing on campus, part of my meals… Read more »

Debbie
Debbie

To the contrary, I think graduating with a little debt is very motivating to get off your butt and hustle for a job. Instead of debating: debt/no debt, let’s try to decide what is a reasonable level. I think of higher education as an investment with long term rewards (higher income, shorter periods of unemployment). If you think it’s okay to borrow money to purchase a home, why not carry SOME debt to finance your education?

KM
KM

Here’s a different perspective from someone who is closer to the age of your Dad: It’s good that you’re thinking seriously about finances (probably a change for you), but your parents are a long way from being old and dependent on you/dying, and you’re still just a kid (especially in their eyes since they’re supporting you). There is absolutely no need for you to know all about their finances now, even if it is true that you’re worried about their retirement. (BTW, my teenage kids don’t know my income either). You’re parents are grown-ups–they can deal. More importantly, you don’t… Read more »

Grace Pamer
Grace Pamer

It is a very good thing how sensitive Sean is with their finances. I am oblivious about his parents’ disposition but he can probably try engaging in a casual and light conversation with them. I do not know if this will work but he can give it a try. I think it is important if he will not betray any sign of doubt or worry about their finances so it will be easier for his parent to open up to him.

PM
PM

I agree it’s important to share information. The topic of money in my immediate family (my parents, their sibs, and my cousins) while I was growing up caused a lot of ill-will and mistrust that continues to this day. People would fight over who got what ‘before a body was even cold’ was how one of my relatives put it. Lucky for me, I moved overseas and away from the fray in my early 20s so avoided much of the rancor. Life is too short and to me what really matters is goodwill. You can’t take it with you. Fighting… Read more »

Cortney
Cortney

I can’t get past $50,000 a year for tuition and living expenses for an *undergrad* degree. I think, if one were truly concerned about the monetary burden one was having on parents, the first thing to do would be to evaluate whether or not that education is worth it. Assuming Sean graduates in 4 years that is $200,000 spent- more than my friend who went to law school in California took out in loans/living expenses for 3 years in an expensive city getting a notoriously expensive degree. That’s eye popping. I agree with others that the FAFSA needs to be… Read more »

Becky+P.
Becky+P.

I’m kinda wondering how much of that 50K is tuition and how much is living expenses?

I mean, you can’t do anything about tuition at your school of choice, but you can control (to a limited degree anyway, and sometimes to a huge degree) the living expenses.

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