Right now, Sarah and I are planning to have early retirement fully on the table approximately two years after our youngest child enters college. At that time, assuming that our older children take five years or less to earn a bachelors degree, they’ll be fully on their own.
That’s our assumption, anyway. Of course, our whole assumption regarding our children and their lack of financial reliance on us is predicated on our parenting style, which is based on our own experiences with college and leaving the nest.
Let’s rewind to the mid-1990s, when Sarah and I graduated from high school. Both of us were raised to be fairly self-reliant and when we went to college, the idea was that we were training for a career and this was a period where we were separating from our parents and that we would not be moving back home after college. It was expected that we were going to sink or swim on our own, and our parents believed (and rightfully so) that they had taught us the skills to do just that.
Now the scenario is reversed and we’re the parents. Our goal? We’re trying to teach our children the skills they need to sink or swim on their own. Even now, with our children in primary school, we’re encouraging as much independence as we can. We’re encouraging savings skills. We’re teaching them household tasks. We’re strongly encouraging self-determination and open-ended projects. We’re strongly encouraging individual responsibility.
Are we perfect at these things? No. But those are the principles we’re acting on as parents.
The real question, though, is this: Is it a safe assumption to assume that our plan as parents – to have our children be fully independent after college – will actually happen? Should we prepare financially for the possibility that it won’t be?
Basically, I see four potential outcomes: whether or not our children are independent, and whether or not we provide financial outpatient care.
Scenario 1: They’re Independent, We Help Them Get Started
This is a situation where my children follow an independent track during and after college but we still provide them with money in order to make things easier for them.
This scenario simply won’t happen. My parents stopped providing significant financial support when I left for college, and eliminated what little help they still gave after a few years of college. It was easy for them because I had a giant independent streak, but it was also the right move for them. If my children choose a path of independence, you better believe I’m going to let them do it and take off the financial training wheels as early as possible.
Scenario 2: They’re Not Independent, We Help Them Get Started
In this scenario, they’re not able to make it independently after college, so we give them a lot of help. Perhaps we allow them to move back home, or maybe we provide direct financial aid so that they can have an apartment while they search for work.
This is the situation I worry about. If my children aren’t able to spread their wings and fly after college, will I end up helping them in this way? My ideals say that I wouldn’t, but on the other hand the thought of my children struggling to eat or keep a roof over their heads turns my stomach.
Scenario 3: They’re Independent, We Don’t Help Them Get Started
In this scenario, the children graduate from high school and follow their own path into their adult life without any help from us. They struggle, as we all do, but they manage to make it on their own without help from us.
This is my ideal scenario. They’re independent, they don’t need our help, and we wouldn’t give it anyway. This is the scenario we’re aiming for with our savings goals and our parenting strategies.
Scenario 4: They’re Not Independent, We Don’t Help Them Get Started
In this scenario, our children struggle mightily after graduating from high school. Perhaps a personal difficulty gets in the way of their goals. Maybe they find themselves failing to graduate or completely unable to find a job. Whatever the case may be, in this scenario, we simply don’t help them out. We let them struggle on their own, even if they sink.
This is the most difficult scenario, personally. Could I actually do this? Could I not offer aid to my children if they were really hurting?
How do you plan for the possibility that your adult child may need financial help? Photo: Sakeeb Sabakka