Son's inability to deal with financial things

catherinetJuly 20, 2009

I'm so frustrated.

My son will be a junior in college this Fall. For the past 2 years I have tried and tried and tried to get him to be more financially responsible. For the first 2 years in college, I kept telling him to get a job, but he was too busy with classes.

He used to have a VISA card, a checking and a savings account. But in the past year, he overdrew about 5 times, costing over $200 in overdraft fees.

I took away his VISA, and eventually moved his savings money into his checking, since he had trouble understanding checking versus savings. I thought just having 1 account would help. He is very bright, and is essentially a creative genius. But he just can't seem to grasp the simpler things.

I once again have been taking his summer pay and keeping it in my savings, so he won't spend it and will have it for the next school year's spending money.

He went on a little trip with friends this weekend, and had a certain amount of money to spend, and overspent on his debit card, which will mean another overdrawn fee of $40+.

I'm realizing that I'm moving from "helping" to "enabling" by some of the things I'm doing to "help".

But......the big problem is this: I would LOVE to say "Okay......your finances are YOURS. Deal with it. I will not help you anymore."

But it seems to end up causing more problems for me than for him when he runs out of money. There were times when he couldn't pay his rent, or he might have his grades withheld because of a bill at school. I just can't let him get kicked out of his apartment or school.

Are there counselors of some sort who we could all go to and they could help us with this financial thing? DH doesn't take the authoritative role that he should and dealing with my son's problem is mostly left up to me.

I'm ready to pull my hair out.

Any suggestions?

Of course none of us likes to see their children struggle and fail. I know it sounds like I'm making excuses for my son, but I think he has something like ADD and some things are soooooo hard for him.

One thought I had was insisting that he use cash for everything, instead of a debit card. But that presents its own problems.

Sorry for rambling. I'm just really, really frustrated.

Any insights?


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Sorry to say, some things kids have to learn on their own. Our son is in his early 50's and married, no kids and still struggling. You did mention a possible learning disability and that could possibly be checked out and there is meds for that. Also sad to say, many young people who are extremely smart, seem to put common sense on the back burner. Money, etc are just not important to them. Is there a counselor at school that could help. It is a very difficult decision to help or not to keep him in school and in an apartment. I do know what you are going thru. Could you arrange with the college to send the bills to your house? Talk to the landlord and arrange to pay the rent yourself? Pay other bills yourself--to relieve the pressure. No you are not enabling him at this age--BUT it could turn into a problem. Another thought--does he really want to go to college full time--or at all--where are his talents? maybe a small Christian or community college would help--smaller classes, and more personalized aid. I know by yourself it is frustrating. Hope this helps a little.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 3:10PM
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Thanks marie,
He really wants to be in school, but I think it is not challenging enough for him. He's probably more talented than some of his professors. When he does get a challenging assignment (film-making), he neglects everything else.
He has matured alot in the past year, but this money thing is so frustrating.
If I give him free reign of all the money he is earning this summer, he'll have it spent by September. I hate having to treat him this way, but he just doesn't get it. Then he gets extremely angry at me for keeping his money from him.
I've thought of sending him an allowance every month.......(of his own money), and when its gone, its gone. I would get rid of his checking account. But I feel like he needs a checking account for some things.
We do pay for some of his tuition (in addition to loans), his apartment and food. He ran out of money last spring, and I thought that would motivate him to get a job......but it didn't.
I'm sure he has some sort of learning disability (even though he's so exceptional at some things), so its hard to be really tough on him.......thinking he really can't help it. But then I read that thinking that is just making me an enabler.. so I'm not sure what to do!
Yes, I could pay the bills directly, but then at what point does he need to learn to do this himself?
I can't count on him to give me accurate information from school either. I had to do all his scholarship applications and college applications several years ago, because he just didn't have a clue.
Its a very difficult position to be in........not knowing how much to expect.
Thanks for your input marie!

    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 5:36PM
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You're being used, mom. And, yes, you certainly are an "enabler". What you've described is the financial version of toilet training -- very, very basic life-skill. Unless you intend to support him and rescue him for the rest of his life, you'd better grit your teeth and act. This is more important than whatever he's doing in college. He's a man. He needs to act like one.

When, exactly, are you going to cut the strings if not now? IMHO, get him straight immediately. Sit him down and TELL him how it's going to be and why. It won't kill him to miss a year of film-making. If he can't manage the most fundamental of life's requirements, the world he'll be living in won't much care about the films he makes or what his diploma says.

I can hardly believe your DH is staying on the sidelines. Sounds like he needs to buck up, too. Or, could it be you're enabling/smothering both of them?

    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 5:55PM
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There are some very good basic personal financial management books, and if I were you, I'd drag his carcass down to the bookstore, browse together, and make him choose the one that most 'speaks' to him.

Then, as a condition of continued financial support, he needs to read the book cover to cover, do a 'book report' to you (probably a short one every few chapters rather than a whole-book report), then institute a financial plan of his own in accordance with the book's main ideas.

As an incentive, maybe match his summer savings and dole it out to him at regular intervals.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 7:04PM
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"Yes, I could pay the bills directly, but then at what point does he need to learn to do this himself? I can't count on him to give me accurate information from school either. I had to do all his scholarship applications and college applications several years ago, because he just didn't have a clue."

This is so ridiculous. Madame, your son's problem is YOU! You've laid out the game and he's learned to play it. That is, he's learned to play YOU. Please stop this. If YOU change, he will....because he'll have to! If he doesn't have to, he won't! You've trained him that way!

    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 7:56PM
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Unfortunately the film industry is full of people just like this boy and tends to encourage them.

I agree, you shouldn't have to run his life for him, but it's probably cheaper for you to manage his affairs for him whilst he's at school...when he finishes, though, you should cut him loose, with a little guidance.

Unfortunately in his chosen field he's unlikely to just walk into a job so you may, if you choose, end up being the parental scholarship fund for years to will need to establish some guidelines and stick to them.

If you live in a city with a viable film industry, and he is ok living at home (ok with you, as in, he will contribute financially and will do chores etc) you might consider that an option, most people I know who've done well in the film industry had some sort of leg up.

Your feelings about what's going on are correct, though.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 12:58AM
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This is how I taught my mind you I started with their first jobs with basic budgeting. You want a car, save for it. Now you have a car, you have insurance and gas. No money for gas, wow, sorry. Okay need to get to work to get money for gas, here it a LOAN, pay loan first, yourself second.

I thought my oldest would NEVER learn. You should see her now. Car loans are paid in full BEFORE due. Her DH works construction, so they SAVE for the months he won't work. She is AMAZING at budgeting. Watches grocery ads, etc.

Youngest..she lost EVERYTHING in an apartment fire. After replacing what needed replacing do you know what she did with her left-over money (insurance is odd, there is left-over money)...she PAID OFF HER CAR. She could have gone on a trip for spring break, but wait..she didn't need the money for that, she had that budgeted in, that was already $xx out of each paycheck. Gets even better. Car payments are $XXX out of each paycheck, but it's paid let's keep paying that to ourself, to save up for a new car because we really don't like this car we HAD TO HAVE and hate now. Did I mention she is a junior in college? can be done, you're just starting later than I did.

So, here is my suggestion...start now..Give him his cash's your Sept "allowance". If he runs out....use the too bad so sad...DO NOT BAIL HIM OUT. That is defeating the purpose of this. Make sure he has essentials (FOOD, transportation to school), rest...he'll live without.

For 1 month, he is to LIST ALL his out of pocket Expenses.

Now, help him set up his budget. You may have to help him decide if some of his out of pocket expenses just have to be cut.
Use envelopes to divide the money...MONEY IS TO BE USED ONLY FOR WHAT IT IS DESIGNATED FOR. Here's your rent envelope..$XxX, here's your grocery envelope $XXX (trust me raman noodles is cheap and goes a long way in college, he'll learn)...go ahead and do this for a couple of months WITH HIM. Then the 3rd and 4th month (or 4th and 5th month...let him do it himself. And then after that...let go completely. You REMOVE YOUR SELF FROM HIS FINANCES FOREVER AND EVER.

Does it work...for some yes, for others no. BUT now you've given tools and taught, not just shoved him into the water and said sink or swim.

Envelopes needed (ideas)
Gas for Car
Entertainment (If it's skipped it will come from the others)
Phone (cell and Land Line)


    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 7:41AM
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Due respect, but any junior-in-college (that would be what...20/21?) that requires this level of instruction about such elementary tasks has no business being in college to begin with. This is nuts! This degree of deficiency at such an age is indefensible.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 10:28PM
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But it seems to end up causing more problems for me than for him when he runs out of money.

What problems? Don't pay his bills. Let him live the consequences of his actions. Simple as that! Let him see that a lot of his money is going to pay for his bank overdraft charges. Money that he could have had for himself if he had been more responsible with his money.

There were times when he couldn't pay his rent, or he might have his grades withheld because of a bill at school. I just can't let him get kicked out of his apartment or school.

Why not? Then, hopefully, he'll really see what happens when you don't pay your bills. It's reality! It's life! EVERYBODY has to learn this. Your son is no exception. So let him learn and stop protecting him from life's realities. By doing what you're doing, you're only helping him create a bigger problem that he'll get accustomed to, which will be harder to rectify. So what if his grades are withheld?

My daughter is 17 1/2. We've been telling her for years (13 or so) that when you work, the first thing you do with your paycheck is pay your rent and hydro (if not included in rent), then it's food. This way you'll NEVER be homeless and always have a roof over your head with heat and water. If you don't have enough money for food and you run out, there's food banks. When you get tired of doing this, get a better job that pays more and think about having a roommate you can depend on to share living costs.

She's an only child and if something was to happen to us (her parents) I certainly wouldn't want to see her living on the streets or from friend to friend because she can't be financially responsible for herself. By doing what we're doing, we're HELPING to teach her how to support herself successfully in life.

My MIL has been helping her two youngest daughters (now 36 and 38) all of their lives. Long story short... the two daughters are financially ruined cuz they owe so much money that there's no light at the end of the tunnel. They have absolutely no credit rating whatsoever. The MIL is also financially ruined and has lost her credit rating (she used to be a very successful business woman before she retired and a millionaire. She almost lost her house last year!) The girls have helped to financially ruin their mother. She did it to herself by enabling her daughters.

The two daughters have no home, no belongings (except clothes), no vehicle... nothing! When they do meet a good man, the men want nothing to do with them because of their financial baggage. They're divorced too (one twice!)

So do your son a favor and let him suffer the consequences of his own actions NOW. Stay out of it completely! It might be the only way he'll learn. My MIL was, and still is, an enabler. The rest of the family are always wondering what's going to happen to those two girls when the mom dies. We don't know how they'll be able to survive in this world!!

You say he might have ADD. Are you sure that you're not just trying to find a reason/excuse for your actions? If he is, are you certain that it's the reason why your son is the way he is??? It may be that he's just got it good, and he knows it. Momma will bail him out! over and over!

    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 11:41PM
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I do agree with all of the above. I think you are creating the problems. I know that is hard to take but you really need to let him face his own consequences.

On way you may be able to help is in this area they have free classes on money management at homeless shelters, colleges, and churches. I'd encourge him to try a couple of these as I have heard that it really can help.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2009 at 9:00PM
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I agree--he is never going to learn if you keep bailing him out. It's better he learn now than when he's young than when he's married and has a chikld and is $50,000 in debt.

I hate to say it but you are an enabler.

First get your name off of everything financial that you have co-signed or said you would be responsible for.
Then sit your son down and tell him the bank of Mom is closed and stick to it no matter how badly you want to help. Tell yourself this is for his own good.

If he gets evicted, maybe a week on the street will smarten him up. He will never learn if you keep bailing him out. Some times being a parent is tough and you have to do things you'd rather not.

My neighbor's son went to college, fooled around, partied, wasted money and flunked the year big time.

I admire his parents for what they did. They sat him down and told him that that was his one chance; they would no longer pay for college. If he was going to live at home he was going to have to get a job and pay room and board, and they didn't make it easy on him.
He did work but what kind of job can a 20 year old get with only a high school diploma. After working at a pizza place and a few other minimum wage jobs, he saw just how much money he had left after paying room and board, and decided he didn't want to do that for the rest of his life.

He stuck it out for the year and saved every cent he could. got a part time job for the school year and went back to college in the fall, paying his own way. Even with all that he pulled straight A's

His parents relented and paid his tuition after that, but warned if his marks slipped the money would stop. They didn't and he graduated with a straight A average. He has a great job today and a wife, house and 2 kids, and knows the value of a dollar.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2009 at 9:21PM
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We had some family visit tonight (hubby's cousin and wife) and they mentioned the trouble they had with their son who is in college. He's 20 too.

They paid his tuition, books, and his share of rent with two other guys who work and don't go to school.

The first semester in college, he failed one course. They gave him heck and had a good talk. The second semester, he failed two courses (one course was the same one that he failed the first semester).

So now they told him that the money he's making working this summer is going to pay for his tuition. AFTER he completes the year and PASSES, they will reimburse him the tuition cost. The mom said there was no way that she's paying his tuition and him have all his money in the bank so he can party with it.

The thing is, too, that it's hard for him to not party when he's living with two guys who don't go to school. They're working.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2009 at 11:58PM
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I don't disagree with a lot of what's being said here regarding enabling, he needs to learn to stand on his own 2 feet, etc.

However, there is one thing that must be considered. Our brains are not fully, physically mature until we reach our mid-20's. In our teens, we have the ablity to make decisions based on emotional thinking, but the logical thinking part of our brains takes much longer to kick in. And as we all know, boys mature even slower than girls do. So this boy may not, at this point in life, have the tools to make better decisions. From that standpoint, I'd say it IS important for mom to help him learn to set boundaries. She needs to be there, to work with him, to discuss his goals, the paths to reaching them. I think she needs to help him learn how to set up his own process of checks and balances that will make him stop and think before he goes overboard. She needs to help him understand why he's making poor choices, and teach him to make better ones.

The law may say we're adults at age 18, but the fact is, few of us magically become able to be independent, responsible, self-sufficient on the day we turn 18. It becomes a real parenting challenge to continue to lead your 'adult' child away from the pitfalls of early adulthood, without taking away their independence. And yes, part of that learning process has to be making bad decisions and facing the consequences for them. But as parents, we really don't want those consequences to be so bad they destroy our children before they get a chance to live.

Hang in there mom, be creative, talk to your son calmly, show him the tricks YOU use to keep things on an even keel and then trust that some part of his brain has picked up the lessons you're offering.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2009 at 9:18AM
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My son is 20 years old and will be a junior this fall. He is very organized and responsible, and he still ran up substantial banking fees. He misunderstood and thought the automatic transfers from savings to checking were free.

Anyway, here are my suggestions. First, check with the college - it's possible all the university fees, etc. can be paid online. At my son's school, students have an online account that can be used to pay for tuition, housing, parking, all school fees, meal plans, and even books (if they're purchased at the university bookstore). My son gives me his account number and password and I pay for everything but his meals and spending money online.

As far as apartment rent is concerned, you could either pay that yourself, force your son to live on campus, or tell him he has to live at home if he can't manage manage his money.

At my son's college, most kids live on campus so all their housing is prepaid. I love this arrangement. If my son runs out of money, then he still has a dorm roof over his head, his tuition and books are already paid. If he runs out of money, then he can't go out with his friends or he has to eat peanut butter and ramen noodle soup - so it's not my problem if he mismanages his money.

Some other thoughts - some kids do better if they have less free time on their hands rather than more. My son's lowest GPA was the semester he had a lot of free time. He had a lot of time for fun and got distracted. He is much more focused if he's busy. So perhaps your son might do better if he had a part time job? Also, some kids do much better if they have to pay for part of their school themselves, not just spending money.

If you feel that part of your son's problem is immaturity, you might look into something like Americorps. We have some friends whose son seemed a little immature to me, and their son spent a year in Americorps before college. He matured a lot while in that program, and is now doing fine and attending college in California and doing well. Perhaps a year off in a structured program might help.

I know opinions may differ on this, but to me, teenagers going off to college, incurring some bank fees, running of money, etc. - those are part of the learning experience for many teens. As long as it's not a chronic problem, I don't worry about it. Whatever mistakes my son made, he's mostly worked and paid me back for any extra expense (he has the blisters on his hands this summer to prove it). And he didn't keep making the same mistakes over and over - he learned from each mistake the first time, fixed it and moved on.

I say prepay all his important expenses, and if he runs out of money and has to eat ketchup and crackers then so be it. If he doesn't learn from that, then maybe he needs to live at home.

I hope you and your son find something that works well for you.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2009 at 11:26AM
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One other thought - peer pressure can be a wonderful thing. I've seen college kids get really creative and really, really responsible when they had no safety net and had to manage for themselves. If your son doesn't pay the rent, then whose name is on the lease? If he doesn't pay rent it will make things really, really uncomfortable for his roommates and they will probably put a lot of pressure on him. You might not have to say a word, his roommates may explain the facts of life to him. He may have to find a part time job as a bus boy to come up with the rent.

Just a thought. Good luck!

    Bookmark   July 27, 2009 at 11:31AM
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Don't get -- will never get -- parents' oh-so-common professed inability to deal with this. The universal approach seems almost always -- as in this case -- to support/enable it.

This kid is going to dump on you, his friends, retailers, landlords, utilities....EVERYBODY while you're dithering about not wanting to "discourage" him....or whatever your terminology may be.

In fact, you've knowingly unleashed a walking/talking financial hazard upon the rest of us. There's SO much more to his deadbeat ways than his own welfare and your guilt. This kid's careless behavior is troubling SO many lives other than your own. How you can continue with what you've been doing is quite beyond me.

His play-world needs to stop until he can function at this most basic of levels. With only a few exceptions, his peer-group already is. I did. All my friends did. Even the kids I didn't like did.

Grow this child up. Do it now.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2009 at 8:15PM
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What I don't get is... Our brains are not fully, physically mature until we reach our mid-20's

So this is supposed to "excuse" this problem???

MANY people (male and female) are married at 22 and having kids. MANY of them ARE financially responsible. This has been going on for YEARS.

So I don't buy this "fully matured brain" thing as a reason of not being able to be financially responsible.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2009 at 9:21PM
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asolo wrote:
""Yes, I could pay the bills directly, but then at what point does he need to learn to do this himself? I can't count on him to give me accurate information from school either. I had to do all his scholarship applications and college applications several years ago, because he just didn't have a clue."

This is so ridiculous. Madame, your son's problem is YOU! You've laid out the game and he's learned to play it. That is, he's learned to play YOU. Please stop this. If YOU change, he will....because he'll have to! If he doesn't have to, he won't! You've trained him that way!"

I agree with her 100%.

And it flabbergasts me that mommy had to do the college apps!

    Bookmark   July 28, 2009 at 2:21PM
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I agree with asolo as difficult as this may be to hear and I do believe that you are enabling him. He needs some tough love and he will never have to learn if you constantly make excuses for his behavior and bail him out.

I have a friend who is dealing with a wife who is fiscally irresponsible and his 3 daughters who are similar. They all run up phone bills to $500 dollars and then don't pay and then repeat the behaviors and want him to always bail them out. I won't even write of half of what he tells me of their financial irresponsibility and excesses.

They do not respect him and manipulate his emotions and play him all the time and he has allowed it, although he doesn't see it. They don't suffer any consequences as Daddy the bank is there to fix everything and bail them out.

As to your son being more talented than his professors, well maybe so, but this has nothing to do with being financially irresponsible and manipulative. Also he'd better get used to working with and for people who he and you may feel that he is more talented than, because they are everywhere. Despite his annoyance at this thought he is the only person who is responsible for his financial inresponsible behaviors and you are enabling it.

You need to get tough here and then stick to your guns about this or this problem will only continue until you make the decision to not allow it any further.

Good luck to you with this....

    Bookmark   August 12, 2009 at 4:17PM
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