As a money therapist, I see a lot of people who are struggling to make ends meet. One of the main reasons that my “patients” struggle is that they have taken out too much debt so that they can send money home to support their parents.
I understand how families operate, and I believe it is right to show your family you care about them. After all, they raised you and helped you to get your education. However, some parents bring their children up with the intention of making them future ATMs – believing that cash will always be available whenever they need it. They invest in their children’s future with the hope of realising a return. This return takes the form either of monthly parental support forever or an expensive gift or treat whenever it is demanded.
There is a cultural unspoken rule that essentially says, “I raised you, so you take care of me in my old age because I sacrificed everything for you.” And in response to this, youngsters put themselves under so much pressure that they’ll even acquire debt to appease their parents.
But here’s the thing. Every person with an income should be financially responsible and should be planning for their future – budgeting, saving and putting money away into a retirement fund. If young people are not doing this because they are giving that money to their parents instead, then they are at serious risk of repeating the same cycle of reaching old age with no retirement plan and relying on their children for support.
To get ahead in life, people need to start planning for their future from the moment they start receiving their first pay cheque. But if their entire income is eaten up by looking after parents, then they aren’t looking after themselves first. And if they are going into debt to meet these obligations, then they need to understand that they are going nowhere.
I understand that it’s hard to say no, especially if your parents did sacrifice their own comfort or luxuries to raise you. But the ongoing guilt trip that sees young adults caring for their parents rather than saving and rather than looking after their own children is not sustainable. This is how we continue to hold back the growth of our society.
Of course, I am not suggesting that you leave your parents to go hungry. That’s not right either. But it is important that they understand that the purpose of your job isn’t only to keep food on their table. If you are being pressured into providing more money than you can afford – especially if you are considering taking out a loan to meet their requirements – then it’s time to have a talk with them.
Sit down and explain exactly how much you earn, what your expenses are and, if you have debt, how much your repayments are. Explain that you are putting money away for your own future because you don’t want to perpetuate the cycle of dependence on the younger generation, and ask them to accept that cost-saving is everyone’s business.
If they understand that they are putting you in a difficult financial position with their demands and they have your best interests at heart, they should accept that they also have to live within their means.
And if they don’t, and keep demanding money from you, then it’s time to be firm with them. Explain that you didn’t sign a contract with them the day that you were born agreeing to be their ATM, and that demanding money from you could lead to bankruptcy because the cost of living today is expensive. Be kind but firm, and help them to manage their finances better so that they can live with what you can afford to give them after you have met your obligations to yourself. If they have no money at all, not even old age government pension, then budget for them within your means.
This will be one of the hardest steps you’ll ever take, but your future self – and your children – will thank you.
Winnie Kunene is a personal finance strategist. She educates people and helps them to get out of debt – and stay out! You can visit her website at winniekunene.co.za or email her on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of 1Life or its employees.