With a Little Help From Our Family?

Undercover Economist Tim Hartford looked at a little-noticed survey by the US Census looking at households experiencing hardships in 2011 (like having your phone disconnected, missing rent and mortgage payments, and not seeing a doctor or dentist when needed), and who helped when times were tough. He found that more than half of households expected help from family members, but not too many received it:

The overwhelming majority were disappointed. It was rare for family members to provide help with rent arrears – about one time in six – and it was rarer still to receive financial help from other sources or for other purposes.

Hartford uses this survey to launch into research showing that when it comes to finding a job, it’s usually people we barely know—acquaintances, old college friends—who become especially useful, and arrives at the conclusion that when it comes to our careers and paying our bills, our families may not be too helpful (and maybe that’s why payday loans are so popular, he suggests).

Is this true for you? In my own life, my family doesn’t have money to spare, nor have they helped me find a job, but on the other hand, they have turned to me for help with both.

Photo: Rafael M Souza

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12 Comments / Post A Comment

Allison (#4,509)

My parents would, up to a certain point. I mean, when I was buying my condo and misread the list of fees/closing costs and didn’t realize it included the earnest money I’d already paid (I was a little stressed and freaking about 90 things at once) my mom was ready to cut a check so I could cover it. I REALLY didn’t want them to, and was so so relieved when they didn’t have to, but they were willing.

CubeRootOfPi (#1,098)

Among the people I know there are three camps:
(1) People whose family (mainly parents) can’t help them because they don’t have money to spare or resources to tap.
(2) People whose family do or would help them out, though the people haven’t fallen into financial difficulties. I’ve noticed that nearly all of the people in this category don’t have any emergency funds.
(3) People whose family (mainly parents) consistently “help them out” even though the people keep on falling into hard times because they refuse to be financially independent and/or responsible. For example: a friend had asked her mom for money to make a student loan payment, which her mom gave. The friend didn’t send the payment for several weeks because she literally didn’t feel like doing it.

Allison (#4,509)

@CubeRootOfPi Oh have I known type 3 people.

Caitlin with a C (#3,578)

Money: I’m really lucky. My family has offered to help with money when things were really rough — in the form of small loans with mutually agreed upon terms/dates. This basically only happened while I was in school. However, it was sort of unspoken that by the time I was a year or so out of school, I shouldn’t be asking for any help unless I ran into a major medical emergency or something. …and even then, kind of iffy. I think we’re far past the point in my life where I would ask my parents for financial help. (Plus, they just made a big financial decision and are more likely to need help than to be able to provide it.)

Jobs: I have talked to my dad about how to respond to job offers before because he has managed people in the past and had to do a lot of HR stuff, but I think that’s about the extent of it. My parents have really specialized backgrounds and have never had trouble finding jobs, so helping them hasn’t come up for me. My sister got me a part-time job once in college, though.

Friends have definitely been more helpful on the jobs front; family has been more helpful on the money front.

Lyesmith (#4,385)

My family is generous with money in some ways and not in others. My dad is a spend-thrift while my mom is frugal. My mom is very hesitant to go on vacations or buy new clothes for herself, but will offer to pay for my ticket to go to a resort, or to buy me furniture (I always say no). She also saved up the grocery money I was giving her while I was working part-time after graduating, and gave it back to me when I was moved out when my job went full-time (I ended up spending it on a new laptop). It’s actually because they’re so generous that I’m very hesitant to accept any financial support (and thankfully, I’ve not needed it). I feel like it would be way too easy to become an entitled burden. I lived with them through university and my first year of part-time work. Being able to live rent-free and save has meant I’ve been putting 50% of my first big job’s salary into savings for a year, not to mention the work/study jobs I’ve worked, and so that’s been a great help.

We also experienced financial issues when my dad was abusing credit cards and lying to mom about it, and it really instilled in me a terror of being financially dependent in a relationship. I’m both afraid of being a burden and being unable to escape from a crappy relationship/living situation when shit hits the fan.

MissMushkila (#1,044)

My parents would help me with financial problems if I asked – I am almost certain – but I would avoid asking because I know it would come with strings. (not terrible strings, but part of what I like about paying my own way is that I can respectfully not take their life advice)

I think the only time I’ve asked my parents for help was once in college. I had paid my rent and school bills, but didn’t have any money left for groceries until my next pay check. My dad brought me to the grocery store and paid for a ridiculous quantity of food.

My parents have also asked me for financial help in small amounts, also mostly while I was in college. With the exception of the patch mentioned above, I often had more in savings than they did. My sister also took a lot more financial help from them, so it would usually be a case where they needed a cash advance to pay a bill due to having paid my sister’s rent or something unexpectedly. They always paid me back right away.

I don’t loan money to my sister.

garli (#4,150)

My father would in a heart beat give me his last penny with out any questions asked. He also is constantly broke and doesn’t have any extra pennies. My mom might (she bailed out my brother for years) but it would come with a very high cost.

My husband’s family probably would. I know they bail out his brothers fairly regularly. They both are independent contractors in construction so their income is a lot more variable then our own.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

I’ve never looked to my family to bail me out of a truly dire situation but I suspect that they would make some effort to help if the situation was severe enough. They wouldn’t pay off my credit card but I’m pretty sure they’d help me stave off eviction if they were able. To me the most interesting part of this is the findings about career. It makes sense that when it comes to finding a new job the best results woudl come from the outer fringes of our social network. More distant acquaintances are more likely to have connections that we aren’t privy to while closer friends and relations would be operatingin the same saturated network that we are.

Ellie (#62)

My parents would of course help me out financially, as long as I wasn’t behaving irresponsibly. I am financially independent at this point, but my mom buys me groceries sometimes. I can definitely afford groceries, but if we are shopping together which happens occasionally, often she pays. I like being able to pay for myself and I typically do pay for myself whenever possible, but if I actually wasn’t able to afford something they would definitely help. If I had debt that I incurred myself, I think they’d think of it as my responsibility but if it were a hardship like mentioned above (if I couldn’t make rent, or couldn’t pay for medical care) they would pay for it as a gift, not a loan. If I chronically couldn’t pay rent I would move back home instead of having them pay my rent, because I definitely wouldn’t like the idea of being “kept” by my parents, but my guess is that they would be willing to pay my rent for several months (or possibly longer, but I don’t think that I could bring myself to accept it unless it was truly a stopgap thing).

Beans (#1,111)

My grandmother was very financially generous to me and her other grandchildren in the form of passing on investments. As for my parents, they funded my education but made it clear that they wouldn’t be funding me one day past college graduation. I wonder if that would have been different had my grandmother not given us a significant financial leg up in the world (not that I fault them for it, not at all- very grateful to graduate with no loans.) That said, if I ever was really down and out, I imagine my parents would let me live at home. But I can’t imagine them handing over a stack of cash, no strings attached.

lemonadefish (#3,296)

My dad doesn’t really have any money, but he is always coming down to help work on our house or build furniture, which would otherwise potentially cost a whole lot of money. My mom doesn’t have much money, but she likes to buy things for transitions (bought a house last summer, am now pregnant – she’s paid for paint, flooring, and baby furniture). My step-dad has a fair amount of money, and offered us a huge chunk when it looked like we were going to need a larger down payment than we had in cash (we didn’t end up needing it, and didn’t take it, but I do believe he would have happily forked over anything we asked for). My older sister is also happy to buy lots of things we need for the house, and would probably offer an emergency loan if needed. Either of my parents would let me move back in, though they’ve said they hope I never need to. I’ve never been in a situation where I couldn’t pay my bills, and I’d like to think I have enough of an emergency fund now that I won’t ever find myself in that situation, but I know sh*t happens, and I’m reasonably confident that family would help keep foreclosure at bay or whatever if necessary.

That’s weird because I found out during drunk bachelorette weekend chit chat a few months ago that I’m the only one of my friends who is 100% financially independent from my parents. Everyone else still has a Daddy Credit Card among other help. No judgement, I’d use it if I had it.

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