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Are you a broke mom who gives too much?

I worked with many women in their 50s who were broke. At most, they had their home partly paid off, but they had little savings and not much of a nest egg at all. They were understandably deeply anxious about it.

At the same time, they were sacrificially supporting their young adult kids: requesting no rent, or making their kid’s car payments/cel phone bills and more than one mom was putting them through private college.

This was difficult for me. I don’t have kids so I don’t personally know the deep, deep sacrificial love these moms had. And I didn’t know all the familial complexities and history the led up to this point.

But the moms were broke indeed, and rightly starting to sense that they were running out of time.

We would work together to find ways to ask the kids, sometimes for the first time ever, to start contributing to the family finances (rent. paying own cel. selling the car). Sometimes it happened, sometimes not. I suppose that’s because asking a child to start paying rent is so much more than a financial transaction, isn’t it?

If you’re a broke mom who gives too much, the one thing I’d say is this: it’s like being on an airplane and the oxygen mask drops down. Adults are asked to put their masks on first, and *then* help get the masks on the children. If you’re own financial life isn’t healthy (esp. at midlife), consider putting your own financial “mask” on and once you can “breathe normally” you will have a lot more capacity to help your children.

About the Author


Imagine if Canadians were known for being all over their money. Engaged. Proactive. Getting out of debt. Savvy. Saving. Generous. Nancy wants to help. Nancy started her own journey with money over 15 years ago, and formed her company “Your Money by Design” in 2004 to help others along the same path. It’s not the usual financial advising/investment stuff. It’s about taking control of day-to-day finances –managing monthly cashflow effectively, spending appropriately, getting out of debt, saving. If you're ready to take control over your finances, pop by her business site, YourMoneybyDesign.com

8 Comments

  1. Nancy,
    I love the analogy of the emergency procedures on an airplane you use. Like you, I don’t have children so I can’t speak from personal experience. But I’m watching many families in my circle struggle with the same dilemma: middle-aged children getting a free/easy ride on the back of their parents’ hard work. Not only is it a financial burden too great to bear as the mothers (and fathers!) approach retirement, but the children remain strangely infantilized and unable to cope with their finances. Have you been watching the new TV series “Princess” with Gail Vaz Oxlade? It perfectly encapsulates this phenomenon.

    Parents: put the mask on, already.

    [Reply]

    nancyzimmerman Reply:

    @Tracy That’s a really good point about the infantilization and I suppose fits in the whole over-the-top ParentsOfGenY phenomena including personally calling up Profs about kids grades and such. i haven’t watched Princess although I <3 GVO. I don't have cable in lieu of iTunes but I bet it's available for download.

    [Reply]

    Feb 05, 2011
  2. Oh Nancy this is perfect … I am a Mom but of course my kids are somewhat younger … but I can imagine we are just a few years off cell phones. I am fairly open about my financial catastrophes and one thing I now know that my children are aware of everything I do and I have to make changes now so they see that saving isn’t a luxury but a necessity … Hmm heres to making the change. I’m RT this and FB to others because I know way too many women who do this and are hence working longer before retiring. My Mother was amazing. She shared what she could which wasn’t much due to some personal situations she couldn’t control but as soon as she had a little more she shared appropriately. It has meant when I came to a time in my life when I really needed financial help to pay some university fees in my 30’s she was able to contribute and I am so much more grateful I hope I can one day be an example to my children like she has been to me.

    [Reply]

    nancyzimmerman Reply:

    Thanks Ruth and thanks for the RT/FB. Your mom sounds like she handled things in a very grounded way. I remember the first time hearing the phrase – we should give out of what we *have*, not what we *don’t have*. I’m not sure how that translates into our debt-riddledness but the principle is sound. Re: your own journey w/ $: hmmm…. ever care to guest blog?

    [Reply]

    Feb 05, 2011
  3. Cynthia

    As a “child” of older parents, I got no free ride. My parents didn’t pay for my car/insurance, in fact, I don’t even own a car, although I can afford one. They did not pay my tuition. I did live rent free while I went to college. I find that parents today are overcompensating for whatever they feel guilty for. You don’t need to pay your kids insurance, car payments or mortgage. If they can’t afford those things, maybe they need to rethink where they are spending their money.

    [Reply]

    nancy (aka moneycoach) Reply:

    Hi Cynthia – I didn’t get a free ride either although in retrospect I do wish I could have had a bit more of a free ride during University! I held down at least one, usually two part-time jobs and in retrospect I wish I’d been able to be 100% education oriented. Hat tip on not owning a car, btw; I ditched mine about 15 years ago and am a whole lot wealthier for it! Mind you, I lived/live in a place where it’s reasonably easy to get by sans car.

    [Reply]

    Feb 06, 2011
  4. alana burgess

    Hi Nancy:

    Thanks for the great article,I am a mother in that age range with a teenage child and find myself often giving more than I have, I was never rased that way, also coming close to retirement with not much of a savings,so thanks for the advice,I will put on my mask first ,starting today.

    [Reply]

    nancy (aka moneycoach) Reply:

    Alana – thanks for your comment; I’m touched. Every good wish as you move forward on this.

    [Reply]

    Feb 06, 2011

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