Hax: Finances creating rift with parents

The Washington PostJune 22, 2013 

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Carolyn: My parents asked us to match their contributions to our children's savings accounts. While this is well-intentioned advice, we are focusing (in our early 30s) on shoring up our retirement reserves and paying down debt. Not to mention, we both work, and two kids in day care is a significant expense that won't be there forever.

I started explaining all this, and I think did a decent job doing so, but realize I should have said something more along the lines of "If you want to contribute, that's great, but our financial decisions are our business." My parents have a tendency to try to control more than they should in my adult life; we have a decent, albeit distanced, relationship because of this.

Do I revisit and explain that our family's finances are no longer a topic of discussion or negotiation, or just let it lie unless they bring it up again?


Leave it alone, but have a respectful, duly grateful response ready for when the subject comes up again.

Don't beat yourself up, either, for over-explaining this time. It sounds as if you're working to break a habit of answering to domineering parents, and exchanges like the one you describe are common - where you reflexively explain yourself instead of kindly insisting they step off. Part of that process is waking up the next day with a forehead slap when you realize what you should have noticed, said or done.

As for the specific issue of the college (right?) savings, if you bring it up again, then you run the risk of alienating people who want to give you money, and no self-respecting pragmatist can encourage that. Even if they've decided not to give until you agree to match their contributions, bringing it up again is perilously close to a shakedown.

So revisit only if they renew their request - insistence? - that you match them. But instead of "Our finances are our business," consider this preamble: "There are loans for college but not for retirement."

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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