In the You Thought YOU had Problems department, consider the case of Giancarlo Casagrande of Bergamo Italy. Earlier this year, an Italian Court ordered the 60 year old father to resume paying $492/month in living expenses for his 32 year old daughter who has been working on her graduate thesis for the last eight years. Casagrande and his wife divorced in 1997. As part of the settlement he was required to pay living expenses for his then 19 year old daughter, a full-time student residing with her mother. Years later, the expense became burdensome for him, as did his daughter's inability to complete her educational requirements. Much to the outrage of the sane population, the court ruled in favor of the young woman. Silvio Berlusconi's cabinet minister, Roberto Calderoli called the verdict "a slap in the face of good sense."
Millions of Americans feel Giancarlo's pain. We give to our grown children until it hurts. The trouble is, by the time it hurts we've given too much. A few years ago, our financial advisor cautioned us against catering to every one of our grownup kids' financial needs to the detriment of our retirement. I looked at her bemusedly and said, "But we can afford it." Her answer? "You only think you can afford it." She was probably right.
Our advisor's voice is but one in a choir of voices who sing the same song. There is no doubt among financial planners and economists that the children of Babyboomers have been the most indulged generation of all time. Objects of desire are ubiquitous and marketed to death. All I remember dying for in my teenage years was a stereo and a pair of white go-go boots. (If you don't know what those are you are actually young enough to benefit from the upcoming advice.) Today our teenagers expect cellphones and computers and video game consoles and ipods and expensive jeans. And that's just for the teenagers! The recession has made matters worse. Many of us have adult children who are unable to make ends meet. Practically everyone I know has helped with student loans or mortgages or down payments on new homes or credit card debt. Some pay rent on their children's apartments while the kids go for advanced degrees. Some have invested in their kids' new businesses while also paying for weddings. We pay airfare for visits back home. We pay for health insurance. Expert opinion is unanimous. We are crazy and this has to stop. Immediately.
The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, practically yells at you from behind your computer screen that it is unwise to sacrifice you financial wellbeing in favor of your children's. In an article titled, It's Okay to be Selfish: Your Financial Wellbeing Comes Before Your Children's, the CFP board claims that "we can no longer afford to think about our personal finances the way we did in the bubbly pre-recession days. Today there are new financial realities and we must re-examine some basic assumptions and consider some new approaches."
Apparently, the most important new approach is to put ourselves before our children.