Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Readers’ Comments on “Mother Wants Money from Grandparents for Kids’ Camp”

Many readers commented on my column, Mother Wants Money from Grandparents for Kids’ Camp. In general, the responses were of two types: (1) Personal reactions to the young mom who was considering asking her in-laws for money for her kids’ expensive camp program; (2) Grandparents sharing how they are currently helping their grandchildren financially.

One reader suggested how the young mom could pay for the camp herself: “I would suggest seeing if the camp is hiring. If you were to work at the camp your children can probably attend for free, or at a heavy discount.” A related, but more frosty, comment came from a young, working mom whose two boys are signed up for a camp program: “Seriously, go get a job to pay for camp. You feel okay asking your financially savvy in-laws to pay for camp while you’re home without your kids [while they are at camp]?! And, you are being pretty presumptuous that you’ll be getting an inheritance.”

This latter point about assuming one will receive an inheritance is driven home in this situation: “My stepson, Hank, was in his early teens when his father and I married 15 years ago. During all these years he has been dismissive of me, often rude. He recently married and his new wife is the same way towards me. When my husband and I take trips or purchase new cars or boats, Hank and his wife, both spendthrifts, say things to us ‘jokingly,’ such as, ‘Wow! We hope you don’t spend all of our inheritance!’

“I have no surviving family members so they assume they will inherit from me. My husband and I keep our finances separate and don’t discuss them, so not even he knows that I have changed my will and plan on leaving nothing to Hank and his wife. Callous on my part? You betcha. Do I feel guilty? Not a bit. Will I feel differently if they have kids? Don’t know.” The message here needs no further explanation!

Another young mom writes:  “With the mom trying to figure out how to get money from her in-laws, I worry about the lesson the kids in this family are learning (or I should say, not learning!) about being independent and financially responsible for oneself. Also, what happens if the grandparents run into something that depletes their savings, like a serious medical situation?”

This point about expensive, late-in-life illnesses and diseases is on the mark, and it is something grandparents and their financial planners justifiably worry about. Seniors know that Medicare doesn’t cover everything, and one of their greatest fears is running out of money. For example, according to a study by Harvard University’s Dr. David Himmelstein: “Unless you’re Bill Gates, you’re just one serious illness away from bankruptcy.” It is also important to factor in that grandparents are living longer, and their kids may be in their 70s when they inherit.  So, for a variety of reasons, inheritances are not guaranteed.

In a related comment a grandmother expresses both concern and gratitude: “One morning last week, after I read a discouraging New York Times article on how unprepared people are for retirement, I read your column about the mom wanting to ask for money from her in-laws. I worry about all the young parents who are living beyond their means and are counting on inheriting their parents’ money. This attitude really bothers me. At the same time, reading both the Times article and your column gave me another reason to appreciate my daughter-in-law. She would never ask us for money for an expensive camp program for our grandchildren. She never takes us for granted and is so appreciative for whatever we do for our grandchildren. I am so lucky!”

Several grandparents shared ways in which they are financially involved with their grandchildren. For example, one set of grandparents gives each of their grandchildren $500 on his/her birthday, with the understanding that the money is to be used only for special lessons or activities of interest to the child. When the grandchildren were younger, their parents made these decisions, but now that the children are older, they can make these decisions for themselves.

Some might question whether it is advisable to make gifts of money contingent upon being used only for certain expenditures – in this case for enrichment, school, or sports activities. I say yes. If a strings-attached contingency is a problem, then the recipient always has the option of declining the gift. The reality is that the person with the purse strings is in the driver’s seat and gets to decide how his/her money may or may not be used.

The following is what a young mom of two children wrote to her mother after both read my column. “I’m glad you feel that we don’t take advantage of you.  If I had to say anything, it is that you are much too generous to us.  I have friends whose parents’ have money and they feel entitled that they share it, and they live like they will get it all someday. You and Dad worked hard for everything you have. I say live for today. I’m so glad you do the things you do – travel, go out to dinner, and I know you are very generous to charities. I agree that with people living longer and needing more medical help, you need to save for yourself. I plan that what we have is what we have and there is no pot at the end of the rainbow.” In other words, this young mom is basing her family’s financial decisions on her own circumstances and is not making any decisions assuming she will be getting an inheritance.

Another grandmother gives books to her grandchildren for birthdays and holidays, as well as making contributions to their education funds. This grandmother worked with her financial planner to set up the education funds for the grandchildren. The grandchildren are still very young and do not, as yet, have an understanding of their education funds; this grandmother wonders if she should make it known to them when they are older that she has set up and regularly funds them. My response is that her grandchildren should definitely know about her generosity and her commitment to helping them with their education.

A final remark from a parent to the mom thinking about asking her in-laws for money: “Good luck. Camp holds some of my best childhood memories and I hope you are able to give those memories to your children.” A closing reminder: A child doesn’t have to attend an expensive camp program beyond his/her parents’ means to generate lasting and wonderful camp memories.

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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