Here’s the scene: The pizza guy is en route, and I just realized that neither my husband nor I have cash and we know the restaurant doesn’t take cards. My kids, then 8 and 10, are both home. They both have money, so why not ask them?
Yes, that’s right. I borrow money from my kids. And until recently, I never saw anything wrong with that.
I decided to check in with friends, many of whom agreed that their kids’ money was off limits. One friend said, “I would rather go into overdraft before borrowing from my kids.” I asked why. I mean, I’m not talking about taking money from them, just borrowing it. Her response? “It’s their money to do with what they will. I will guide them, but it’s theirs. If I borrow from them, it sends the message that I don’t have the money and how do I know I’ll have it when they need it? I’m not willing to take that chance.”
I have a son and a daughter, aged 14 and 12, respectively. They each have their own bank accounts, plus a stash of cash in their piggy banks. When they were younger, around 6 and 8, I gave them an allowance, which, as they got older, I tried to attach to chores, like walking the dog, doing the dishes, taking out the recycling.
Three years ago, when they stopped doing their chores, I stopped giving them a weekly allowance. Yet still, they have money. All the time. They save it from birthdays, from holidays, and lemonade stands (no joke—my daughter’s made over $100 one day). They’ve barely touched the allowance they’d received for years. On top of their own bank accounts, they have a registered education savings plan, plus a joint savings account with me that holds their bar and bat mitzvah money. They are doing just fine. And they’re not spenders.
I have never taken from them without permission, and I’ve never borrowed what I can’t pay back. But, over the past six years, I have also never hesitated to ask either of them for money if I’m short. The pecking order goes like this: I ask my husband first, then my kids. Whether it’s $4 for the bus or $40 to pay the delivery guy, I know they’ve got the cash, and I know they’re not using it.
Wondering what my kids thought of me borrowing their money, I asked them. “What?” my son asked. “Why would I care? I’m not using the money.” My daughter agreed with him. Yet many people I know have the attitude that kids’ money is off bounds, that it’s wrong—some even say abuse—to touch it. I’ve read stories from people who were traumatized by how their parents borrowed from them as kids. I realize there’s a difference between the odd $20 and dipping into their savings, but truth be told, I’ve done that, too.
We’re a very transparent household. We talk about everything, finances included. A few years ago, I left my job to write, and our income took a hit. We’ve never sugarcoated that for the kids, but at the same time, their lives haven’t changed significantly as a result. Last year, I needed some gap financing to cover the mortgage one month. My son had just had his bar mitzvah and was pretty flush. I asked him if he was okay lending me $700 for a few weeks, and he was fine with it. We even joked about him being the boss of the house for the month.
This year, I told my daughter I’d likely have to borrow from her bat mitzvah gift money to pay for part of her bat mitzvah. She laughed and said, “I just want enough to buy a new laptop. You can keep the rest.” Of course I wouldn’t, and I will pay back what I borrow, but her response moved me nonetheless.
I get that borrowing cash from your kids doesn’t work for some people. Usually, I’m the first to say that money and family don’t mix, but somehow, this has never been an issue for me. If my kids ever asked me for money, I’d give it to them. They know I’d spend my last dime on them. Family takes care of each other, and in our family, this is how we do it.