Think Less of Me

Jonathan Clements  |  February 18, 2017

IN EARLY 2005, when Hannah was age 16 and Henry was 12, I took them out to a local diner and told them exactly how much financial help I’d provide. I would make sure they graduated college debt-free. I would seed a retirement account with $25,000 and a house-down-payment fund with $20,000. On top of that, I’d give them $5,000 upon graduation, plus another $5,000 toward the cost of a wedding or at age 30, whichever came first.

Last month, Hannah got engaged.

When I made my financial commitments to my children, they reflected my values—and those values haven’t much changed. I ended up being more generous than I initially promised, putting extra money into Hannah and Henry’s retirement and house funds. Investment gains further bolstered the accounts. By the time they graduated college, they both had around $100,000. I even wrote a private mortgage for Hannah, so she could buy her first home.

But I’m still not inclined to give Hannah much more than $5,000 toward the cost of her wedding.

In a world where almost half of all Americans approaching retirement age have less than $50,000 saved, I find it unfathomable to spend $30,000, and often far more, on a single day of celebration. Every fiber in my body rebels against the notion.

Hannah hasn’t pressed me to give more. She understands that I’ve been generous over the years and that I long ago made clear what my values are. She’ll get plenty of help from my ex-wife, her grandmother and her future mother-in-law. At the wedding, I will probably feel a little awkward, because I’ll know I haven’t paid “my fair share.”

But I’m still not inclined to give much more than $5,000.

On the other hand, when the grandchildren arrive, I’ll be the first to contribute to their college accounts. Those are my values.

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