Before you cry inequity from parents, look at the numbers

By Michelle Singletary

Already this summer, I’ve written a couple of columns about financial favoritism by parents. And the debate is still raging.

The discussion was kicked off following a question I received from a reader who felt that his parents are disproportionately generous to his two spendthrift sisters. Despite his high earnings and major savings chops, the reader believed he too deserved money from his parents.

I urged him to be grateful that he was doing so well, which prompted a slew of notes from people who thought I wasn’t fair. I let people have their say in a follow-up column. And yet the comments keep coming.

I wanted to address this issue again because, for me, the remarks I’ve been getting are indicative of a culture where the haves want more even though they have a lot.

“Financial favoritism has become an interesting topic in your columns,” one reader wrote during a recent online discussion. “My 2014 household income of $240,000 puts our family of five in the top 5 percent of Americans. After being responsible with our money, we don’t have a lot to just go crazy.”

What comes next is this reader’s inside look into his or her family finances. I appreciated the transparency although you’ll see how it helps make my point about gratefulness.

So let’s take a look at how this family said it spends most of its money on an annual basis after taxes and other required deductions.

Retirement savings: $17,500. At that amount, the family maxed out what could be contributed to one 401(k) account for 2014. Employees can contribute up to $18,000 this year.

Health insurance: $11,929.

Savings for a future car: $6,000.

College savings: $16,500. In Sallie Mae’s “How America Saves for College 2015” survey, the average family saving for college has put away just $10,040.

Education: $2,648. Various school expenses and tutors.

Auto expenses: $10,390. They have no car payment, so this amount is for gas, insurance, repairs and taxes.

Clothing: $4,022.

Donations: $11,823.

Entertainment: $4,994.

Gifts: $5,544.

Groceries/eating out: $14,820.

House payment: $29,932, including taxes and insurance.

General household expenses: $6,774. Mainly repairs and lawn and garden work.

Term life insurance for two people: $1,557.

Medical: $1,477. Out-of-pocket costs.

Pet care: $545.

Recreation, sports and hobbies: $9,857. (The reader didn’t provide more specifics in this category.)

Travel: $12,203

Utilities &telephone: $12,203.

“The point I am trying to make is life is expensive even for the top 5 percent, and when a sibling gets an extra $30,000 or car bought for them from a sympathetic parent it is frustrating to the kid that is being responsible and that saved five years for the $30,000 car.”

I read that last comment and had to just shake my head. This family is saving more than most for retirement and college. And that’s commendable.

But they are also spending more money on recreation, travel, gifts and entertainment than some families have in annual household income.

This debate has been centered on parents who choose to help adult children less fortunate than their siblings. But it goes beyond that issue. It’s about people at the top of the income ladder who resent the help people get below them.

I’ve heard from parents who have saved adequately for their kids’ college education yet complain that poorer families are eligible for need-based financial aid.

They say things such as “I’m being punished for saving.”

Or they protest, “Why should families that were irresponsible get rewarded?”

What these families fail to realize is that much of that financial aid is in the form of loans, and even when needy students get grants or scholarships, it’s often not nearly enough to cover all college expenses.

Sure, you can live an expensive life on $240,000. But you don’t have to.

The blessing you get from all of your scrimping, sacrificing, and saving is that you live a very comfortable life. Your bills are paid. Your retirement is set. Your kids will graduate from college with little or no debt to slow them down after they launch from your house. Can your less-responsible siblings say any of that? Even with the subsidies you despise them getting?

Your responsible money habits have rewarded you richly. Enjoy the results of your labor. Even be proud of yourself if you like. But stop looking at what those less fortunate or less responsible than you have. You don’t need what they’re getting.

(c) 2015, Washington Post Writers Group

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