Financial Tethers to Our Families of Origin

Marital problem confession time:  Kyle and I have two areas of our financial picture that have created a fairly high level of conflict on several occasions during our marriage.  They both have to do with fully separating ourselves financially from our parents.


During premarital counseling, we learned about “leaving and cleaving” (Genesis 2:24), which means separating from your family of origin and creating your primary allegiance with your spouse.  While going over all our money management operations and accounts in detail during our engagement, we each found an area of the other’s financial picture of which we Did Not Approve and thought that the other should change to complete the financial aspect of the leaving and cleaving process.


My problem: Years ago, Kyle’s name was added to one of his parents’ credit cards.  I suppose it was largely for emergencies and I think he had occasionally purchased something for himself as a gift that his parents wanted him to have, but by the time we were engaged he hadn’t used it in quite a while.  It actually had a very positive effect on his credit score because the credit limit on the card was so high (I was jealous).  Since he had his own credit card by that time, I didn’t see the point of his name still being on that account.  He didn’t see why that would bother me and refused to ask his parents to remove his name.


Kyle’s problem: Years ago, my family set up a family plan for our cell phones.  I’ve mentioned here before that I don’t have a smartphone, and in fact I have not gotten a new phone or updated my plan in any way since 2006 when I was still in college.  Every month I pay my parents my fraction of the total family plan bill.  Kyle didn’t think that I should still be on a family plan with my family of origin and if anything we should have a family plan together.  I didn’t see the point in changing my phone situation (read: paying more) until my phone broke or I wanted to upgrade, at which point of course I wouldn’t continue on my parents’ family plan.  I refused to give up the plan.


I recognize that these issues are very minor and they don’t involve actually receiving money or being dependent on our parents.  But Kyle and I are very stubborn people and fights tend to recur until the underlying problems are resolved!  I think I picked on the credit card first and then he picked back on the cell phone.  It all boils down to a “what’s the harm” and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude.  And we haven’t resolved it after two years!  We’re currently in a cease-fire but I’m sure it will come up again.


There are some other ways that we receive financial benefits from our parents, but I don’t think they rise to the level of threatening our financial independence from them.

  • We accept and give gifts, but our parents definitely spend more on their gifts for us than we do for them.  Last summer we received very generous cash gifts for our anniversary and birthdays, which largely paid for the two new laptops we purchased.
  • My parents paid for the fixed costs of a family vacation we took with them.  We wouldn’t have gone on the vacation without their offer of payment.  We paid most of our variable costs.
  • We stay with our parents while visiting their cities instead of hotels.  This doesn’t really cost them anything except some incidental groceries, but it saves us a ton.  When we visit Kyle’s parents we usually borrow one of their cars, which saves us the cost of a rental.
  • Our parents take us out to dinner at least once whenever we visit and we never pay.
  • Oh, right, and our parents largely paid for our educations and wedding(s).  Those are major ones, though in the past.


To me, all of items in this list fall under the heading of gifts.  Our parents are very generous and love to spoil us a little when we see them (like going out to dinner) and it’s wonderful for us because we don’t treat ourselves like that normally.


It’s hard to see our own blind spots with regard to our families.  Every family’s normal modes of behavior seem quirky and strange to an outsider, and it’s certainly an adjustment when marriage brings in a new party.  Neither Kyle nor I gave second thoughts to the accounts still connecting us to our parents until the other objected.  I’m not sure how the situation will totally resolve itself, but I am confident that none of these minor disagreements are real leaving issues.


Do you think it’s important to sever all lingering financial ties with your parents by the time you get married?  Do you have any remaining financial structure with your parents that you haven’t gotten around to eliminating?  Do you consider that your financial independence has ever been compromised because of gifts from your parents?  


photo from shanii

Written by

Filed under: marriage · Tags: , , , , , ,

27 Responses to "Financial Tethers to Our Families of Origin"

  1. AverageJoe says:

    My parents just left my house and I’m sick of them freeloading off me! (That was a joke…they can stay any time and for as long as they want.) We tried very hard not to ask our parents for loans when we were first married because it felt too much like taking advantage of a situation…plus it put the non-family spouse in a difficult position. We still had to do it, but that was our family-related hang up which compromised our independence.
    AverageJoe recently posted..Cuppa’ O.G. Rental Real Estate in your IRA – What Are They Thinking?

  2. […] writing with or about spouses this week? Emily at evolvingPF writes another home-run diary post in Financial Tethers to Our Family of Origin. She talks financial friction based on outside-family ties. What habits do you have that come from […]

  3. Well Heeled Blog says:

    I am extremely close to my parents, especially my mom (as she is basically my PF guru), so I doubt that I an going to severe my financials ties with my family… ever. I am going to be the trustee and executor of their estate (that hopefully comes in many, many, years), the inheritor and beneficiary of their accumulation of wealth, and my parents still pay for my cell phone plan as part of family plan. The thing is, I know we all say there’s no one right answer in personal finance, but seriously, there is. And 99% of the time, it’s what my mom has told me. CB and I are a team when it comes to our finances, but there’s no doubt where our team leadership and vision come from. 😉
    Well Heeled Blog recently posted..Fess Up Friday: 5 Personal Finance Topics I’m Over

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for your comment. I wasn’t really thinking about vision-casting or advice when I wrote this post, though certainly that’s a softer exchange that goes back and forth between family members all the time on a variety of subjects. Actually, I am teaching my parents to use Mint and keep a budget right now. We could probably do with some more advice from Kyle’s parents, although they are not the type of family that discusses finances. I would caution you to consult with your husband (once he is your husband) first before consulting with your mother and watch for signs of him becoming uncomfortable with the level of your mother’s influence on your decisions. Like I said in the post, we all have blind spots about our family.

      P.S. What does your mom say about your vacation ideas?

      1. Honestly? I’m too scared to ask her. She’d probably say, off with your head! hahaha (kidding… kind of). I think that’s a sign that I shouldn’t take the vacation.

        I’m not sure it’s a blind spot, because I know and CB knows how much I trust her judgment and advice when it comes to financial decisions (and it helps that she never micromanages). I don’t think CB is going to look askance on that, because he will be a beneficiary of my mom’s wisdom and finances as well – directly and indirectly.
        Well Heeled Blog recently posted..Fess Up Friday: 5 Personal Finance Topics I’m Over

  4. It’s very hard to cut the financial umbilical cords of our loving parents. I know that it was difficult for me for many years. Personally, I feel that you and your husband have very valid arguments about staying on your parents plans.

    I wouldn’t say that it threatens your financial independence from them. But, I would caution that you not let the support get to the point where you become lazy with managing your own financial life. Definitely stay on top of your money management plans, and if your parents want to help you out from time-to-time, let them. Their support isn’t hurting you, and you certainly aren’t hurting them. Hope that helps you.
    Anthony Thompson recently posted..Self Management – Classic Self-Management Books You Should Start Reading Today

    1. Emily says:

      I hope their gifts to us aren’t hurting them! Sometimes I wonder with my parents as they are not the greatest money managers. We are generally not lazy about our financial situation but there are the occasional corners that we don’t want to deal with like what I wrote about here!

  5. Leigh says:

    I would say that when you get married or graduate from college and get a real job is a really good time to cut financial ties from you parents and start doing your own taxes. That’s also a good time to ask your parents to clear up any accounts in your name that you don’t know about.

    I’m not married. After I graduated from college, I removed my mom from my checking account. I can still transfer money to her or her to me online so it’s not really a big deal. I never had a family cell phone plan with my parents – I always paid for my own.

    Have you and Kyle considered getting your own family cell phone plan instead of you staying on your parents’?

    At this point only being a few years out of college, a large portion of my net worth is still thanks to my parents paying for college (and thus I didn’t take out any student loans) as well as various other monetary and non-monetary gifts over the years. On the other hand, I’ve always been a saver, so I saved a good portion of my net income over the years.

    I definitely think that parents having control can be a bad thing though if your parents are micromanaging your finances. If those two concerns you shared are the only ones that you and Kyle have in regards to your parental involvement in your finances, I think that you guys are doing pretty well 🙂
    Leigh recently posted..Discussing Salary On Dates

    1. Emily says:

      We have actually picked out the cell phone and plan I want to get when my phone finally eats it. The problem is that I don’t want to be with Kyle’s carrier because of the expense. We’ve chosen a low-cost carrier for me. If they change their plan to let Kyle bring in his old phone instead of having to purchase a new one I think he might switch. Mostly it’s just that I really don’t see the point in upgrading my phone until absolutely necessary.

      I agree that financial independence should come before marriage – ideally, whenever you get your first full-time job. (I think the definition of being an adult includes financial independence, and that only adults should get married.) Merging lives with another person forces us to re-examine all our habits and clean up whatever we’ve been overlooking, like my cell plan. I didn’t mention it in this post, but until we got married Kyle was still on his parents’ car insurance. That was a point we agreed needed to change and we got a policy together. It wasn’t a huge expense for his parents or for us, but it was just something where the status quo had to change.

      I think we’re doing well too. Our parents don’t actually have any influence over our finances. We don’t even discuss it with them. *shrugs*

      1. Leigh says:

        I completely agree with you. Financial independence from your parents is when you’re really an adult. If the parents aren’t paying for college, that can be when the kids go off to college. On the other hand, if the parents do pay for college, it might not be until after college. And I definitely think people shouldn’t get married until they’re financially separated from their parents, since marriage *is* building a new baby family (I love that phrase from APW).
        Leigh recently posted..Discussing Salary On Dates

  6. I’m almost 30 (eek that’s hard to write) and I still have a credit card (that belongs to my parents) with my name on it. They gave it to me when I was in HS for emergencies. Luckily they have excellent credit so it hasn’t been an issue for me. But when I recently had a credit check run for our mortgage, I was like hmm what’s that mastercard, I don’t have a mastercard and it was there card. Made me think that maybe it’s time to cancel the card, but sometimes my mom has me buy things for her online with her card (airfare etc), so I haven’t done so yet.
    Kari@Small Budget Big Dreams recently posted..Financial Confession: I Hide Money

    1. Leigh says:

      My mom and I often buy each other things and then pay each other back. She has my credit card number saved as a payee in her bill pay and I have hers. That makes it super easy to pay each other back and no joint card necessary. It has worked quite well for us and for her and her mom before her. I’ve even done the same with friends if we could only put some part of a trip on one credit card.
      Leigh recently posted..Discussing Salary On Dates

  7. CultOfMoney says:

    I don’t know if it’s worth severing all financial ties just because. It’s one thing if you are taking advantage of your parents, or they don’t have much money, but I’ve found that many parents do like to help their kids. Some expectation setting about what appropriate levels for gifts may be in order, but it is makes them happy, and doesn’t make you uncomfortable, I don’t see the reason of saying we have to be completely independent just to say we are…
    CultOfMoney recently posted..Spring training for your money

  8. […] presents Financial Tethers to Our Families of Origin posted at Evolving Personal Finance, saying, It’s hard to see our own blind spots with regard to […]

  9. […] Financial Tethers to Our Families of Origin was featured in the Carnival of Financial Camaraderie #28. […]

  10. Jessica says:

    I wish I could cut the financial umbilical cord from my parents when I get married. I will have to stay on their cell phone family plan until the end of the contract. That, to me isn’t really a big deal, and I don’t think I need to worry about that getting in the way of gaining financial independence. I have bigger issue to worry about and navigate through. When I was still in college my parents, sister, and I pooled money together to purchase a condo, since they told me that by doing so, I wouldn’t be throwing away money into rent. By paying a mortgage, they told me that I would be building equity. At the time, I thought it made lots of sense. When they purchased it, they put everything under their name. At first the arrangement was fine, but unfortunately my parents started using the condo to try to control me since they know that I invested a lot of money in it. So, even though I would like to move out after I get married, I will still be financially tethered to my parents through the condo in ways that makes me uncomfortable. Only time will tell how this will all play out.
    Jessica recently posted..Wedding Trimmings Part II

    1. Emily says:

      That sounds like a nightmare. Did you get anything in writing about increasing your share of the equity? Is there any way you can get it in writing now? I guess you can get in with manipulative business partners at any time but it’s so much trickier with family. I suppose you could sell?

      1. Jessica says:

        I didn’t get anything in writing before the purchase. I was very naive at the time and trusted that my parents would always look out for my best interest. With the title, the mortgage, and everything else in their names, I don’t think I truly have any say whether we can sell it right now or not. I don’t see them wanting to sell, since my sister will still live there. It’s very much a balancing act. On one hand I do feel like I’ve been treated unfairly, but on the other hand, I don’t want to completely ruin my relationship with my family.
        Jessica recently posted..Extra Paycheck!

        1. Emily says:

          I wonder if you can get in writing what you share of the equity is now and how it will increase going forward, and then offer to sell that part back to them? I would hope that they would see that this arrangement is making you uncomfortable and that dissolving the business relationship is the best way to preserve the familial relationship. Maybe it’s worth a shot, anyway. Or you could just consider that it’s a lost asset and you were paying rent instead of a portion of a mortgage. Screws you financially (hopefully not too hard) but would be better for staying in relationship.

  11. eemusings says:

    I’ve been financially independent since 17 – on the other hand, T’s family are dire with money and that definitely is a source of stress for us. I think he’s learned his lesson good and proper after putting his name on an account that wasn’t his ended up affecting his credit and ability to get an iPhone (!!) – but yeah, I do worry about this going forward.
    eemusings recently posted..What we spent: March 2012

  12. Zack Jones says:

    I’m in the unique situation of being a child of very generous parents and a parent that helps their kids. When it comes to receiving gifts from my parents they have always been given with no strings attached. We’ve accepted them as such and it has never once caused any stress on our marraige.

    We also have some of our kids on our family plan. It gives them a discount versus having their own plan so they have extra money for their roth IRAs. Each month when we receive the bill from Verizon we contact them and tell them their amount to pay which they do. They know they’d better make the payment because we’ll shut off their service if they don’t :).

    When we are able my wife and I will do as my parents have done for me — we’ll give to our children with no strings attached.
    Zack Jones recently posted..One Down One To Go!

    1. Emily says:

      I’m sure having both those perspectives enhances your ability to keep those gifts string-free.

  13. Megan E. says:

    This was an issue for me when we first started talking marriage, since his parents pay for his phone and also give us quite a bit of money every month AND give us “gifts” (cash or stuff) several times throughout the year.

    But I realized that it made them happy, they can afford it, and it allows us to save quite a bit! So until we finally finish all schooling (please less than 3 years now), I don’t think it’s a huge issue, just something to keep in the back of our minds. Same with being on my mom’s CC – I don’t actually HAVE a card, but it keeps my score high until my own accounts age enough and I have a “real job”.

    I do think though, that the only way this works is if there are no expectations on either part – they don’t demand you do x, y, or z in exchange for the money/gift and you don’t expect it to keep coming…

    1. Emily says:

      I would be wary of that situation. How do you keep yourselves from expecting or becoming dependent on that income? Does your husband earn enough money to support himself?

  14. […] paying $35/month for a 6-year-old dumphone on a family plan with my family-of-origin (remember this argument?), so this is a major […]

  15. […] paying $35/month for a 6-year-old dumphone on a family plan with my family-of-origin (remember this argument?), so this is a major […]

Leave a Reply


CommentLuv badge