Economic Outpatient Care – Enabling, Not Disabling, Your Kids

Economic Outpatient Care

Economic outpatient care will disable – not enable – your children. Always remember that you’re not raising kids. You’re raising adults, who happen to currently be children. Act accordingly.

It’s hard to believe back when you hold that newborn in your arms, but one day that baby will become an adult. They may be taller than you, more successful than you, or wealthier than you. Many of us parents hope that our children will one day outperform us. This desire to help them be successful doesn’t mean coddling them. In fact, it means the opposite – not enabling bad behavior, and teaching the skills they’ll need to succeed out there in the world. My ultimate goal is to to raise adults. This means them learning to “adult” before they go out to live on their own. I’m talking about things like:

-Cleaning up after yourself

-Doing your own laundry

-Cooking for yourself

-Mowing the lawn

-Work skills – working hard, negotiating, etc.

-Taking general care of yourself

-Budgeting, bill paying and general wise handling of money

Teaching my boys these things will not only help them to be self-sufficient, but will also make them a great partner for whomever they one day choose to partner with. Today I’m focusing on the money side – why it’s important to raise financially independent and wise adults (not kids), a bit about how to do it, and the concept of enabling without disabling via too much economic outpatient care.   

Why Is This Important

Too often, when a family becomes successful, the kids suffer from a form of coddling. Dr. Thomas Stanley in The Millionaire Next Door (one of the four books that changed my financial life) referred to this phenomenon as “economic outpatient care”. In other words, the parents paying for everything for their kids, even as adults. Dr. Stanley was famous for using complex words when simpler ones would do. For example, the first time I read one of his books I had to look up the word eleemosynary. It means charitable. Just say charitable, doctor.

This isn’t the scenario where an adult child has an illness, divorce, or job loss and needs temporary support to get back on their feet. Now, this is a scenario where the adult child has become dependent on their parents income or support – and would suffer greatly if it were withdrawn.

For example, take Bob, the brother of one of my friends. He’s approaching fifty years old but is still heavily dependent on his parents – and always has been. From the time he was a young adult, the parents were paying his rent, caring for his kids, bringing him food, paying his bills, and even doing his laundry. He has literally never had to survive without her parents support. Those parents are now approaching their 90’s, and in not the best of health. What’s going to happen when the money – and support – faucet stops?

Even in less extreme cases, you need to consider the cold, hard facts. If you’ve built up a successful business or financial life, you’re at risk of the next generation squandering it all if you’re not careful. Unfortunately 70% of wealthy families loose that wealth by the second generation. There’s a reason that “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” is an actual saying. Most children squander the legacy of their parents, and the third generation squanders it even more. Until it’s all gone.

If you’ve worked hard to build up a business or a nest egg, the last thing you likely want is your kids turning into lazy spendthrifts living for their inheritance. So other than simply cutting them out of the will and leaving them nothing, or creating an airtight spendthrift trust, how do you do that?

It Starts With The Basics

When your kids are very small, the only money lesson you need to worry about teaching them is “don’t eat the money”.  Once they get beyond that initial stage, you need to remember that there are two types of lessons they’re learning:

The Lessons You Teach

These are the kinds of lessons that most people think about when they talk of teaching their kids about money. Budgeting, saving, spending. How credit cards work. What debt is, why to avoid it, and how to manage it. The miracle of compound interest. Eventually, how mortgages and retirement accounts work.

The Lessons You Show

Kids are sponges. They notice everything going on around them – your money conversations, spending priorities, and daily decisions. If you’re paying for everything for them, always get them the latest name brand things, and frequently get new cars with car loans – they notice. They’ll also be paying attention if you talk about “not being able to afford” something rather than “choosing not to spend on” something. The way you handle money, and talk about money, will be internalized and become part of their own financial story.

As your kids grow, you need to keep both kinds of lessons in mind. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m the mother of three boys – 14, 10, and 2. Through the years I’ve gone through the “don’t eat the money” lesson, all the way to now more sophisticated budgeting and debt discussions. I talk a lot on this site about the kinds of financial lessons I strive to teach during everyday events in our lives. Hot air balloon festivals, school book fairs, field trips – they’re all great opportunities to teach financial lessons without lecturing about money.

Economic Outpatient Care
Teaching your kids that having fun doesn’t have to equal spending money is an important lesson

Teaching Those Lessons – The How Tos

Most people say that when they were kids, their parents never taught them anything about money. In this case, they’re usually talking about that first lesson, the ones you teach. Well, no kid or teen wants to sit through a boring lecture on mortgages. So instead of hosting a five-part lecture series in your house, I recommend teaching them about those things as they come up in your own or in their life. Their first job is a great time to sit down together and go through budgeting. It’s also a great time to open an IRA and teach them about saving for retirement. What else can you do before that first job? Let’s walk through a few ideas.

  • Credit Cards – Go through your credit card statements with them, pointing out the minimum payment, interest rate, and how long it will take to pay off if you only pay the minimum. Ask them how much they think that would cost you in interest – and then show them the real number. Tell them how you only use the card for what you’ve budgeted, and how you pay it in full every month so you don’t have to pay any interest. I have yet to do this but I plan to soon with my oldest.


  • Compound Interest – Teach them compound interest through the old “penny doubling every day” example. You know, the one where you have a penny and if it doubles every day for a month, how much would you have. After they answer, show them this video. It’s short and I bet they’ll be amazed at the real answer. I’ve done this with my older boys, and yes, they were amazed. And I asked them the same question a few years later, and guess what – they remembered this example. I also used cashing out old savings bonds as a way of teaching my boys about compounding.


  • Mortgages and Other Debt – Talk about your mortgage. I have my mortgage payoff chart in the kitchen, hanging on the inside of one of my cabinet doors. Every time I update it, I make sure to mention to the older boys how exciting it is to pay this down. I want them to remember that not only did this house cost money (so I hope they appreciate it!) but that I’m working hard to pay off that mortgage. We’ve been debt free except for this mortgage for five years now (since the oldest two were 9 and 5) so they don’t really remember any other debt. You can use the same concept for any kind of debt.


  • Budgeting – Make a “mini-budget” with them for their allowance. Something simple, in the spend/save/give categories. Some folks use jars so their kids have a better visual – this is especially effective when they’re younger.


  • Investing – You can always buy your kids a share of stock and use it to teach them about stock investing, like I’ve done with Disney and Nintendo. The older boys also have an UTMA/UTGA where I’ve invested a small amount of money they were gifted from a relative. When we get the quarterly statements, I go through it with them. Of course, I go into more detail with the oldest than the ten year old, but both find it informative. I want them to not only know what investing is and how it works, but also what all the terminology means.

The other lessons are both easier and harder to teach. You just need to be on the lookout for those teachable moments, talk about them, and reinforce the lessons a few times. Take, for example, that time my kids made spending purchases they later regretted. That time was used to teach how controlling your impulses and making wise spending decisions is important. Or when my oldest son wanted an expensive toy and saved up for it – we make sure to mention how smart that was as an example to the other boys. That was a good lesson in delayed gratification.

The Key Is to Enable – Without Enabling

You’ll also want to think hard about how you’re teaching the values side of money. This is the hard work, discipline, economic self-sufficiency, delayed gratification, controlling impulse purchases, and living within your means side of money.

The easy way out is to pay for everything yourself, especially if you can afford it without struggle. But in this case doing what’s easy can set your kids up for failure. Too often I see well-intentioned parents taking away learning opportunities from their children because they don’t want little Johnny or Suzy to suffer. They throw up their arms helplessly at the child (really adult) who goes to school and parties on their parents dime, or who wants to move back home to live rent-free so they can spend their money on bars and cars. As those “kidults” get older, the parents may help them buy a house in a “nice neighborhood” they otherwise couldn’t afford, send their grandkids to private school, and cover the bills when “they’ve had a rough month” every single month.

Guess what? You’re the parent, and it’s your job and responsibility to teach kids the hard things.

Just because you have money doesn’t mean they have money. Setting reasonable limits on what you’re going to pay for might not make them happy, but it will make them into better adults.

There are reasons I have pretty strict limits on what I am and am not willing to do for the boys for college – and I do expect them to chip in to cover certain costs. I expect them to have lousy jobs as (later) teens, learning the job basics like showing up on time and getting along with your co-workers. I will not be paying for their car insurance, new cars, expensive smart phones, and so on.

You enable your children through your love and affection. Through being there for them during hard times. Helping them learn to study, work hard at school and at work. Bringing them to after-school activities for fun and enrichment. Assisting them in getting into a good college, and helping them understand how they’re going to pay for it.

Giving them money, paying for their lifestyle, making it so they don’t have to work – that’s not enabling them to become a successful, productive member of society. That’s “enabling” them in the more traditional AA sense, or really disabling them from reaching their potential.

The real way you enable is through teaching them values and lessons they will use for the rest of their life. These will impact your family tree long after you’re gone.

Let me know how you teach these lessons to your kids in the comments. You can also check out more I’ve written on kids and money, frugal family discussions we have, or my kids and college resource center.

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22 thoughts on “Economic Outpatient Care – Enabling, Not Disabling, Your Kids”

  1. We have been having a blast teaching AR Jr. the basics of cooking, cleaning, and other chores. I honestly can’t wait to get into more specifics on money and money management as he grows older. It is a huge responsibility, but also a great opportunity to share knowledge and help him form good habits early on 🙂

  2. We just implemented the “you don’t get allowance unless you do your chores” chart. It’s not perfect, but I see that the boys are slowly changing their behavior as a result. Three days of chores in a week and they get paid (I’ll eventually make it four then five). We have several adults like you mentioned who are receiving large amounts of “economic outpatient care” which makes me crazy. I’m like you, even if it’s uncomfortable or sad, we don’t give them money for the things they want. They have to earn it. I think in the end, this will help them become stronger, more self-reliant adults. And yes, love that, we are raising adults not kids!! 🙂

  3. I totally agree with you! When my 7 year old gets money from family or earns it he use to be quick to spend it. Then later when the toy was in the garage sale pile I would ask him how much money he spent on it and ask him if he felt he made a good purchase or not. Needless to say the spending has slowed down a lot!
    One of the things he hates that I tell him is “figure it out “. This happens when he tries to get me to do something for him that I know he’s fully capable of doing himself!

  4. My son with turn 2 next month and he knows about cleaning up his toys, how to eat with utensils and cooking. It really has been fun so far seeing him making these associations. When he gets to grade school is when we plan to teach him about money and how it works. This way he can see that it’s not just getting a toy in the store and pay for it at the register, it’s about the process of how I got that money in the first place and ways to build more of it. We hope that he will understand it and develop a good habit of managing money.

    1. You’re on a great path doing the right things-keep it up! I can say from experience with my older children it does work

  5. What’s cute in a puppy, like jumping and mouthiness, is not even a little cute in a full grown dog and I apply that training to my kid too. I know ze is just a little kid now but ze will be a young adult before I know it. Do I really want to be living with a young adult who functions no better than a toddler?

    JUST this morning, JB knocked over a cup of milk and blurted out Sorry! Sorry!
    I replied: that’s fine, sorry is what you say. Cleaning it up is what you do.
    Handed zir a wet rag and supervised the mopping up for the next 7 minutes. Yes I could have done it faster and better but I don’t need to learn how to clean up.

    We’re already talking about making decisions to stay in budget, even at the grocery store where we adults are weakest. Ze asked for blueberries out of season, so I explained that we are better off buying the fruit in season which is cheaper and fresher, and waiting for the blueberries to come back in season. The whole “in season, out of season” thing is harder to teach in CA where you have produce year round! But we try. 🙂

    That ze will help with household chores is a given – ze knows how to load the washer and dryer, putting away clean clothes, clumsily hanging up clothes, sweeping (badly) when there’s a mess. And so on.

    Ze likes to wail “I can’t do it! It’s broken!” when something isn’t easy to do. Ze doesn’t like it when my response is “Yes you can, you just have to try again.” I forebear to say I TOLD YOU SO when ze gets it on the fifth try.

    It’s a long process but I don’t want to send my kid into the world barely trained to cope.

    1. Love the puppy and dog analogy-it’s perfect. Also jealous of your produce situation. Here in CT the only produce growing is a whole lot of nothing

  6. We give the kids a once a year allowance, and then they have to self budget. We also discuss finances and investments around them. We drag them to our rental properties and showings. They hopefully will learn some by just observing how we maneuver money issues.

  7. I just drove my 21 year old son to his University in a town that’s 2 hours+ away, so he’s living on campus. He’s been working for 3 years and he saved up the money to pay for the 10K it’s costing him to live there this year.
    It didn’t even occur to him to ask me if I’d pay for it.
    I’m really proud of his independence. 🙂

  8. I grew up knowing I’d never have to worry about the roof over my head, or food on the table, or clothes. But having a school uniform, we got those once a year and maybe 1 non-school outfit. I lived in a lot of hand me downs, that got passed to my sister and then on to other family / family friends, as items then came in for my brother.
    I think how my parents did it was a good balance. Hearing stories of housing instability & how much stress it can cause, it was great to not worry about that part. Knowing pretty much everything else was a thought out, budgeted, or coupon related purchase has gotten me to where I am today.

    1. Love it. Sounds like your parents had the right financial priorities-housing stability and school yes, fancy extras no. My boys have had a lot of hand me downs and consignment clothes over the years, but we never had to worry about paying for the house.

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