Dear Penny: Should I Tell My Daughter She’s Cut Off at 18 Now or Wait?

A daughter looks annoyed as she has a conversation with her mother.
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Dear Penny,

I've decided to basically cut off my daughter once she's finished high school, which will be just over five months from now. She didn't do anything wrong. I'm not eager to be rid of her, and I could easily continue to provide her basic needs, but I won't. 

I myself lived with my parents into my 20s, but I feel like this did me no favors. I’ve come to believe in “sink or swim” and “hard knock” life philosophies. So please don't argue about this decision. 

My only question is when and how to deliver this news to my daughter. I don't want to ruin her birthday or the rest of her senior year, so I may wait until after graduation to tell her she's on her own. 

I’ve been trying to instill frugality, budgeting and saving, but my daughter doesn't yet know how important that will soon be for her. If she knew now, she might be better prepared, but I can see how the stress from this might actually be detrimental overall. 

My daughter and I have a tender, loving relationship, and I'm sure she will be surprised to find out she's being turned away. Or maybe she will surprise me and fly the nest without being pushed. She actually told me months ago that I shouldn't pay for college; that is actually what got me started down this road. 

I hope to still have a relationship with her after this, but I will understand if she doesn't speak to me for a while. Should I continue to gently lead my daughter toward independence without letting on that it will be forced? Or do I need to inform her now that she will be on her own come summer? Again, my decision is firm in that regard, so please don't argue there.


Dear B.,

I think your daughter could reasonably conclude that she’ll be able to transition into adulthood, as is the norm today. You yourself only decided to send her to the School of Hard Knocks months ago. I can’t not argue against a terribly thought-out plan.

But if you’re really, REALLY determined to give your daughter the boot in five months, tell her now that this steel-toed kick is coming. Yes, this will add to her stress levels over the next five months. It will add to yours, as well. But your daughter will need time to save as much money as possible. She’ll need to find a place to live (as well as roommates) with zero credit. She also may need to adjust her college plans.

Dear Penny

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Be clear with her on your reasoning. I can’t really offer any advice beyond that, though, because I don’t understand your reasoning.

Your daughter may think she can pay for college on her own. But she’s being a tad naive, which we can forgive her for since she’s still a teenager.

The federal government expects parents to help pay for their children’s education if they have resources to do so. You can refuse to contribute to your daughter’s education. You can kick her out of the house. You can even avoid claiming her as a dependent for tax purposes. But guess what? She’ll still be considered a dependent student until she’s 24 unless specific circumstances apply — like if she gets married, has a child or joins the military.

I don’t think you grasp how much things have changed since you were a young adult. Higher education and housing costs have exploded. In the meantime, it’s getting harder to make a living with a high school diploma alone. The New York Fed reports that the average wage for college graduates ages 22 to 27 is $52,000, compared with $30,000 for those in the same age group with just a high school education.

You say living with your parents into your 20s did you no favors. I’m curious about that. Do you wish you’d learned responsibility earlier?

Because there’s a big difference between shoving your daughter off a financial cliff after she graduates from high school versus coddling her until she’s 28. Communicating clear expectations is key. You could tell her she can live with you only if she’s enrolled in school and working part time. Or that she’ll need to start paying rent this summer. Or that you expect her to be financially independent by a deadline far enough into the future that she can find a decent job and build credit and savings.

Obviously, there’s not a lot of clear setting of expectations or communication if your daughter has no idea this is coming, while you’re hoping she’ll magically figure things out on her own. But please don’t think that you’ve done your work as a parent by simply lecturing her about budgeting and saving. Effective teaching is about the “why” as much as the “how.”

I truly believe you want your daughter to grow into a successful adult. Part of that means giving her room to fail. Please don’t surprise her at graduation with a pop quiz where she has to figure out her entire life at 18.

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Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].