Dear Penny: Do I Owe My Parents Part of My Paycheck for Their Sacrifices?

A mother and daughter embrace during Eid Mubarak in East Asia.
Getty Images
Dear Penny,

Late last year, I got my first permanent-full time job. I was very proud to have gotten this job, especially since I am a foreign national. Where I'm from, it's very common for children who have jobs abroad to send remittances to their parents back home, so I immediately felt the pressure to do that as soon as I got the job. 

Initially, I asked my parents to give me some time to adjust to the costs of living that comes with moving to a new city, a new apartment, etc., and they understood. However, earlier this year, my mom started hinting/asking me when I would start sending money, especially since my dad is retiring this year. I felt I wasn't ready to start, but I lied and said I could start sending some money monthly.

I have been doing this for about half a year now and while my parents thank me for the money I send every month, I lament the loss of that money, which I could be adding to my (very small) savings. I barely have a month's salary saved currently, but I know my parents have also been saving the money I send them. 

My parents made a lot of sacrifices for me to go to college abroad (including cashing out on their pension early to pay for mine and my siblings' education), so I feel the responsibility to support them now that I have a job. However, I KNOW that it is impossible for me to sustainably send them money every month while trying to meet my savings goals.

I only have one other sibling who is employed (the rest are in school) and he supports my parents (and the rest of our family) by purchasing things they need or want, but he doesn't send them money as regularly as I do. I already feel like I've had a later start in life than others. I'm in my late 20s and only just got my first permanent full time job. What do I do?

-Dutiful Daughter

Dear Dutiful,

Your desire to support your parents is certainly admirable. But the gratitude you feel for their sacrifices isn’t connected to how much money you can afford to send them.

What’s key here is that you all-caps KNOW you can’t sustainably send money at the level you have been for the last few months. But if you’re consistently sending money each month and you’ve never mentioned that it’s causing you hardship, it’s reasonable for your parents to expect the money to keep rolling in. Whenever you can’t meet an expectation, the next best thing is to communicate that fact as quickly as possible.

Dear Penny

Ask Dear Penny!

Get practical money advice from Dana Miranda, the voice of Dear Penny and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance.

DISCLAIMER: Questions will appear in The Penny Hoarder’s “Dear Penny” column. We are unable to answer every letter. We reserve the right to edit and publish your questions. But don’t worry — your identity will remain anonymous.

Since your father is still working and your parents are saving the money you send, it sounds like you have a little flexibility. Try setting a specific savings goal for yourself. In financial planning, a three-month emergency fund is generally considered the bare minimum. If you work in an industry that’s vulnerable to layoffs, consider making six months’ worth of savings the goal. Ultimately, the goal is to save enough so that you’re not constantly stressed about money.

Obviously, you’ll need to adjust your remittance budget to meet your goals. But this doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing decision. Nor does it have to be permanent.

If sending your parents money is important to you, maybe you could send them half of what you’ve been sending each month. Then put the other half in a savings account. You can revisit the amount once you hit the three-month mark. Or you could temporarily pause your contributions while your father is still working. That could give you a little extra time to pad your savings before he retires.

You say you lied when you told your parents you felt ready to start sending money home. But I also suspect that life turned out to be more expensive than you expected. That has a way of happening when you’re just starting out. That’s especially true right now, since prices are soaring for virtually everything. Your parents were understanding when you asked for time to adjust to paying for your living costs. Maybe they’ll understand that you need a bit of extra time to adjust.

If your parents are worried about covering their basic needs after your father retires, consider asking your brother whether he can afford to contribute more regularly. Hopefully, as your siblings finish school and get jobs, they’ll be able to contribute, too.

Helping your parents is a worthy goal, but don’t neglect yourself. Children can never really repay their parents for their sacrifices. But if you can get on solid financial footing now, you’ll be in a better position to provide for yourself and your parents.

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