A number of years ago I had a pretty passionate debate with someone about the idea of paying for your child’s education.
We were discussing if it was something that every parent should feel obligated to do, or if this was a situational thing; or even a preference.
Personally, when I went to college I didn’t have anyone who could pay for my education, so it wasn’t even an option. I had to work for the money, and supplement what I was able to earn with student loans.
A THOUGHT REVISITED
Recently, this concept popped back into my mind.
I talk a lot about building wealth and reaching financial freedom. I have not accomplished this…YET! But I’m well on my way. So, this concept has begun to creep into my head.
If I flash-forward into the future and I’m in a position where I can pay for others without any issues, how should I go about doing so? Should I do this?
Of course, people love to get free stuff and not have to pay. But what are the ramifications of this in the long-term?
One of the dynamics in those pieces is “who you are spending your money on – yourself or others?”
Research has shown that by spending your money on other people, you can have a positive affect on your own level of happiness.
But does that mean you should pay for others?
One of things that I’ve witnessed in both my own family, as well as in different social groups, is the shift in power dynamics when money is involved.
Our society puts a lot of value on the amount of money we earn and possess. I personally do not agree with this. Just because one person makes more than the next does not necessarily equate to any type of increased value or worth to society, or especially the social construct of their family or friends.
However, if you have the family member or friend who does happen to earn a high salary, they might regularly pay for other people. This can be in the form of buying drinks at happy hour, paying for expensive dinners, or even the occasional excursion.
When this happens once or twice, it doesn’t tend to be a big deal. You’ll get the expected “thank you” from everyone, but it isn’t changing much in the form of the social dynamic.
But when someone continuously pays for others, and it becomes the “norm,” a shift begins to take place in the form of power dynamics.
If grandpa Joe is always paying for family dinners out, it becomes the expectation that he will pay. People begin to lose a level of independence and become reliant on that individual.
When this happens, people begin to lose their strength to push back on those individuals they’ve become reliant on. They might not want to “bite the hand that feeds them.”
When this begins to happen, it is no longer knowledge or wisdom that is the guiding force for the family hierarchy; money takes over as the main factor.
Another area to think about is how you spend on your children.
Many parents I’ve interacted with tend to be too liberal when it comes to spending on their children. If their child wants some new toy, game, or to engage in some activity, the parents feel obligated to provide the financial means to make it happen.
But this is only furthering the dependence the children have on the parents.
Of course, when a child is 4-years-old, they ARE dependent on the parents. But when a child begins to get to an age when they are able-bodied and can begin earning what they want, it might be time to begin shifting the focus from the parent’s wallets and toward how the child can earn the money they wish to spend.
You have to realize, kids have no concept of money, or how it is earned, until they are taught. They think parents have an endless supply of money in their wallets, and if the parents aren’t willing to pay for what the kids want, it’s only because they are being mean, not because the family hasn’t budgeted for it.
Having a child do some chores with monetary rewards tied to each chore will begin to help make the connection between money and work, and why work is necessary in order to obtain the things you want (i.e. – toys).
SOCIAL GROUP DYNAMICS
The shifts in social dynamics will be the most visible in adult groups, whether it’s in a group of friends or family.
Once everyone is an “adult” we are all supposed to be on relatively equal footing. Once money comes into play, that “equal” footing begins to give way.
WHEN SHOULD YOU PAY
This isn’t to say you should never pay for others. I think there are plenty of examples of when it makes perfect sense to do so. In fact, in a recent trip to visit friends in Panama, I stayed at their home while I was there. It was very gracious of them to house me for the week, and it saved me some money on a hotel room.
For this reason, I felt it was a nice gesture to pay for them for a good chunk of the meals we ate out together. This is almost similar to a bartering system, and I was certainly not doing it for any type of power dynamic.
Another reason would be if you have a close family or friend who is experiencing serious hardships that warrant lending a helping hand.
When my mother was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, it was emotionally difficult. But what added to that difficulty was her diminished ability to work and earn money to support herself. Through her 5-year battle with cancer, she needed a lot of financial support from my siblings and me.
And this is a big part of what family is for – to help out in times of need.
What I’m trying to impress upon you is that even when you have the ability to pay for others, it doesn’t mean you always should. And if you choose not to, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.
All of the choices we make can have unintended consequences. So, make sure you think twice before you go to pay for the next dinner tab. You just might be inadvertently altering your relationship with that individual.