I’m in my mid-twenties, and most of my friends have their parents subsidize their rent. My parents don’t, but I think they could afford it. My parents helped me through college but made it clear I was on my own once I graduated. I understand that I’m now an “adult,” but a little bit of help could make me feel a lot less anxious about my money. I really pinch pennies to make rent, which leads me to turn down opportunities with friends, or pretty much say no to a lot of “fun” things that involve money. Is there a good way I can ask them for help?
— Left the Nest, Still Need Feathers
Dear Still Need Feathers,
There are a lot of different ways to ask for help, but it’s important to consider two things: what you need, and the relationship you’ve cultivated with your parents. Sure, you could pressure your parents and make them feel guilty by letting them know that all of your friends have parents who happily help them. This might sway them into giving you money, but they likely won’t feel very good about doing it.
For this sort of ask, it’s helpful to look into the research, which finds that good deeds can promote good feelings. But that’s only true if the good deed — like helping you with your rent — is freely chosen. That means you have to make it clear to your parents that they have the option to say no to helping you, and that you (and your relationship with them) will still be okay. To do that, it’s important for everyone to understand that their money isn’t the only option. For example, could you take a second job, or move to a smaller place?
If you’re ready to move forward with the ask, find a time when they’re not busy or stressed, sit them down, and say something like, “Mom and Dad, my monthly rent is really squeezing into my paychecks each month, which is pretty stressful. If I had an extra $200 a month, I feel like it would make a big difference in my quality of life, and allow me to not to turn down opportunities so often. I was thinking of ways that I could earn that money each month, but I was also wondering if it might be possible for you to gift that to me, so I wouldn’t feel so stressed and could focus on my job. I’ve also been pursuing other avenues, like taking on a second job or looking for a less expensive place, but I wanted to get your input first.”
That way, you’re giving them a choice, letting them know it’s their decision, and providing them with good reasons for helping you. It’s the best situation for everyone if they really choose to use their money to help you. (Remember that one day when you have kids asking you for cash!)
Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Tuesday for her next column.