How To Overcome Money Guilt And Feel More Fulfilled

Money guilt is something I've been suffering for a long time. Ever since my friend died in a car accident when he was 15 and I was 13, I've felt guilty. He was one of the most popular kids in school. Why did he have to die? Why was I given the chance to live, create, earn, love, and learn?

My parents came to visit me for only three short days recently and I miss them already. One of the reasons why I wanted to leave my stressful job in finance was to spend more time with them.

I flew back to Hawaii four times in 2012 and three times in 2013 to visit for two-to-five weeks at a time. But since then, I haven't been regularly flying back, so I feel guilty.

The Desire To Make My Parents Proud

Ever since going to college, I've longed to make my parents proud. My goal was to do well in school so I could earn enough money to support myself, a family, and them. They took care of me for the first 22 years, it's only right I take care of them.

Some children have no problem accepting financial help from their parents as adults. That's probably because they weren't bad like me.

I got in a lot of trouble as a teenager, and I really feel guilty for giving my mother so much heartache. I wanted to make up for all the money they spent on me by proving they didn't raise a dead beat, but someone who could be independent as soon as he graduated college.

Money Guilt Living Abroad

I also suffer from money guilt because I grew up in developing countries for the first 13 years of my life (Philippines, Zambia, Malaysia, Taiwan), and frequently went to China and India for work.

Every time I'm about to buy something I don't need, I think back to the times when I witnessed destitution. Every time I eat, I try and eat more slowly in order to be mindful of the starving.

Developing countries are full of hope and growth, but the juxtaposition between the haves and the have-nots is very stark. The poor are extremely poor and the rich are obnoxiously rich.

You want to help, but after a while of helping, you come to the realization that the poverty is endless – like trying to catch a rain drop moments before a monsoon washes you over.

More Background That Created Money Guilt

My parents earned middle class wages as US foreign service officers. They were frugal and taught me the importance of saving. Thanks to their good money habits, they were able to send both my sister and I to college without anybody taking on any debt. College tuition was lower back in the 90s, but it still took a lot of discipline to save ~$100,000 a child for college on an average government salary.

Because I went to public school, there was a surplus of my college fund that was invested in the stock market some time during my junior year in college. I still can't believe William & Mary was only $2,800 a year in tuition. Junior year was when I started getting interested in a career in finance. The stock market was the most exciting thing I could think of at the time.

My Mother's Financial Gift

Fast forward to my parent's recent visit. Before hugging my mom and dad good-bye at the pier before they left on a cruise around Cape Horn to New York City, my mother gave me an envelope as she so often does when we meet. Perhaps it's Chinese custom or maybe it's because she's always so thoughtful that she always wants to help me even though I'm an adult.

Every time she gives me an envelope with a check, I decline because I want her to enjoy her money during retirement. But I'm also careful not to offend her good gesture either. Rejecting people's gifts can get tricky.

In the end, I'll accept and cash her check if it's under $150 bucks. But if it's over $150, then I'll leave it in a drawer somewhere and let it expire. I was once cleaning out my coffee table when I found a check for $200 from my mom from three years prior! I told her and we laughed together.

This latest check of hers was a whopper. It was so much bigger than the others; I cannot disclose the amount. All I can say is that it was a good portion of her annual income while she was still working.

I only found out how big the check was when I got home after dropping them off at the cruise ship. I immediately told her over e-mail that there was no way I could ever accept the check.

True to form, my mother in her often jovial manner insisted that I cash the check. She told me to use the check to fatten me up, or do some remodeling, or whatever I'd like. She told me that the cash wasn't earning any interest in her account, and to please take the money.

Honoring My Mother's Financial Gift

She then said something really heart-warming and a little melancholy, “Well, I'm just trying to make the best use of my money, finding different purposes for it (other than sustaining life) from what your financial blog promotes! After all, you are one of my beneficiaries. So why not use it while I feel like doing it once in a (long) while.”

I was touched by her response because it makes me happy when my parents read my work. One of the main reasons why I started Financial Samurai was so that I could provide another way for my family to communicate since we live all over the country.

But, I was also sad to hear her response because I never like to think about death. Every time someone or a pet passes away, my heart sinks to my stomach and I don't want to do anything for days.

This was our fourth e-mail exchange about me refusing and her insisting. In the end, I decided to deposit her check and figure out a way to make good use of her money.

What I realize now as a parent of two young children is that we want EVERYTHING for our children. Parents are willing to do anything and give anything to make our kids happy. Further, what's the point of giving money to our children after we are dead? It's much better to give money to our children while we are alive to help them in need and gain satisfaction that we are helping them.

As a result, my mom has continued to contribute to both my children's 529 college education plans. I no longer feel as much money guilt because her contributions are making her happy and giving her purpose.

Using My Mother's Money Wisely

One of the reasons why my mom is amazing is because she is so selfless. She's not wealthy, but she always gives her money away to causes she believes in and people she cares about. She is always thinking of other people first. Y

ou know the type of person who spend hours preparing an amazing meal, but never gets to eat any of it because she's always up and about to make sure your glass is full and the food is warm? That's my mom. We've got to insist she relax and join us often times.

She doesn't need much money at all to be happy. I'm sure she could live off $1,000 a month in retirement and not have any problems whatsoever thanks to zero debt. To be content with so little is a wonderful gift I strive to emulate as I get older.

I have to imagine that all any parent wants for their children is happiness and to feel like they still have a positive influence in their lives. So I thought long and hard about the best way to honor my mother with her contribution until I finally came up with an idea.

By the time everything is done with my house, I'll probably end up spending at least $100,000 in remodeling costs. It's an old house that needs a lot of work, but I knew what I was getting myself into when I first bid on the property.

Here's what I wrote my mom,

Thanks mom. OK, I have cashed your check! Thank you! I will use it to pay for our new roof that is 25 years old and falling apart! A new roof costs a lot and should last for a long while.

Feel great knowing that you have literally provided a roof over my head and my future family's head! We will name it “Mom's Roof” and it will always be there to protect us. :O)”

As soon as I hit send, I began to cry. I was touched by her generosity, but I was also reminded that nothing lasts forever. Mom's Roof will eventually need to be changed in 15-20 years. By then, I'll be 52-57 years old and I hope both my parents will still be around.

Make Money Count

Accepting gifts from parents will always be difficult for me. I just want to give back to them and make them happy instead. But when I ask my mom if she needs any help, she always says “no.”

My father is very frugal as well, and has carefully planned out their financial needs. The best I can do is to stay out of trouble, stay in touch, and keep on going.

If you suffer from money guilt, I think the best thing you can do is honor the opportunities you have. Don't waste them because there are literally millions of people out there who don't have the same chances.

Work your hardest and don't take your good fortune for granted. Take more risks because others can't afford to. Accept financial assistance with humility and figure out a way to honor the helper. Find ways to give back.

Sooner or later your money guilt will be replaced with fulfillment. I'll let you know when my feelings change.

Reader Questions And Suggestions

Readers, do you suffer from money guilt? Do you ever wonder “why me and not them”? What are the things you do to overcome your money guilt? Do you have a difficult time accepting money from your parents as an adult? How is money viewed in your culture between generations?

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96 thoughts on “How To Overcome Money Guilt And Feel More Fulfilled”

  1. Me, I feel guilty for the wealth I have now, but not for the same reasons as you, personally my parents were over-indebted (alone my mother worked), there was not enough in the fridge to eat correctly, they didn’t paid for me the university or other schools and didn’t want to support me morally in my studies (it was even the opposite), I remember having paid myself the school canteen in high school, and when I no longer had enough money, I stopped eating directly the morning and at noon (I only ate the evening). Around 30 years old, I started to help my parents financially and others, my father died 2 years ago, and he had me disinherited. I don’t know if he’s proud of me or not for my career, and I never will know it.
    No matter, I feel guilty for of my wealth towards my mother, my sister and my friends, even if they have of good jobs, but they are just in the lower middle class, they have never traveled in the world, haven’t of luxury : cars, house, jewelry, or artworks… So really they don’t know what I own, and anyway in my country the peoples hate the rich. I already tried to help of people but generally they don’t listen nothing, so it’s like that, it’s the life.

    I’m working on my guilt everydays, without really being able to change anything about this situation, just I learning to live with ;)

  2. I really appreciated reading your post. I grew up in an upper middle class in Europe but since I had 4 siblings there was never too much extra available. My parents were pretty frugal and my dad took the decision to retire early at 55 (not as early as you but I believe you can relate).

    Of all my siblings I had the most underwhelming undergraduate education. After that I worked my socks off, went to a top grad school and after 12 years made my way to private equity. I was just promoted and will earn this year $1.2 million (not including LT carry). I am doing all the right things (saving for early retirement … my goal is 52/53 max) but I my earnings is still hitting me like a ton of bricks. My wife tells me I worked hard and deserve it. I nevertheless feel tremendous guilt. I can rationalize this income for a doctor or a law partner. In my situation I feel it is wrong. Very weird.

    1. This is my problem. I feel guilty for all I have but the feedback I get is that just giving to family w less doesn’t make them feel good. How do they know? Makes me feel good. Or less guilty.

  3. Sam, reading this touches my heart. As a Chinese (from Malaysia), your mom gave you the money as her way to show her love and in her own way of doing her duty as a mother providing for her child.

    Although I am 47, I still accepts the Ang pows (red packet) my moml gives out for my birthday and during the Chinese New Year. She is retired.

    Even though I am financially okay, I still accept her gesture of not rejecting her gift as I believe it is her way of showing her love and duty as a parent

  4. Dear Sam, thanks for this post! Right now I’m suffering from terrible guilt and anxiety regarding money given to me by my parents for tuition. While I was always a good kid, tried hard, and was very successful in my undergrad, following college, it was harder to get any full time work than I’d anticipated. As a result I freelanced, worked part time, and did carious seasonal work to save for grad school. I also was awarded a large sum of funding that basically covers my rent, but my mom insisted on paying my tuition fees. Even though I’m a careful spender, and will repay every cent once I graduate, and will still have emergency funds in savings following the year, I can’t get over the terrible guilt that they’ve loaned me this money. Sometimes I can’t even sleep at night. Are there any ways to overcome this? Thanks! Emily

    1. It’s important to tell your parents thank you. All they want is what’s best for you. Give them updates on what you are doing and tell them how hard you are working to make them proud. All they want to do is see you HAPPY! Parents would rather spend their money on their children while alive than after they are gone.

      1. Thanks so much for replying! Of course you’re right, and my mother’s always invested in us both emotionally and financially, which is why she gave me the money in the first place. Lately I’ve been avoiding Skyping because of guilt pangs, but you’re right; I think she’d appreciate knowing that I’m doing well and am (mostly) happy and productive. Thanks again for the advice!!

  5. lookfurther

    another way of looking at it:

    feeling guilty about spending money your parents earned is a tiny step in a process that goes back to the first monetary exchange in the sequence. we feel more emotion in relation to our parents because they are near to us, we see them and love them as human beings worthy of care and regard. but the billions of people before them in the chain become more and more invisible to us, we do not think about them, and therefore there is no emotional charge for us. but they are really no different than our parents, no less worthy or respect and fair treatment. but when we fail to see that, we focus instead on our immediate desires to possess and protect and benefit ourselves and those close to us, forgetting all the rest. but the whole chain represents benefiting from the sweat and struggle of others except each step up the chain gets a higher upper hand and a higher profit. we feel guilty doing this to our immediate family, but generally remain blind to the fact that we do this to our greater human family with every profit driven transaction and with every hoarding of wealth. it is the narrow view, the ignorance, that seems to fuel a profit ecomony. perhaps we are more comfortable feeling occassional guilt and shame from time to time than giving up our starbucks latte and sweatshop-made clothes and technological gadgets. the focus is on our momentary emotional discomfort rather than the suffering and poverty of those whose feelings remain perpetually silent and ignored. thoughts and responses?

  6. for me the guilt about money relates more to the profit-system that seems to exploit the have-nots through inequitable exchange (the mechanism of profit). it is a win-lose scenario in any capitalist exchange. the more one person wins, the more power they have to continue winning. and when wealth is subsequently accumulated, with no one using it except bankers taking the profit system and making it exponentially more inequitable for the poor…it appears to amount to a form of violence and indignity to our human community and the planet we exploit as a resource rather than as our home and co-existent organism. i dont blame anyone in particular. it is a system that we have inherited through culture, and our origins are essentially brutal and tribal as a political species. this is the real source of guilt and shame for me. and i have yet to discover a way to resolve it in a world where most people are only focused on themselves. even this article only seems to focus on the social status and feelings about social status, of people caught in the money system. it is about personal family rather than global human family. these conversations rarely go deeper to the underlying issue, which is one of subjugation and exploitation and basic inequity. i dont have an answer, but am curious if anyone has contemplated this issue themselves?

      1. I’m not sure what you mean by this comment, but I assume it is something disrespectful and dismissive. Which is fine, if you want to behave like an ass.

    1. Just read an article about migrants breaking there backs supplying our way of life. Another reminder of what a terrible person I am for being financially secure. I’m generous Like my Father was but it’s not enough. I do feel joy when I give. It’s a passion. At times, exhausting.
      You mention the focus on family…I don’t have one. If I did, I would cherish every moment “living” instead of worrying, feeling guilt, shame, gut wrenching sadness for humankind. Money is worthless with out family to love. It’s just life support.

    2. Hi. I think about these issues a lot and feel sad. I feel like trying to be a more loving person and support initiatives such as social justice movements, environmental regulation, and fair trade initiatives is helpful. I think that some of not treating our planet and all of humanity in a loving way is just a reflection of our consciousness. I am trying to be loving and functional and not get overwhelmed by the greed and destruction. There are a lot of loving, generous people.

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  8. Julian Edelman

    I do at times have guilt over accepting family money. It’s mainly because my parents are frugal Asian immigrants, who never made much money but have recently joined the 2 comma club. I’m an only child and they love to spoil me with gifts of money. They are typically small gifts ($100), but I did receive a 5% down payment for our townhome as a gift, which was very generous.

    Looking into the future, if I were to receive any inheritance from them, I’d feel guilty spending that. Mainly because I know they achieved that money by NOT spending. Also, part of me only wants to spend money that I actually earn myself in my career.

    But I also could see myself “paying it forward” to my own kid. That would help me justify spending that money.

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  13. Very cool of your Mom and Glad you can put on a roof – You put on the “right” roof though and you won’t out live it ;-).

  14. My family was middle class from the time I was born until about 12 years when we got very poor. We were so poor in fact, that at times we had to eat rotten food. I therefore, do not suffer from any guilt. I am just so overwhelmed with the amount of food at my disposal and just started accepting, after almost 20 years, that I can have food any time I want to. My parents no longer give me money because I have enough of my own and also because in my culture, children are the ones who are supposed to give their parents money. It is frowned upon if it is the other way round. However, my parents give a lot of their time to us their children through helping with e.g. supervising our building projects and running errands when needed.

    I am very grateful for what I have and what my parents and siblings now have.

  15. Jennifer Powell

    I am not from a very rich family and my parents were not able to afford me everything as I demanded. As a kid, I always used to think that they does not love me enough. After getting into the professional life, I know how hard it is and the problems my parents faced. Now I feel really sorry.

  16. Great article, Sam!

    I’m currently sitting on a check from my Mom for my 35th birthday a few weeks back. She’s currently unemployed and it doesn’t feel right to cash the check. However maybe it shouldn’t be my choice, maybe I should accept her gift graciously and think of a proper way to use it – perhaps on her the next time she visits or in a way that honors something she appreciates.

    Thanks for helping me think it through!

  17. Money guilty was a problem that cost me a lot of money. When I was younger I felt it was not right for me to have more money than others.
    I overcome this limitation when I realized something that can be summarized by this famous quote by Grant Cardone: “Success is your duty, obligation, responsibility.” This idea really moves me to get the most out of what I got from life.

    Thanks for your story, If not the best, this is one of the best posts of Financial Samurai!


  18. I feel guilty all the time… parents give me money for Christmas and birthdays and I always just cash the check. But I do feel bad because I know that I/we make far more than they ever have. I always tell them to spend it on our kids if they want or write a check and I will put it in the kids college funds. :)

    I feel more guilt these days when I realize how much I have and how unfortunate other people are in both our local community and elsewhere in the world and country. I just started thinking that I need to help other people in our local community and am going to start trying to figure out the best way for me and my family to do so. We are so fortunate that we make what we do and although I attribute it to hard work and discipline, I feel bad for others who are not as fortunate as we are.

  19. Very nice post. My parents would give the shirts off of their backs but they didn’t ever have any money to give us kids. I do however relate to your mom as I try to do the same for my kids now. As far as money guilt I use to think there was something wrong with me because I didn’t have any guilt but I got over it. I don’t have a massive portfolio, just enough to pay my lifestyle cost. I came from low income and feel empathy for those in this world trapped by poverty that isn’t of their own doing. We do donate what we can and maybe that is from a subconscious guilt. I guess a little more self-assessment is in order.

  20. Sam,

    Great story there. Sounds like you have wonderful parents. :)

    I’m extremely grateful for what I have, but I don’t feel any guilt about it. I’ve both incredibly poor (grew up in a drug house in Detroit) and I’ve been fairly well off for my education and age (where I’m at now). I worked hard to get to where I’m at, but I also got lucky in certain ways.

    That being said, I also believe that even if all the wealth were redistributed many people would end up right back where they’re at now. So I don’t feel guilty about my situation; however, I do hope to one day be a position of substantial philanthropy many years from now.

    Best regards!

  21. That was a very heartwarming story, thank you.

    My parents don’t make that much (probably in the low-middle income bracket), but they get by with their frugality. My dad always gives me money when I see him and I too want to refuse it because I make so much more. But I accept it, for the same reasons you outlines. Maybe it’s an Asian thing.

  22. I am frequently given money for my kids by both my parents and my aunt, and it’s something I struggle with but have learned to accept, following a conversation a few years ago with my aunt. She had just given me the usual envelope with cash in it, and I tried to give it back to her, saying that I really wanted her to go out and spend the money herself on whatever it was that would bring her the most pleasure and enjoyment. She silenced me by replying “That’s exactly what I’m trying to do, and you won’t let me”.

  23. Very nice and touching story. Thanks for sharing. I’m sure you know that money and career are important, but not as important as family. As we get older, I think it’s imperative to spend more time with parents and get to know them better, not just as parents, but as people. They had hopes and dreams when they were young and often times have made sacrifices for the sake of their children so that we can receive unconditional love and raised us to become good people. Sounds like your mom raised you correctly and instilled the right values to be a good human being.

  24. Great article. I read your blogs everyday , it has become a routine. Every Xmas my parents give me about $50 in a envelope. I know it’s not a lot and I tell them not to get me anything, I make more money than my parents and they are not in the best financial situation ,but my mom feel like I’m still her little boy and I should use the money . I guess it makes you realize that your parents will do anything for you and all you can do is just spend time with them and love them .

  25. Sam,

    Unlike all the other commenters above, I have absolutely no money guilt. Even after getting a job while in college ( graduated debt free as a computer engineer) , borrowed money from my parents ( who are very well off by Indian standards) , for apartment deposits and other things.My parents paid for my schooling , college expenses ( just living expenses , I studied on full merit) , paid for my wedding , made investments in real estate and other things in my name. I’m very, very grateful to God for giving me such a set of loving parents, but I have absolutely no guilt over the money they spent on me nor thought about repaying it back.

    While working in the States , I have sent them quite a bit of money and never asked what they did it ( most probably put it in my name).So when I go to vacation in India, i take them out on expensive vacations,stay at expensive resorts,eat out at nice places,buy them electronic gadgets and try to be a overall good son to them.I also contribute to charities that they work with and donate to.

    Guilt ? Absolutely none,just gratitude.

  26. My approach is different! I never refuse money, however I would pay it back in other ways. I would take my mother out for dinner or pay for something she needed without her knowing it. Since I used to pay her bills, it was not very difficult.

    Since they are on a cruise, you can contact the cruise line and give them something special during the trip.

  27. Great post Sam. I was born and raised in slums of Mumbai. Every rainy season we used to have knee high water inside our house (if you could call it that). We were 6 people living in 250 sq ft area. There was so much poverty around that we simply were used to it. Both my parents used to work 2 jobs and my grand father mostly raised us. My parents worked so hard that I hardly saw them. And because money was so tight they used to fight constantly. But my mom ensured that we got decent education and at one point in 8th grade she even got me a tutor to help me in Math. Meanwhile most of my friends in the neigborhood were into all sorts of criminal activities. While I was never a terribly bright student I did well due to sheer hard work. When I decided to go to America for my graduate studies, they supported me all the way. Both took all money from their retirement funds (equivalent to 401k) plus some loan to send me to US. The total money in $ equivalent was some $3000 which was their entire lifes saving.
    One of my biggest regrets in life is that I could not do anything for my grandpa who died shortly after I came to America. But once I started earning I made sure that my parents were well taken care of. I bought them a decent condo with running water (my moms biggest dream), a vacation house and pretty much every electronic gadget you can imagine. My dad gets a new iphone the day its released. While my dad does frown at all the expensive gifts, he is very proud of me. They are not interested in permanently moving to US because they have their life in India. They however visit me every summer for 4-5 months. So I get to spend a lot of time with them. And my son gets to play with his grand parents.
    I sometimes worry about my son who is accustomed to summer vacations in Europe that I might end up raising an entitled monster. Although many of the comments on this post gives me hope!!

  28. My dad has always been the kind to refuse money, and I used to be that way too. It was hard when my wife and I were first married because her parents spend a lot more on their kids than mine did. In fact, next month we’re going on a weeklong trip to Hawaii and they’re paying for all of it.

    Eventually, I realized that they’re doing it because they love us. And instead of being stubborn and “independent”, I decided that I’ll do whatever I can to return that favor when they’re older. Instead of letting my attitude ruin a kind gesture, I’ll try to use it as motivation to do good to others.

  29. My father went back to work after retirement so that he can help with my kids since I lack a spouse. He gave me more than enough so as I am able to put both my kids through college. That was enough to make me feel guilty and break down. He is polar opposite to the thing I call ‘x’. Why is one parent so different from another?

  30. Your Mom sounds a lot like my Mom when she was alive. Both my parents are gone now (I’m older at 54), so my advice is to spend as much time with your parents as you can and thank them for being great parents.

    I traveled to India for work and that changed my attitude about poverty and money. I realized that I was lucky to be born in the U.S. to great parents and that many others are unlucky. Appreciate your luck!

    1. rjack, from your picture, you look like the youngest 54 year old I know! :)

      India really does a doozy on one’s perspective on poverty doesn’t it? I know it has changed my outlook forever since first visiting in 2002.

  31. This hits home. The older I get the more I feel time with my parents slipping away. I often wonder if I should move home and forego a better income to have more time with my parents while I have that time. Also loved your poverty quote. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    1. Hi Carter,

      I guess it depends on how much more you think they have left to live, and how financially comfortable are you?

      Take a couple weeks off and be with them to see how things would work.


  32. FS, what a great column! There is a lot going on, here. But all much better than days past, especially the respect and gratitude you express. I admire your contrition for past behavior, and wonder if that is the source of ‘guilt’, rather than money. The ‘gift of money’ from your folks, and your ‘desire to take care of them’ are both sources of a power struggle. That is a good problem to have, but after four e-mails it is a relief that you ‘let her win’. In fact, you ‘surrendered to win’.

    I also have parents that are generous to the point of embarrassment (to me, not them). But as years have gone by, I no longer engage in “the dance” of the power struggle. They want to do it, feel they have no better use for their money, and are ‘old school’ in not wanting to accept anything from anybody (not just me). Let’s face it, that is a good problem to have! I’ve seen too many stories of parents that are burdens now, and always were. So this column was a nice tribute to read. It made me admire and like your parents, very much. Most of all, the thing that struck me was your unguarded emotion towards your folks. That is a great way to feel, and to live; we should all strive for that.

      1. FS, you have noted the difficulty you have in accepting a generous and personal gift from a friend, as well as the discomfort accepting these gifts from your parents. Your parents had nice careers in service of the Federal Government, and part of their compensation is a generous guaranteed pension. Your friend is also well-compensated for her professional skill, and she went to some trouble to get a personal item you would use every day and think of her. The issue is not money, and the gifts do not impact anyone’s financial future. Instead, the gifts indicate obligation, appreciation, giving and receiving (on both sides). Please put yourself 30 years in the future, wishing to give your adult child a gift. How would you feel if they reacted as you have in the past? Would it make you feel good if they graciously accepted the gift (as you did, although you could have done without the e-mail war!), mentioned what they will do with the gift (as you have done with your new roof) and then told you how much they appreciate you and all you have done for them (as you have done in person and in this post)? In my view, you have handled this great with your mom even if it took awhile to get there. It is fine to be uncomfortable sometimes, and it is also fine to make it “about them” and the way giving makes them feel.

        Only speaking for myself, I have decided never to argue or contradict my parents again, and told them so. If they say the sky is green, I will agree and say it is a nice shade. I trust them not to take advantage of my approach, and they haven’t done so. My remaining time with them is limited, we have had our conflicts in the past that all amounted to nothing worthwhile, and I prefer to enjoy their company and try to be helpful in these days when their lives have become more difficult as a course of nature. There is going to come a day when I won’t have that opportunity any longer, and I do not want to think about all the wasted time of pointless “power struggles.”

  33. Love reading this Sam! And I love how you put the money to use. That feeds right into a mother’s desire to see their children protected.

    My view on accepting money from (and giving to) others has evolved over the years. It used to frustrate me and I’d fight whether I was going to take it or not. I finally had this realization: that by refusing it I may be stifling the giver’s joy. Many people give selflessly a) because they want to help but also b) because it makes them feel good. That “feel-good” result is a blessing to their soul. Anyone who has given to something special knows that feeling I’m talking about. If I vigorously refuse to accept their offering I am in turn robbing them of that blessing.

    It may be an odd way to look at it but that’s where I’m at now. I may offer some initial resistance but if they insist I won’t push it.

    1. Hi Brian,

      You have the right way of looking at it. Whenever I do something for my parents, I feel joy as well. I need to do more for them, and I will.

      It’s a tricky situation to deny things from loved ones. So I’ve accepted my mom’s checks before, but never cashed some of them and she forgets ;)

  34. Great article! I have huge problems accepting money from my parents. I always refuse. My brothers? They’ll happily take as much as they can. …Even though we’re now all in our 40s.
    The few times my mom and dad have insisted, I’ve confounded them by using the money a few months later to do something for them they wouldn’t do for themselves–like replace a decades old computer still running Windows 98. (Though be warned: When you buy your folks a new computer, you are fully expected by them to be the tech support person for life.)

    1. Hilarious! I agree. I bought my parents two Chromebooks, and finally got them a new LED Smart TV after they rocked a 32″ CRT TV since last November for 40 years!

      It felt good going to Best Buy, lugging the 51 incher back home, unpacking, installing, setting it up, and showing them how to use Netflix, Pandora, and so forth.

      I wonder if I should get them some iPhones yeah? They don’t have mobile phones. OK, this is on my to do list!

  35. Wonderful post, Sam. I had the same issue several years ago, when my mom gave me the money to renovate a room in my house. Along with the responses above, I strongly agree that these gifts are given for one reason: Many parents never stop wanting to help their adult children if and when they can. And they want to give gifts while they’re still alive. I believe their kindness is a win-win, though the generosity can make the beneficiary feel odd about it.

    As for me? I got a tiny, engraved plate (like the one on the bottom of a trophy) that says: “Thanks, mom!” I get a kick out of it every day when I see it on the kitchen wall. And so does she (when she visits).

    1. That’s awesome! Love the engraved plate idea.

      Now that I think about it more, if I’m going to leave some money behind to loved ones, why not try and help them out while I’m still living and get to see the results of my help? Sounds like a wonderful thing to do.

      I wanted to write this post as a tribute and thank you to my mother. She’ll come around reading it one day soon :)

  36. Thank you for sharing this touching story. Your parents sound like wonderful people!

    I am constantly stressing about saving enough for retirement and try to cut back where I can, but I also make it a point to donate money to our local food bank and for other charities throughout the year because I realize I still have it so much better than so many other people. It feels good to know my contribution might put a smile on someone’s face or make their day just a little better.

    1. Thanks terrific to hear Nicole. To be able to still donate money while being stressed about saving enough for retirement shows you are a caring person who is very mindful about your finances. Keep it up!

  37. sam:

    this blog post demonstrate the reason why i think you have the best financial blog post on the internet.

  38. Incredible post Sam. I’ve been reading your site a few years now and enjoyed that one as much as any. Keep it up.

  39. Money guilt, I think we all have it at some point in our lives. It always comes down to feeling that you’re not good enough for money or whatever else you have in your life. In the end, if you have money coming your way, whether it’s through hard work, inheritance, luck or all of the above, it’s coming your way, so why feel guilty? I’d rather feel fortunate and do my best with what I’ve got.

    Besides, guilt is definitely something that is reinforced by society. It’s so weird, society tell us that were supposed to work hard to become successful and get rich and then, when we do, everyone ends up hating you. . what is up with that!?

  40. My family is kind of the opposite of yours. My dad grew up poor on a dairy farm and built a successful company in part by being very tight with his money, so while my parents paid for my education including grad school, I can’t imagine them ever giving me a check just to be nice or “to be a positive influence” in my life, even when there was a time when it would have been helpful to get through a temporary glitch. My mom never had any money of her own to give away, but I could see her doing something like your mom did if she could. I think because of how I was raised, I never felt guilty about making money because I viewed it as a product of hard work. Even with school, they paid for tuition and books, but I always had to have a job to pay for food and fun, and I had to do the work it took to get accepted to school. I did have the opportunity to work in Japan for a year and my best friend is Japanese (via Hawaii), so I think exposure to that culture and her family has made me a more thoughtful and giving person than I would have been otherwise. I think the more “American” and less exposed to other cultures we are, the less “money guilt” we suffer!

    1. Perhaps your last line is right. I don’t know, since I moved around so much my entire life.

      Working hard helped lessen the guilt, but the money was still way more than I thought I ever deserved or thought I could make. Maybe this is why I was more OK with pulling the rip chord early in my finance career. I never thought I would last beyond 5 years in the first place, so 13 years was good enough.

  41. Asians moms and grandmas are the best! It’s definitely a fine line you have to walk as a parent. I don’t want my kids to grow up spoiled with everything they want bc they might turn into a lazy bum but I also want to provide an awesome life for them. It’s probably ok to spoil them later on in life once they’ve made it and you’ve instilled all the good values in them.

    Do you think things would have turned out differently for you if your parents spoiled the crap out of you growing up?

    1. I’m not sure. But I think if I was spoiled, I would NOT appreciate the value of a dollar earned as much. That would result in me not working as hard, not trying to take risk, and not being as mindful of my money at all.

      Maybe I would have followed Marco in his post, Confessions Of A Spoiled Rich Kid. But my parents were never rich, so they couldn’t spoil me with money, only attention.

  42. Zee @ Work To Not Work

    I didn’t really have money guilt until I got a real job. Before that point I was actually in need and it’s not like my parents gave me a lot of money for things, it was more like they provided me with stuff I needed at the time. Like moving back to their house rent free until I figured out what I was doing. But now that I’m well on my way, saving very aggressively for an early retirement I may very well end up retiring only 4 or 5 years after they do (since I’m not entirely sure when they will actually call it quits). They still offer to pay for things for me, if I’m talking about how my oven is acting up and probably on it’s last legs they tell me to buy a new one and that they will pay me back for it. Or earlier this summer my parents wanted to take my sister and her kids to Disneyland so they invited me and told me they would pay for my plane ticket. All these things make me feel somewhat guilty. I’m doing well enough that I don’t need their financial support anymore so it feels awkward to me to take it.

    And their “we’ll pay you back for it” approach is how I get around the guilty feeling. I simply buy whatever it is and when they ask me how much it was so they can pay me back I say that I forgot and that I would have to look it up. I put this off for a few weeks when they ask and eventually it’s forgotten. Occasionally they still send me money anyways, but I would say that half of the time I’m able to drag it out long enough to let them forget about it or realize that I’m not going to “look it up” because getting paid back is not that important to me.

    I don’t know if it’s the best plan but it’s what works for me. I’m not sure how it works on my parents end of things but personally I’d rather them help my sister and her 2 kids than me who is pretty financially solid.

  43. Rockee Dory

    You’re really lucky to have such wonderful parents. I can only imagine how nice it is to have such parents. People with caring parents are truly lucky. You should cherish them.

    I’m (east) Indian by background and work in the tech field. My parents are a perfect example of “toxic parenting”. They are money/emotional vampires. Plus they have completely ruined my brother’s life with their controlling and coercive ways by marrying him off and making him lose his job. I am only now getting to become free from their blackmailing. Like a fool, I had been sending them almost the whole of my earnings and the even getting into huge debt for the last several years, without making any savings for myself. Only now, thanks to some personal finance sites like yours, I’m realizing my folly and trying to save and plan for my retirement.

    When I hear of and see people being great and loving parents, it makes me regain a little bit of faith in humankind.

    1. Hi Mate,

      Sorry to hear about your parents. On the bright side, hopefully their discipline has made you a successful person, or motivated you to gain financial freedom sooner than normal?

      Can’t marry a person you don’t love I say! Stand strong.

      1. Rockee Dory

        Thanks for your reply, Sam. Yes. Their (lack of) discipline has inspired me to never become like them. Right now, I am focusing on paying off my debt, which amounts to around three fifths of my gross annual income. I hope and aspire to financial freedom and leading a disciplined life, while being a good human being overall.


        1. Rockee,

          I have always believed that we can learn what to do from others and just as importantly, what NOT to do from others, including parents.

          Stay strong and stay the course.

  44. Sam,

    I have been reading all your articles (and definitely enjoy them) for a while and never commented, but this one definitely hit a chord!

    I am thirty and my father passed away when I was 25 and my mother when I was 27, both at a fairly young age. I am from France and grew up there. My parents were simple folks and did not have a lot of money but definitely did their best to raise both my sister and I. Growing up, I promised myself that I would work hard and be able to help them live a better life. I have left home to study fairly early, and also came to the US because I had some great school/work opportunities. I did my best to go home fairly regularly, and each time they treated me the best they could (great food, making sure I felt welcome and did not want me to do anything in the house…).
    I always felt guilty because I knew they didn’t have that much, but each time I would leave home to come back to the US, I would always drop an envelope with some cash (like the equivalent of $250 the last time) which is not that much, but was a lot for me then since I was still at school and spending what I could to travel home. And I would always promise myself that I would do more the following time.

    Now they are gone, I do feel guilty that I am financially comfortable and leaving a better life than they ever have. I completely respect the way you feel guilty when you mother gives you some cash, as I did feel the same way when mine was doing something really nice for me instead of spending on herself. But I also remember how she enjoyed it, so if I were you, I would not feel guilty about it! I would just make sure that you are a good son who stays in touch regularly, and pay attention to details so that if one day they need something, even if they don’t ask for it, you are still there to help!


    1. Hi Christophe,

      Always cool to hear from long time readers, but first time commenters.

      I’m sorry you lost your parents in your 20s. I try not to ever think about death, and to make the most of what life has to offer.

      I’ll definitely always be on standby to help them out if needed.

      Thx for commenting!

  45. Sam,

    Wonderful story – its such a blessing to have parents who care and love you.
    As a first time parent at the age of 38, I can honestly say there’s no greater pleasure than to see your child happy.
    Now I understand all the sacrifices that my parents and family made for me, and I have no doubt I will make the same for our child and nieces and nephews.
    So accept the gifts graciously, be thankful and look forward to the day you can do the same for your family.

  46. One time a very wise Rabbi in our community told the following story…his family went on a trip to Africa and he saw devastating poverty in village after village. His family was in the process of building a custom home at the time and when he returned from vacation he observed that the master suite was larger than many of the people’s huts in the villages he visited and his walk in closets and master bath were luxurious (he thought them to be modest before the trip) compared to most facilities he saw on the trip. He felt guilty for having so much. But after a lot of soul searching, he realized there would always be poverty whether he built his house or not. The Bible tells us so. So he decided rather than feel guilty, he would just feel exceedingly grateful for the blessings he’s received. I’m not Jewish but I found his story to be very inspirational and have strived to express my gratitude for my blessings frequently.

    Don’t succumb to feeling guilt, just be grateful instead. You have nothing to feel guilty about.

    1. Thanks for sharing the story.

      You have an interesting suggestion though, in not succumbing to feeling guilty. It’s kind of like telling a person who is depressed, there’s nothing to be depressed about. It’s not so simple. I think we’ve got to dig much deeper to understand the root of how we feel and why. That’s the exciting part!

  47. There are roofing options that will last virtually forever. I went with a metal roof 10 years and it is guaranteed for my lifetime. At the time there was even a tax credit for this as they are quite energy efficient (reflective) . It does cost more up front for sure, but it might be worth it to you to have the money spent on a more lasting legacy. Personally I also like the idea that I won’t be adding to a landfill every 15-20 years.

      1. This is the product we went with:

        I think it was at least twice the cost of asphalt, but we plan on being here a while. Slate and tile are other great longer-term options but my understanding is that often the roof needs to be reinforced in these cases (much heavier than aluminium).

        One problem with asphalt to my understanding is that in recent years manufacturers have been cutting back on the petroleum content – resulting in shorter lifetimes for the roofs. While the asphalt comes with a warranty, that is kind of a joke since it doesn’t account for labor / installation costs.

        A few things to think about at any rate..

  48. Sam,

    This is a great story. I think the best thing you can do for your parents is share a grandchild with them!

    Are you an only child, or do you have brothers and sisters?

    I don’t suffer from financial guilt, and try to use a small portion of my savings to help others from time to time.


  49. I too had great parents who sent me to private high school and out of state public school at great cost to them (of course also way back when tuition was much less). They believed in a good education. That was above all the other generous ways they treated me and my siblings. But they could also be frugal at times and never spent extravagantly. In the end, I don’t feel too guilty for their monetary generosity. If I feel guilty at all, it is because I hit the lottery and was blessed with two loving parents. Mostly, I’m very thankful. If only every child could be blessed with two wonderful parents like we were who are willing to make sacrifices for their children and teach them wise money management. And while I don’t get direct cash gifts anymore, I do get equally generous non-monetary gifts in the form of vacations with the family, family meals out, and clothes/toys for my children that my parents provide from often.

  50. I’m surprised I made it through my liberal arts college without developing severe money guilt. Most people there seemed to despise people with wealth.

    Everything I have, others could have obtained if they had worked as hard as I have. If I had a huge inheritance, maybe then I would feel bad. I’ve never had a money gift more than $100.

  51. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life

    “Honor the gifts you have” – this is beautiful Sam. My parents paid for all of my college costs that were not covered by scholarships and I’ve often felt guilty about that (especially in the personal finance world where having overcome some astronomical debt is like some right of passage). I know the best way to honor my parents would be to pay that gift of education forward to my children someday- I just desperately hope they’re around for that.

  52. What a sweet story. My parents are very similar in their frugality and generosity. I’m continually inspired by how much money they donate to various causes they believe in, and, how much of their time they contribute. They’ve both volunteered for their entire lives. I always feel guilty when my parents, or my in-laws, give us money because we don’t need it. Sure, it’s nice and it supplements our savings, but, we don’t ever spend it. At the same time, they insist and my parents often tell me and my siblings “Don’t tell us how to spend our money in retirement–we want to spend it on you!” I feel very fortunate to have such loving parents and, sounds like you do too.

  53. Very nice article Sam. It is the same with my Parents. I always try to remember, we aren’t the ones to choose what another person wants to do or decide what provides them happiness, just ‘be’ and accept it.

    In this scenario, you can also remember that your Mom enjoys seeing you enjoy life as she had (or had not) in the past. Once that time comes, she won’t be here to have the joy of watching you enjoy what she has provided. “Why ‘leave money’ for later when I can give it to them and be there to watch them enjoy it?”

    1. Thanks. Yes, I hope to share with her some of my life experiences and adventures through this blog so that if she’s ever curious about what I’m up to, she can pop on by :)

  54. Steve@ChattingFinance

    Wow, when I read about your mom I feel like I’m reading about my mom. My mom is Chinese and she came to the US about 35 years ago. My father and her run a restaurant business and work a minimum of 60 hours a week.

    My dad is nearly 65 and yet he is still cranking out orders of sweet and sour chicken like crazy. Despite some health issues he just wont stop. Both my parents helped with college, cars, and even the house that I just bought.

    I’m a grown adult, have steady income, proven I don’t need help, but they always help me. I wonder if money is there way of showing they love me. Most parents might take their kids on vacation or help them with their homework. My parents really didn’t do that with me, so perhaps money is substitute.

    This is why I accept the money from them. I think it gives them a sense of pride and excitement to help out their son. Some parents might take pride in helping their kid remodel their house, my parents might take pride in hiring someone to help remodel my house.

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