As the saying goes, charity begins at home

July 9, 2017

One of our children wants to buy a home and needs help with the down payment. What’s a parent to do? Can we afford to help now that we are both retired?

Flashback to 1979, when my husband and I got married and needed a down payment to buy our first home. I knew my parents couldn’t afford to help, so my husband asked his mother for the money.

It wasn’t until 20 years later that I found out my in-laws did not have the down payment to help, but had instead taken out a loan from their own bank to help us.

There were many instances over the years when my mother-in-law Edna taught me about the timeliness of gift giving. She claimed it was her landlady Margaret who helped her to learn life’s lessons. When her son (my husband Ray) was 6 years old, he wanted a bicycle and she had no money to buy it. Margaret told her that was hogwash! She said her son needed the bike now, and that she could find a way to buy it.

So Edna bought Ray his first bike. A Huffy blue two-wheeler with sleek, shiny handlebars. He rode that bike until he outgrew it. A bike empowers a child and takes him on adventures. Have wheels and the world becomes wider.

One time she paid a day laborer for a half a cord of wood so we could build fires in the winter. She paid for swim lessons for our children and scuba lessons for my daughter in college. Her gifts were given at the precise opportunity for the development of their growth.

A 2015 survey from the Pew Research Center of nearly 1,700 Americans found 61 percent of parents with grown children had helped them out financially in the past year. Largely, they don’t consider this a burden: 72 percent felt they were expected to help their children “the right amount,” and 89 percent found it rewarding. (Libby Kane, Dec. 17, 2015 Business Insider)

Bob Collins, a mortgage broker with Signal Hill Mortgage in California, says parents gifting a down payment often treat it as “here’s your inheritance in advance,” so they can see the benefit of that money during their lifetime.

For years, visiting family had to sleep on a pull-out sofa in the basement. It would be wonderful to stay in my own child’s home in a private bedroom, no less. I recall how exciting it was when I finally acquired a larger home with a guest room where I could put a TV so my mother-in-law could fall asleep watching “Murder, She Wrote.”

My mother was a smart woman too. She always used to say, “Charity begins at home.” Being able to help my children realize their dreams by giving them windows is something they will not forget. But it’s times like these when I wish I had more money to give.