Woe Is Me! “Can My Parents Take My Entire Salary For Household Expenses?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I started working in the middle of lockdown. I don’t earn much but it’s enough to cover my expenses. But my parents took all of my money, saying that they need it for household expenses. I worked really hard to save up enough to buy a birthday present for myself. I don’t know if I should ask for the money back or not?“
— Not Even A Paisa?
KB: Wow, your parents literally took it all? That’s not okay, let’s just establish that right off the bat. The fact that you’ve been working (at presumably your first job) for several months, and saving responsibly, only to have them clean you out, sounds unkind and punitive. In fact, it’s so harsh that it makes me wonder whether there’s some context about your relationship with your parents, or the household dynamic, that you’re not telling us.
But either way, let’s just say: it’s entirely reasonable for your parents to expect you — an adult, working member of the household — to contribute to household expenses, BUT, it is also completely reasonable for you to keep and save some of your earnings for yourself. If you’re old enough to be paying the bills, you’re also old enough to make some autonomous choices about how to spend the money you earn. I’d certainly demand that birthday money back. But at the same time, reassure your parents that you intend to contribute financially to the household for as long as you continue to live there, but that you will also assert your right to keep, save, and control the remaining money you have worked to earn.
DR: So, basically, you’re in a piping hot soup — and not a clear one. My utmost sympathies! Now, to help you climb your way out of this one, I have a few questions to help you figure out your course of action. First, do you think your parents genuinely needed your savings to run the house? A positive answer to this one wouldn’t be entirely unfathomable given that we’re in the middle of an economic crisis — but whether or not that has impacted your family, is something you would know better. Second, if you answered the previous question in the negative, try to gauge whether they took your money as a means to ensure they would be able to control you by taking away the financial independence your savings afforded you. If that’s indeed the case, you know what you have to do: get away from there.
However, I do understand that that may not be an easy, or even feasible, course of action — especially given that you have just started earning. So, another course of action would, maybe, be to somehow hide your savings from your parents. Perhaps, you could tell them you have suffered a pay cut? In the season of the pandemic, that’s quite believable. And if you have no money, you have no financial independence, and hence, they don’t need to devise strategies like taking your hard-earned savings away to control you. This way, once you have saved up enough, maybe, finalize a PG, or anything else you can afford, and move out overnight. Whatever course of action you choose, it will be a long and tiring process. But, freedom is truly worth it.
LG: I’m assuming you live with your parents. In which case, it’s not entirely crazy for them to want you to contribute to the costs of running your joint household. You’re an adult, you’re earning — why should they continue to treat you like a child by paying for everything? That said! It is not okay for them to take your whole salary. Part of being an earning adult is also developing financial independence; you should definitely be able to retain at least a portion of your salary (if not the majority of it) and any expected contributions to the household shouldn’t be a surprise to you. I have a couple of suggestions. First, do you have a bank account? Opening a bank account in your name and your name only, and setting up a direct deposit of your salary into that account will give you a lot more control over your money. Second, talk to your parents — explain that you are okay contributing a portion of your salary to household expenses, but because you’d like to save for the future and take on some of your own personal expenses (like a birthday present to yourself), you can’t contribute your whole salary. Try to arrive at an amount that feels fair to everyone (off the cuff, up to one-third of your salary going to household expenses seems reasonable).
You may also ask them why they feel they need your whole salary — maybe they’re having financial trouble you don’t know about. A lot of people have had financial setbacks amid the pandemic; maybe that’s them. Regardless, the conversation should end up at a place where you’re comfortable with what you’re contributing to the household — and with what you’re saving, and with you in control of your money (i.e., a bank account of your own, if you don’t already have one). Good luck, super saver. That birthday present will be just as enjoyable next month and feel even better with the knowledge you’ve taken a stand to control your earnings, contribute to your family, and treat yourself a little.
RD: This sounds like a really tough situation, especially because it’s difficult to talk about money. Personally, my parents never taught me to advocate for myself financially, and you seem to be in a similar spot. Look, I don’t think it’s completely unreasonable for them to ask you to pitch in toward household expenses, but they also should be asking you before they take all of it. If you’re not in a position to speak to them directly about this, I suggest you start siphoning off some cash every week/month from your salary, into a safe place. Open an account that’s only yours, find a hiding place for your money. Look, I know hiding stuff from your parents is probably not a good idea, but if other options are not available to you, look out for your own self, and start saving up. It may not be enough for you to move out anytime soon, but it should get you that birthday present. I guess my advice is lie, with impunity. Can’t change what’s in the past, but you can have a say in what happens next.
ADT: You’re unfortunately a victim of a long and boring tradition that doesn’t let children — especially women children (even when they become adults) — control their money. This is done either to control your mobility or because the parents in question have a sense of entitlement about the favor they’ve done you by birthing and rearing you. Some benevolent sorts will even give you ‘pocket money’ from your own earnings, which is truly the zenith of entitlement if you ask me. Plus, you have no idea where this money goes and you don’t even get any so-called pocket money in return. The question you need to ask yourself now is — do you want to live under your parents’ thumb forever, or do you want to get out?
Here’s what you need to do. Open another bank account, first things first. Then, tell your parents you had a significant pandemic-related pay cut. Start siphoning off at least a strong 60% of your income into this other account. Make enough — this will take a long and boring amount of time which will also require you to show restraint. Once you have enough, look for a job that puts you at a significant distance from your parents and move out. It’s quite possible that they will still ask you to send money home, but the good news is that you get to either control the money you receive or you can tell them to stick it. Do not negotiate with bullies.