Growing up, my family wasn’t well-to-do, but my parents never once complained about how much it cost to raise my brother and I. When I was 13, my dad secretly sold his car so I could get braces. I felt terrible when my mum told me, but all she said was, “It’s our job to take care of you now. Just be sure to take care of us when you’re older.”
Since then, the importance of giving back has been grilled into my mind. I asked Elsa Lim, founder of Money Fit Coach, about how much we should give our parents every month, and asked five other Singaporean girls in their 20s how much they do, and what the act of giving their parents money means to them.
How much money should we give our parents?
There’s no “right” amount that we should give our parents every month because what is being repaid is largely unquantifiable.
“When it comes to money, there are two types of relationships we have to address: transactional and emotional. When we work for a company in return for compensation, the relationship is purely transactional, but when it comes to giving money to our loved ones, the relationship is emotional,” says Elsa. She adds that she knows of people who have no emotional ties with their parents and thus do not give them money at all.
If you are in a position to give, Elsa advises having an open conversation with your parents about how much they would like to have, and how much you can afford to give. She also suggests paying for their utility, phone, grocery or medical expenses on a monthly basis if you want an alternative option.
Can’t afford to give them money though? It’s not a big deal
However, if you’re struggling to support yourself, much less anyone else, you shouldn’t feel too guilty about being unable to provide for your parents.
“Most parents wouldn’t dream of demanding money from their children, especially if they’re unemployed or struggling to make ends meet,” says the money fitness coach. She notes that you can also show them love in other ways, such as investing more time with them, or checking in on them every day.
And if your parents are crazy rich Asians who don’t need your money, Elsa’s answer is the same: “At the end of the day, most parents don’t want their children’s money per se, but their time, attention and love.” She suggests taking them on a paid vacation as a way to express your love. The quality time spent with them will be more meaningful than a monthly allowance.
“Don’t [give your parents an allowance] out of a sense of obligation or because you fear being criticised. Do it out of love and because you want to,” says Elsa.
Now that I can afford to give back to my parents, I realise that while 50% of it is out of obligation, the other 50% is from pure gratitude. I will never be able to repay them for all that they’ve done for me, but giving them a token of my thanks seems like a good place to start.
Text: Claire Soong