An Interview With an Adult With an Allowance

Logan Sachon: Sarah Stiles is a name I’ve made up for you, and you’re an adult with an allowance, basically. Let’s talk about that.

Sarah Stiles: I get monthly deposits from investments in a family partnership. I started getting monthly deposits of $450 in earnings off one of our investments when I was in college, and this was eventually boosted to $1,000 when I was out of college and working full time.

LS: So is it fun money? Play money?

SS: Well I am currently (and recently) unemployed, so right now I’m living of the monthly allowance, along with personal savings.

One thing my parental support (and the partnership) has meant for me is that I wasn’t trapped in a job I hated and a city I hated. Rather than try to apply for jobs from afar, I picked up and moved to a city I’d rather live in and have been applying for jobs and networking from here. Between the monthly allowance and personal savings, I’m living pretty “lean,” but I’m certainly not starving.

In my past jobs, where I was paid very little, the monthly allowance meant I was able to either cover rent and groceries and still buy an occasional new pair of shoes or nice dinner out. Now, using savings and my allowance, I can cover rent and groceries and still socialize with my friends, but I certainly can’t buy many ‘extras’ right now (I still rationalize my weekly manicure, but no new summer clothes or trip for me right now!).

LS: Tell me more about the partnership. When did you find out it was there?

SS: I always knew there was money being set aside for my sister and me- I remember my dad buying us stocks for Christmas in companies ten-year-old girls would think were cool (Disney, Coca Cola, McDonalds). I think for a while (until middle school) I figured I would come into this money all in a lump sum in my twenties (aka a million years from then), but at some point pretty early on, it was explained to me that the money was there for tuition and maybe eventual down payments.

LS: Do you have access to the rest of the money?

SS: I only get the monthly deposits, which I don’t mind. Since college I have been in a string of low-paying jobs, internships, and fellowships, and am currently unemployed, but I don’t really wish I had access to the money. I definitely live on a shoe-string budget right now, but I feel like my upbringing has given me a somewhat cavalier attitude about money. I know this too shall pass.

I also know that were I to truly hit the straights and be absolutely busted, I could ask my parents for support. But I take that very seriously, and so far haven’t asked for any huge bail-outs.

LS: So it sounds like, despite having access to a lot of resources, you’re pretty conservative with your money.

SS: I am very anal about my money. I never, ever, ever carry a balance on my credit cards, and try to avoid spending money I haven’t earned yet. I don’t have enough spare money to start investing much, but I do have a Roth IRA that, when I’m making money, I deposit the suggested 3% of my earnings, pre-tax. I don’t mind being “broke,” but I never, ever want to be in debt.

So I’m not out buying Celine purses or Hermes scarves (though I’d love to be, and if I have the money for that one day, I might!) But if I go out one weekend with friends and over-indulge in food and wine, I will batten down the hatches and live on eggs and toast for a few days or weeks to compensate.

LS: How would you describe your upbringing, money/classwise?

SS: I grew up in a small city in what could either be described as “upper-middle class” or “upper class.” Realistically, in the great scheme of things, we are probably upper class, but not on the scale of anything like people in cities like LA or NYC. We went on two vacations a year, got new clothes when we needed them, stuff like that.

Looking back, I was very lucky in my situation. I wasn’t given carte blanche to get whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, but grew up feeling incredibly safe and secure. My parents are both very serious about education, so we were able to buy new books pretty much whenever we wanted, but my mom is also a fanatic saver- we compost, my mom still coupon-clips and is a chronic re-gifter.

It seemed so silly to me at the time, but in retrospect, I think we were learning important lessons on not viewing everything as disposable. I was able to grow up with an appreciation for the ‘finer things’ (good wine, live music), but I wasn’t growing up in some rarefied bubble where I was completely out of touch with how other people were living.

LS: Did the partnership pay for your education?

SS: Actually my grandfather paid for all four years. He also paid for all of my private education before that. He decided that he would have that as an option for our parents, to avoid estate tax after his death. While my parents could have paid for my college, either out of the partnership or even out of pocket, it means so much to me that my grandfather chose to allocate his money in that way.

One of the reasons that I am not more anxious to get free reign on my share of the partnership is because I want to one day pay it forward. I don’t foresee many career paths for myself where I will be making the kind of money my father and grandfather did, so I hope that the partnership might one day be able to pay for my kids’ college tuition if necessary.

LS: Do your friends know about your “allowance”?

SS: I was just talking to my mom about this recently. I’m basically surviving right now on partnership money, which is keeping me from blowing through my savings. I’m not doing anything fun/extravagant while looking for work.

My dad told me I should just be very upfront and tell people who ask how I’m getting by that I’m using family money. My mom disagreed, and told me I was free to tell people I’d been saving up money (which is true, and some of that money did fund my move and current unemployment, and some of it is going to go straight into my Roth IRA). However, I decided that I am just going to tell people who ask that they shouldn’t worry about it, I’ve got it under control.

I’m not trying to hide it, per se. I am certainly not ashamed of the money — I think sometimes people in similar situations to mine let themselves feel guilt over money as a kind of absolution. However, if you feel guilty and still take the money, the guilt, to me, seems like this self-serving justification — like, its okay to accept the money because I feel really, really shitty about it. And thats not how I operate.

My parents live comfortable lives and have set aside money to help me live comfortably as well. I know that money can’t buy you happiness, but I believe I was raised to know what money can buy: time, comfort, opportunities. Money helped me get out of a bad job situation and an unhappy living situation and into a city where I could see myself building a future. My parents wanted those things for me, and I was happy to accept it. It is humbling to know how much love and support they give me. I sent my mom a postcard recently that said, “I know it’s cheesy, but when Hannah in Girls said to her parents that she feels like there is a hammock under the earth to catch her because of them, I know exactly what she meant.”

I know unequivocally that I might not have my dream job right now, or a boyfriend, or a perfect figure, but that I am lucky beyond any kind of expectations or reckoning to have parents like mine- not only to be in the kind of financial situation they are in, but to be in a position where two adults have given me so much love and support.

LS: So have your friends asked about where your money comes from?

SS: They haven’t. And I am currently not trying to lie or hide purchases from my friends. My attitude has been, though, if they ask, I just tell them not to worry about it. It does make me uncomfortable that people might suspect or deduct that I’m getting money from my parents and think less of me, and that makes me sad, but I also know that has more to do with them than me. And in reality, its just no one’s business but God’s what I or anyone else is doing with their money. Which is the attitude I take to my trust fund cash — it’s between me, my parents, and God.

I’m interested in having conversations with all kinds of people about their money and their family’s money. Are you interested in talking to me about your money and your family’s money? Hit me:

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