WASHINGTON – When you’re a parent, it’s hard to know when to let go – even when your child becomes an adult.

Such was the case with a well-meaning mom who had a strong opinion about her adult daughter’s next car purchase. In a recent letter to Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax, the daughter asked for guidance:

“I just graduated college … and my mom invited me to live with her rent-free so I could save up some money. I’m very lucky and have tried not to be a burden during this arrangement. The issue is, we really disagree on what I should be saving for. I want to max out my 401(k), correct some dental issues and travel. … She wants me to save to buy a new car and is always mentioning the benefits of new car models she likes. If I had to guess, she probably thinks the timeline for me to save is urgent, since she wants to give my (current) car to my brother when he graduates next May. I honestly want a used car. My current one is 15 years old; it runs fine, and I really like it. I don’t know how to talk to her about this. … Is there a way to compromise, or politely talk it out? I love my mom, I don’t want to be the ungrateful daughter.”

Hax responded: “Sounds like it’s time for a come-to-Prius moment.

“Setting: A time and place when you and your mom are together and at ease and not scheduled to be anywhere.

“Opener: You tell your mom how grateful you are for her generosity in giving you this opportunity to save money.


“Point: Say you are concerned lately that her goals for this time and yours might be different, and you’d feel better if you knew what she had in mind. You don’t want to be an unwitting source of angst or frustration.

“Key question: Is she willing to share her expectations? Such as, a deadline for you to move out? A goal she’d like you to reach personally? A goal of her own that she has, that’s dependent in some way on you? (Like your giving up your car to your brother.)

“If she isn’t forthcoming, then all you can do is keep trying to pull your weight, save like the wind (we’re pretending that’s a thing) and get out of there as soon as it’s prudent to.

“If she is forthcoming, then you work with that – bending where you can or where it won’t cost your integrity much to bend, and holding firm where you need to. And if holding firm is a problem for her, then this grace period might be up. It happens.”

Wanting more insight, this frustrated daughter put the same question to me during my weekly online discussion. I wrote the following letter, asking the young woman to show it to her mother:

“I want to first commend you for allowing your adult daughter to live at home to save. What a wonderful gift you are providing for this young adult. Kudos to you. My husband and I plan to do the same thing with our daughter when she comes out of graduate school next year. In fact, we are already talking about how it will work out. And she, too, expressed concern that my husband and I won’t let her travel while she’s saving.


But I assured her, as I hope I’m assuring you, that we see she is a good money manager. As long as she’s meeting her saving goals, we won’t mind her taking vacations, especially since she won’t have any school debt.

Now, mom, if I may, I think you need to listen to your daughter about the car. I believe she is right to want to hold on to the older car until she saves enough to pay for a “new-to-her” used car. Yes, new cars have all kinds of great safety features, but when I look at accident reports, people are having accidents mostly because of distracted driving, not because they don’t have blind-spot warning sensors.

You’ve raised a very money-smart kid – trust her on this issue. She doesn’t want to be disrespectful, but I side with her and think you might want to steer clear of the car talk. She’s got this.”

In the end, the advice is basically the same: Talk it out.

Michelle Singletary is a columnist for The Washington Post. Readers may contact her at:


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