Should I give my grandson £3,000 to go travelling, or make him get a ‘proper’ job?

‘Should I give my grandson £3,000 to go travelling, or make him get a ‘proper’ job?’

Moral Money: our reader wants to help her grandson without angering his mum

Hi Sam,

I have been holding on to a lump sum for my grandson with a view to enabling him in some training, further education, driving lessons or something that enhances his capabilities in life.

He is a bit adrift at the moment – he’s nearly 20, and has been switching from one minimum wage job to another every couple of weeks. 

The only thing he talks about with any enthusiasm is travelling – he has a friend who did six months in Australia and then six months in Asia, working to earn enough to sustain himself but generally just having a great time seeing new places and meeting new people. 

My grandson is inspired by this. If I give him the lump sum I have saved for him he will have his initial travel money and a small contingency pot. I will be enabling the trip. The problem is his mum is not keen and thinks he should be training for a “proper” job. 

Neither of them know about the £3,000 pot at the moment. What should I do?  

Dear reader,

As a financial planner I always enjoy hearing stories about saving for the future and how such pots of wealth enable great things to happen. It takes on a special level of significance when families use resources to enable future generations to get a good start in the tricky game of life.  

As a mum, I recall having a conversation with one of my boys about gap years. Rather than moving from sixth form to university, his idea was to take a year off. It seemed to me that he hadn’t actually got started, let alone needed time off! A rest? From what? 

My boys are in their late 30s now and had the option of going to university when student loans were tiny in comparison to the debt students rack up now to get a degree. It’s arguable that the more practical skills that can be acquired by working, earning, travelling and generally getting one’s hands dirty on real life stuff offers better opportunities to prove capabilities around being a grown-up. 

As a family, we used to play the board game “Game of Life”, where you choose whether to delay your earnings capability by getting higher education, and then hoped to earn more than those who chose to start earning sooner but without the qualifications to secure “proper” jobs that generally paid more. 

You then decide on marriage, kids and even pets along the way – a bit of luck and you managed to finance it all, but underdo your earnings or overdo your expensive dependents and bankruptcy was on the cards. I don’t recall it having a gap year option – or travelling the antipodes financed by grandma route, come to that. It may have been a better game for such inclusions. I do recall it had a midlife crisis tile that one might land on with an unfortunate roll of the dice, though.

The transition from full-time education to financial independence is treacherous for most of us, and I wonder whether we create way too much of an illusion about the amount of control we can exercise. 

Just as in the board game, much depends on luck no matter what choices you exercise. Stump up the tuition fees for university and head down the academic route and you might get a duff lecturer in your core subject, or a global pandemic that disrupts the entire learning experience, adding up to what you might later consider to be a very expensive waste of several years.  

Go straight down the apprenticeship route from school and put in half a decade mastering a craft or skill on low pay, only to find by the time you qualify some AI alternative has devalued your hard-won training to the point you can’t earn a living at it any more.  

The things you can learn that will never go out of fashion or be disrupted by technology is how to look out for yourself in a dynamic environment. How to think on your feet and make the most of the situation you find yourself in. How to plan to the best of your ability, prepare, budget and execute, but stay agile and aware of the changing demands and needs that are part of life on life’s terms.  

The value of building experiences and broadening perspective is hard to measure. Obviously, there are bad experiences and perspectives that can traumatise, but generally human beings are adaptable, and if we practise this skill we’ll be even better at it than those who don’t ever stretch out of their comfort zones. 

Those who seem blessed with the lucky throw of the dice in the real game of life, where everything falls their way without challenges, build less resilience than those who have had to improvise and be flexible along life’s twisty route.  

Purposely disappointing my children is something I learnt to do when they were babies; they wanted excesses of things that needed moderation, like sweets. They resisted things that were required, like sleep. Now I am a grandmother, and I am sure I continue to disappoint, but I don’t do it intentionally. Sometimes I find it easy to change or moderate to fit in with my children’s preferences, and sometimes I make my case and stand my ground. 

I think it is healthy in families to have different generations pitching in with different perspectives – it’s back to the importance of perspective.

I think my overall point here is that I am willing to be unpopular with my kids if I am comfortable with what I am doing and why. I check that it’s not about some ego driven win/lose, good/bad, right/wrong contest, but more about me being true to my values. If I am sure I have good intentions and would be able to justify my actions, no matter the outcome (to myself more rather than anyone else) I am generally willing to spend my money how I see fit, regardless of opposition.  

Given the £3,000 pot is your money I think you should be able to use it as you see fit. Maybe if you share your perspective with your daughter, she may be more agreeable than you imagine. If you were to let your grandson know about the budget and encourage him to design an itinerary to fit within it, you could be his ally, while at the same time doing much to relieve a parent’s fear around young adults and their half-baked ideas.   

What a lucky boy he is to have so many people supporting him in his transition to adulthood. I hope it goes well for you all. 

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