My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Should I pay for my child’s university education?

Numbers are typically the focus of retirement planning. Will I have enough of a nest egg to support myself? When do I withdraw my retirement savings? Should I start receiving my Canada Pension Plan benefit early, before turning 65? These questions are easily answered by an advisor — preferably one who is good with financial planning software.

But advisors and clients often overlook the softer side of retirement planning, where human relationships and feelings come into play. One common issue on this front is adult children and their continued financial dependence on their parents – especially when deciding how to pay for a child’s post-secondary education.

This week BDO Canada LLP senior wealth advisor Carmen McHale explains why this common dynamic can be so fraught from both an emotional and financial point of view – and how to tackle it.


By Carmen McHale

Most parents I work with have a hard time saying no to their children – their car payments and cellphone bills are covered by Mom and Dad well after the children are working and bringing in their own money. Parents pay for the wedding, help with the down payment on the house, pay for the master’s degree that never seems to end. They often ask: Should I keep my kids on the family payroll?

A recent survey by FP Canada found that more than a third of Canadian parents with children 18 or older have helped their children pay their rent.

The problem with this is twofold: first, your kids do not learn responsibility and are unable to budget for themselves because they have never learned the value of a dollar. The other problem can be much serious – you have spent so much money on your kids that you have put your own retirement in jeopardy.

As an example: The same FP Canada study reports that while less than 10% of parents with older children have used retirement funds to help them purchase a home, almost 40% of parents with children under 18 expect to postpone retirement to help their children purchase a home.

A report from Merrill Lynch also has some stark data points for parents to review. The study found that parents are spending twice as much on their adult children as they are putting away for retirement. Overall, it said, 79% of parents continue to give money to their adult children age 18 to 34.

What about the master’s degree? Most parents I work with want to pay for their children’s education, but covering costs for more than the four years of undergraduate studies is another story.

Multiple children, multiple tuition bills

I frequently run across a situation like this: the oldest child has just finished a seven-year post-secondary program and now the younger sibling wants to go to dental school (which would bring to eight the tally of years in school after graduating high school). I will assume for purposes of this discussion that any RESPs will be used for undergraduate or have been exhausted already.

Couples are often not prepared for these expenses, and now there is a dilemma. They have already covered all expenses for their first child, which could be upwards of $350,000 including living expenses (yes, $50,000 per year for seven years). Parents often feel guilty if they don’t treat their kids equally – what if they can’t afford the second child’s education? They have already paid the full way for the sibling. What does the couple do? They will be delaying their retirement by several years by funding the full bill. Will Mom and Dad have to delay their retirement? Even with this knowledge, they feel they are in a situation where it is too late to change course – family harmony is at stake.

Parents can handle this type of situation in a few ways. Sometimes they can guarantee loans for the dental school costs for the child. They can also equalize the extra school costs in their will or by reducing their financial assistance for the first child in other areas – like their wedding or house purchase.

Two overarching rules will ease the challenge. First of all, plan your approach in advance. And second, commit your resources responsibly. There is nothing wrong with pitching in to help our kids financially as they move through key stages in their life. Housing costs continue to rise, especially in many urban areas, and some courses of studies end up burdening students with significant debt loads. But parents also need to reality-check their financial support – and make sure it won’t put their own retirement at risk.

The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms.


  1. I think helping your child to buy a house is a better use of funds, as they will be renting and that money could be used to pay down a mortgage instead.

    1. Hi Adrian, I think we were trying to just deal with University and education, your suggestion is another topic after education is covered IMHO