Managing Personal Finances in Recovery

    Most families agree that it’s important that loved ones are responsible and accountable when it comes to money matters. During active substance use many people don’t manage their money well. They may neglect to pay bills, rent, car payments, taxes, or fines, prioritizing alcohol or other substances instead.

    Looking at your loved one’s relationship with money and the role you play in their finances may be needed to get back on track. While most of this discussion is focused on young adult children, there are some issues that apply regardless of age. It’s also important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how money is handled, so consider what will work for you and your child.

    Is Money a Trigger for Your Child?

    Many people with a substance use disorder are triggered by cash, a paycheck or going to an ATM. Discussions with your child about how to manage this in recovery can be helpful. Some families limit cash for a period of time. If cash is provided they ask for receipts. Parents may choose to buy groceries, a tank of gas or pay rent directly to a landlord rather than give their child money. Consider the pros and cons of jobs in restaurants and other places where tips or wages are paid in cash. Direct deposit of paychecks can be helpful if possible.

    You may decide to share your position on cash with other family members. While gift cards may seem like a good solution, they can easily be sold for less than their face value to get cash.

    You may feel your child needs a debit or credit card for general expenses or for emergencies. Some parents choose to use special debit cards. These cards have spending limits, restrictions for accessing cash, and can block use of the card during certain hours or with certain merchants (e.g. alcohol outlets or pool halls).

    Cell Phone Service

    Options exist to have your child on their own plan or on a household plan. Some parents offer to cover phone service if their loved one changes their number and deletes or blocks access to dealers or friends who use substances. Other families have made tracking whereabouts as a condition of paying for cell phone service. You should know that there are ways to get around this if a child is determined to hide their location.


    A car can be a large expense including car payments, gas, insurance, repairs, registration and licensing costs. If the car is titled to you, you may decide whether to keep it or sell it. If you decide to keep it there is the option of restricting use to recovery-related activities like attending treatment appointments, work/school and meetings.

    When it comes to other car expenses you can share expenses or have your child pay for everything – again there is no one-size-fits all approach. Instead of giving the money to your child, consider paying what’s owed directly to the company.

    The natural consequence of not paying these expenses is that the car breaks down, your child can lose their license, the car can be repossessed and more. Some families are okay with this while others struggle with these consequences, especially if it means not getting to work or treatment appointments.

    Public transportation or a ride-sharing service may be needed. Again, asking for receipts can be helpful if you give your child money for this purpose. Be especially careful if you offer your credit card for ride-sharing services as it can be easy to take advantage of it if your loved one isn’t paying the bill.

    Legal Fees

    Many people caught up in substance use have legal expenses – fines, court costs, restitution and lawyers’ fees to pay. Requiring that your child pay these expenses allows your child to experience the direct consequences of their actions. If payments are missed a bench warrant may be issued. If this happens your child may go to jail and have to appear before a judge.

    If you decide to play a role in paying these expenses, you may consider loaning the money to your child with a repayment schedule. It may also be possible for your child to work out a payment plan directly with the court.


    A child moving into a halfway house or other sober living home needs to provide a deposit and rent money. Even if housing is covered when it is coupled with some intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) or partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), money may be needed for food and other small expenses. Some parents choose to pay these expenses since housing is a critical part of on-going care for their child. Others offer assistance for a short period of time (e.g., two weeks, a month or two) requiring that their child get some kind of employment to pay for rent and food going forward.

    Families have used rent as a “carrot” saying that if their child remains abstinent (or complies with other family requirements including treatment) for a period of time, they will help them with a security deposit, co-sign a rental agreement, and/or pay the first month’s rent. Co-signing should be considered only if you’re willing to cover all of the expenses in case your child can’t make the payments. What happens if you have to break the lease is a good question to ask.

    Medical Expenses

    Healthcare can include paying premiums, deductibles, co-pays, doctor and dentist visits and medications.  In order to reduce the chances of a relapse, it’s important to have a discussion as to how these expenses will be handled.  Your child can stay on your insurance until they are 26 years old. After that, they will need to get their own insurance. If they aren’t able to get private insurance, they should look into Medicaid.

    Loved ones can negotiate a payment plan or sliding scale with some providers. Manufacturers of medications may offer co-pay assistance to reduce the cost of medications. Check out their websites to see what is offered. Another option is to ask providers to prescribe generic medications that are less costly.

    Other Expenses

    Your child might want your help to cover gym memberships, weekend outings, going out for coffee, to a diner, concerts, etc. Some families will pay these expenses only if they are recovery related while others leave it up to the child to get work to cover the expenses.

    These expenses can be a great way to motivate behavior change in your child. For example, if your child wants money to go out for coffee or to a diner with friends, you may choose to link it to a behavior you want to encourage (e.g., go to therapy, meetings, complete chores, etc.). Be sure they complete the desired behavior before providing the money.

    Basic Money Management Skills

    Learning basic money management skills is an important part of your child’s development and recovery. This includes budgeting, living within their means, paying bills on-time, managing their credit rating (for adult children), learning to save and more. For minor children, consider asking them to share in the cost of non-essential expenses. Young adults can pay for or contribute toward all their expenses. If it’s not possible to contribute money, consider how can they contribute to the household with their time and energy.