My husband and I are fortunate to have no debt other than our mortgage. I can't say the same for our two grown children, who are more than struggling. As a matter of fact, they are sinking quickly. How can we help?

You would be surprised by the number of people at conferences who ask this very question.

While I know you are dealing with older children, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage parents of young ones to begin teaching a sensible approach to finances now. Forming them in the virtues, teaching them how to tithe at an early age, showing them how to manage a checkbook and budget — all of these can be done during the childhood years (Proverbs 22:6).

With grown children, bad habits may make the job more difficult, but just as with the prodigal son, Our Lord continually calls us back “home.” Look for an opportunity where your children would be open to suggestions. I have frequently found that many young couples (engaged or newly married without children) may not ready to hear about such things as budgeting and prioritizing expenses. They are often still starry eyed — thinking they'll be in a financial position to satisfy all of their wants.

Yet, when that same couple has their first child, it's amazing to see the changes that take place. All of a sudden, the new parents seem to grasp the magnitude of the job ahead of them and realize — maybe for the first time — that resources will be limited. This can be an opportune moment to reach out to them. Share what it was like for you and your husband to manage the affairs of your family, including the more difficult times. Let them know that God has a design for life that leads us to true freedom — even in the area of our finances.

While it's impossible for me to give specific counsel without knowing more about your situation, the following guidelines would be a good place to start:

If your children are in the midst of a true emergency, you may want to offer sufficient assistance to “buy” the time needed to develop a sound financial plan. They would do well to read Catholic Answers’ Guide to Family Finances and use the forms included in the workbook to create their plan. The balance sheet, summary of debts and budget worksheet show where you are now — and where you are headed. Reading the workbook and filling out the forms can be completed in a few weeks.

To what extent you offer further help will require prudent judgment. On the one hand, if your children have learned their lesson and are now living by Christian principles, I see nothing wrong with providing additional assistance. This can be a good way to reinforce responsible behavior and help them learn good habits that will last a lifetime. You'll need to determine whether your financial assistance takes the form of a loan or an outright gift.

On the other hand, if your children show no signs of changing their behavior, you can continually expect them to come back to you for help. In this case, it may be better for them in the long term if you apply a little “tough love” and hold out until they are willing to change their behavior. God love you!

Phil Lenahan is director of finance at Catholic Answers in El Cajon, California.