"Dear Mrs. Riches:
I'm the 56-year-old single mom of a 22-year-old daughter, S., who lives at home while she attends community college part-time. She has a job that doesn't pay well, and so I pay for all of her living expenses except her cell phone. What started as helping her 'get on her feet,' however, has turned into subsidizing a lifestyle that's well above our means. At this rate, I won't ever be able to retire! How do I go about changing things, especially since I want to still encourage her to finish school?" -- Independence or Bust

Dear Independence:
Encouraging is when you say things like, "Way to go! Congratulations on getting that B+!" Paying all of your adult daughter's bills and bankrolling her prolonged adolescence have both practical and psychological costs, including preventing her from ever learning valuable life skills like budgeting, living within her means, and responsibility. As for you, you may be experiencing a growing resentment over her failure to contribute financially, in addition to setting up a dangerous lifelong pattern in which she expects you to supplement her income.

How do you change things? Begin by setting boundaries. Explain to your daughter that you can no longer afford to pay for her upkeep and that you'll be expecting her to contribute financially to the household as long as she resides with you. She may be angry -- you are, after all, discussing a dramatic change in her lifestyle -- but do not let that deter you from making this important first step to a healthier relationship.

In this discussion, make sure you:

  • Establish a firm date by which you expect her to begin footing a share of the bills.
  • Detail the consequences should she fail to maintain her end of the bargain.
  • Discuss your expectations for how long she will continue to live with you.
  • Include in the charges a fair market rent, her share of food and utilities, entertainment costs, and her portion of the phone bill.
  • Do not get into a blaming discussion, no matter how much you may be provoked into it. Be practical and matter-of-fact, and focus on your goal, which is not only to begin guarding your own financial house, but also to establish a respectful adult relationship with your daughter.

"Dear Mrs. Riches:
My husband and I have considered getting our 14-year-old daughter a cell phone for safety reasons, but I'm concerned that we're going to get a lot of 'surprise' phone bills when she uses it to talk to all her friends. Are there any preventive measures we can take to head off sky-high phone bills, aside from the usual talking-to?" -- Cell-Shocked

Dear Cell-Shocked:
You're smart to factor in the surprise costs of handing a cell phone to your teen and to set up some ground rules from the start. Fortunately, there are prepaid cell phones designed to address the concerns of parents like you. Prepaid cell phones, offered by all the major cell phone providers, including Verizon (NYSE:VZ), Cingular, and AT&T (NYSE:T), allow you to buy minutes ahead of time and then to purchase more, should you decide to, when those run out.

In terms of suitable ground rules for cell phone usage, you may want to determine a prepaid amount that you will purchase per month. Making it clear that she needs to have minutes available for emergencies, you can then allow her a portion of the purchased minutes for talking with friends. Once she uses the minutes for the month, she must purchase a $10 batch of minutes for emergencies out of her allowance that cannot be used for anything else. Keep in mind that you will need to teach her about the different rates that companies maintain for different "peak" times of day. Teaching her this is a valuable lesson in planning ahead.

None of this will absolutely stop your daughter from romping through her minutes while talking to the cute boy in trig class, but it will make her more accountable to you before racking up any mammoth bills.

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Have a question for Mrs. Riches? Email ebrokamp@counselinghouse.com for the chance to get your personal money questions answered.

Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a psychotherapist in private practice in Alexandria, Va. She does not own any stocks of the cell phone providers mentioned above, although she maintains a close relationship with the editor of the Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement newsletter, Robert Brokamp (her husband).