It’s no secret that lots of parents are actually helicopter parents—they hover, they “help,” they’re always Johnny-on-the-spot with leads on homes, jobs and even potential mates.
But one area in which they can inflict lots of damage not just on their kids’ sense of independence but also in their own lives is when they whip out the checkbook.
A Forbes report points out that being too financially helpful to one’s kids long after it’s appropriate can kill a parent’s retirement.
In fact, two thirds of 50+ parents have financially supported a child 21 or older over the past five years, according to research from Merrill Lynch and Age Wave. And in a single year, the average amount of that support added up to $6,800.
If instead those parents had socked that much money away each year in a tax-deferred account averaging 6 percent annual gains, they’d have nearly $100,000 more for retirement within a decade.
But no, they paid for the kids’ graduation from subsistence living (Spartan apartment with roommates, brown-bag lunches, powerwalking to work) to relative luxury (nicely furnished solo apartment, sushi lunches, a gym membership and maybe an Uber to get there), instead of boosting their own financial health and their kids’ drive to become fully independent.
Canadian family therapist Alyson Schafer, author of Honey, I Wrecked the Kids and a consultant to the Bank of Montreal (BMO), is quoted in the report saying, “If you help your child sustain a lifestyle that’s not really affordable at his age and income level, don’t be surprised or complain when he doesn’t learn to live within his means.”
Not only that, but you’ve lowered the means you’ll have to live within once you hit retirement.
Then there are the parents who are always ready to help out if Junior went a little overboard on the credit card last month, instead of letting him figure out how to fix it himself.
A BMO Wealth Institute survey, the report says, found that two-thirds of parents give money to their grown kids on a “when needed” basis, checkbook out in hand almost before they’re asked.
But if instead you budget—and make Junior budget—for a specific amount at regular intervals, with a firm end date to such support, he’ll learn to budget better and you’ll have a light at the end of the tunnel so that you can get back to saving for retirement.
Or, for that matter, enjoying retirement without that constant drain looming over your activities.
Last but not least, you need to lay your cards on the table about the end of the financial support so that the kids know just how much all that parental help is costing you.
They won’t be blindsided, you won’t feel resentful about the endless outflow of money if they’re working toward resolving their own situation—whether finding a job, finishing a degree or finding cheaper living quarters—and you’ll both be better off for knowing each others’ true financial states.
After all, the Merrill Lynch research points out, 28 percent of parents are worried that they themselves might have to ask their kids for financial help some day.
One way to avoid that—or at least postpone it—is to make sure that your kids learn financial independence by example.