Aging Parents and Money: How Much to Help?

by TTMK on February 16, 2012 · 6 comments

The stork doesn’t deliver babies. Rather, parents bring kids into the world. We all know that, right?

Well, the same people who bring us into the world are obviously older than us – and sometimes can age right before our eyes. One day, our parents may be young and full of energy – but later, they can get older and have difficulties. These same people that bring us into the world might need help later.

This gets me thinking: what responsibility do we each have to help aging parents with money? This includes helping them financially.

Now, it’s fair to say that when it comes to parents and family, no two people have the same exact life experience. Some people grew up in two-parent households, some not. Some had parents that financially supported them through school and beyond, while others had parents who – by choice or necessity – gave them nothing beyond the bare minimum. Some of us had loving parents, while others had a different situation.

You get the idea – our life experiences with our parents are probably not exactly the same. Thus, this might impact the level of responsibility we feel toward them.

This can be different throughout the world. Different cultures have varying degrees of practices in place surrounding the role of parents in one’s adult life. This can include supporting with them and living with them. It seems like in our Western Society – particularly in the U.S. and Canada – the foundational concept seems to be that once we leave home, we’re on our own financially. And, correspondingly, so are our parents.

I don’t know if I totally like that.  The way I see it, at least based on my own experience, if my parents invested their time, energy, and money into raising me all through childhood, shouldn’t I be thankful for this? Isn’t it just a bit cold to take the approach of “that was their job to do that”?

My view on this is that without them, I wouldn’t be here. That’s enough to appreciate as a basic fact. Beyond that, all the time, energy, and resources that a parent devotes to a child are collectively a powerful thing. I know how much my own kids mean to me, and how much my life actually revolves around raising them.  I pour myself into it, and think that my own parents did too a generation ago.

So, my current view on the topic is that on this:

  1. One the one hand, as adults, we should all aim to be self-sufficient. Meaning, that ideally our parents have saved enough for themselves and won’t need our help in any way. Best for everyone, as we want to focus on our own lives when younger, and they wouldn’t want to be a burden when older.
  2. On the other hand, if they can’t take care of basic needs and have some comfort in their old age, we as kids should be there to step in and help out. Keep in mind I’m not talking about sacrificing our future retirement so they can live in luxury. Rather, that if we’re living extremely comfortably while they have financial issues, shouldn’t we feel the need to make their lives a little bit better? Admittedly, I’m probably influenced by my own experiences.

What Do You Think?

Do you believe that as adults, we have some level of responsibility to help out our parents financially?

If so, at what point does this come into play? If their situation is truly dire, or if they’re simply living a harder life than they should at their age?

Do you think that the responsibility to help, if there is any to begin with, should depend on what they (or each individually) did for you when raising you?

 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily @ evolvingPF February 16, 2012 at 11:49 am

Very touchy questions! My parents are still employed and active and such so we have some time yet before these issues come into play, but I can imagine that I would not be comfortable letting my parents struggle if we are doing well (not sure how to judge struggling). I do have a good relationship with my parents and they invested a LOT of money in raising and sending me to college – I think that does matter.

I think that my parents do not manage their finances very well and I am worried about their retirement. (I had to unlearn many money lessons from my childhood!) I’ve tried to help them reduce their spending/increase debt payments but so far it hasn’t really taken. I’ll keep trying, because educating and motivating them now could save us all a lot of money in 10 or 20 years.

This gets even more complicated with siblings! If my parents do struggle in their later years, I suspect helping them will disproportionately fall to me over my two siblings. Neither has yet left the nest despite being a bit into their 20s and I’m not sure when that will happen or how financially secure they will be in a decade or two. Should I help out more as the sibling who got the best/most expensive education? As (possibly) the highest-earning sibling?

Reply

TTMK February 16, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Emily –

Thanks for sharing. It really is something how things can evolve, in terms of people’s financial situation vs siblings, parental money habits, etc. Things do get cloudy when those factors get mixed in with feelings of obligations.

I can see where you’re coming from. They invested a lot in you, and you have a good relationship with them. It seems natural to want to help in some way, and I think about such things too. Personally, I have the utmost respect for my parents and I too think that factors you mention do matter. I agree.

It’s great that you’ve tried to help them with their financial management. It’s like that saying, giving a man a fish vs teaching him to fish. Helps everyone to have the skills, even if learned later in life. As for siblings, I can see how there are decisions to be made there. If others can’t help, is it fair to put the burden on the one that has earned more? Kind of like an issue of having higher taxes for the rich, using an analogy.

Seems like the best move for many of us is to listen to our conscience and do what we think is right and fair for all involved, which also includes ourselves in some way.

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Michelle February 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm

I am with Emily when she says “I suspect helping them will disproportionately fall to me over my two siblings.”

It would definitely fall on me also. However, me and my mother have a horrible relationship and I’ve been supporting her since I was around 12 (not even joking, I made over $500 a month from babysitting/nanny-ing and she took all of it every time). She needs to be independent but she’s not.

I will probably end up having to take care of her, but she is so irresponsible and it drives me nuts.

However, if my father was still alive, I wouldn’t even think twice about helping him. I would’ve helped him in a heartbeat, but he was more financial stable anyways, so he would never ask.

Reply

TTMK February 16, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Michelle – it really is a tendency I’ve noticed, where people’s interest in helping parents tends to be not only based on whether or not they have a serious need, but also the quality of the relationship. Seems like you’ve been quite responsible in helping, even when younger. Hopefully you’ll be able to get help (in terms of helping), and it won’t fall all on you. Thanks for sharing.

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Jeremy @ Personal Finance Whiz February 20, 2012 at 7:47 am

I know my parents are no where near ready for retirement. I suspect they’ll both be working as long as they are physically able. After that though, I’m not sure what will happen. As an only child, it makes it difficult for me since I’m the only one who might be able to help.

Right now I’m doing my best to guide them towards smart financial decisions (without being pushy) so they can be financially independent for as long as possible.

My wife and I have actually talked about buying a house on some land so that we could build a little duplex or something similar for our parents to live in when they retire.

Reply

TTMK February 20, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Jeremy,

The duplex idea is an interesting one. That would provide balance and equity between parents wanting to see their kid and son or daughter inlaw. Anyway, it’s great that you’re thinking about these issues now, even if they’re not near retirement.

Reply

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