Emma Johnson from MSN Money pitched me the link to her recent article, Will you end up supporting your parents?, and I have to confess, her article brought up very uncomfortable memories for me.
15 years ago, my mom and I started having conversations about how she planned to handle her retirement. She’d admittedly not been very savvy about her personal finances. I was often concerned about her financial misbehavior. Deep down, I knew she was counting on someone to rescue her: either a man or me.
My mom and I would often brush the tension away with good-natured ribbing. We used to joke about how when she was broke and too old to work, my husband and I would build her an apartment in the hay loft above our horse barn, and when she became too old to climb the stairs, we’d haul her up with a hoist and pulley system. That was good for a few laughs — until she turned 59 and was diagnosed with a debilitating disease that forced her into early retirement.
She lost her business, her ability to work, her minimal home equity. With no savings set aside, she quickly became dependent on others. The stress of her illness and the burden of her financial needs ravaged the relationships between her and her boyfriend, and me and my siblings.
In her article, Emma Johnson asks difficult questions:
Will your parents’ financial decisions leave you holding the bag?
Is it ever too early to meddle in your parents’ financial affairs? Is it your responsibility to plan to care for people who are still working and able to save and invest on their own behalf? What if their financial needs compromise your lifestyle or your security? And what if your folks should have known better than to leave retirement to chance — and yet have?
Ultimately, my mom’s poor financial behavior became our burden, and while I was glad that I was able to help her, the situation caused undue stress.
Many of my coaching clients are parents raising young children, are deeply in debt, and have little or no money set aside for retirement. Yet most of these parents contribute regularly to their children’s education fund(s). While I appreciate the desire to provide their kids with a college education, I worry about their family’s future in the long run.
Take it from me — the financial burden of caring for your elderly parent(s) — ones who failed to save for their own retirement — is much more daunting than paying for your own college tuition.
So parents, please take care of YOUR financial future first. Then — and only then — contribute towards improving your children’s future. This is not selfish behavior; this is one of the most loving things you can do for your entire family.