It is not fun to switch places with your parents financially

 I received a heart-wrenching letter last week from a Twitter follower. Although the situation described in the letter is, in a way, unique, the theme of the letter is altogether too common. Baby Boomer parents have NOT done a great job preparing for their retirement, and the recent financial crisis has worsened their problems. If you are the offspring of a Boomer, then chances are you are going to be dealing with some sort of financial strife that isn’t your own. Just as they dealt with your financial crap when you were a kid, now you will be dealing with their financial crap as an adult.

The ironic part of this is that most people strive to switch places with their parents (financially speaking). Because this would mean that you would be making more money, have more power, and more respect. Yes, I realized I just quoted Lox and Lil’ Kim’s classic song Money, Power, and Respect, but then again a day doesn’t go by without that song coming to mind. I’m not going to get any deeper into the psychology of “replacing your parents”, but you need to know that it is innate. Somewhere deep inside, you feel the need to be the patriarch or matriarch of your entire family. But once you are, you lament it daily.

Dear Pete

Listen, I have a major predicament that is keeping me up at night, (if you couldn’t tell by the time stamp on the email, lol!) And since you’re the man, I wondered if you could give me a smidge of advice.

I think I gave you the gist of my folk’s situation a while back.  Public television crapped on them in 2007, and they’ve been unemployed ever since. Mom is on disability, dad works 20 hrs/week minimum wage at some random store at the mall. They live in Michigan, so you can imagine how hard it was for my dad to just pull down THAT job.  Mom just had surgery on her knee last week, and it’ll be 6 months to 1 year before she is truly mobile again. (Medicare takes care of all her health issues, but dad is uninsured. He’s healthy, though.) As soon as she can, they plan to liquidate everything, sell the house, and move somewhere like Florida. They refinanced the house down to $300/month, but their retirement money is GONE. And somehow they still owe taxes. It’s insane. They won’t give me the full gist, because they have a problem asking for help, but the house phone just got shut off cause they can’t pay the bill. My sister blames them, and I’m flat out panicked. They were making a crap ton of money when they were in television, and now are just barely hanging on. I’m not making enough yet to help them out in a significant way, but I can fix the phone thing. That’s about it for right now. My sister is the highest earner in the family at, like, $43k or thereabouts. She lives in SF. Mom and dad have major pride issues about it, and mom said that they don’t want us looking at them like failures. We don’t, but I need to do SOMETHING. Any advice on helping them out?

Thanks a ton, Pete. You’re like a financial Dear Abby!  😉

Oddly enough, most of the time I do feel like a financial Dear Abby, but that’s fine with me. Who else is answering these questions? I’m your source for answers to uncomfortable questions by default.

The email you sent me is more common than you think. Your parents are in a very tough situation. And unfortunately there isn’t a great deal that you can do to make it better. That is the harsh reality of what many Baby Boomers are facing. You aren’t silly or dumb for wanting to help, or for that matter even helping. But you need to make sure that you don’t go into debt yourself to help them.

They most likely owe taxes because they liquidated their retirement income early. This is generally the beginning of a financial death-spiral. Yeah, I know that sounded harsh, but it’s true. They certainly need to go find higher paying jobs and live a more simple life, but that is easier said than done. I recommend that you simply offer your support by letting them know that you care. Throwing money at their problem won’t solve it. It will only delay the inevitable, and probably hurt you financially in the process

It DOES suck. Many people our age have lost countless nights of sleep over this same thing. All you can do is make sure that it doesn’t happen to you.

One thought on “It is not fun to switch places with your parents financially

  1. I couldn’t disagree with your response more!!!!! I’m more in the situation of Cameron’s parents, and no, I don’t take money from my kids. BUT, I am positive my kids wouldn’t want me eating cat food so they could save for their own future. I’ve written before. My husband died at age 49 and I am on social security disability at $1450 a month. Yes, I liquidated everything and paid cash for a tiny condo so my income can at least support my immediate needs. I have little debt, but God forbid that my air conditioner would need to be replaced. With the present credit lock down, I doubt I would qualify for credit at any reasonable rate. I would be left to finance something at a ridiculously high rate offered by the companies that prey upon the elderly and disabled, and end up paying 4 times the cost of the unit.

    Is that what you recommend rather than having families pull together like they used to? You make it sound like it’s everyone out for themselves. My kids don’t “owe” me anything because they were born. They don’t “owe” me beacuse I took care of their needs until they reached adulthood. They don’t “owe” me because I helped them when they first started out on their own. We choose to be a family, and when one of us is in need, we ALL are.

    I didn’t CHOOSE to become disabled at 48. I enjoyed a wonderful career and a nice lifestyle. That is gone and I’m learning to adjust. At 53, I still have a long road ahead of me, and I know my kids don’t want me to worry about things I cannot control, like replacement of air conditioners, etc. Shame on you for attempting to drive a wedge in the concept of families taking care of each other. Many cultures HONOR their elders.

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