It’s probably at the top of the list of every adult child’s worst nightmares: you’ve spent your professional life preparing carefully for the ability to retire, saving and doing your research, only to find out that your own parents didn’t do the same, for whatever reason. And now, as they age, their financial future is looking grim…and may have an adverse effect on yours, too.
According to a survey conducted by Finance Buzz, as many as 35 percent of people report having no money set aside for their retirement. And in the end, it looks like those folks’ kids are left holding the bag. A 2020 survey by AARP reports that roughly one-third of midlife adults (those in the 40–64 age group) provided regular financial support to their aging parents.
If this is your reality, there’s no need to despair. The important thing is to think of the future. In this article we found from the Real Simple website, reporter Sharon Brandwein explores the options available to adult children helping their aging parents save for retirement, even if it’s a bit later in the game than usual. Is it difficult? Sure, but it’s definitely not impossible.
Why Don’t People Save for Retirement?
It seems like a bit of a no-brainer these days, but retirement-saving isn’t a given for every person. Ramit Sethi, author and podcast host of I Will Teach You to Be Rich, attributes the lack of saving to a basic issue of delayed gratification. “Most people don’t start saving early,” Sethi says, “because there are no real consequences for not saving today.”
This problem compounds as the years pass. Retirement planning feels like a daunting, confusing process—one requiring you to restrict yourself in the short-term—and people put it off until they start to worry that it’s too late to start. “When finances are approached from a sense of restriction,” Sethi explains, “it stands to reason that the individual won’t want to engage. Fast-forward a few years, and they’ll likely find themselves staring down the barrel of retirement with little to no funds set aside to make it through.”
If this is where your parents are, what to do? Thankfully, this article gives a handful of practical tips. Here’s what reporter Brandwein—and the experts—suggest.
Tip #1: Talk to Your Parents, but Skip the Blame Game
The first tip is probably the hardest, but most necessary if anything is going to get done. You need to open up communication with your parents in a gracious but thorough way, to make sure that everyone is on the same page. These conversations are vital, because you need access to as much information as they can give you regarding their finances, and they need to trust that you are going to handle things compassionately.
Sethi reminds us: expect a tough conversation, especially at first. It can be difficult for your parents to feel the roles reverse, explaining their finances to you as their child, and they can experience shame and feel defensive as a result. Be gentle yet clear: they need to know how essential this all is, and that you want nothing more than to help.
The key here is not to point fingers or push blame. What’s done is done. Move forward.
Tip #2: Involve Other Family Members in the Conversation
This is the time for all-hands-on-deck. Gather the close family—siblings being the most obvious choice, here—as a source of support, as well as a sounding board when inspiration runs a bit dry. This should be a loving, team effort as much as possible.
Tip #3: Ask Hard Questions, and Build a Budget
It may seem basic, but a budget is the logical place to start. Get a feel for what your parents have and what they expect they’ll need by asking some tough questions. Do they have any current income? Assets? Any sources of retirement income, like Social Security?
Next, ask about spending. What kind of house repairs do they need, or expect to need in the future? Do they have any car payments? What utilities or healthcare costs do they pay? Don’t just stop there, though. That’s the big stuff, but be sure to also get a feel for their smaller regular expenses, like groceries, gas, monetary gifts, subscriptions, and so on. These do tend to add up over time and are important to keep track of, too. Oftentimes it’s possible to save by finding less expensive cell service or a cheaper cable or streaming plan.
Tip #4: Encourage Your Parents to Try a “Phased Retirement”
Ideally, these conversations should be happening before your parents have already retired. That opens up a few more options for helping them, such as suggesting they try a “phased retirement”.
This suggestion comes from Stephan Baldwin, director of an assisted living center, who strongly encourages adult children to float the idea of phased retirement to their parents. “Maybe they can partly retire while still generating some income that will at some point in time help them retire,” says Baldwin. “In its most basic form, phased retirement is an employment agreement in which a worker is allowed to reduce their working intensity gradually, for a set amount of time, until the person completely retires.”
Phased retirement has become a very popular option in recent years, because it gives future retirees a better picture of what retirement may look like for them. It also provides a buffer of time to let them save a bit more income before those paychecks eventually stop.
Tip #5: Seek Out Other Sources of Income
Sadly, a budget can’t fix everything, especially if your parents are already retired. It’s a tough conversation to have, but they may have to stop being retired in some way in order to continue on with their lifestyle. Thankfully, there are options for this, too, and not all of them have to do with rejoining the traditional workforce (especially if that’s untenable because of age or health concerns). The gig economy is a great choice for such retirees.
According to a study on gig work conducted by Prudential, 34 percent of gig workers are retirees aged 55 and older. The reasons for older adults to join the gig economy workforce are as varied as the individuals themselves, but it’s a thriving population. A different survey, also by Prudential, found that the average annual income (gig only) among those 56 and older is $43,600. Not too shabby!
Gig work is by its very nature diverse, including all kinds of freelancing, as well as ride-sharing and pet-sitting. There are lots of ways to put your parents’ skills to good use and turn a bit of profit to go straight into savings.
Tip #6: Check Out Local Resources for Support
Sometimes the most important thing you can do is ask for outside help, and there are plenty of resources available, most of them local. Cameron Huddleston, a family finance expert with Carefull, advises adult children to reach out to your local Area Agency on Aging, as well as your state chapter of the Financial Planning Association, to find low or no-cost support for your parents. Non-profits and financial advisors will often provide services for free, or for very little cost, to aging adults.
“These non-profit organizations can help you find low and no-cost services that will provide support for your parents,” Huddleston says. “And […] if your parents have very limited income and assets, they might qualify to receive long-term care through Medicaid.”
If your parents haven’t saved for retirement, it isn’t the end of the world, and it isn’t cause for despair. There are options, but none of the options matter if you don’t have the tough conversations first. Approach with grace, love, and proactivity, and the rest is just a well-crafted plan away!
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(originally reported at www.realsimple.com)