Just last week here on the AgingOptions blog, we offered this article based on a Bankrate.com report warning parents to be careful not to spend so much money bailing their adult kids out of financial problems that they jeopardize their own retirement. Now as a kind of follow-up, we thought it might be helpful to turn the problem around and consider the opposite perspective. What do you as an adult child do if your parent is the one with reckless spending habits, and they keep on turning to you for help?
Mother’s Day Blues: Mom’s Reckless Spending
A few years back this column by financial writer Michelle Singletary appeared in the Washington Post addressing this very problem. It’s titled, “When Your Mom’s Money Problems Become Your Own.” Singletary writes, “What responsibility do you have to take care of financially irresponsible parents in their old age? This is a question I get quite often. I believe that you honor your mother and father. But this doesn’t mean you do so at your own financial peril.” Obviously, this type of situation puts adult kids in a terrible bind, both emotionally and financially. You’re torn between your love for your parent (plus your compassionate desire to help) and your frustration over their reckless spending habits. Meanwhile you probably have a family of your own and are trying to save for your own future. How do you know how far to go to help a parent who is a careless spender?
That was the dilemma faced by a reader who contacted Singletary online. “My mother is a financial disaster,” she wrote. “She doesn’t like working and has struggled to hold anything other than minimum-wage, part-time jobs but loves spending money on shoes, jewelry, restaurants and gifts. My siblings and I warn each other when she asks for money to cover car repairs, insurance bills, or whatever other crisis she can’t afford.” Sadly, this pattern of money mismanagement goes back years. When this reader was a child, the utilities in the home were regularly turned off and calls from creditors were frequent. The reader added. “She would come home with a new pair of shoes while the phone and gas were disconnected. After our home was foreclosed on, she moved in with her mother, allowing her to keep spending while not working.”
Mother’s Day Blues: Mom Refuses to Discuss Finances
Apparently even after the mom inherited a modest sum when her own mother passed away, things didn’t get any better. “We tried to have a talk about putting the money aside and planning for the future, which resulted in her not talking to us for nearly a year,” said the reader. “I have no reason to think she’d change her habits.” Every attempt to discuss budgets is met with immediate and angry rejection. “She seems to think that she’ll simply move in with one of us to be cared for. I’m not inclined to take her in. I can’t afford to support her. I’ve about turned myself inside-out trying to help her in the past.” Clearly this reader, and probably thousands like her, is in a desperate state.
The solution, Michelle Singletary responds, centers on family communication and sibling unity. “There are a lot of reasons people fail to save for retirement,” she says. Singletary advises the reader, “Regardless of the reason your parent is a poor money manager, it may come down to you and your siblings to pick up the broken financial pieces.” This should start, she suggests, with a siblings-only family meeting, not with mom present – at least, not yet. “Think of it as the pre-intervention meeting. All the adult children should be clear about what they can or can’t do to assist. If you have sibling-rivalry issues to work out, try to set aside your quarrels — as best you can — before you meet with your parent or parents. You want your interaction with your parents to be respectful and calm. You want to stay on point.” And, above all, “You also want to present a united front.”
Mother’s Day Blues: Siblings Joining Forces
Ideally, each sibling will be able to do something to assist. “This is the time for siblings to lean on one another,” Singletary writes. “Perhaps someone will be able to cover a utility bill, which, by the way, should be paid directly to the utility company. Maybe someone would be willing to take in the parent(s) if others helped out. Research living options if no one is willing to let them move in.” Then, she says, once you’ve got a plan, set up the meeting. Make it a non-stressful time, not over a holiday or when emotions are running high. (We recommend you contact AgingOpti0ns so we can help guide you through this process – it’s often best if someone outside the family delivers the tough message to a parent.) “Be honest and upfront about what you can offer,” the column concludes. Singletary reminds readers that, if you plan to keep supporting mom or dad financially, you have every right to ask about their budget. “Make it a condition of your assistance. No budget, no information, no more bailouts. That’s the price your parent pays for his or her mismanagement.”
“Finally,” says Singletary, “remember that a fiscally reckless parent is still your parent. Budget for the help you can afford. But don’t let his or her financial sins be your burden. It’s not yours to carry.”
Mother’s Day Blues: Make Sure You Have the Right Retirement Plan
This article is a persuasive reminder of the importance of preparation. When you use the power of an AgingOptions LifePlan to chart the course for your retirement future, you’re also laying the groundwork for a great blessing that your loved ones will experience after you pass on, as they see how well-ordered your affairs have been. A LifePlan blends together financial planning, housing options, legal strategy, medical coverage and a communication plan involving those closest to you – all the essential elements of retirement living. You’ll be able to navigate through all the phases of aging with confidence and security, creating the retirement you’ve always hoped for, and leaving a well-prepared estate behind in the future.
Why not invest a few hours and find out more? We offer free LifePlanning Seminars with Rajiv Nagaich at locations throughout the region. Visit our Live Events page for a current calendar, or give us a call. The key to a brighter future for you and those you love is a LifePlan from AgingOptions. Don’t forget to bring your mom. Age on!
(originally reported at www.washingtonpost.com)