“First, Put on Your Own Mask”: Helping Your Children without Jeopardizing Your Retirement

You’ve heard the flight attendant say it many times: “In the event of cabin depressurization, masks will descend from above your seat. Please put on your own mask before assisting any children who may be traveling with you.” Most of us understand the reason behind the instruction: as parents, our natural tendency is to throw ourselves in front of any type of danger we see coming toward our children. But if you pass out because of lack of oxygen, you can’t help your child, even if she’s seated right next to you on the airplane. So, you need to make sure you’re safe first, and then you can better ensure your child’s safety.

The same principle applies to those in or preparing for retirement with regard to their adult children. One of the most common problems faced by older persons is the tension they feel between securing their own financial wellbeing during retirement and providing assistance to an adult child who is struggling. If you think these words are aimed at you, keep in mind that according to a recent survey of 1,000 parents with at least one child 18 or older, fully half of working parents in the US say they provide financial support for adult children; on average, they say they give the kids $1,000 per month for categories like phones, insurance, rent, educational expenses, and others. Perhaps even more telling is that parents preparing for retirement while supporting adult kids spend 23% more on their kids than on contributing toward their retirement. Of adult children living with their parents, 62% make no contribution toward household expenses. No wonder that 70% of parents surveyed say they’re stressed out about retirement!

We often counsel clients that, as in the air travel example, if they sacrifice their own financial wellbeing in order to take care of adult children who are capable of taking care of themselves, they are placing an unfair burden not only on themselves, but on the very kids they’re trying to help. In other words, one of the best things you can do for your children is to make sure they don’t have to support you in your later years. And for some parents, that means creating some careful and clear boundaries between their finances and their adult children’s circumstances.

It is true that the financial havoc wrought by the pandemic forced many young adults to move in with parents or another older family member (25% in 2021, according to the Pew Research Center—the highest level in 50 years), and many parents found it necessary to offer temporary respite until their adult children’s situations became more settled. But “temporary” is the key word in that last sentence. While it is entirely appropriate for parents to aid their children in emergency or difficult situations that come about through no fault of the child—an unexpected illness, a sudden layoff, or an injury requiring lengthy recovery—it’s important to establish clear guidelines about the nature and amount of the aid and especially its duration. In most cases, it does not serve the long-term wellbeing of an adult child to have open-ended expectations about being subsidized by “The Bank of Mom and Dad.” With all that in mind, here are some useful points for parents who want to help their kids stand on their own two feet and also avoid financial dependency in retirement:

1. Set boundaries. Children who have temporarily moved back home must understand that keeping up a home requires financial input from those who are benefiting and who have the capability to assist. For the kids’ own good, parents can’t allow them to freeload; that sets them up for even more failure, later in life. So, the parents need to require the kids to help out with groceries, utilities, and rent, even if they have to take a low-wage job to do so.

2. Expect accountability. If the kids are living in Mom’s house, they should be accountable for their hours, for getting to work on schedule, for paying or contributing to the bills on time, and for doing all the other things that “regular adults” are required to do when living on their own. Parents may also want to work with the children to set up a mutually agreed schedule by which the kids will take on more of their own expenses, with the goal of “moving out and moving on” by a certain future date.

3. No handouts. The whole point is to get the kids to start paying more of their own way. If the parents are constantly providing financial backup, they de-incentivize this important learning process. To the extent possible, the kids should be treated like renters and co-payers who are expected to hold up their end of the financial bargain.

At Empyrion Wealth Management, we know that our clients want to provide for those they care about while also securing their own financial futures. In fact, part of our fiduciary duty involves getting to know each client as thoroughly as possible so that we can provide the guidance they need to reach their most important goals. To learn more, click here to read our article, “Grandparenting: Counting the Cost.”


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Empyrion Wealth Management (“Empyrion”) is an investment advisor registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. Information pertaining to Empyrion’s advisory operations, services and fees is set forth in Empyrion’s current Form ADV Part 2A brochure, copies of which are available upon request at no cost or at www.adviserinfo.sec.gov. The views expressed by the author are the author’s alone and do not necessarily represent the views of Empyrion. The information contained in any third-party resource cited herein is not owned or controlled by Empyrion, and Empyrion does not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of any information that may be found in such resources. Links to any third-party resource are provided as a courtesy for reference only and are not intended to be, and do not act as, an endorsement by Empyrion of the third party or any of its content. The standard information provided in this blog is for general purposes only and should not be construed as, or used as a substitute for, financial, investment or other professional advice. If you have questions regarding your financial situation, you should consult your financial planner or investment advisor.