Do you support your parents in retirement? What's it like?
February 12, 2021 10:50 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to help support my mom during her retirement. What should I know about doing this well?

I don't know that much about her finances, but she's talked about being stressed about financing her retirement before. I'm in a very good financial situation myself, I can easily afford to help her out quite a bit, and I really don't want her to have to worry about money. She's in her fifties.

What I'm worried about is that in my extended family the support usually goes in the other direction (parents helping out their children), so I'm worried it would feel weird for her. I also don't know exactly how much support she'll need or want and I don't know how to talk about it with her. When I've offered to help her out in the past she's expressed that she feels uncomfortable with getting help from her children.

Some questions I have:

* How do you approach conversations about this?
* If you support your parent, how do you do it logistically? Do you send them money monthly? Do you give them a large lump sum that they can decide how to manage? How do you decide/discuss how much money to send them?
* Is it better to offer a large gift (like paying off a mortgage/debt) that's more of a one-time thing? I'm worried about regular gifts feeling like they create a weird power dynamic that I'd really like to avoid.
* What challenges have you run into? How can I make sure this goes well?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
In my culture, children are expected to help parents in their old age so our conversations are usually once in a blue moon notifications that my parents are changing the amount they need from me and my siblings. I share an account with my father so my parents can make regular withdrawal.

Since she is reluctant to talk to you about it, you can suggest to your mother that she meet with a recommended fee-only financial planner. Maybe you and your siblings can foot the bill for the first visit as like a birthday present so she would be more accepting of this first step in getting a better handle on her finances. And who knows, maybe after she talks to a total stranger about her finances, she may be more open to talking to you afterward..
posted by Seboshin at 1:00 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]

I heard about someone setting up their parents with a reverse mortgage, only instead of a bank doing it, they did it themselves. They bought the house from their parent and paid the parent a monthly "mortgage" which meant that the parent had more income and that the kids took care of all property taxes, maintenance, and repairs. If you're in the US this can be beneficial if your parent ever needs to supplement their Medicare with Medicaid.
posted by mareli at 6:43 AM on February 13 [5 favorites]

Our "retirement" started unexpectedly early when the company we both worked for declared bankruptcy and locked us out. We had a financial plan but had counted on at least 2 more years of employment at our then-current wages.

We were concerned, and didn't know if it would be possible to finance our retirement on what we had at that point. There are all kinds of retirement calculators online that tell you how much you should save so you get something like 80% of the income you had while working, in order to live like you did while you were working. For us, it turned out that we didn't need anywhere near that much retirement income in order to be comfortable! but it took a couple of years for that to dawn on us. Not gonna lie, we were anxious about it for a while until we discovered that we were doing just fine - more than fine, actually.

Your mom might be expressing her anxiety about such a big change coming in her life. There's something that feels very out-of-control about knowing that the money you have at that moment in time is all you're ever going to have, and you don't know how you're going to make it last as long as you need to. This kind of anxiety is perfectly normal, especially for women - we make less money during our working lives, and we tend to live longer so we have to make less money last longer. For us, it turned out that our anxiety was unfounded, as we discovered through living our lives that we were bringing in quite enough to cover our expenses - but it took time and experience for us to feel secure about it.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 6:58 AM on February 13 [4 favorites]

You really need to start by discussing her finances with her. It's probably not as uncomfortable of a conversation as you might think!

You don't have to charge in guns blazing to offer help at the start, just start somewhere like "Hey Mom, let's go over your accounts, I want to make sure you are well set for retirement."

You can ease into that discussion of how you can help, once you have an idea of the big picture, and once you have communication going. But definitely you need to understand the situation, and she does as well (I'd bet that she probably hasn't sat down and done a full planning/review on her own).

Edit: I'd avoid lump sums, especially if you both haven't fully gone through all her assets. It might be more reasonable to just pay for some things, instead of 'give her an allowance' i.e. "I'll pay your mortgage from now on, don't worry about it".
posted by so fucking future at 7:50 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]

+1 to understanding your parent's finances, that way you can see how bad the situation is, and what type of help she needs.

We've supported parents in two ways. In the first case buying the house from one parent who was living in it and still paying a mortgage, allowing them to live rent free. Social security is more than enough to support that case (health care covered from a separate source). In the other case, we stayed out whenever possible, but give small-to-medium influxes of cash when things get out of hand (that parent is a bit more complex, has a hard time with money as a concept, still works, and has an expensive hobby that is fundamental to who they are).

There are a selection of approaches you can use, depending on what she (1) is fearing most and (2) what money will be available to her and when.
posted by chiefthe at 8:43 AM on February 13

Our daughter set up the YNAB money management app for us and is tutoring me on using it. It's very helpful in getting insight into our finances (and something I'd have benefited from years ago).
posted by anadem at 9:52 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]

I haven't often had parents need money, but a few times when my mom worried a lot about how expensive things were, I've asked if she needs money. There were a few times when my pop was dying that she took me up on it. She was really worried about how expensive some of the healthcare was and if they could manage it. (We're in the US.) I know if she really needs it, she'll take to me, but in general she's got a great handle on her finances.

Your mom may need help, might just need listening to worries, may or may not want you to look over her budget. I think floating out that you could help if she wants it would be a way to start the conversation. Even waiting until the next time she talks about her concerns is fine and responding with that.
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:23 PM on March 12

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