Do You Worry About Your Parents’ Readiness For Retirement?

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Up until recently, I never really thought about my parents’ financial situation. While growing up, they did a really good job of shielding us from their financial worries and setbacks. Looking back, I’m sure there were some tough times.

As my mom and dad start to near retirement age, they’ve become more open with their finances. They assure me that they are on track for retirement. They know all about the “catch-up” IRA contributions allowed for people over 50 and are taking advantage of them. They’ve even asked me to look at some of their accounts, like the TIAA-CREF retirement annuity.

As long as they stay healthy, I’m actually pretty confident they will be fine. This is mainly due to the fact that my father loves what he does and plans to work until 70 if not longer. While he does take more vacation time now, I don’t think the words “early retirement” are in his vocabulary. Any financial planner will tell you, even delaying retirement for a few years can make a big difference. You delay taking withdrawals so your nest egg gets more time to grow, and your expected withdrawal period is shorter.

But what if they do run into issues, for whatever reason? I know that I’d step in to help for sure. For one, I know that my parents regularly give my grandparents money. I don’t know how much or how often, it could be just spending money, but I know they do send something. I guess this is what some people call the “sandwich” problem. Young families have their own retirement worries on one side, their kid’s education in the middle, and their parents’ needs on the other side.

Do you worry about your parents’ retirement plans? Should a child ask their parents about such details or get involved? How does one incorporate this into their own financial plan? Just my Saturday morning musings…

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  1. My wife and I think about it all the time, though we still need to figure out how to pay for our kids’ education.

    My mom is disabled and has a very finite amount of money to live on, though she will get her private insurance disability until age 65. We are hoping to have her other savings grow to be able to compensate for that loss of income at age 65.

    My mother-in-law on the other hand is willing to spend herself into oblivion. She has little to no retirement and seems to be counting on receiving a “sizable” inheritance from her parents to bail her out. Unfortunately for her, the longevity of the women in her family is into their mid-90’s.

    We know that the prospects are grim, but we will keep saving and hoping that we can help in some way after we have taken care of our children and ourselves first.

  2. I often think about this. My parents didn’t really shield us from their financial problems when we were children. And the result, in my case, is that I grew up to be someone who, while a college student, actually balanced her checkbook during the previews of a movie while on a date. A little nutty and my obsession with money and not being in debt has gotten only slightly better.

    Back to your question. My father smokes and drinks and is very weak while my mother is, despite having had breast cancer, quite healthy. Both are 70 and they do not have long-term care insurance. I fear for my father’s health and worry what would happen should he become too ill to continue living at home since nursing home facilities are extremely expensive. And then, of course, just the idea of his potentially living in a place like that makes me so sad.

    We would certainly help them but at the same time it’s hard to imagine taking money away from our much-needed retirement and college funds.

  3. It’s funny you write this as I’ve been thinking about the same thing. In my culture (Middle East/South Asia), and I’m sure it’s the say way in the Far East, our parents live with us post retirement. It’s up to the children to “give-back” and support the parents. Traditionally, there isn’t a concept of parents saving funds away to enjoy in their retirement. My parents for one have minimal savings as they spent hand over feet in raising us, sending us to good schools etc.

    I heard a story from one of my uncles of how my grandfather was asked how his investments/savings were performing, and he called in his 4 sons, who were all relatively successful in their fields, and introduced the “4 building blocks” to his friend 🙂

  4. I definitely worry about it, but my parents haven’t opened the door to let me know what their situation is. Of course I’ll help them if needed, and I have two sisters who I would expect to do the same. But I do wish they would make better decisions for themselves now.

  5. As far as childhood goes, I have to say I relate to what Christina said – we were not particularly shielded, and I can be obsessive about having enough money and not being in debt as well.

    My parents don`t discuss their retirement so I don`t know how they are doing. And yes, I do worry about it. I share my goals and situation with them, but there isn`t any return feedback.

  6. I have been thinking about this quite often as well. It gets even more stressful because I will have FOUR parents to help, not just two. (Divorce just keeps bringing more fun). I know for a fact only one of the four has anything in a retirement fund, and as of now, it wouldn’t even cover one person’s retirement.

    However, I don’t think any of them expect help; although I do intend to give it when we reach that point.

    It is encouraging though, that the more I talk about my finances the more they seem to plan their own.

  7. I have thought about it before, but I am pretty positive my parents will be ok. My Dad got started a little later than he would have liked (mid/late 30’s) but he has been contributing a lot since then. In fact, listening to him talk about investing and how he wished he would have started sooner inspired me to put $1,000 I had earned from part time jobs into my first IRA at age 19. I’ve been investing for my retirement since. My Dad is a great guy. 🙂

  8. My parents definitely didn’t fritter their money away, they just didn’t have all that much of it until later in life. So I wouldn’t feel bad helping them out. I’m sure I’m lucky in that respect.

    I agree, the more I talk about my own finances, the more they open up about theirs.

  9. southcampus says

    I come from a culture where like IXA, the parents live with you post retirement. We weren’t shielded from our parents financial pitfalls either. I have come to realise and I hope I am wrong but my parents generation was not retirement savings savy. I on the other hand have become obsessed with saving and am trying to educate myself so that I can help myself and my parents.

  10. I think about their plans a lot and think it’s importaint to discuss at least once a year just in case something were to happen to one of them. I have varied experiences with mine and my wife’s parents. I informally manage my parents investments by picking retirement funds for them to invest in and making stock trades for them. It has helped my parents to know that I understand what they have an will help them as they plan for retirement.

    My mother in law on the other hand is more private and a lot more paycheck to paycheck, but has a pension so I’m not too worried about her retirement.

    Finally my father in law seems to think it’s disrespectful to even mention money so while I know he has a pension and nice nest egg, the rest is a total mystery.

    It’d be nice to at least have a talk with my in-laws about retirement but I don’t think it’ll happen any time soon.

  11. Great topic! This is something my husband and I have spent a lot time thinking about, even from before we were married.

    In our case, it is made more complicated by the fact that while my parents are American and have made fairly standard middle class retirement arrangements, his parents do not live in the US and are more from the kind of culture Ixa and southcampus were describing.

    Because we live nearer to my parents, as his parents grow older we will have issues surrounding not only their normal financial needs, but also what to do as health issues come up. Currently, airfare with several months warning costs at least $1,000 per person; on short notice tickets can be well over $5,000. What will happen when an emergency arises? How will we pay for care for the times when we cannot make it that far?

    One of most difficult parts for us in trying to plan for these things is actually trying to factor in issues of exchange rates over time. One of the things we are trying to do now is to figure out how to split our savings between dollars and the local currency where his family lives, so that we will never be stuck needing to pay for a sudden emergency just as dollars have lost significant value there. How to invest money abroad is not something either of us know much about, however.

  12. I’m 24, and I finally convinced my 44 year old parents to let me move their money to Vanguard. They’ve had it in high cost A and B shares at Fifth Third managed by my dad’s “friend.” It took so long ’cause my Dad thought his friend was doing him a favor, but I cringed every time I looked at their funds. I’ve taken a personal interest it making sure they are as ready as possible for retirement. My Dad owns his own small construction business so a bad injury could force him to retire early. They don’t have tons of money saved up so far (I think they’ve maxed out my dad’s IRA simply for the tax break) but they’re doing better than average. I also convinced my mom to start a Roth, but I don’t think they have enough cash to max both every year, they tend to throw money in at the last minute. But mainly, I’m glad I was able to nudge them in the right direction. Now I just have to find an allocation with good growth potential that still makes my mom comfortable.

  13. My wife and I talk about this all the time.

    We do not worry about my mil and fil because they are rather frugal, live within their means, and have sizable savings as well as pensions.

    My parents, both in their early 80’s, started out after retirement with quite alot of investments/savings to retire on, as a result of some rental real estate which they sold. After years of spending more than they take in(SS is their only income), their remaining funds are quite low, maybe 5 more years left. We try to suggest that they watch their spending, but that is a taboo subject, as are their finances in general.

    They just sold their home to downsize, and to “have some money to live on”, but ended up buying a place nearly as expensive,needing alot of work, and just as unsuitable for them(alot of stairs to climb).

    To make things worse, they for years have sent my brother and his wife, who have good incomes but poor spending habits, a monthly check which just allows them to continue living the way that they always have. On the other hand my wife and I live below our means, and have never received anything from my parents. This causes alot of resentment. I have never understood this, and actually almost wish that my parents would run out of money to teach them a lesson.

  14. sfordinarygirl says

    I spent last weekend with my parents trying to see if I could help adjust their budget and expenses.

    Most of my worrying is about my mother who doesn’t make much and sometimes spends a lot window shopping. It’s ironic because she was the one who really instilled the value of saving when I was young and used to question a lot of my purchases asking me if it was necessary. Her 401K includes just one fund – a target retirement fund with low expense fees thankfully. But she’s stubborn or difficult when I ask her for the login information to diversify her portfolio. She also signed up for a money market account where the rates are pretty awful.

    I think my dad will do just fine because he’s actively looking to make money and working towards having his own small business. but I worry he’s spending too much eating out and treating family members to dinner. He also has a strong understanding of the markets and the different funds being offered so I don’t pester my dad on his choices.

    I’m setting aside $20 a month which isn’t a lot for my mom if she decides to go Asia in December. She hasn’t taken a vacation in over 20 years – fear of losing her job has prevented her from doing anything fun. But every little bit helps.

    I’d like to eventually when I get a better paying job to set aside $1,000 a month for my parents. That’s my January 2008 goal – a long way ahead but I’m optimistic.

  15. I too, also wonder if my parents are going to be alright during the retirement years. My mom works part time and her income is really spending money for vacations, gifts and furniture. My dad will be working until 70, not by choice, but to keep their lifestyle. While growing up, they paid for private school (from Kindergarten) for my sister and I. They paid for my sister’s college and my medical bills. As a result, I am paying for my own college. The have sacrificed so much for us. I know that their value in education and their generosity has put them behind in savings. I think they will be okay, but their level of living might have to be adjusted – which will be tough. However, I am not sure if they have planned for unexpected expenses. My sister and I already talked about it. As she is financially doing very well, and I am a very patient person, we have decided that she will fund in-home care and they will live with me. Unfortunately, it will be quite a while before I have some money to share, but I can always offer time and love to help them through any difficult situations.

  16. The Dividend Guy says

    I think we all worry about this. My parents are close to retirement and I would have to say they are happier than they have ever been as they prepare. That being said, I don’t think my father will ever retire. He enjoys the “game” of business and creating deals, etc. The cool thing, is that with all the experience and expertise he is able to charge a premium for his services and is making more money now then he ever did.

    That being said, I know they have set up the appropriate mechanisms to manage any unexpected circumstances in the future. We have had discussions on how to deal with these issues and have a plan in place. I think that is all that can be done.

  17. I am most definitely worried about my mother’s retirement. She will be 55 this year & is financially ignorant. After 25+ years of marriage she is going through a divorce & depression. She refuses to talk to me about her money situation but I know there is nothing there for retirement.

    If her lawyer does his job she should get something but I also question his abilities.

    I know she will never actually be able to retire. Sad but true.

  18. I don’t worry about my parents. While I don’t know their exact details, I know they have some investments and were able to help both of their children with a down payment (without being asked) to buy a modest home. They’ve always lived conservatively and I know they wouldn’t have helped us like that if they couldn’t afford it long-term.

    My in-laws, on the other hand, are always traveling, and we know they have nothing saved for the future. They’ve actually told us they have nothing saved. Seems like they are always refinancing or taking out loans for new equipment for their home-based business. FIL actually called me up one time asking if one of those ‘consolidate your bills for xx a month’ papers he got in the mail was a good deal. After I told him to look for he interest rate in the fine print, he decided it wasn’t. 🙁

  19. I’m always curious to know what other’s think about this, so thanks for posting it! My husband’s parents are in great financial shape, but my parents are not. I’m strongly suspicious that they are in a lot of credit card debt, which is really bad since they’re in their 50s. I’m trying to break the cycle by doing better for myself and by talking to them. I get shut down everytime I try to discuss it with them. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to set aside investments for them in the future, but for right now it looks like my dad will be working for a while…

  20. My parents have never been good with money.

    My parents never made much money but they do have a pension. They sacrificed a lot to help pay my way through college. So now that they’re retired I pay them as much as I pay my student loans. It’s not a huge amount of money but I’ll be paying it for five more years and has definitely helped them transition into retirement.

  21. I’m always curious to know what other’s think about this, so thanks for this post! My husband’s parents are in great financial shape, but my parents are not. I’m strongly suspicious that they are in a lot of credit card debt, which is scary since they’re in their 50s. I’m trying to break the cycle by doing better for myself and by talking to them. However, I get shut down everytime I try to discuss it with them. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to set aside investments for them in the future, but for right now I’m just trying to learn from their mistakes and my past mistakes.

  22. My parents in law are in great shape as they have a generous government pension. I think my parents will be OK financially. However they will probably have to downsize their home soon as they need more cash and they will probably have to leave the neighbourhood they’ve lived in for almost 30 years. However, both sets of parents are in Asia, 15 hours flight time away. They are all still relatively young and healthy, and we both have siblings that live nearby, but I worry about how we’ll help care for them when their health starts to fail.

  23. I dare not use the word “money” with my MIL. The last time I asked about their estate planning was when my grandmother died and my mother was critically ill, (She has recovered). We just had our wills done also. All I asked was if they had a will and suggested they update theirs so we can support our BIL should something happen to them. It got back to me that I was accused of being a gold digger. Nice – and we make more than them. I suspect they will be fine because my FIL does not understand the word retirement.

    I have no idea how my father is doing, but he is a postal worker and saves alot, so I suspect he will be fine.

    As for my mother, she has dipped into what little retirement she has because she hasn’t been working for 5 years. She is 52. I try to encourage her to make smart money decisions, but in the end, she is an adult. I cannot control her finances. My sister and I anticipate the day that she will be homeless and one of us will need to take her in. I am very serious about this. I will help her help herself, but I will not give her money. You can’t put a band aid on poor money decisions. She will simply squander what I give her.

  24. While this is an interesting discussion, I worry more about what everybody else will be doing in retirement. My parents have more than enough to keep themselves going well into their 100’s. However, I think we can be quite certain that the government will take care everybody at the expense of everybody here. With the huge voting block that is the baby boomers we can be sure that they will vote themselves significant entitlements. While its an interesting hypothetical what-if scenario, to suggest that people actually take care of themselves, I don’t think we are headed towards personal responsibility for retirement…

  25. My dad has been very open with me about their pensions and retirement accounts, and has since I asked him about retirement accounts when I was in college. My parents will be fine, plenty in retirement and two pensions plus health. They’re about 6-7 years from retirement, although my dad may not want to retire, and they’ll be doing fine.

    My in-laws on the other hand, we have a feeling they’re not prepared. We are pretty sure they’ve been using some their retirement to survive while trying to keep a business afloat. They come from the mindset that the father and husband takes care of everything and so we never talk about their money because it must be assumed that it’s taken care of (and when they get the inheritance they’re expecting they’ll probably be ok). They like their expensive things and lifestyle and won’t compromise. If they have problems, however, we most likely will not be able to help, and they probably won’t want us to.

  26. Better get ready when all your parents take their money out of the markets, everything will crash!! think about all those baby boomers waiting to spend their savings on healthcare!!! the markey will loose so much money we will go back to 1929!!! So please convince your folks to never take that money.

  27. I empathize with the viewpoint of “Me”. It really hurts when you see your immediate family or in-laws not taking this stuff seriously. When you see a train wreck in their future and they assume that you’ll fund their “golden years” it is supremely insulting. It effectively forces you to choose between short changing your dreams or bearing the emotional trial of watching a loved one suffer the consequences of his or her planning, or lack thereof.

  28. Heathrow, I’ve read about that theory and I’m less and less convinced that it will actually happen but if it does I’ll be right there throwing piles of money at the market.

    On the topic:

    My parents have everything in order. My dad is retired Air Force and kept the really good retirement plan from when he entered back in the 60’s and he’s now working his 2nd career and maxing out his 401(k) there. My mom has 2 retirement accounts, 1 is a defined benefit plan that will pay her the rest of her life plus another voluntary account that will also pay. I think they’ll be fine.

  29. oh yea, and they should both get social security on top of that too.

  30. I find myself trying to avoid thinking about my parent’s retirement. I know they don’t have enough saved up and will depend on their pensions which won’t give them a lot.

  31. I know quite a bit about my parents plans. They want me to completely fund their retirement. They even bought a house they couldn’t afford because they thought I will be living with them and will help pay for the mortgage. Talk about responsible. I come from South Asia, so I’m sure people from this region go thru the similar problems.

  32. MsMomsmoney says

    My Mom is in an adult care facility–she is close to being incapcitated. She is 78. This year she ran out of money. She is now on state aid to pay for the place she lives in.

    The place she lives in, costs $4000 per month. My Mom has NEVER been frugal, and really always relied upon my Dad for $$–never really worked.

    My Dad (they are divorced), I have no idea what his financial situation is. He is 81, and recently was dx with cancer.

  33. This post made me think about my folks in Russia. My mom, is 75 and in Russia. She was a school teacher all her life and earned a government pension of equivalent of $50 per month. You can’t live on $50 per month, even in Russia.

    My mom, being such a great problem solver all her life, supplements her income by selling Tupperware, earning over $500 per month and that is 10 times of the size of her government pensions.

    She actually tells me how much she enjoys the Tupperware business and all the perks and trips that come with it. She sounds really happy. With that money she is not only supports herself, my father who is 80 (he gets his government pension of about $70 or so per month) But, get this, my mom also helps financially to my sister. My sister who is a pediatrician and her husband who is a medical doctor in Russia have two children and need some assistance to pay their bills and they are not spenders.

    Stock market investing? IRA? 401 (k)? It wasn’t there when my parents were working. My parents, both college grads, spent all they earned. It was barely enough for two adults and two kids but nobody complained.

    I now live in the US, but just like my mom, I fully prepared to work in some capacity till the day I die. Especially, if I would need to send some money to my aging folks. Thanks God they are managing for now.

    Actually, working is not that bad if you can find something that you really like doing. Right now I work as an event entertainer (if you click on my name you’ll see what I do) despite my academic background (like my sister I was educated as a medical doctor in Russia).

    I can work as an event entertainer for ages until something else comes up that I also like.

  34. My MIL (and possibly FIL) has insisted (in a joking way) of living with my husband and I and our soon to be baby. When this will “happen”, I do not know, though I think it will be when my FIL retires in 5-7 years though he wants to stay in his home. Right now I am planning on going back to school so I can make as much money as I possibly can so I can pay their property taxes so they can continue to live in their home and have a nice lifestyle. I firmly believe this is going to be the reality. Do I feel like I am up against the clock? You betcha!

    While I love them dearly, my husband and I would have to spend thousands rennovating our home to build an in-law suite for the to live in and with any family member moving in, there could be a change in family dynamic. And we have a real pride of ownership (or ownership to be), this is our little place in the world.

    Would I ever let me become homeless? Not in a million years. Right now, I am planning to reduce debt, save for college for the baby, and earn more so I can send 500-700 a month (on top of saving for retirement and college) to help them in their older years or sooner.

    I believe that God will provide, I really, truely do, but I also believe in good instincts and this is what is driving me to better my own education…I must prepare on my own so I am not in scramble mode, when this happens. No one else seems to be worried about this other than me…though I see all of the flags waiving in the no to far distance.

    Sending the child to college is so important to me, I would work into my 70’s if I had to and I am in my 30’s now…

  35. I am living what “Private” wrote back in August of 07.

    My mom was effectively down-sized back in the 90s and hasn’t been able to find steady work ever since. She’s now lost everything and is struggling to work a part-time job at a nursery (and she just recently got bronchitis since the work is outdoors in the cold and rain). She is 61, has no retirement, no savings, no assets. I am struggling to pay my own bills, yet trying to help her too. It’s amazing to me that I can’t find more resources or help on this issue. I can’t be alone. I’m 36.

  36. Solutions? says

    Sorry so late to post, but this is a great thread to throw my thoughts at!

    I worry more & more about my parents’ retirement. My dad has labored for our family of 6 all our lives…barely squeeking by. That wasn’t enough though, and my mom has always had some sort of job as well. Now that all of the kids have flown, they are still working away.

    They do have 10 + years until retirement age, but my mom refuses to consider the idea of investing into their retirement, or thinking about it. She figures they’ll get Social Security, and just keep working until they die! The kicker for me is that she is in decent health, but my dad is getting old, really fast, hates is job, always feels lousy, and there is no good outlook for him…just more working. It makes me frustrated and sad that I am powerless to fix this for them. I’m struck with the idea that I should start tucking away what extra my husband and I can afford toward their future. I know this wouldn’t solve it, but at least it would be some extra.

    Does anyone else do this now? Are there finacial programs for those of us who would like to contribute to someone else’s retiremt?

  37. my mom just last night came crying to me wanting to know if she could move in if “things got bad.” She explained that she was counting on SSI, but now thinks she won’t get any. She has 0 retirement or savings at 58, plus she is not healthy. I’m 30, divorced, deep in school loan debt… I just don’t know what I’ll do. She can surely stay at my house, but…heck, I can barely take care of myself…let alone mom.

  38. Patricia Bustamante says

    My father is the head of the house and is 60, and my mother is 67. My mom receives $500 a month for Social Security and my father is still working. He says he will work as long as he can and then retire, but as much as I have begged him to get a 401K, or some other kind of retirement arrangement set up, he has not. He is basically depending on about 400 he gets a month now from pensions and whatever social security will be paying him. That is clearly not enough…but it is too late to set him up on a 401k…so…what is the best alternative to have him work up some funds from now ’till he retires? HELP!!!

  39. To “Saddened”, you are not alone. My mom is 63, job was “eliminated” back in the 90s. She’s tried to get professional and labor jobs (she too worked in a nursery for a bit but got fired when she got bronchitis) but she keeps getting let go. I had her come live with me a few years ago but had to have her leave as it was causing too much stress between my fiance and I (she moved in with her sister). Now she’s miserable where she lives and just got through cervical cancer treatment. I pay her health insurance and now the utilities at my aunt’s house. I am 38. I make a decent living but not enough to afford a place for my mom to live by herself in. I’m not willing to have her live with me again in my place as it is simply too small for 3 adults. I’ve been unable to find resources on this either, except a therapist who has told me I have to “choose what kind of a daughter I want to be.” So it comes down to her being miserable or both of us. Sigh.

  40. Ugh, Yes I worry about my parents future and retirement. That’s why I’m googling “parents who haven’t saved money for retirement”. It terrifies me. I don’t want to be in a situation where we have to interrupt our lives to take care of very needy parents. Yes, I understand they took care of us when we were young, but they chose to HAVE us, they chose to start trying for a baby (hopefully). We just inherited their bad money choices. UGH.

  41. My mother is 67 and doesn’t have any savings. She’s been self-employed as a cleaning lady for 30 years after getting out of a bad situation with my dad. She had always lived paycheck to paycheck, and when I try to get her to discuss her financial future, she always says it makes her too anxious and then refuses, usually insisting that she’s doing the best she. She also has a not-fully-diagnosed mental illness too complex to explain here. She tends to play victim and expects others to feel bad for her and help her out, but she’s been draining me since I was a kid. I’ve tried to step back, but her getting older scares me in terms of what position my sibs and I will be in.

    I’ve struggled with major depression, which has imploded my own career and finances, and I’m trying hard to get back on my feet, but that’s been awful in this economy. My sister is on the verge of divorce and financial difficulty. My brother is living paycheck-to-paycheck. At least my father and stepmother have some savings and pension money, but they haven’t always made great financial choices.

    I try hard to not worry about the future and stay focused on getting my own house in order. I’m working on finding better treatment for my depression – tough without any insurance or money – so I can better focus on my job hunt and get back to the professional career I loved. But it’s hard not wondering how the hell this will all go.

  42. WOW! My In-laws have no idea what retirement plans are, the father plans to live of what his dad leaves him when he passes and the mother, well only God knows. On top of that these are people with health issues, extreme overweight and extreme drinking and smoking are just the tip of the iceberg; my husband an only child, the way I see it we are screwed. So I am planning for my retirement and it will not be taking care of them. My parents on the other hand are very well off financially, they are traveling the world and in excellent health; they have a retirement plan set and have always told us exactly what they expect. I can’t wrap my head around the issues that would arise of this topic

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