A surprise threat to your retirement

If we asked you what you thought could tank the tidy nest egg you’ve built for retirement, you might say sky-rocketing health care costs.

That’s a good guess. But there is a threat even closer to home. In fact, this threat may even live in your home.

Your adult child.

Increasing numbers of adult children are turning to their parents for help and we don’t mean just for advice on the best brand of laundry detergent. They need money, and in many cases a cheap place to live (that would be your home).

There are many reasons adult children struggle financially. College debt is higher than ever, exacting a hefty chunk of change from paychecks each month. Good jobs can be scarce. Some adult kids can’t find a job (at least one they say they like) or they just don’t make enough money to support themselves. (It’s expensive out there!) And sometimes our kids simply make poor financial and life choices, overspending or shelling out money for the wrong things. Even a healthy retirement savings can’t indefinitely withstand a continuous drain of financial demands from adult kids.

What’s a parent to do?

We love our kids. At our very core we want to protect them from harm. That’s why we held their hands when they crossed the street, made them wear socks with rubber grips on the bottom and bike helmets on their heads. We would do just about anything so they won’t have to experience pain.

Does that mean we have to shipwreck our own retirement?

There comes a point when a wise parent must ask the critical question — How can I help my adult children without enabling them?

The answer? With a plan.

Make a plan

Beyond saying, “Okay, I guess I’ll help you. I think I can swing it.” You need a strategy that helps them get over this tough spot and at the same time teaches them how to be responsible and manage their money so they can begin building a healthy, independent life that doesn’t jeopardize their future — and yours.

With this strategy you must do three things.

1. Clearly communicate expectations and boundaries

First, you need a good, honest talk. Before you do anything, have a conversation that spells out your expectations. These are adults, after all, and should be treated as such. Your conversation could go something like this. “I’m willing to help you, but only if you do this, this, and this.”

And then? Write it down and have them sign it.

Brrrr! This may sound cold, but it actually helps them stay on track. This agreement is not meant to be punitive, but restorative. It provides critical accountability that will foster discipline, good habits and growth. Just what you want and they need.

2. Create a financial plan

Next, develop a financial plan with your child. (This can be with you or a financial planner.) They need a road map that shows them how to get from where they are now (in trouble) to where they want to be (out of trouble). Clearly, they lack financial wisdom or they wouldn’t be in the spot they are now. They need financial training (that at the minimum should include budgeting). Get it for them.

3. Set a time limit

Whether they are asking for money or a place to live, this is a temporary situation. Right? You cannot be the Bank of Mom and Dad or Mom and Pop’s Hotel forever. Give your adult child time limits. If you are giving them money, gradually wean them off with a plan that provides so much for the first six months, and then a lesser amount for the next three months, and then an even lesser amount for the next three months. This way they have time to figure out how to stand on their own feet. If your child has moved back in, give them a deadline for when they need to move back out (along with conditions of agreed upon responsibilities like pitching in around the home, paying rent, looking for a job, etc…).

The reluctant enforcer

Parents get squeamish about holding their adult kids to the agreed upon plan. We get that. We want our children to like us. We don’t like denying them anything. And we also don’t want them to suffer.

But think about it this way. Pain isn’t always bad. In fact, pain can be a great teacher. Sometimes what’s best for our kids is not the easiest path, but the more difficult one. And people are resilient. Didn’t we live in a crummy apartment when we were young? Didn’t we eat ramen soup (replete with peas and an egg thrown in) for more days than we care to remember? The point is, we lived to tell about it. And we are stronger for it.

We all know that with kids there are no guarantees. But there are guidelines, like the ones mentioned, that can help us navigate the challenging seasons in their lives. And at the same time protect our financial future.


Advisory services are offered by Joslin Capital Advisors, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor.

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