Baby boomers appear to be sacrificing their own retirements for the sake of their children, even though their children are, in most cases, adults, according to a study released this morning.
Ameriprise Financial in 2007 surveyed three generations—boomers, their children and their parents—and learned that less than half of boomers (44%) were trying to save for retirement while also providing support for their children and parents.
Fast forward to December 2011: The portion of boomers saving for their own retirement has fallen to one in four (24%)—but they’re still helping out their families. More than half (58%) are assisting their aging parents, including helping them pay for groceries (22%), medical expenses (15%) or utility bills (14%).
“It’s disturbing that people are still providing the same, intense level of support, up or down, and they’re five years closer to retirement,” says Suzanna de Baca, Ameriprise’s vice president of wealth strategies. “This is not registering with boomers.”
The phone survey included 1,006 baby boomers—born from 1946 to 1964—who have $100,000 or more in investable assets, 300 parents of boomers and 300 children of boomers who were at least 18 years old. The survey had a margin of error of three percentage points for the boomers and six points for the other two groups.
At the same time that boomers are providing all kinds of handouts to their children—paying utility and insurance bills along with college tuition and car payments—they also have “this weird level of guilt and concern” that their children don’t know how to manage money, de Baca says.
Meanwhile, the children receiving the handouts say their boomer parents haven’t talked tothem about money—and that they are worried that their parents won’t have enough savings to retire.
“It seems that the people being squeezed right now are the boomers, and that there are two generations in some serious denial,” she says.
Her advice for boomers struggling with their own retirement-savings goals: “You have to cut the cord. And you have to assume your adult children may not be able to provide for you someday.”
The research found that boomers say that given a choice between paying their kids’ credit-card bills or saving for retirement, they’d save for retirement—“but we found nothing backing up that they’re really doing it,” de Baca says.
And in families where the adult children would like to talk about planning for later life, but are avoiding it because they worry it will create tension or is none of their business, “we assert that it’s tense now, but it’s not going to get any better,” she says.
One approach to break the ice: “Ask your parents, ‘If something were to happen to you, what would you want?’” There are more tips here.
How does this compare with what you’re experiencing in your own family?