Half of American parents are risking their retirement savings to help support adult children, according to a recent survey.

A poll conducted by Bankrate.com asked parents: Would you say you have sacrificed or are sacrificing your retirement savings to help your adult children financially?

Fifty-one percent of respondents said, yes, they were jeopardizing their retirement security a lot or somewhat. Parents said they were paying, among other expenses, cellphone bills, car insurance premiums and housing costs.

Higher-earning parents were more likely to provide financial assistance compared with lower-earning parents. Sixty-one percent of parents making more than $80,000 per year said they were sacrificing their retirement to help support children 18 and older with their bills, while 54 percent of parents earning $40,000 to $80,000 said they are paying bills for their grown children.

“I think some parents are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place when it comes to sending their children on their way, financially speaking,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate.com. “For some, it is because they see no other good alternatives, or they are unwilling to press the point, such as essentially kicking their children out or being more forceful in, say, divorcing them from the Netflix account.”

Pulling back financial support can be difficult when your adult child is starting out and struggling under the weight of student loans and high housing costs. But coddling them too long at the expense of your retirement security will eventually shift the financial burden to your children, who may not be able to handle the burden of your care.

“In some cases, for the parents, they are likely either failing to do their own homework to know how much money they will require in retirement, in denial, or overly optimistic how they will make up for it on the other side, perhaps by working part-time later,” Hamrick said.

I’m not opposed to extending parental resources to help them pay off debt or ease the financial burden on adult children who are trying to establish themselves.

“I don’t think it is exclusively a financial issue,” Hamrick said. “I think there are a variety of threads attached to the emotionally charged nature of their relationships. Because of the modern nature of more closely tied psychologically boomer parents and their adult children, some are willing to pay a price to keep them close to home.”

I’ve seen this first hand. Parents cannot let go financially for fear their children will struggle too much. Or they cling too long, enabling irresponsible adult children. The financial umbilical cord has to be cut or you are going to end up with an overindulged adult still treating you like his or her personal ATM.

The question of sacrificing your retirement savings to help support an adult child reminds me of the instructions the flight attendants give just before takeoff.

Flight attendants instruct passengers to put on their oxygen masks first, even if traveling with a child — or someone acting like a child. As parents, we have to think of our financial life as an oxygen mask.


You have to fasten your mask first, because if you’re gasping for air and pass out, you cannot help yourself or your child.

If you have enough saved for retirement and to assist an adult child who is doing his or her best to launch, that’s fine. But if you aren’t saving for retirement or investing enough, put your mask on first.

Secure your retirement first.

Your Thoughts

Are you jeopardizing your retirement to assist your adult children? If so, how’s that working out for you? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line, put “Cut the Cord.”

Read more:

Retirement Rants and Raves

I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise?

If you haven’t retired yet, what concerns you financially?

You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

One of the biggest threats to your retirement solvency may be the cost of health care and prescription drugs.

A study by West Health and Gallup shows that in the past 12 months, seniors have withdrawn an estimated $22 billion from their long-term savings for expenses related to health care. The average amount people pulled from their savings was $3,789.

Last week, I asked: How are you managing health-care costs in retirement? Have expenses caused you to draw more money from your savings than you expected?

Alan Homer from Mesa, Ariz., wrote, “I haven’t retired yet, but I’m funding a health-savings account to the maximum allowed. I will also invest those funds in a broad index to allow it to grow over time at a faster rate than my medical expenses do. When I retire, I plan on buying a supplemental insurance to help pay for the costs not covered by Medicare. Lastly, I’m trying to eat right and exercise to remain active and healthy in my later years so that I can minimize health issues. Hopefully this will help make my ‘Golden Years’ truly golden.”

“We’ve been tracking our costs for years, and set a budget at the beginning of each year based on known insurance premiums, an estimate for our long-term-care policy, as well as a projection for our other out-of-pocket expenses based on the prior year’s experience,” wrote Anthony from Florida. “We also have a retiree health reimbursement account (HRA) from my prior employer. Our health-care budget, as projected, is about 10% of our income. We are fortunate in several ways: Primarily, good health, an income that allows us to afford strong coverage with a Medicare supplemental, Part D prescription, dental and vision plans. However, we enter each new year with trepidation not knowing what the health-care insurance-premium landscape will be or our health care needs for the coming year.”

From the Tax Policy Center read: How do health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) work?

Bunnee Butterfield of Edmonds, Wash., wrote, “We are fortunate enough to have great health insurance, including long-term care if we should need it.”

On getting used to retirement:

“The most difficult thing about moving into retirement was that I had been a leader of approximately 75 people in a health-care organization in which I had 24/7 responsibility until the day I left and then I had no responsibility,” wrote David Boman from Mount Pleasant, Wis. “The emotional withdrawal from the people who were, unfortunately, most of my social life was very difficult to manage. I also went from being important to the organization to not being important and almost feeling as if I needed to avoid the door hitting me in the backside on my last day of employment. This seriously affected my sense of self-worth. Initially I tried to put structure back into my day until I realized that doing so was really just re-creating what a workday looked like. It took over a year for me to fully come to the realization that my retirement was a gift to me after the stresses of 30 years of leadership. I have learned to let each day unfold as it wishes and to enjoy each minute of it.”

On the joys of being retired:

“We are both currently 65 and could not have dreamed how good retirement was going to be,” wrote Chuck Yanus of Crossville, Tenn. “We travel upward of five months per year, and generally enjoy life and what it offers. How did we do it? By living below our means, saving regularly both inside and outside tax-advantaged accounts, staying employed every day of our working lives, and moving to a much lower cost-of-living state a few years before formally leaving the workforce. My wife was a social worker, which had lower pay but good health-care benefits (including after retirement) for both of us and a pension for her, and I was in high-tech sales that paid better than average. Retirement has been a godsend, a time that we would not trade for anything in the work world. When we both left our fields we never looked back, and to this day have never regretted our decision to leave somewhat early. Life, after all, is much too short to waste working longer than one has to.”

Leif Kristjansen of Toronto wrote, “I remember one week I didn’t get through my ‘urgent’ to-do list (a habit from work) and I thought something bad was going to happen. Then I remembered no one else cared so I had a nap. Greatest moment of my life.”

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