It's been called the new retirement wild card. But it's not inflation, health-care costs, or taxes, though those things certainly matter. What is it that's causing so much uncertainty? It's boomerang kids, and the money their parents spend on them.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 6 million young adults ages 25 to 34 living at home in 2011--19% of all men (up from 14% in 2005) and 10% of all women (up from 8% in 2005). Not surprisingly, the percentages are higher for young adults in the 18 to 24 age bracket, with 59% of young men and 50% of young women living with their parents in 2011.
Sociologists have cited a number of reasons for this trend--the recession, college debt, the high cost of housing, delayed marriage, and a tendency toward prolonged adolescence. But whatever the reason, there's no doubt that boomerang children can be a mixed blessing for their parents, both emotionally and financially. Just when parents may be looking forward to being on their own and preparing for their retirement, their children are back in the nest and relying on their income. While the extra company might be welcome, you don't want to sacrifice your emotional and financial health to help your kids.
Set ground rules
If your adult children can't afford to live on their own, establish ground rules for moving back home, including general house rules, how long they plan to (or can) stay, and how they can contribute to the household in terms of rent and chores. As an adult, your child should be expected to contribute financially to the household overhead if he or she is working. Determine a reasonable amount your child can contribute toward rent, food, utilities, and car expenses. You can then choose to apply this money directly to household expenses or set it aside and give it to your child when he or she moves out, when it can be used for a security deposit on an apartment, a down payment on a car, or some other necessary expense.
You should also discuss your child's long-term plan for independence. Does your child have a job or is he or she making sincere efforts to look for work? Does your child need or want to go back to school? Is your child working and saving money for rent, a down payment on a home, or graduate school? Make sure your child's plans are realistic and that he or she is taking steps to meet those goals.
It's a balancing act, and there isn't a road map or any right answers. It's common for parents to wonder if they're making a mistake by cushioning their child's transition to adulthood too long or feel anxious if their child isn't making sufficient progress toward independence.
Turn off the free-flowing money spigot
It can be tempting for parents to pay all of their adult children's expenses--big and small--in an effort to help them get on their feet, but doing so is unlikely to teach them self-sufficiency. Instead, it will probably make them further dependent on you.
If you can afford it, consider giving your child a lump sum for him or her to budget rather than just paying your child's ongoing expenses or paying off his or her debt, and make it clear that is all the financial assistance you plan to provide. Or, instead of giving your child money outright, consider loaning your child money at a low interest rate. If you can't afford to hand over a sum of cash or prefer not to, consider helping with a few critical expenses.
Evaluate what your money is being spent on. A car payment? Credit card debt? Health insurance? A fancy cell phone? Student loans? General spending money? Your child is going to have to cut the frills and live with the basics. If your child is under age 26, consider adding him or her to your family health plan; otherwise, consider helping him or her pay for health insurance. Think twice about co-signing a new car loan or agreeing to expensive lease payments. Have your child buy a cheaper used car and raise the deductible on his or her car insurance policy to lower premiums. Help your child research the best repayment plan for student loans, but don't pay the bills unless absolutely necessary. Same goes for credit card balances. Have your child choose a less expensive cell phone plan, or consolidate phones under a family plan and have your child pay his or her share. Bottom line--it's important for your child to live within his or her financial means, not yours.
Solidify your own retirement plan
Even if your child contributes financially to the household, you may still find yourself paying for items he or she can't afford, like student loans or medical bills, or agreeing to pay for bigger ticket items like graduate school or a house down payment. But beware of jeopardizing your retirement to do this--make sure your retirement savings are on track. A financial professional can help you see whether your current rate of savings will provide you with enough income during retirement, and can also help you determine how much you can afford to spend on your adult child now.