At a certain point, most of what you knew about money came from your parents. They were the distributors of your sacred allowance, the funders of your phone bill, the providers of your health insurance. Before you were old enough to procure an income of your own, they were your bank — if you wanted money, you had to ask.
As you get older, this changes. You become your own source of capital. You work to finance your home, your clothing, your groceries, your cell phone. And while your parents may remain among the only people you feel totally comfortable discussing money with, they're no longer responsible. They're confidants, not providers.
But what happens when the order is reversed? What happens when you become the financial support system for your parents? It's only natural that, at a certain point, your income is more substantial — or at the very least, more regular. So after a lifetime of turning to your parents for money advice, how do you begin to talk to them about their finances?
Apparently, one in every five millennials is offering financial support to their parents -- many of whom are carrying serious debts of their own. We're talking student loans, mortgage payments, and your standard credit card bills. But how do you say no to the people who have given you financial care for your entire life?
"When you reach a certain age, you become aware of everything your parents did for you during your childhood," says financial columnist Patty Lamberti. "And you'll do anything to help them during their time of need. But you need to think about yourself, and your old age, too."
According to the Washington Post, only 41% of workers have planned -- at all -- for retirement. That being the case, the Post suggests preempting a discussion with your parents with a conversation amongst siblings (if you have them). This way you can clarify what you all are capable of giving, and how, as a unit, you can best support mom and dad. You have a built-in team to ease the burden of the conversation.
When it's finally time to sit down and talk, siblings or not, be sure to time your interaction carefully -- just prior to Thanksgiving dinner is probably not the moment to lay it all on the table. You want to find time to sit quietly, as far removed from major stressors as possible.
While you discuss your future financial relationship, think about ways you can help that don't involve dishing out cash. Can you help them relocate? Cancel services they don't use? Downsize in some small way? How can you help them regain control of their own finances?
Keep in mind the fact that you are, of course, still responsible for yourself, and if you put yourself in serious debt, your kids, too, will be struggling to support you. You don't want to allow this to become a cycle. "Remember that a fiscally reckless parent is still your parent," the Post declares. "Budget for the help you can afford. But don't let his or her financial sins be your burden. It's not yours to carry."
Legally, you will not be responsible for your parents debts when they pass away, unless you co-signed on something like a property. Be a source of support for your parents, but be clear with them that you cannot offer your services past a point. You have your own family to care for, and this should remain the priority. Whatever help you provide should not make you liable for debts that are not yours.
If you're looking for a little more support, think about consulting a resource. Try reading through the guide Merrill Lynch put together, and if you need more support, feel free to reach out to a representative to talk through some of your concerns. The same goes for Northwest Mutual -- check out their written advice before giving them a call. And last but not least, set up a meeting with a representative at your parents' bank. Let them offer you their thoughts on how to move forward.
With all this in mind, do not lost sight of the fact that you love your parents. They raised you. They taught you most of what you know when it comes to money -- and just about everything else in the world. Support them, but don't ruin yourself in the process. Be there for them, even if dishing out cash is not an option for you. And when you speak to them, be sure to clarify that that you are infinitely grateful for they ways they support you. But that gratitude doesn't warrant a lifetime of debt on your own part.