As young children, it may seem like our parents have life figured out. But as adults, you may realize your parents were—like many people—figuring out their finances along the way. By the time they reach retirement, they may not have saved quite enough or may even be holding debt.
It's tricky to know how to talk to elderly parents about finances without insulting their pride or overstepping. If you're preparing to bring it up, you'll want to consider their challenges, look for certain signs of financial distress and plan for how you and others can support them.
Why older people may be struggling financially
Maintaining financial security takes hard work, and elderly people may have certain factors working against them. Aside from
Falling short on retirement savings
It's challenging to accurately predict how much money you need for retirement. Older generations may have been counting on Social Security, but the average benefit only covers about
Overspending on their new budget
Even with a sturdy nest egg, the newly retired may wrestle with budgeting for their new income. It can be hard to adjust your spending when you're used to income from a full-time job. Your parents may spend more freely on dining out, clothes shopping or gifts for grandchildren. Or perhaps they've splurged on a retirement dream without fully realizing their budget limitations.
Choosing a life with little technology
Financial technology is advancing every day—many institutions are strictly adopting paperless accounts, automatic payments and online ordering. It can be frustrating for people whose lives no longer revolve around tech, especially if they're trying to live an unplugged life in retirement. Elderly people are also more likely to be victims of
Signs your parents may be facing financial trouble
Many times, people will hide their financial difficulties. This may be the case for your parents, and if they're specifically trying to shelter the family from this knowledge, it can create a delicate situation. You'll want to walk the thin line between respecting their privacy and dignity and stepping in to assist if these red flags pop up frequently.
- Bills piling up. A stack of disorganized bills could be a sign that your loved one is dealing with debt.
- Collection calls. If your parent receives frequent calls from bill collectors, they may not be able to pay everything they owe. Your parent might not admit who's calling, but frequent calls they don't answer or calls they're cryptic about could be a signal.
- Utility outages. If their cable goes off for days at a time, they lose power or their cellphone won't work, it may indicate they're behind on payments.
- Unusual purchases. If they're spending more money than usual—which could be a couple of huge purchases or several smaller ones and be from physical stores or online orders—it's possible they're not keeping close tabs on their budget.
- Credit card rejection. If they insist on buying lunch or gifts while you're out together but their credit card repeatedly doesn't work, it's fair to wonder if it's something more than a machine error.
- Asking for money. If your loved one often asks you or other family members for loans, it can be a sign something is up.
Broaching the financial conversation with your parents
Anytime it comes to finances, it's important to maintain a respectful, shame-free attitude and not jump to conclusions. Spotting a few warning signs doesn't mean you should stage an intervention with your parents and take over their accounts.
Instead, look for ways to open lines of communication with your elderly parents about their finances. Aim to be clear that you're concerned about their comfort and well-being—and not about your inheritance or them becoming a burden.
Ideally, you could have a
- Talk generally about the economy and mention how it's impacting older people.
- Ask them for advice. Tell them you're planning for retirement and want to know more about their experience.
- Send a letter or email on the topic. Some families have unspoken rules about not discussing money, but a written note could turn into a conversation.
- Make an open offer that you're always there for them. Let them know you're available to talk about anything and you want them to experience a joyful retirement.
Consider solutions for your parents' money issues
If your parents opened up about their
How you could help
You may need to start by working on their mindset about their situation. Emphasize that there's no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed. Remind them that families help each other.
To tackle budgeting problems, you could offer to balance their checkbook and track down their owed payments. Once you help them identify their income limits and establish a realistic budget, you or another family member could offer to do regular financial check-ins with them. If they want you to be more involved, they can complete certain documents like a trusted contact form so you can communicate directly with their financial advisor and banking institutions.
Helping them out financially is also an option, but it may not be something you can handle or what your parents desire. Talk with your parents about the help they need the most. Then you can reflect on their needs and the best way you can accommodate that.
How others could help
If you don't feel comfortable helping your parents with financial advice, you can connect them with
If big decisions are looming—like if they need to sell their home or file for bankruptcy—suggest involving the whole family in discussions along with professionals, who can help them weigh all their options and create a plan.
Lean on advice from financial experts
Helping your aging parents with their finances may call for understanding, empathy and a delicate touch. Always keep their feelings in mind, and try to proceed at a comfortable pace for them. Connect with your own financial advisor for guidance if necessary.
For more guidance, you can check out Thrivent's resources on day-to-day finance management and consult our