Ruth's Two Cents: Supporting Your Parents Financially

As a seasoned money adventurer and financial blogger with the gift of the gab, who better to ask for money advice than Ruth The Happy Saver? Read the guidance she shares with our blog readers and beyond. No agony aunts here, just Ruth's two cents.

Hi Ruth,

My mother was made redundant from her work when she was in her early 60s. It was a huge blow to her confidence, and my partner and I rallied around her, providing emotional and financial support. It’s been five years, and we’re still financially supporting her, giving her $150 a week to help with living expenses and bills. My two other siblings don’t support her because they are struggling with the cost of living, too. My kids are now entering high school, and that $150 a week would really help our family budget — I’m thinking of stopping the payments to my mother, but I feel really guilty. What should I do?

What an interesting situation you find yourselves in. Many parents financially support their children well into adulthood, to the detriment of their retirement. In turn, many adult children, such as yourself, financially support their parents to the detriment of their family finances. It goes both ways. I’m fully in favor of using our time and our wealth to help others, but if it is having a negative impact on your own situation, I think it is entirely fair to make some changes. It is unusual for your mother not to have returned to any type of work in the last five years. I’m assuming that she is collecting some form of wage subsidy or has shared finances with her partner to enable her to get by during this time.

Open communication is a non-negotiable

To navigate the way forward, a lot of communication between you and your partner, you and your mother, and then with your wider family needs to occur. Starting with you and your partner, talk through every angle of the situation and every option available. Talk about the math of the problem and the emotional aspects, too. When you decide to support others financially, it needs to be with an open hand, without resentment, and it sounds like this has been the case up until now. Be very clear in your communication about what you see as the solutions being here. Decide together what the best outcome is.

Then, go and have a coffee with your mother. Ask her where she is at financially. Given that you are gifting her money each week, you can ask direct questions. Listen to what she has to say, and then speak to her about the conversations you and your partner have had up until now. And how, after a discussion with her in which you have learned the extent of her situation, you are considering making some changes.

You don’t want to pull the rug out from under her feet. You and your partner have had time to think this through, and it’s fair that you also give her time to think about her options.

Support can be a family affair

After learning the full extent of the situation and, with your mother’s buy-in, both go and speak with your siblings, too. Families with adult children and grandchildren often flow in and out of each other’s lives, never really understanding the reality of each other’s situation. Take the time to bring each other up to speed. It’s important to calmly and with compassion hear everyone’s situation because only then can you look for solutions to help you step in and help her help herself. Collectively, you can plan a path forward, and you will feel supported by your siblings instead of going it alone.

You are a good person who wants to support your mother, and she will see that. I’m sure she is a great parent who doesn’t want to put a financial strain on her child. Now, with all the facts, you can devise a family plan on how to proceed so that everyone feels helped and listened to.

Throughout this process, discuss ideas together. If returning to work is an option, discuss how that might happen and how you can all support her to help make it happen. Can you help write her resume, apply for jobs, and prepare for an interview? Do you have contacts who are looking for staff, and can you connect the two? Or are there additional benefits she is entitled to that will bring in extra income? Can you help her get creative in coming up with $150 a week?

Not all help has to be financial

Talk at length about money management. How much is she earning from all sources, and where is it spent? If budgeting is an issue for her, offer to help. If she has trouble with online banking and bill payment, offer to help. Not all support is financial, and rebuilding her confidence can be done by her children coming around her with the skills they have and helping her move forward, as she once did for each of you, I am sure.

I come from a family of seven: My mum, dad, and five children. Financially supporting my parents was our reality some years back when my parents hit a financial brick wall. Ultimately, one sibling stepped in and gave that financial support, and they laid all their cards on the table when they did, explaining to all what they were doing so there could be no uncertainty or gossip. The rest of us had non-financial strengths and helped out in non-financial ways. Time passed, and my sibling’s financial position changed, much as yours had, and they began the awkward conversation about pulling back financial support. It got a little tense at times, but because from the beginning, we were all on the same page, those niggles got worked through, and ultimately my parents got back on their feet, and my sibling was able to concentrate on her family finances.

Your situation allowed you to step in and help five years ago, but now, it has changed. It’s entirely fair that you get to communicate with all of your family and make some changes. Far from feeling guilty for considering stopping those $150 weekly payments, you should feel proud of yourself that for five years, you had the ability to make them.

I wish you well.

Got a burning money question for Ruth? Send them through to [email protected]!

Ruth blogs at all about how she and her family handle money. What’s the secret? Spend less than you earn, invest the difference, avoid debt and budget each dollar that flows through your hands. She firmly believes that if you can just get the basics right, life becomes easier from there on in.

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