Question: Help! We need some advice about personal budgeting and bill paying for my parents, who are in their early 70’s. My father is a dentist and still works and mom maintains the home, which is a place that my parents have been renting for awhile. They spend far more than they bring in every month, charge too much on their credit cards, and have a very small retirement account. Yet with all these “tell tale” signs, they still don’t see that they have a financial problem. What should my sister and I do to help our elderly parents “see the light”
Answer: This is a tough and not uncommon situation. Your parents may be “in denial” about their situation or they may be perfectly aware but fatalistic – that is, “we can’t do anything about our situation so we might as well live our lives and the kids will take care of us when the time comes.” Of course, they may truly not understand the consequences. You don’t mention whether this is new behavior or if your parents have always lived beyond their means. Reading between the lines, I’m guessing that this is more “business as usual” than not since your parents don’t own their home, have a “small” retirement account despite your father’s profession, and seem to be carrying a credit card balance. If that’s the case, the situation is especially tricky, because their “system” has worked for them up to now and they may simply assume that will continue. If, on the other hand, this is new behavior, it may be an indication of cognitive decline and the best place to start may be to take each of them for a thorough medical check-up.
One way to begin to address this is for you and your sister to sit down with your parents and have a discussion about where and how they would like to age and the resources they have available to them to facilitate that plan so that the two of you can be sure that you know their wishes and can try to follow them. After having that general discussion, I’d suggest that your transition the discussion into allowing the two of you to document what they have and where it is “just in case something happens to them suddenly” and you have to step in to their shoes. As a part of this process, you should eventually be able to identify their income, expenses, assets and liabilities. The next step would be to forecast a couple of scenarios and show them what will happen if…… In other words, if nothing changes, they will run out of money in X years. Or, if one of them needs care, they will run out of money in Y years. Perhaps you can then use this as a starting point for discussion of some changes they can make in their spending habits. I call this process developing a family transition plan. I have an outline of all of the items that should be included in this “family transition plan” and if you email me using the contact information provided I will be happy to provide it to you. In general, the more dispassionate and non-judgmental you can be, the better the discussion will go. I find when I’m working with families like yours that working through “the math” is often the best way to change behavior.
Sheri Samotin, President
LifeBridge Solutions, LLC
Naples, Florida 34108