Illustration of rocket launching

Parents’ Dilemma: Kids Who Don’t Launch

Karen James and John Kingrey remember very clearly breaking the news to their Millennial son that they would no longer support him.

After struggling through his first year in college, Michael was sitting on his parents’ bed tossing around whether or not he should join the U.S. Navy. “I said, ‘You don’t have to join the Navy, but you’re not living here. And winter’s coming,’ ” Karen James recalled.

And then she thought, but did not say, what many parents before her have thought about the offspring they love:  “You’re not living here doing nothing.”

Easing their son out the door in the run-up to the couple’s 2014 retirement “was one of the toughest things we ever did,” John Kingrey said. Their son’s story had a happy ending.

But more parents than ever are being torn between supporting adult children who haven’t yet launched and getting ready for their own fast-approaching retirement. Record numbers of 18- to 34-year-olds are living with their parents, a result of later marriages and a tough job market for that age group.

I am not a parent and am unqualified to write this blog from their perspective. But as a cold financial calculation, supporting a 20-something is problematic for older parents at a time that nearly half of U.S. baby boomers are at risk that their standard of living will decline after they retire.

With little time left to prepare, the most effective thing people in their 50s or early 60s can do is plan on delaying retirement, which sharply increases the size of a monthly Social Security check. But paying down a mortgage faster or putting more money into a 401(k) retirement plan is also a good idea.

“You shouldn’t be helping them if you want to put more money into your retirement,” says Minnesota financial planner Mark Zoril. But he’s quick to add that getting tough on offspring isn’t easy for parents – or their advisers. “It’s a pretty difficult [conversation] to have with your client.” …
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Photo of mother and daughter

Women Often Quit Work to Help Parents

Here’s just some of the evidence of the enormity of the challenge of caring for our elderly parents:

  • One in three baby boomer women cares for an elderly parent.
  • Even if they work, these caregivers devote anywhere from eight to 30 hours per week to that parent.
  • The estimated value of informal senior care provided by family members approaches $500 billion in this country – or double the amount spent on formal, paid care.

Caring for an elderly parent is usually done with love or out of a feeling of familial obligation. But there are real costs to taking on this responsibility, which most often lands squarely on a daughter’s shoulders. These costs could come in the form of lost wages and employer health insurance or in sacrifices of future pay raises or promotions. It’s also more difficult for older women to find a new job if they drop out of the labor force to help an ailing parent.

According to preliminary findings in a new study that used 20 years of data, taking care of a parent does significantly reduce the chances that women in their early 50s to early 60s are working.  Interestingly, the number of hours devoted to caring for a family member do not seem to affect women’s decisions about whether or not to work (though the researchers plan to revisit this finding).

But Sean Fahle of the State University of New York in Buffalo and Kathleen McGarry of UCLA said caregivers “may simply leave a job in order to provide care.”  Their paper was part of a series presented at the National Bureau of Economic Research this summer. …
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Wives Pay Price to Retire with Husbands

Wives like to retire around the same time as their older husbands – so they can play. But what a difference the baby boom generation has made.

For boomer wives, as members of the first generation of women to enter the U.S. labor force en masse, there can be a steep cost to leaving the labor force at a relatively young age to retire with an older husband. New research by Nicole Maestas of the Harvard Medical School bears out this logic.

It’s obvious that working wives can increase their earnings from work by resisting the urge to retire at a relatively young age. And married women generally earn much more, relative to their husbands, than in the past.

But, more often than their mothers and grandmothers, boomer wives can increase their own Social Security benefits by continuing to work.

To understand how this works, compare boomers with their grandmothers. Their grandmothers were probably housewives for most of their lives and worked sporadically or part-time. As a result, their husbands’ earnings determined the size of the spousal retirement benefits they received from Social Security.

The situation is very different for boomer wives, who often have worked enough to earn their own benefits and wouldn’t qualify for a spousal benefit. Social Security calculates their benefits, as they do for all workers, using the average of her highest 35 years of earnings. But here’s the rub: many boomer mothers still haven’t accumulated 35 years of substantial earnings, because they took some time off or worked part-time to raise children. …
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Rewriting Retirement Header Illustration

Finally Retired? Now What?

Gerry's signIt was Gerry Smythe’s final confirmation he had never quite felt at home working in the Oklahoma airplane manufacturing plant.  When well-meaning coworkers bought a cake to celebrate his and another person’s retirement, they got Smythe’s name wrong on the sign inviting everyone to the break room.

At age 63, he until recently was one of the nation’s 10 million older Americans working in physically demanding jobs in difficult conditions. He felt worn down by the factory noise, carbon dust, and standing all night on collapsed arches to assemble cabin floor beams for Boeing 777s.  His requests for a transfer away from the hard floor never went anywhere, he said.

“It wasn’t really the job – I kinda liked the job,” said Smythe, who retired on May 27. “I didn’t want to stick in that environment in which I was dealing with air pollution and chemicals and decided I’d had enough.”

Now retired, Smythe savors his freedom.  He’s playing more golf, has maintained his obsession with the Sunday crossword puzzle, and might volunteer at an animal shelter. But he also admits to something others have learned upon retiring: it’s a lot to get used to.

“You’re transitioning to a new phase of your life, and you’re not sure where to go. It is sorta scary,” he said in a telephone interview on a sizzling summer day at his home in Tulsa.

Everything is up in the air.  He likes Tulsa but might move back to Tennessee – he once worked at the Memphis airport – or to Houston, where his mother’s family hails from.  Or maybe he’ll find another job. The aviation industry is booming, so a few recruiters have called him. …Learn More

Too Much Health Plan Choice is Costly

Technology, coffee, investments, beer – most consumers value choice in some aspect of their lives.  But what if having too many choices leads to bad decisions and costly mistakes?

Pie of optionsCarnegie Mellon University economists Saurabh Bhargava and George Loewenstein, and Justin Sydnor from the University of Wisconsin School of Business, found this to be the case at one company that required employees to select from a menu of options and build their personal health plans from the ground up. The researchers found that the employees typically designed health plans that would cost them more than other plans with similar coverage.

The cost of these choices was large for the average employee – about one-quarter of their annual premium payments in the coming year. An extreme example is the group that chose a plan with a $350 deductible. They paid about $1,100 more in premiums to save, at most, $650 in out-of-pocket spending throughout the next year.

There might be reasons that someone would choose a low-deductible plan – not having enough cash on hand in case of a medical emergency, for example. But in this particular setting, Bhargava explained in an email, “none of these explanations could reasonably account for people paying $2 to $4 in extra premiums to reduce $1 in expected out-of-pocket expenses.”

Further, lower-paid employees earning under $40,000 per year were much more likely to make these mistakes.

Bhargava said that the paradox of too many choices confronts the millions of Americans who sign up online for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – including his mother. In a recent presentation, he said she is “like a lot of consumers” and has “a strong aversion to a high deductible.” …
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More Retirees Get Less Satisfaction

Figure: More Retirees Get Less SatisfactionIn the late 1990s, six out of ten retirees found retirement “very satisfying.” Today, not even half do, according to a recent analysis of a long-term survey of older Americans.

The news isn’t all bad, since the “moderately satisfied” share rose – and moderately satisfied is probably a more realistic goal for most people anyway.

But the question of why so few people are very satisfied with their retirement state of mind is difficult to pin down. The survey analysis by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and past academic research provide some clues.

Health.  It’s well-established that health and satisfaction are inextricably linked: healthier retirees are happier retirees, according to a 2005 study by the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog.  One reason health is important is that retirees who are healthy can remain active – bridge, golf, travel, volunteering, whatever – which brings satisfaction. …Learn More

Friends at dinner

5 Ways Millennials Mess Up With Money

The harsh reality is that you aren’t earning as much money as you think you are, and you don’t have as much to spend as you think you do – so it’s easy to let spending get out of control.

Gallup chartAndrea Woroch, only 34 years old herself, delivers some tough love to those who’ve already developed poor spending habits. A personal finance expert for the Millennial generation, Woroch said a perilous time is between the cash-strapped period right after college and the time when the steady, but modest, paychecks start flowing.

Early on, she explained, the attitude was “Okay, let me go to happy hour on this day because I can get $1 tacos and a beer. Now it’s okay to spend $20 for dinner. But that adds up, and they end up spending even more.”

Millennials polled by Gallup said they prefer saving to spending.  But Woroch, in an interview, provided five harsh observations about the obstacles to saving that she’s observed among young adults – including her husband, when they started dating:

  • You eat out all the time. Rightly, socializing is a big part of life. Eating out is also part of a larger trend: in March, consumer spending on dining out surpassed grocery store sales for the first time. Woroch advises that “spending money at the grocery store will help you spend less on food and leave room in your budget to put towards your savings goals.” …

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