My mom is 86 years old and still lives in the house where she and my dad raised five of us in a small town in rural Minnesota. My mom has never had a driver’s license, a cell phone or a computer. We replaced a rotary phone in her house a few years ago with a push button model, and that was a big deal! From her perspective, the rotary phone worked just fine. It had a cord that was about 15 feet long. Since it was the only phone in the house that long cord was a valuable asset when we were teenagers seeking privacy while on the phone. Now a cord of any length seems incredibly cumbersome and restrictive.
Mom’s lifetime of frugal spending habits have served her well. These days, she manages solely on her Social Security benefits. She has a small savings account set aside for an emergency but sticks strictly to her Social Security income to cover her living expenses. My siblings and I have each broached the topic of selling the house and moving Mom into an apartment. A few years ago, those conversations met a quick dead end, with my mom emphatically stating she had no intention of moving. Now, she is at least willing to consider the possibility. The stairs have become more challenging, the yard work needs to be hired out, and upkeep is a worry. I am encouraged that she is willing to think about a different housing arrangement, yet she remains very worried about how to pay for it. Mom grew up in the depression era and abides by the mantra, “you only buy what you can afford.” She doesn’t have a pension that provides her the security of ongoing income in retirement.
Selling her modest house would provide her with enough money to cover a few years in an apartment or assisted living. So it’s very likely that my siblings and I will need to help cover some of her future costs. While I am happy to do that, and I believe my siblings are as well, the challenge we face together is not just a financial one. The bigger challenge is mental. How do we help my mom feel okay about leaning on her kids? I want her to feel that planning for her future, whether it’s the next 2 years or the next 15 years is something we can do together and that she doesn’t need to do it alone.
In our last conversation, Mom mentioned that maybe she would wait to hit the jackpot at the church bingo event before she’d think about a possible move. Needless to say, she isn’t quite on board yet. I feel that my siblings and I are in a very fortunate position where we are able to help my mom, if we can just get her to agree! But I know that many people are not, and are struggling with their own finances and ability to save for retirement.
As a result of these discussions with our mother, it has definitely forced my siblings and me to focus more closely on our own retirement income needs and think about where our income in retirement will come from and how long it may last.
How have these conversations gone with your parents? Have you found yourself in a position to step in to offer assistance? Or maybe you had to provide financial support whether a parent wanted your help or not? How did you handle the situation and help them become comfortable with it?