Can You Tactfully Give Mom—or Dad—Financial Help?

Parents may not be comfortable being on the receiving end of financial help, but there's a way to do it tactfully.

Dear Carrie,

My mom brought us up in a home filled with love but not a lot of money. Now that I'm in my 30s and she's retired, I want to be able to help her out financially but in a way that also protects her sense of pride and independence. What do you recommend?

—A Reader

Dear Reader,

As I've said many times, I'm all in favor of one generation helping another. That's usually interpreted to mean parents or grandparents helping the kids. But as people are living longer and experiencing longer retirements—with the corresponding drain on their nest eggs—I think it's wonderful when kids can turn the tables and help their parents. It especially makes sense if it's not a huge strain on the kids' finances.

So it sounds like your mother is one lucky woman. Not only because you have the desire and means to help her, but also because you're sensitive to her feelings. And I think there are a number of meaningful ways to help her without making her feel uncomfortable.

Share your financial know-how

You might open the door by talking to your mom about your own finances, what you're learning and how you're managing. Talk to her about budgeting, saving, and how you make choices in your own financial life. That will give her the confidence that you're doing okay.

The next logical step is to talk about her finances. What are her income sources? Does she have enough to cover her essential expenses such as housing, food and medical bills? What trade-offs does she have to make? By looking at her budget with her, perhaps you'll see places where she can make different choices so she doesn't have to skimp in one area or another.

Helping her manage her money better will give your mother a greater sense of independence. At the same time, by reviewing all this with her, you'll be better able to see the areas where she might need a little extra help.

Pinpoint one area where you're particularly interested in helping out

If your mom is living on a tight budget, she may be denying herself something that you feel is essential to her well-being and safety. For instance, does she have adequate insurance coverage? What about a cell phone or internet connection? You could offer to pay for something practical like regular housecleaning or service on her car. Or maybe she'd really benefit from having a gym membership, but it would seem like an extravagance to her.

Focus on something you think would improve the quality of your mother's life and tell her you'd really like to cover it for her; that rather than being a burden, it would make you feel good to do it. For instance, a friend of mine whose 85-year-old mother lives alone picked up the tab for a medical alert system. She phrased it as being as much for her own peace of mind as for her mother's.

Pay for a special treat for the two of you

In the same spirit, you could take your mom out to dinner on a regular basis, or perhaps plan and pay for a spa day or even a vacation together. By giving her a bit of luxury, you'll spare her having to budget for it. At the same time, you'll be showing her that it's not just about money, but also about spending quality time with her.

Show continued interest in helping her stay on top of her finances

Your interest in helping your mother is a valuable gift in itself. Especially if it's not a one-time event. As your mom gets more comfortable with having you involved in her financial life, make an effort to stay involved.

Keep discussing your mutual finances, the transitions you each have to make at different times in your lives, and the continual choices that are necessary. And don't shy away from the difficult topics such as estate planning. For instance, make sure she at least has a basic will, durable power of attorney reference for financial matters and an advance healthcare directive.

Having brought you up in a house full of love, rather than being put off, your mom will recognize that your concerns for her financial security come out of love. That should give her a real sense of pride.

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there!

Have a personal finance question? Email us at askcarrie@schwab.com. Carrie cannot respond to questions directly, but your topic may be considered for a future article. For Schwab account questions and general inquiries, contact Schwab.

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