You had your best-laid plans and then COVID-19 came along and hammered the entire economy. But you’ve got this – if you have the right information. Join Rob Carrick and Roma Luciw on Stress Test, a podcast guiding you through one of the biggest challenges your finances will ever face.
Rob:[00:00:02] Are you getting financial help from your parents or family? Do you feel guilty or embarrassed about it? The answer is yes. Rest assured, you are far from alone. In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about what kinds of things parents are helping their adult kids to pay for and how financial help has become more common in the pandemic. Basically, we’re talking about the underground parental economy.
Roma:[00:00:25] Welcome to Stress Test, a Globe and Mail podcast that looks at how the rules of personal finance have changed in the pandemic for Gen Z and millennials.
Rob: I’m Rob Carrick, the personal finance columnist at the Globe and Mail.
Roma:[00:00:37] And I’m Roma Luciw the personal finance editor at The Globe. So this topic about adult kids getting financial help is very near and dear to my heart. I think it’s well past time that Canadians started talking openly about this topic. The parental subsidy has been going on for years, but it’s gaining momentum because of the pandemic and it’s made parental financial help more essential than it ever has been. What I’d like to do is remove some of the shame and embarrassment from this equation. But, Rob, let’s start off by looking back at how we got here. Now, the former life and financial trajectory for young adults looked something like this. You graduate, you get a job, you move out of your parent’s home, you start paying your own way. That might have been the case for previous generations, like the boomers, but it hasn’t been the case in some time. You’ve written quite a bit about how the financial crisis was a turning point in this. Why don’t you talk us through that?
Rob:[00:01:32] I think young people ran into trouble in 2008, 09. It was after a big recession. Jobs were hard to find. The gig economy was starting to make its presence known. That means temporary jobs rather than full time jobs. And I think young people just had a hard time getting lunch. Remember the boomerang generation? How we were slurring young kids as basically unable to launch their own careers and having to slink back to their parent’s home and live in their basement and play video games all the time. That was sort of a trend of the moment back in the following the financial crisis. But I think what we gradually began to understand, though, was that it wasn’t anything to do with the kids. It was the economy. It is hard to get established and parents were having to step in and top up their kids income where required. There’s always been a base level of parental support for young adults. That means helping them with cash to buy a house or paying for their university or college education. But I think parents are having to step in to a higher degree and it’s only become worse in the pandemic.
Roma: [00:02:31] So when we were looking at recording this episode, we found we didn’t have enough information. There was a data gap in the kinds of things that we wanted to know that just weren’t available to us. We didn’t know, for instance, whether the kind of help that adult kids were getting is extending longer into people’s 20s and 30s, maybe even their 40s. I also feel like that the housing down payment help is been around for a long time. But are parents helping to pay for more daily kind of expenses? That’s the kind of stuff that we just don’t know.
Rob:[00:03:01] So we’re journalists rights. We want to dig into things and understand them better. So in the Carrick on Money newsletter that I do twice a week, we asked parents and millennials how much support is being given from parents to young adults. And we got some really startling answers here. About twenty one hundred parents participated in the poll. Ninety five percent said they provided some sort of support to adult children. What is it? OK, one third were providing a cash gift for a home down payment. Seventy three percent help pay for college or university. OK, we probably assume roughly about those numbers. Nothing surprising there, but thirty eight percent of parents in the poll were helping their adult kids with rent. And thirty nine percent of parents said they were helping their adult children pay for groceries. Close to half of parents were paying cell phone bills and car insurance. So there is deep levels of parental support for young people today.
Roma:[00:03:53] Now, that’s really interesting. Cell phone bills, car insurance, those are things that I wouldn’t necessarily have thought would be that widespread. And it points to another really interesting element of this entire conversation, which is the amount of secrecy that surrounds this kind of help. Lots of people know it’s happening. It’s happening in many different arenas, but it’s not being talked about. And by that I mean talking about the need for it, about why kids need this kind of prolonged help.
Rob:[00:04:21] Yeah, it amazes me how little this is being discussed. I mean, I think we as a society have finally absorbed the idea that a lot of young adult kids need to move home after university to get a footing to get their careers started. We’re OK with that. But this idea of parents having to subsidize their kids, it’s why are politicians not talking about this? Why are policymakers not talking about this? Why are economists not digging into this more? It seems to me to be a pretty interesting topic. Let’s flashback. What parental help did you get when you were younger?
Roma:[00:04:49] Well, my parents definitely helped us out. When I was younger. They were determined that my brothers and I would all finish school, college or university. Without debt, so the agreement on our end was that we would pay for as much as we could with the summer jobs that we had, and they would step in and help us pay for the rest of it. Now, remember that back then it wasn’t that long ago, but tuition was lower. So I think I earned enough in my summer job to cover tuition costs. And because I went to university outside of the city where I grew up, they paid for my living expenses, my books and all of those things. So what that allowed me to do is finish school without debt. And once I started working, I was able to save money for what eventually turned out to be my down payment. And at the time, I didn’t even realize how big of a boost that provided for me, that I wasn’t making student debt payments, that I started off just being able to squirrel away money for longer term goals. So, Rob, you have two boys in their 20s. What kind of help have you guys provided for them?
Rob:[00:05:54] Well, in our case, our two boys completed their university education debt free. They worked hard over the summer, and had part time jobs and earned what they earned. And we topped them up to graduate debt free. That was important to me to get them launched. I’ve seen people struggle with student debt and I was determined because my wife and I have the means to help them not do that. I think it’s fairly common to pay some degree of university education. In my peer group. We’ve helped our boys. We kept them on the cell phone, family, cell phone plan until they were economically self-sufficient. Both of our boys have moved home and moved out again. And there’s been a bit of a revolving door on our house and their welcome home any time they need to come back. You know what? We’re happy to help. I see what’s going on in the economy. I probably see clearer than most. And I understand what a parent’s role is in the 21st century. It’s sometimes your kids aren’t economically self-sufficient as soon as they might have been, you know, several decades ago.
Roma[00:06:52] That’s right. I think what we’ve realized is that the pandemic has worsened the situation of young people in terms of them not being able to pay their own way. This is not about indulgent parenting. It’s not about kids making bad choices or not working hard. This is emergency help parenting. This is adult kids really needing this help more than they ever did before. We’re seeing this on many different levels, and it’s one of the reasons we wanted to dig deeper into this topic. After the break, we’ll speak to a twenty six year old Toronto woman who’s relying on money from her parents to help make ends meet.
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Rob:[00:07:54] So we’re going to use a pseudonym for our next guest to protect her identity. We know this can be a sensitive topic. Janet is twenty six and graduated in 2017 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She said she is grateful that most of her education was paid for by her parents and grandparents. But since then she’s been off into the real world and she was having a hard time getting started in a tough job market.
Janet:[00:08:18] So before the pandemic hit, I actually was struggling a bit to find, I guess, what would be called a career. I was working at a wellness clinic, doing their community management work, as well as some of their web work. And then I was also working at a little boutique store as a customer service rep and also interning with a fitness team. So I was doing a bunch of different things to pay the bills and try to gain experience.
Rob:[00:08:56] A year and a half ago, she moved out of her parent’s home for the first time into her own apartment. She was paying thirteen hundred dollars a month, but still needed financial support for some essentials.
Janet:[00:09:06] When I first moved out, they actually paid for my groceries every week for about eight months. Yeah, I would go with them every Sunday to the grocery store and. We would walk away with two separate bags, but the same bill, so that was something very feel very grateful for. They also helped pay for some of my grad trip and put some money towards a trip that I did out West as well. So they’ve definitely helped in in those areas.
Rob:[00:09:41] Then the pandemic hit, she got laid off from both her part time jobs and was getting by on CERB. But she was able to leverage her connections in the fitness community to learn what she says was a career launching salary job last summer.
Janet:[00:09:54] And then in the fall when the second lock down hit, the fitness industry was brought back to at home. So I lost my job again. And I for a few weeks was quite sad. I was having a bit of an issue getting my money from the government. So I was going off of my savings and my parents had to help me with a few grocery trips again and had some serious conversations honestly about whether or not, you know, it would make sense for me to continue living out during these times.
Rob:[00:10:39] Right now, she’s getting some hours in a remote role, but she says you can barely call it part time. She’s also getting top ups from CERB and was able to renegotiate her rent during covid, which allowed her to keep renting her apartment. But her parents are still supporting her with things like groceries, care packages and dentist appointments.
Janet[00:10:57] I feel embarrassed and I get very upset about it personally because I feel like I’m failing some some place that I’m supposed to be right now. At twenty six. I supposed to be being able to afford, you know, the luxuries of I actually don’t have cable or Wi-Fi at the moment myself because I can’t afford them, so I, I get embarrassed talking about it and I don’t like talking about it with others because I feel yeah, I feel like a failure in terms of where I am financially.
Rob:[00:11:37] Janet says that growing up, she never really spoke about finances with her parents, but considers them to be middle class. The reality is that this is not just limited to a certain income bracket. Parents of all backgrounds are digging deep to help their kids.
Roma[00:11:51] That said, there are some parents who simply can’t afford to extend this kind of help to their kids, regardless of whether they want to. So when we talk about this kind of help, we need to remember that. But there’s no question this is widespread and happening more than it’s acknowledged. After the break, we’ll speak to a financial planner who works with both young adults and supporting parents to see how many people are in a similar situation.
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Roma[00:12:54] Natasha Knox is a certified financial planner from the Greater Vancouver area. I started our talk by asking her how often she hears stories like Janet, where parents are stepping in to help their adult kids.
Natasha:[00:13:06] I would say in the clients I’ve seen, it’s totally common. It’s common among my friends, both with my older friends. They’re now helping their college age kids, but also, you know, with friends who are my age or even younger, we’ve all had help. That includes me. It’s a totally common thing.
Roma: What kinds of financial help are you seeing?
Natasha: So some of the most common, I would say, is down payments. But there could be some other things I know of people who have received help when they have kids who may have some special learning needs and, you know, they just don’t feel like they’re being appropriately served by the school system, their parents so the grandparents of the kids may chip in to enable them to send their kids to a private school. Parents, they allow their kids to live in their homes, either low rent or rent free. I’ve seen different things like mortgages able instead of giving them the down payment. It may be as a loan, but like almost no interest or flexible repayment terms or, you know, like I’ve seen some mortgages that I’m looking like this is a really irrational mortgage. And then I find out, oh, yeah, well, that’s so that’s because my parents sold my mortgage, you know, and these are people with, like, great careers who even like six figure incomes and living in the city, they are still getting different, different forms of help.
Roma [00:14:44] Do you have a sense of how mentally tuned in parents are to these kinds of financial needs, in your experience or from what you’re seeing, is that adult kids reaching out to parents? Or is it parents sort of aware of how much more difficult it is now for kids to get those footholds?
Natasha[00:15:03] From what I’ve seen, it’s the parents like worrying, right?
So they’re like, oh, how are my kids going to get on the property ladder. You know, they may have emerged from school with boatloads of debt and they don’t want that for their children like they know. Right. They’re scared that they’re like, OK, my home’s worth a lot. But, you know, how are my kids going to be able to do this as well?
Roma:[00:15:29] Now, Rob and I did a callout back in the fall with the Carrick on Money newsletter, where we reached out to parents and young adults asking them about adult kids getting financial help from parents. The kinds of things that we asked about that were notable with, there were high percentages of adult kids that were in tough spots because of having lost income or lack of job opportunity because of the pandemic. And they had been receiving help with everything from cell phone bills to groceries, helping cover rent or mortgage. How commonplace is that?
Natasha[00:16:12] I think that’s fairly common. I think that’s less spoken about, so I think when people are receiving help in the form of a down payment because it is more common or their parents are helping with school, it is more common. I think when it comes to some of the other kinds of help, it’s a little more quiet because there’s a lot of embarrassment around that kind of help.
Roma[00:16:39] And when you say embarrassment, do you mean from the end of the parents or from the young adults?
Natasha[00:16:44] I would say from the young adults. So what I’ve seen with my clients is that they’re pretty forthcoming about help that they’ve received from mortgage and so on and so forth. But when I see a line item that is like some sort of income from parents, they feel pretty conflicted about it, like they’re so grateful that I wouldn’t be making it. But man I want to make it on my own. Like, I don’t want to be reliant on this. And right now I’m relying on it.
Roma[00:17:14] And in terms of the parents, how do they feel about providing the help? Sort of resigned, eager to help? I mean, there is definitely this sense that everyone is doing it. So is it just not and not a thing anymore?
Natasha[00:17:28] I think it’s more of a sense of resignation. You know, like I think I think parents that are in a position to help like that and sometimes they are sometimes sometimes they’re actually not. And they may be using their own sort of ability to borrow to to be able to extend that help. It’s more of a sense of resignation when it comes to that sort of emergency help, but they are doing it like absolutely willingly. Right, it’s totally willing I because and typically I see it when they’re young kids, you know, so it’s a family. They have young kids and they’re, you know, it’s just all hands on deck.
Roma: Well, those are tough, you know, to just get through it. Yeah.
Natasha: Divorce can be a major setback where the family steps in. I’ve seen that as well a number of times, where divorce just leaves things in such a mess that the parents step in to help. Because the alternative is is a financial setback that their kids would take so much longer to recover from.
Roma:[00:18:46] It’s interesting because to me what you’re describing is a real shift that’s happened over a generation or perhaps longer. I think the parental help when young adults were going to school at university, even perhaps when they were just launching into that first career job, was sort of the norm. But what you’re describing now is parental help extending to much older ages.
Natasha[00:19:13] Oh, yeah, much, much older, like mid 30s. Early 40s, depending on what the life event is, you know, that happens I mean, there are even things like, you know, another thing that I see is sort of like an early, wealth, sort of a transfer. You know, people have like massive mortgages or the parents sort of retire and downsize. There may be a large cash gift that happens, you know, a couple hundred thousand to help take the edge off of the massive mortgage. Lots of things. I think, you know, when you’re sort of looking at people looking around and thinking, oh, everyone has just sort of made it on their own, but it’s such a myth.
Roma[00:20:02] Absolutely. It’s a false narrative and it’s one of the things that I think that in personal finance, in this whole arena, that there’s not enough discussion and awareness of how much help is flowing from older generations to younger. Is there a point at which you see sort of in your mind, a red flag go up? You know, where you’re where you’re seeing money going back and forth or going one way and you think, you know what this is concerning? And if so, what is that point?
Natasha [00:20:40] I would say the point is where the parents are having to borrow large sums. If the parents still have a mortgage, for example, they’re having to take money out to finance something for their kids, if it’s an ongoing issue with some sort of life expenses, that’s not temporary in nature and the closer to retirement the parents are, the more concerning it becomes when I see it just for their own financial security. Because, you know, people in their early fifties, mid 50s, you know, there may be who knows how far away from retirement they are and when they’re borrowing money to give this kind of help, what they’re doing is they’re banking on being able to work to a certain age. And I’ve seen people’s bodies retire them before. They’re actually fully ready to retire or just they just sort of hit a wall sometimes, you know, they’re planning to work and they’re like, no, I’m just going to do what I’ve got to get through it. And then they just hit a wall. They’re like, I can’t. do this anymore. I’ve got to stop. So that is some hard decisions have to be made. So those those would be, you know, as a planner, I don’t like to see that just because that window of recovery is so can be so short.
Roma[00:22:13] No, it’s concerning when you see older parents doing things like taking on debt or or making financial sacrifices that will be difficult for them to recover from.
Natasha: Yeah, sometimes the kids don’t know
Roma: How common is that, that parents and kids are not talking about their financial details?
Natasha:[00:22:32] Oh, man, so common, so, so, so common. Secrecy in families about money is, you know, that’s it’s incredibly common, especially between generations. Right. So sometimes siblings might talk about money, but between parents to children, it’s it’s not common at all. And so when I work with my clients, I encourage them to talk with their children. I don’t necessarily encourage the children to go ask their parents about their financial situation. So I usually talk to the parents to say, you know, it’s important, you know, particularly you’re planning your retirement planning, your estate. You know, you have to have these sorts of conversations. So it doesn’t mean, like, totally total financial nakedness, like the way you would with your, like, entering into like a life partnership with someone. Like, it doesn’t have to be that level of transparency. But the broad strokes, you know, I think the broad strokes are really important.
Roma:[00:23:46] It seems to me that there’s going to be a lot of young adults struggling because of this pandemic. And in the wake of this pandemic, there’s going to be small businesses that have failed. There’s going to be job losses. I’d like to tackle this idea that it’s embarrassing or shameful to accept financial help from your parents if they can afford to give it to you. What are your thoughts on that?
Natasha[00:24:11] Well, first of all, I think people need to be aware that they’re even having these thoughts. Sometimes the thoughts are so automatic, they’re like in the back of someone’s head. They’re not actually thinking those words. It could be more of a feeling in the body when they think about it, like they could have like a heaviness or a pit in their stomach. So I think step one is to acknowledge that, you know, you can’t tackle the shame without acknowledging that you’re feeling the shame. So that’s step one. And number two, the idea of having help. I hope I hope people understand that no one gets anywhere alone. Everyone has had help, like everyone has had a lucky break in which things could have gone a completely different way for them, you know?
And so if someone is in a position where they’re able to get help from their parents because of elements outside of their control. Right. Or even in their own control. Because people make mistakes. People make mistakes. You acknowledge the mistakes. You learn from those mistakes and you move on. Right. Like that’s that’s life. Right. And if there is sort of like a soft landing from that versus complete financial devastation, that’s going to take, you know, 10, 15 years to recover from. Take the help.
Roma:[00:25:47] Tell me about this idea of scaffolding,
Natasha: So scaffolding is the kind of help that leads to, you know, basically people getting ahead. So it’s the kind of help we’ve been talking about today, I guess, is we’ve talked about paying for education or down payments or even some of these parents that are able to give their kids below market rent or give it back as a gift or, you know, helping with expenses while a person gets that entry level job that’s going to lead to bigger things, just even the ability to take some of these entry level jobs or be able to have the luxury to take an internship, being able to say yes to those opportunities can be challenging without help.
Roma:[00:26:43] What impact and it might be too soon to know, but what impact do you think the pandemic is going to have on all of this, both parents ability to help their kids and kids ability to get ahead?
Natasha:[00:26:57] Well, from what I’ve seen, my older clients haven’t been too adversely impacted, but that’s a very small sample size, so I wouldn’t read too much into that as far as like, you know, trending Canada wide for people who are closer to retirement. But they tend they’ve tended to be OK. As far as the kids, that’s a totally different story. So. What I would anticipate is that whatever plans people had, like you can tack on at least two years. So you if a person has been like not everyone’s been adversely affected by the pandemic, but for those people who have, if the plan was to be self-sufficient, to move out next year, you know, maybe tack on a couple of years. If you’ve lost your job. If parents are thinking or if there’s been a situation where the help has had to be more of the day to day needs kind of help, that might actually extend for a little while longer past the point where people are able to get back into the job market just just so that they can achieve that stability so that they can. You know, build up a little bit of a contingency fund.
[00:28:34] So that the next pandemic doesn’t. Oh, God. So, you know, so but the next unexpected event that we don’t see coming right, whatever that thing is, the not on another restabilizing.
[00:28:49] Right. It’s oh, I could take a look. I’ve never been in my house for this long with my family. Oh.
[00:29:03] So yeah, I would say it’s just it’s tacking on maybe a couple of years onto whatever the financial trajectory was prior to the pandemic if a person has been adversely affected.
[00:29:16] Thanks to Natasha for all her insight, I think we can all breathe easier knowing that this kind of help is widespread and that most parents who are stepping in to help their kids are doing so because they want to and because they can. Wrapping up here are my top takeaways from this episode.
[00:29:33] One, whether or not it’s being openly discussed, many parents or helping adult kids with down payments, bills and other daily obligations know that you are not alone. Two, if you’re struggling to gain a foothold in this economy and your parents can afford to help you take the help. Three, recognize that your parents could still be saving for retirement or paying off their mortgage, if they’re offering you help, make sure they can afford it.
[00:30:03] And just like that, we are done another season of stress test.
[00:30:07] I can’t believe we’ve recorded two seasons in lockdown, Rob. Never being face to face when we started this a year ago certainly was not how I envisioned it happening. And here we are 10 months later, and I’m still in my son’s bedroom and we still haven’t been able to sit down and look at each other. I never imagined it was going to be like this.
[00:30:27] Yeah, neither did I. And we have we have overcome all technical challenges and we have done a job I’m really proud of. But I do hope that if there’s another go around that we were able to do it in the old fashioned way, looking each other in the eye and having a real conversation.
[00:30:42] You meet in person. I don’t know. That might be too much. I don’t even know if I’d be able to handle the pressure. Anyway, thank you so much to our listeners for coming along on this journey. We hope you’ve learned something and that you’re feeling more empowered to make smart financial decisions.
[00:30:58] The biggest thing is getting people to talk about money. So thank you to all the young Canadians who shared their stories with us this season.
[00:31:06] I’m Rob Carrick
And ’m Roma Luciw. This show is produced and edited by Amanda Cupido with mixing and editing by TK Matunda. And Kiran Rana is the executive producer.
[00:31:18] As always, if you like what you heard, give us a review on Apple podcast and share the show with your friends.
[00:31:24] Hope to see you soon and hopefully covid on its way out.
Commercial[00:31:39] This podcast was brought to you by CPP Investments as a member of the investment management industry. We’re committed to helping drive financial literacy among young Canadians, including providing information about our role in helping ensure the sustainability of the CPP. To learn more, visit CPP Investments Dot com.