Every month, 26-year-old Parween Mander makes sure she sets aside some money in case her parents need help with their expenses. It’s something she’s been doing since she was a teenager.
“My earliest memory was when I was 15 and had to give [my parents] $800 to cover a housing expense,” says the Vancouver-based accredited financial counsellor. “From that point on, and especially when I started my career, I’ve always contributed as a lender and safety net for my parents.”
Depending on the month, Ms. Mander might cover property taxes, housing repairs or groceries, and will regularly pay her parents’ credit card debt. “I know that carrying a balance on a credit card is expensive, which is why I offer to pay it off,” she says. “I try to encourage my parents to save up before purchasing, [but that] isn’t always realistic.”
By now, we’ve all heard about the Bank of Mom and Dad. We know parents are financially supporting their adult children, even more so since COVID-19 disrupted the labour market and sent house prices soaring.
But there is also a significant number of young adults who are helping their parents financially. Although there’s a lack of Canadian data, a 2015 survey by TD Ameritrade found that a quarter of American baby boomers were responsible for supporting at least one other adult during the previous 12 months, and for 76 per cent of those people, that included an adult child.
But younger adults weren’t that far behind – 20 per cent of millennials supported another adult during the same period, almost always a parent. And while the average financial supporter provided US$12,000 a year, millennials provided quite a bit more: US$18,000.
This aligns with a 2019 Buzzfeed investigation that analyzed U.S. census data from 2016 and found 1.4 million American millennials supported their parents, a number that was “statistically indistinguishable from the number of boomers supporting their adult children in the same year.”
And it’s happening in Canada, too. Liz Enriquez, a personal finance educator from Hamilton, says she sees this phenomenon most commonly among the children of immigrants. “They either live at home longer to help with rent, manage their [parents’] finances and paperwork, or are responsible for taking care of their parents in retirement,” she says.
That’s the case for Ms. Mander, who is South Asian. “Building my net worth and growing my business is in part so that I can help others around me financially – especially family,” she says. “It’s a responsibility a lot of children of immigrant parents face [because] we come from collectivist cultures where taking care of our elders is an expectation.”
But while Ms. Mander has been able to build a business and prioritize savings, her relationship with money hasn’t always been healthy. Having to advocate for her parents from her teen years taught her that “having money meant having security, power and control, and not having money meant not having any of [those things], which scared me,” she says.
“It was a double-edged sword. It made me feel empowered to take control of my finances, but I was also constantly worried about my parents’ financial situation.”
She has also had to learn that it’s okay to spend money, something that made her feel anxious for years.
And though Ms. Mander makes enough money that helping her parents isn’t financially burdensome, that’s not the case for everyone. These expenses can affect young adults’ ability to pay down their own debt and save for home ownership, according to Alim Dhanji, a senior financial planner at Assante Financial Management in Vancouver who also volunteers within the Ismaili community, helping newcomers learn more about financial literacy.
It’s hard to tell whether COVID has led to an uptick in young adults helping their parents, though it has almost certainly led to additional stress for those who already offer financial support. But, Mr. Dhanji says, it doesn’t have to be that way.
He recommends starting with a family meeting so children can get a handle on their parents’ situation. “How much debt is on the books? Are there any savings or temporary savings they can tap into, or lines of credit that they can access temporarily? Just knowing where everything is and how it’s all set up is really important,” he says.
From there, both children and parents should rank their debt from most expensive to least expensive, which will make it easier to prioritize, and create a budget, which helps avoid overspending on discretionary expenses. One thing children shouldn’t do, though, is join their finances with their parents’.
“You don’t want to be on the same mortgage or on any other types of loans, because that could potentially impact your future ability to get a mortgage or line of credit,” Mr. Dhanji says. “You would want your own credit rating to be as solid as possible.”
For some families, intergenerational living also helps. According to Statistics Canada, multigenerational homes (at least three generations of the same family) were the fastest-growing type of household in Canada between 2001 and 2016, and it’s likely COVID accelerated this trend.
Last summer, a survey from Finder.com revealed that more than 278,000 parents moved in with their adult children because of the pandemic. Not surprisingly, a significantly higher number of Canadian adults (1.5 million) had moved back home with their parents owing to the pandemic, but some opted to keep their apartments, suggesting those moves weren’t necessarily about saving money.
Ms. Mander has always lived at home, and likely won’t move out until she’s married, which she knows is a privilege. But it also contributes to her ability to help her parents now and in the future, something she wants to do, even though it can sometimes feel overwhelming. “They’ve worked so hard to provide us the opportunity to live in a country like Canada,” she says. “I don’t want their sacrifice and hard work to be for nothing.”
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