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How Boomers' Generosity Hurts Their Retirement

Kimberly Palmer

In a poignant scene in HBO's Girls, the parents of a young twentysomething living in New York inform her that they will no longer be giving her money every month. She will need to get a job and learn how to support herself. Hannah, the twentysomething, protests. She later returns to her parents' hotel room to beg them to reconsider. Her mother refuses. She's worked hard, she tells her daughter, and as a college professor close to retirement, she deserves a comfortable retirement, along with the lake house she's always wanted.

As young adults struggle to find their footing in this economy, often turning to their parents for help, many baby boomer parents find themselves trapped between their own financial security and that of their children. A new survey from Ameriprise Financial found that over half of boomers have allowed their grown children to move back home with them rent-free, despite the fact that their own financial stability has deteriorated over the last five years.

The survey reveals that many baby boomer parents are feeling simultaneous pressure to help their aging parents and struggling children, and shore up their own savings and investments as retirement approaches. Many of them are also unable to work as long as they planned, which further hurts them financially, says Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial. "Boomers are feeling significantly less confident that they can maintain their lifestyle and retire on time," she says.

These six emerging trends explain why baby boomers feel so financially squeezed:

1. Baby boomers feel financial pressure from all sides. In addition to their own investments being knocked down during the recession, many boomers were forced to retire earlier than planned due to job loss or health issues, which hurt their earnings. At the same time, they want to help their adult children, many of whom are struggling in today's job market, as well as their own parents.

"We're seeing boomers under a great deal of pressure to help other family members," says de Baca. In the survey, 4 in 10 boomers said it was important for them to help their children or grandchildren pay for college. Just over 2 in 10 said it was important for them to help provide financial security for their parents.

2. Boomers feel more pressure to support their adult children than they did five years ago. "Parents have always helped their kids with college and education, but now it seems to be increasing pretty significantly," says de Baca. "It's not just college, but prolonged support," she adds. Over half of boomers said they worry their children won't have enough financial resources to fund a financially secure retirement.

3. Boomers don't realize that the help they give to family members is hurting their own financial situation. Just 10 percent of boomers say the help they provide their parents is slowing down their own retirement savings, and 1 in 3 said the same about the support they give their grown children. But de Baca says the impact is probably far more widespread than that--people often just don't realize it. "They're not necessarily taking money out of a qualified retirement account, but that's just one element of the complete retirement picture," she says. In fact, even inviting a child to live at home can have a negative affect on savings, she adds.

Five years ago, 44 percent of boomers said they were working on increasing their savings, while today, just 1 in 4 say they are doing so. Prioritizing their own retirement savings over other demands isn't easy; over half of boomers say they would help a parent afford long-term care insurance before putting more money into their own retirement accounts.

4. Boomers are less ready for retirement than they were five years ago. Only 1 in 3 boomers say they are very confident in their own financial security. In 2007, 39 percent of boomers said they were very optimistic about their own financial futures. This year, just 17 percent of respondents said the same.

5. Families avoid awkward money conversations, which can compound financial strain. While boomers and their adult children alike say they are talking about money issues more than they were five years ago, many are still shying away from what they fear could be uncomfortable discussions. Half of boomers said they were taught growing up that money is something one doesn't talk about. "They also feel like it's none of their business--'I haven't talked to my aging parents, they're very private, I shouldn't bother them' ... but the truth is, money is a family affair, and if you don't address it now, you'll have to address it later," says de Baca.

6. Parents think it's their own fault that their children don't know how to manage money. De Baca says that even though many parents feel they missed their opportunity to impart money lessons when their children were younger, it's not too late to start. She urges parents to talk to their adult children about budgeting, planning, and even retirement planning. For parents of younger children, she says, it's never too early to begin those conversations. Over half of adult children in the survey said they wished money had been discussed more openly when they were growing up.

The guilt baby boomer parents feel over not having imparted financial lessons earlier might motivate them to give their children more money--which could further prevent those children from learning how to live on a budget.

Twitter: @alphaconsumer

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