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Help! My parents are overspending

Chances are your parents taught you the value of a dollar. Is it time to return the favor?

By Jun 2, 2014 12:47PM
This post comes from Gerri Detweiler at partner site on MSN MoneyIt's been decades since your parents taught you about spending and saving, and now their behavior makes you wonder if they've forgotten everything they taught you. And yet they might see your questioning as an intrusion. What's a perplexed adult child to do?

Senior Couple Sitting Together on a Plane © Digital Vision/Getty ImagesFinancial planner Keith Klein, of Turning Pointe Financial Management in Phoenix, says he's seen it before, and most changes in spending can be traced to one of two things. The happier one is a "bout of euphoria."

That often happens in early retirement, when parents have the time to re-engage, or engage at a deeper level, in an old passion. Examples would be working out more often and hiring a personal trainer, spending more on photography equipment or taking classes and buying equipment related to those.

Klein saw his own father go through such a change in spending. His mother died when she was 48; when his dad began to date, he spent a good deal more on dinner and entertainment. So a positive uptick, Klein said, is generally a result of something good, like retirement, or a negative turned into a positive, such as recovering from divorce or death of a spouse.

Other times, people who've spent their lives being frugal feel like the "someday" they've saved and sacrificed for has finally arrived.  Some may be right, Klein said, but others may need to talk with a financial planner about "longevity risk." A splurge isn't a bad thing if the parent has the resources. However, adult children frequently do not have a realistic idea about their parents' finances, Klein said. It's easy to see their resources as unlimited (or to at least hope there's enough) and to want to see them enjoy life or check off one more thing on a bucket list. In truth, some older people are spending more than they can afford and are taking on debt). 

When it's cause for concern

A change in spending isn't always celebratory; it can also indicate that something is amiss. It can signal depression, a gambling habit, drinking too much, or it can tip you off that a parent is being scammed. (It might be time for you to take a role in managing their finances.) It could also be a sign of dementia. Klein said in the latter case, there is frequently denial on both sides.

"I had one client who thought her husband was beginning to have issues with dementia ... she thought it had been going on for about six months. She asked friends if they had noticed a change, and they said, yeah, things had seemed different for about the past 12 to 18 months."

So when spending patterns change, Klein recommends asking their friends and neighbors, "Is there something I'm missing?" He said that what adult children want to watch for is something that seems out of character or a big change from the person's usual decision-making process. An example might be a homebody who loves to garden deciding to take a trip around the world.

Trudy Schuett, who chairs the Regional Council on Aging for Western Arizona, said it's important for adult children to find out what's driving a sudden change. If Dad buys a new car when there's no need, or Mom decides to give away a vacation cottage, that may be a sign the adult child needs to visit and spend some time figuring out what's going on. "You may feel you can't tell a parent what to do... but a child does have a responsibility to get the help (the parents) need," and to do that you may have to do a bit of detective work, Schuett said. "This is no time for concern over hurt feelings or worry on the child's part 
that maybe they're sticking their nose in where they don't belong," she added. "The Area 
Agency on Aging in the state where the parents or children reside is a good
 place to start for information on early symptoms of Alzheimer's or several other conditions that can cause radical changes in behavior."

Still, if a parent prefers not to discuss personal finances with you, there's not a lot you can do about it. Klein said his own father would occasionally run an investment idea past his financial-planner son, but that he did not share details of his own financial situation until he was aware that he was near the end of life. Klein said that's not at all uncommon for members of the Greatest Generation. (At the risk of painting with a really broad brush: "The Depression-era people never talked about money. The Greatest Generation were great savers but didn't talk about money. The baby boomers spent it all. And Generation Xers are more open to a dialogue," Klein said.)

Protecting your children

Schuett said one thing middle-aged adult children can do is to keep their own children from facing the same situation. "In your 50s, have a conversation with your children . . . and make sure your wishes are on paper, and that all your children understand."

Decide how comfortable you are sharing personal information with them. Is it OK for your doctors to share information? Would you want to have them to be able to monitor your bank accounts? How about checking your credit scores and credit reports with you? Someone should have power of attorney to make decisions if you are unable to do so. That sort of direction makes a tough situation easier on adult children, Schuett said. "That way, they know what you expect of them."

You can check your parents' credit scores with them by setting up accounts at; that will give your parents two scores every month. A big change in the numbers could indicate something is amiss and should be checked further. You can also go over their credit reports with them (here's how to get their credit reports for free), to be sure the information in accurate. These steps can help detect identity theft as well as alert you to changes in spending patterns.

More from

Jun 2, 2014 1:41PM
As long as my mom isn't spending herself into financial oblivion, and has enough to last her to the end of her life, it's hers to spend as she pleases..... I certainly have no designs on that money, she worked very hard her whole life for that, and I hope she is able to afford everything she wants to buy, or wants to do... God bless her.
Jun 2, 2014 1:39PM
If my kids told me I was spending to much I would ask them to repay me for all the thousands I've given to them over the years.
Jun 2, 2014 1:41PM
DUH! Do i have to say "it is their money" isn't it? Sounds like a greedy bunch of spoiled brats hoping to collect enough to not have to work and make their own living.
Jun 2, 2014 1:50PM
I don't think it's usually a matter of greedy relatives. People are more worried about relatives being scammed, or having dementia. and with dementia, very often they don't go downhill fast - it can be a very long process, years, where they slowly decline, but all the while are making poor decisions, financial and otherwise. Society had better wise up and deal with this problem, because we're living longer and there is no cure in sight for alzheimer's.
Jun 2, 2014 3:13PM
My mom went on serve real cruises, chartered bye trips and a train trip.  She use to joke that she was spending my inheritances.  I was happy she was spending money on herself.  As long as she was able to pay her bills I would have no business what she spent her money on.  She did die and did leave a small amount of money to me, but she enjoyed her life until she couldn't travel anymore
Jun 2, 2014 2:17PM

Don't think of your parents money as your potential windfall.  Their lives are their own and end in the funeral parlor. Hopefully they spend their last dime the day they pass.

God bless the child that's got his own.


Jun 2, 2014 2:29PM
More baby boomer bashing!  The "Greatest Generation" had company retirement plans and social security.  The "baby boomers" got caught in the change over.  We thought we would be able to retire as our parents had, but company retirement plans started disappearing, and suddenly in our 40s we were told we should have been saving for our retirement from the time we started working.  Individual retirement plans came into being and many of use started investing in IRAs, but many, like myself, lost our investments due to poor advisers and market conditions.  We got a late start on saving but that doesn't mean we spent it all.
Jun 2, 2014 1:29PM
Help! My government is spending too much !
Impeach Obama now !!
Jun 2, 2014 1:32PM

Its their money.  Stop being greedy and let them do what they want with it.


Stop crying about how someone who worked all their lives won't give to their whiny crybaby greedy liberal children or grandchildren.


libs are never happy when someone has more than them even if its their own parents!!!

Jun 2, 2014 1:47PM
Seriously, cut out the political crap.
I think one of the things you people are missing is what if your parents need care in their advanced age? Hospitals and nursing homes charge a *lo* of money, and frankly, I do think it's your own responsibility to make sure you have money set aside for such an issue. Funerals cost a lot of money, too. My great-grandmother, bless her, she worked while sick with cancer, saved enough money to cover her medical expenses, the funeral expenses, and even bought the grandchildren Christmas gifts before she passed away. While I do think you should have fun and spend your money the way you want, I really hope that you are taking care of your remaining responsibilities and not leaving it for your children. They didn't ask to be brought into the world, they didn't ask for your burdens.
Jun 2, 2014 3:13PM
Its not that it isn't their money to spend and enjoy, but if they suddenly change their lifelong habits, you really need to check into things. Its real easy for your loved ones to get roped into mail scams, or just to start buying every offer that comes through the mail at an exorbitant price.
Jun 2, 2014 4:14PM
I'm 70 years old, have almost one million in the bank and I'm spending like there's no tomorrow because there might not be one. My kids are wondering what's going to be left for them.... WHAT??? -- go get a job, work you butt off as I did all my life. Now -- it's play time.
Jun 2, 2014 2:10PM
It's the parents money; they've earned it and they have every right to handle it however they see fit. If the children are worried more about their inheritances than their parents stability then they should back off. I would tell my children it is none of their business if they approached me about my spending habits. I know what I can afford to spend and what I cannot. Somehow, I managed to get to retirement age by hard work and planning and I plan on enjoying the fruits of my labor however I choose. Have a great day everyone!
Jun 2, 2014 2:52PM
When people get old and their legs don't work, and their eyes don't work, and they hurt all over the only rush of happiness  they get is spending money. This is OK if they have a great retirement fund and extra cash to spend but if their credit cards are maxed and their house looks like a hoarder house that is cause to be concerned. And seniors don't realize that if they have to go into a home, they have to pay for it. Insurance does not.  A retirement home can cost $3,000-$6,000 a month. $36,000-$72,000 a year. If they sell their house how long would their money last paying for this retirement home? What happens to them if their money runs out?
Jun 2, 2014 3:07PM
My mother gets to decide how to spend her money.  As long as she is with it and is obviously taking care of herself and her bills, who cares?  I want her to enjoy her life.  If there is something left in the end and she wants to share that with her kids, that is her choice and no one else's!  I really don't like watching the "kids" sitting around dwelling on their parents money like they somehow deserve it.
Jun 2, 2014 3:52PM

Just call me Blessed! My only 2 children, both hard-working and self-supporting, each encouraged my wife and I - on separate occasions - to spend our money enjoying our retirement and don’t think about leaving anything for them. It almost brings me to tears; especially when I look at some of the lazy, selfish ingrates some of our friends have raised.

Jun 2, 2014 3:20PM

Let me begin with I am exceptionally grateful for what my parents provided for me and do not in any way begrudge them all the happiness they deserve in their golden years and I do not expect an inheritance - by all means, ENJOY IT!  However, that being said, my father has been irrationally irresponsible with his finances post retirement, living as if everyday is his last and he has no need to plan on having expenses.  His moto is that he earned his retirement funds and wants to enjoy them.  A boat seemed like a nice way for him to spend his time and would have been ok if it had stopped there but it didn't. Everytime we turn around there is another purchase.  he is going through his savings like water and we fear a long happy retirement will not be in his future if he continues down this road.  Planning only goes so far if the planning stops when the spending starts.

Jun 2, 2014 2:47PM
My father left me a small inheritance. Plan to leave mine at least as much with inflation added.  Ideally, each generation should leave the next better off than they were both financially and education. Otherwise, the US will become another  basket case like most of countries on the globe.
Jun 2, 2014 5:36PM
As long as the retired folks are budgeting, so they don't run out of money and end up having to mooch off of their kids, grandkids, or the government (us all) then I'm fine with whatever choices they make. There are plenty of retired folks who blow their money on extravagant things early on in the assumption they won't live or be able to travel much longer and then end up in a bind from not planning for the unexpected (such as how long they'll live, how much their medical expenses will be when they get terminally ill, etc. etc.). Some kids worry about inheritance, but I think many comments on this forum are throwing out paranoia that all kids are spoiled money hungry brats who are conspiring against their parents haha. I'm 28, saving aggressively for my own retirement, and my parents have had open dialogue (though vague) about their plans in retirement and how well off they'll be in retirement, which helps me relax knowing they are ok. Most kids want their parents to live comfortably the entire duration of their retirement as opposed to the first 10 years and many don't want their parents to slide into poverty for questionable spending. I personally don't have any ill will toward someone's kid expressing concerns and opening dialogue if they are truly worried. Like it or not, but a parent's actions, even in retirement, can have consequences that can be worrisome to their children.
Jun 2, 2014 7:08PM
My problem was getting my parents to spend more money on themselves before they passed away. They worked hard for their money and should have spent way more than they did.
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