How we’re dealing with a “financially insecure” parent

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As far as couples are concerned, we’re pretty different.

Mrs. r&R can bang through a stack of books in a week while Mr. r&R  would rather binge watch documentaries and PBS nature films.  Mrs. r&R grew up in the South with a sibling in a comfortable dual income earning household, while Mr. r&R grew up an only child to a single parent in Brooklyn, NY that fell juuust short of comfortable.

Recently, the differences in our parents and the role they play in our lives has been in the forefront of our minds.  On one hand, Mrs. r&R’s parents are building their forever home; a beautiful custom ranch-style property with more than enough space for them and their growing set of grandchildren.  On the other hand, Mr. r&R’s Mom is not doing so well financially; and she’s not alone.  According to a recent Forbes article,

“The average white family had more than $130,000 in liquid retirement savings (cash in accounts such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s and IRAs) vs. $19,000 for the average African American”. 

Like a lot of people, she was devastated by the ’08 Recession, losing significant value in her home, being downsized at her job and having to tap into her retirement savings early to get by.  That, combined with bad luck and a handful of poor financial decisions have put her in a situation that can only be described as walking on thin ice.  While most people who had investments did well in the post-recession recovery, her investments were largely depleted because she spent the money to get by.

A few years ago, this all came to a head as she decided to retire.  She didn’t really have a plan for how she would spend her time and wasn’t 100% sure how she was going to get by on just her Social Security check, but she opted to walk away from working at the tender age of 71.  After decades of working, [at times two jobs] she finally called it quits.  But it was clear this was no storybook career ending with a golden chariot ride into the sunset.

Given all we’ve learned on our journey to financial independence, we sprung into action and had an intervention.  Not some dramatic, made for TV plea to change her life but an honest, difficult and intentional step over her boundaries to build and put a financial plan into action.  After some initial resistance, she agreed to listen to us.  We helped her wrap her head around her debts, liquidate her savings, understand her spending habits and create a budget.  When it was all said and done, we gave her a simple plan to follow and a few weeks later for the first time in her life she was completely debt free.

As an added bonus, we agreed to pay her to be the primary caretaker of our son so she could earn some money to supplement her social security. It was a win-win for everyone.  But now that our son is in daycare, we knew we would have to keep our eyes open for cracks in the ship and low and behold, a few weeks ago a big one appeared.

Long story short, due to the heavy rain we’ve experienced over the past few weeks, her basement has been leaking water through cracks in the foundation.  At the same time, she received an offer from Opendoor outlining how they would buy her home.  After following up, she quickly received an official offer on her home and is likely to accept it since the proceeds from the sale would give her some much needed breathing room.

While she loves her home, she’s admittedly reached a point where the upkeep and costliness of repairs is simply not something she can absorb anymore; particularly as a single woman.  The problem is, there are no solid solutions on the table for where she would live afterwards if she sold her home.

Right now, we’re exploring moving into a a smaller house/condo, renting an apartment, moving into a senior residence community, living with a friend or some type of temporary space until we figure it all out.  Of course, simply keeping the house and dealing with the repair is an option as well.

Why are we sharing this?

Well, more than anything, it’s to highlight that we deal with real issues too.  Having more money than most doesn’t mean all our problems or our family’s problems go away.  Secondly, Mr. r&R’s Mom is one of millions of single older American’s that are financially insecure.  At any moment, an unexpected medical bill, prescription, car repair or home repair could send them into a tailspin.  But on a deeper level,

THIS is what the struggle to break multi-generational poverty looks like. Click To Tweet

At a moment in our lives where we want nothing more than to spread our wings and fly, we’re cautious because we have to consider carrying a heavier load than expected from the ghosts of a parent’s past.

This is also one of the reasons why we despise the common question/greeting asked among members of the FIRE community…”what’s your number?  This is a reference to the target value of our nest egg that will officially consider us FI [financially independent].   It’s a fair question but one that feels a bit difficult for us to answer because our number isn’t just “our number”.

Our number has to support us, our son, potentially another child and potentially an aging parent who is struggling financially.  This dynamic isn’t isolated to communities of color but they do impact those communities at significantly higher rates than our white counterparts because of the history of racial and wealth inequality in the US.

We may all be lined up to run the same mile on the same track on the same day.  But significantly more people of color have high hurdles to jump over and parachutes strapped to their backs than their white counterparts.

It's not that Black people don't understand the formulas, it's that they have more variables in their equation than others. Click To Tweet

We also share this to encourage our readers to have open, direct and frequent conversations about money with their parents, whether they’re doing well or not.  It’s easy to assume they’re doing fine, to respect the boundaries they’ve built or to deal with these matters only when it’s absolutely necessary.  However, delaying or avoiding the conversation with your parents almost certainly introduces a mountain of  stress into what could have been a simpler conversation.  Things are even worse if you add an unexpected illness, death or if some dirtbag has already taken advantage of them.

What does this mean for us?

We’d be lying if we said this additional layer of complexity doesn’t introduce an element of stress in our lives as well.  However, it brings us back to why we’re pursuing FIRE in the first place.  If we weren’t financially literate then we wouldn’t have the tools or resources to help her. At the same time, knowing that at any given moment, we might have to swoop in to financially support her puts us on edge a bit.  Particularly now that we’re down to one income, have incurred expenses to repair our properties and are incurring more to build this platform.

But luckily, we also thought about this years ago.  One of the underlying reasons why we were interested in owning rental real estate is because we knew that if we had to, we could always move her into a rental property.  While it would cut off some much appreciated cash flow, it would enable her to save hundreds of dollars a month and provide a much needed degree of stability.  There are a few options to consider before we even get there but it’s good to have those cards to play if we had to.


  1. We are so lucky that both sides of our family won’t need any help from us, but more extended family absolutely could. I can’t imagine having the money to live comfortably and NOT help family when they’re struggling, but it sure adds a whole extra level to reaching financial independence.

    • We can’t imagine not helping if we can either. But it’s TOUGH because at some point you have to draw the line. We haven’t quite figured out where that is yet.

      • So glad I found this post off of 1500Days. I’m in the same boat, but with both of my parents. It’s hard to figure out where the line is, I want to enjoy my life, have my FIRE goals, but I can’t in good conscience ignore each of my parent’s situations. You’ve got a new reader…

  2. We need more talks like this! Financial insecurity growing up is my number one motivator for dealing with my own money life, and now that I’m on firm footing, dealing with the emotional and financial realities of a parent with money issues is a big huge stressor for me. I’m finding however, that the more that I crack open talking with my in-laws (who look much more secure from the outside than my own parent) there’s a lot of trouble brewing on that side too! My own parent is starting to look at me like a piggy bank to break open often, and I’m working on having better boundaries. My in-laws pay TWO internet (100+/mo) bills because they are too confused by tech to get new email accounts. Just talking budgets with either side of our parents is a huge hurdle, but anytime anyone starts talking about feeling stressed about money, they know what’s going to come out of my mouth… I sound like a broken record when I tell them that when you have “more time than money, then it pays to spend time looking at what you’re spending.”

  3. Thank you very much for sharing this and appreciate the discussion on the impacts of systemic racism and multi-generational poverty. This is something that I’ve been thinking about lately the privilege that my FI number, as a white person, is mine (for the most part), but others are more likely to have family members or other people in their lives to support.

    I also appreciate the push to step over the comfort zone line. We very much expect that we’ll need to support our mother-in-law in the future but haven’t been brave enough to discuss finances with her. This post gave us a push.

    Jessica (aka Mrs. Fioneer)

    • Hi Jessica,

      Thank you so much for the comment. We’re happy to hear that you’ve given this some thought. Not giving it though is unavoidable for us but as you can see, we haven’t let it get in the way of our plans. This particular issue is the “elephant in the room” for many people of color and one of the reasons why they believe pursuing FI is so out reach. We hope to change that.

      It may take longer, it may not be as sexy…but we believe it’s possible. Keep pushing up there :).

  4. Very similar scenario over at Even Steven Money’s parents, with a few steps behind your parents financial situation. It’s a tough road for them, makes pursuing a better financial life now really hit home.

  5. Nice blog! I started a blog 6 months ago at 67 and am looking for blogs that I can learn from. I know it is hard work and often frustrating. I will give a good try even though I know I don’t have as much ‘time’.

  6. My now-ex in-laws were a mess financially. We gave them relatively cheap rent for our guest house ($400 out of $3,300 a month income) for years, and I found out when I decided to divorce my husband that they had $0 saved and even had some minor credit card debt. It was maddening. Anyway, kudos to you for taking care of your family. Clearly you guys are loving, responsible and forward-thinking, which are some of the keys to success.

  7. Thank you for sharing. This effects so many families and is hard to talk about. Our FI number also covers three people! You are we were 10 years ago. I would suggest NOT moving her into your property. Use the income from it to help her rent somewhere. It’s hard having someone who has proven to be irresponsible living in a property in your name. (Like she took the smoke detector down and I found it 6 months later, or we’ve gotten fines from the hoa because she doesn’t follow instructions). But it is also a hard thing to undo once she’s living there. The property my MIL is living in is tanking. The neighborhood is changing, the HOA is in debt. But she doesn’t want to move so we are continuing to loose value. I wish we did something (anything) other than move her into one of our properties. Best of luck to your family!

    • Completely agree and sorry for the headache you’ve been dealing with. Moving her into our rental just didn’t make sense to us but thankfully we’ve had some recent development to her situation… Good news!

  8. Hi! Got here from the 1500 Days interview, which I really enjoyed. Great article, and we are working through a similar situation with my mother-in-law. Any thoughts about a follow-up article on how you approached the “honest, difficult and intentional step over her boundaries” conversation & process? I understand every situation and personality are different, but any ideas or concepts about how to even start something like that would be great. Dealing with spreadsheets and money is easy, dealing with people is hard…

    • Hi Kristen! Yes, there will likely be a follow up to this article since there have been some recent developments. We get this question often and our advice is typically the same. Start early, be patient and chip away slowly. Just like anything else, you should give them some time to come around, fall off the wagon and come back again. We’ve been at this for almost 5 years now and have seen major improvements on both sides of the family but every now and then we get a real head-scratcher as if “it all went in one ear and out the other”. In the meantime, do what you can to learn about how to protect yourself so you don’t get pulled into something crazy.

  9. I’m sorry I missed this the first time around but glad I found it later on!

    I feel this struggle so innately having supported both my parents starting in my teens straight through to my 30s. I’d still be doing so now if Mom were still alive but it would have been incredibly complicated because perhaps I would have learned the truth about my Dad and struggled even further to figure out how to support one parent without allowing the other one to suck us dry. From the time I was a child, I “knew” I’d be supporting my parents to some degree and that informed my initial workaholism early in my career. I don’t know whether we’ll need to support a parent again later in our lives, or aunts/uncles who never had children, beloved cousins, etc, but that’s something we’ll always be braced for.

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