Parents spend twice as much on adult children than they save for retirement

  • Seventy-nine percent of parents still provide financial help to their adult children.
  • The total spending — including undergraduate education and everyday expenses — comes to $500 billion annually, while parents are socking away just $250 billion a year in their retirement accounts.
  • Parents who are giving money to adult children still need to stick to a budget and should not neglect their own retirement savings.

Parents spend $500 billion annually on their adult children. But they're only putting $250 billion away per year toward their own retirement.

That is according to a new study from Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, which takes a look at how parents engage with their children financially.

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If you're one of the parents who is still giving money to your adult children, you're not alone. To that point, 79 percent of parents continue to provide funding to their adult children, the research found.

Teenager allowance financial education
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"It's not unusual to understand why parents want to do whatever they can for their children of all ages," said Lisa Margeson, managing director and head of retirement client experience and communications at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "What was very concerning is that about a quarter were willing to pull money from a retirement account to support their adult children."

That $500 billion in spending includes undergraduate education and everyday living expenses.

Groceries and food accounted for $54 billion annually, while cell phone service comprised $18 billion.

Other areas where parents provided help include car expenses, vacations, rent or mortgage payments and student loans.

The $500 billion tally did not include graduate education, weddings or down payments for home purchases.

Today's young adults, ages 18 to 34, were more likely to live with their parents than were previous generations. Thirty-one percent of early adults live with their parents today, which is 50 percent higher than in 1960.

Once children enter early adulthood, it's about setting limits and keeping to them.

"Stick to a budget as best you can," Margeson said. "Understand the expenses you're paying. Try to keep an emergency fund. And definitely continue contributing to your HSA, 401(k) or IRA."

Having regular discussions about money, even before children reach adulthood, also helps to instill healthy savings and budgeting habits.

If you have difficulty discussing money with your adult children, consider looping in a financial advisor or other expert, Margeson said.

The research is based on a survey conducted in June that included more than 2,500 individuals ages 18 and up who are parents.

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