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Adult children are eating into parents' retirement savings: Study

Key Points
  • About half of parents with children over 18 say that they’ve put their own retirement savings on the backburner to help their kids, a Bankrate.com survey found.
  • College expenses aren’t the only costs that are draining parents’ resources. Kids’ car payments, cell phone bills and housing expenses add to the stress.
  • Not ready to cut your children off cold turkey? Work together to reach a compromise.
Sue Barr | Image Source | Getty Images

If you thought the Bank of Mom and Dad closed its doors after the kids have grown up, think again.

The average cost of raising a child to age 18 is estimated to be $233,610, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The expenses continue long after your child has entered adulthood.

Half of parents participating in a recent Bankrate.com survey said that they've sacrificed their own retirement savings in order to help their grown children with their finances.

There are people who will put their retirement on the backburner just to have their kids living at home, even if they aren't paying rent.
Doug Oosterhart
certified financial planner and founder of LifePoint Planning

The personal finance site polled 890 adults in April. The participants had at least one child who's 18 years old or over.

Even parents with higher incomes curtailed their retirement savings. Six out of 10 parents said they've jeopardized their retirement savings in order to help their kids pay the bills.

"We found that higher earners are more likely to sacrifice retirement savings," said Kelly Anne Smith, a Bankrate.com analyst. "It's a trend spanning across all different households."

College expenses

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Three out of 10 parents with kids who are currently in college or who have recently graduated said they may have to postpone retirement because they pitched in for higher education, according to a 2018 survey by Discover Student Loans.

College expenses only constitute a portion of the bills parents are paying.

More than half of parents whose kids are between 18 and 34 are covering at least part of their cell phone bill, according to data from Bank of America.

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Six out of 10 continue to buy food for their grown children, Bank of America found. Nearly 30 percent are paying down Junior's student loans.

"There are people who will put their retirement on the backburner just to have their kids living at home, even if they aren't paying rent," said Doug Oosterhart, a certified financial planner and founder of LifePoint Planning in East Lansing, Michigan.

"In extreme cases, they're not really saving anything for retirement," he said.

Reaching a compromise

Pascal Broze | Getty Images

Instead of abruptly cutting your kids off, Oosterhart recommends gradually turning off support and redirecting that cash toward your retirement savings.

Here are a few steps to consider.

• Set limits: Reach a compromise with your child to keep him or her accountable.

For instance, Oosterhart has a client with three kids in college and a high-schooler. She needs to save for retirement, but she also wants to help her kids with their higher education.

"An interesting idea we came up with involves having the kids use loans for college and then her potentially helping with the monthly payment as the kids demonstrate their work ethic and get jobs," Oosterhart said.

• Get organized: Tally the bills you're paying and see where you can rein in the expenses and what your child can cover. "The communication is 'Here's when the phone bill payment stops and how you can start paying for it,'" said Oosterhart.

• Be realistic: It's one thing to save responsibly in a tax-advantaged 529 college savings plan. It's an entirely different issue if you're putting money away for your child at the expense of your own retirement.

"You can borrow your way through school, but you can't borrow through retirement," Oosterhart said.

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