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Ever wondered how prioritizing kid’s needs above your own might kill your retirement dreams?

Last month, I found out exactly what happens firsthand. During a regular financial coaching session, I interviewed a couple we’ll call “Don and Betty.”  While Don and Betty were awesome and fun to be around, they were harboring a shameful secret.

Not only had they refinanced their house four times, but they had put their retirement dreams on the backburner. After saving less than they should for a lifetime, they were quickly easing into panic mode. In short, they didn’t have enough money retire, despite being in their 60’s.

The couple placed blame on the fact they were supporting adult “children” for many years – paying for some of their college education, and even gas in their cars! Of course, the shameful “secret” is, these kids were actually ages 28, 26, and 21. In other words, they were full-fledged adults.

Torn Parents with Tough Decisions

According to financial planner Joseph Carbone of FocusPlanningGroup.net, aging parents supporting adult kids is actually fairly commonplace. For some reason, the mentality around supporting adult kids has shifted over the last decade – and not necessarily for the better.

While each situation is different, several underlying reasons play a role. , many parents want to help their kids avoid debt. And as Joshua Brein of BreinWealthManagement.com, weddings are often financed on the backs of cash-strapped parents as well.

Then there are young adults who hit hard times. National unemployment for millennials is higher than the average of other age groups — making good jobs few and far between. Further, many educated millennials languish in low-wage jobs that hold them back from building wealth.

All of these issues combined have created the backdrop for the situation we’re in now. By and large, far too many parents are putting off retirement savings to help their kids.

Unfortunately, disastrous consequences are on their way.

When Parents Choose Kids Over Retirement

There are myriad problems that come with supporting adult kids as you reach retirement, including our limited resources as parents. Unless you’re absolutely rich, there’s only so much money to go around. In many cases, supporting your kids draws away from the financial resources you’ll need later, says Brein.

Worse, you might be helping kids build bad habits.

“Giving money to your kids might mean setting them up for failure,” says financial advisor Benjamin Brandt of RetirementStartsToday.com. If you never let your adult kids make a mistake and recover on their own, they might never learn the art of resilience. They may even learn to rely on you to solve all their problems.

If you’re like Don and Betty and make this mistake for years, you could approach retirement age with a shocking lack of funds. What then?

Obviously, the end game here is more misery — but for everyone this time.

“Once you run out of retirement funds, you will gradually become an impoverished burden to your already needy children, says Brandt.

Why You Have to Put Your Retirement Goals First

No matter how old your children are, the lesson is the same: You have to make retirement savings a priority. Once a roof is over your head and everyone is adequately clothed and properly insured, your priority should be getting your retirement on track.

With college, weddings, and life happening all around you, this may not be easy. Still, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Remember, your kids have a lifetime to figure out how to get ahead; you no longer do.

Like financial planner Jamie Pomeroy of FinancialGusto.com says, “students can take out a loan for college, but parents can’t borrow for retirement.” The same can be said for weddings, housing, and everything else your adult child needs to thrive.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help your kids that won’t leave you broke in old age. If your kids are approaching college, for example, you can guide them through the process and help them save money without funding their education.

“Students can find less expensive options to obtain a college degree,” says financial advisor Renee K. Collins of RKCTaxCPA.com.

They can complete their general education courses at a local junior college, then transfer to a four-year public institution, for starters. They can also work during school and take out low-cost loans to cover the rest.

If you’re in the financial position to help them repay their loans later, you can always choose that route.

When it comes to weddings and everything else, the best advice you can give your kids is to tone their expectations down. While the average wedding costs more than $30,000 these days, they don’t need to be average. And you sure as heck don’t have to foot the bill if they want to be.

Offering your kids emotional support might also help. Talk through their problems with them, and help them find the best ways to cope. Sometimes good advice is what your kids need most. Fortunately, doling out some wisdom won’t cost you a thing.

Final Thoughts

If you ever hope to retire, you have to put your goals and dreams first. By saving for retirement early and often, you can position yourself to have a nest egg you can rely on when you’re ready.

Also remember, helping adult kids now isn’t the long-term solution it’s made out to be. If you don’t help yourself now, they’ll have to help you later.

“If you asked most college students whether they’d rather borrow money for tuition now or have their parents live with them for the last 15 years of their life, I’m guessing most would prefer to take out the loans,” says financial planner Grant Bledsoe of 3OaksCapital.com. “I’m guessing most parents would say the same.”

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