Full-Nest Syndrome

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Full Nest

My wife and I are starting our third year of being empty-nesters. Our oldest has been out of college for over a year now and our youngest is in her third year at the University of Virginia. Both of our children have found passion and drive as well as gainful employment.

There is a Jewish proverb that he who does not teach his child a skill teaches him to steal. But in this economy many well qualified graduates are unable to find the employment they desire. As a result they are returning to live at home somewhat involuntarily. The difficulties of this relationship include a lack of financial or social independence for the children and a growing financial drain on the last chance for retirement savings.

It was therefore with interest that I read Suzanne McGee’s article in Financial Planning magazine entitled “Full-Nest Syndrome.” It is common for parents to want to help their grown children, but I was surprised to see how extensive children returning home is in what some are calling the Boomerang generation. McGee writes in her article:

In its August issue, Harper’s magazine published data estimating that a stunning 85% of this year’s college graduates were planning to head back to live with mom and dad for at least a while. A study in 2010 by researchers at Columbia University using the U.S. Current Population Survey found that 52.8% of 18- to 24-year-olds were living at home, up from 47.3% in 1970.

But Tom Sedoric, a financial advisor with Wells Fargo in Portsmouth, N.H., says the problem is broader and more worrisome than young twentysomethings returning to the nest for a year or so. He’s even coined a phrase for the phenomenon: Kippers – an acronym that stands for Kids Invading Parental Pockets and Eroding Retirement Savings.

Having worked with a number of families, here are some practical observations:

1. Most college graduates never saw how their parents struggled financially when they were young and first married. They only remember living with their parents at the height of their standard of living. Living frugally helped shape your attitude and values and those are what helped you learn handle money and build real wealth. Help them grow rich in attitude. We recommend starting with our column, “Learning to Live on Your Own, Part 1.”

2. You can’t help your children learn to live within their means if you keep supplementing their means. I’m all for giving your children wonderful gifts, but you also have to raise them to the level of responsible equal and empower them to have financial freedom. No age is too young for such lessons as my daughter Megan is illustrating in her latest Rich Dad, Rich Daughter post on spending: My Money vs. Your Money.

3. The best way to help your children save is usually by keeping the money invested in a taxable account. If you give money to your children and they save the money they will have to pay capital gains on any equity appreciation. But if you invest in equities, when you die your heirs will receive a step up in cost basis. Functionally this results in tax-free growth during your entire lifetime. In fact, if your children gave you money to invest and then inherited it when you died this is the most tax efficient investment vehicle. While their are some exceptions, this a long way of saying don’t give your children money to fund their retirement. If anything they should probably be giving you money.

4. If you are interested in helping your children build the life they want, help them find their calling in life. Children who find their passion in life will live a fulfilled life no matter how high their standard of living. Finding your calling isn’t easy at any age, and it can change several times over a lifetime. It helps to have lots of experiences and that is where parents can help.

When children are struggling financially they are often fearful and therefore reluctant to take chances. They probably do not believe that they could do what they really want to do, and besides, they don’t really know what they want to do. Two books I highly recommend in that quest are both by Barbara Sher: “Wishcraft” and “I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was.”

If you must help them financially, at least employ them to do something in line with what you think their calling is. When anyone is doing what they are called to do – their area of personal genius – they are on the track of building a rich life. Rich is a way of thinking much more than having money in your pocket. And a child’s career is the most valuable asset they have.

Of course it is always better if children have had decades of exploring what they might love to do with their lives. No age is too young as a child’s allowance can provide them with their first job.

Help your children find their calling in life. Otherwise the person they steal from just might be Mom and Dad.

Follow David John Marotta:

President, CFP®, AIF®, AAMS®

David John Marotta is the Founder and President of Marotta Wealth Management. He played for the State Department chess team at age 11, graduated from Stanford, taught Computer and Information Science, and still loves math and strategy games. In addition to his financial writing, David is a co-author of The Haunting of Bob Cratchit.