First Person: We Stopped Paying the Grandparents’ Debts

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It wasn't easy to cut off our parents, but my husband and I had no choice. As part of the "sandwich generation," we have trouble supporting our teenage sons as well as our baby boomer elders. After retiring early, some of our older relatives found out they couldn't live on reduced Social Security benefits. We were willing to help pay down their credit cards, but soon realized we were only supplementing their extravagant lifestyles. As soon as we paid a few hundred dollars, they maxed out the credit cards again. According to a recent article by the Wall Street Journal, older households are loading up on debt. Unfortunately, the economic burden often falls on the children. Evidently, the median level of debt for older baby boomers rose 120 percent between 2000 and 2011. I know some of the senior citizens in our family have more than the median debt of $26,000 for households led by someone 65 or older. We had to come up with positive solutions to help our elders instead of enabling them to live beyond their means.

Finding senior roommates

Because some of our older relatives could not afford to make their mortgage payments, we suggested they get roommates. A recent article by Smart Money points out the real-life version of the old "The Golden Girls" television show is happening due to the financial problems of the elderly. Although they were reluctant to share a small home with other retirees, our relatives considered the advantages. They can't make their mortgage payments of $800 a month and still have enough money for credit card payments, utilities, food and their cellular phones. After much debate, they said they are open to taking in one roommate at this time.

Giving up the car keys

Our elderly relatives would have more money to spend on their leisure activities if they did not have to pay for gasoline and car insurance. They aren't as comfortable behind the wheel anymore. After we stopped paying down their credit cards, they made the difficult decision to trade in their cars for golf carts that could transport them to the grocery store and golf courses. Not only do they save on expensive car insurance, but they also save on gasoline and car maintenance.

Using the local library

When we were paying down their credit cards, our baby boomer parents had enough money for their cellular phones and Internet. They temporarily visited the local library to gain Internet connection and borrow movies. Going without Internet and cable at home motivated them to get on a strict spending plan. They started taking advantage of all the free services and discounts for seniors.

One of the positive outcomes has been that our children are observing the stress associated with their grandparents having credit card debt. Our children are adopting the attitudes of people from the "Greatest Generation" who believed in being frugal and owing no one. Our children don't want to burden us with more financial responsibilities so they are putting money aside for their futures and staying out of debt. As for their grandparents, they are planning a cruise to the Bahamas with a new credit card they received in the mail.

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