I have many different titles: Chief Investment Strategist, coach, author, radio host, etc. But my favorite title is Father. I think most parents can relate to this, so it was no surprise to me when I put out the survey for the book “You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think” that family plays a huge role in retirement happiness.
My survey shows that on average, happy retirees have 2.5 kids. Unhappy ones have 0.5.
I’m going to admit here that I have four kids and I love it! Am I doomed to unhappiness? No. I just need to be more disciplined in other areas where I’ve found there is a cross section of family, money and happiness in retirement (and life). Moderation is key.
I focused on these family traits in my latest book, “What The Happiest Retirees Know.” Let’s walk through my other findings so you can also see how these different family habits and practices can impact your levels of happiness.
The first principle to follow is to keep your kids off the payroll or at least keep it at a low spending level.
At the height of the pandemic in 2020, the unemployment rate skyrocketed to 14.7%, the highest since the Great Depression. As a result, many families are faced with adult children who continue to need more financial support than in the past. As parents, we all want to help, but how much is healthy?
Boundaries are critical for reasons both emotional and financial. In my most recent survey, the unhappiest families averaged spending over $700 per month to support their kids, while happy retirees kept the funds to under $500. A family supporting adult children at over $2,000 per month is more than 400% more likely to be unhappy than a family with fully financially independent kids.
The extra financial assistance can cause accounting problems, and the strain of knowing your kids aren’t self-sufficient cuts deeper. The happiest retirees on the block (HROBs) know how to set guidelines, knowing that they aren’t always set in stone.
The next important principle is getting your kids married and getting them out of your house.
Retirees are two times more likely to be unhappy if their adult children are not married. Retirees are also two times more likely to be unhappy if their adult children still live at home.
Today people are getting married later in life or not at all. A new study from the Institute for Family Studies showed that the U.S. marriage rate hit an all-time low in 2019.
Additionally, a Pew Research Center study found a whopping 52% of young adults (18-to-29-year-olds) in the United States are living with their parents. Staggering.
I connect marriage and moving out since these two acts have historically gone hand-in-hand. At the end of the day, being a grown-up is about your level of responsibility. When you’re married and have children, a mortgage and a job, you get a crash course in maturity.
You can’t always force your kids down the aisle and maybe getting them out of the house sounds like a tall order, but you can offer gentle reminders every now and then about the virtues of marriage and the freedom and independence offered when living on your own.
Living near 50%+ of your children leads to exponential happiness levels.
As much as we want our adult children to marry, live their lives, and go away … we don’t want them to go too far. It’s crucial for you to live near at least 25% of your kids. Don’t let them live with you — but retirees who live “near or close” to 50% or more of their children are five times more likely to be happy.
While you can’t control your adult children, you can control how close you live to them, and my research shows it’s key for HROBs to do so. If you have three kids and live in Atlanta, you are more likely to be happy if two of them live in the state of Georgia, even if one lives in Boise.
What if all of your kids moved to Boise? The short answer is that I suggest you start looking for real estate in Idaho! I’ve seen real-life examples of this time and again, where parents follow their children and grandchildren to a new hometown. Happiness ensues.
The final area I want to cover is that overeducated kids are overrated.
At first glance, retirement happiness seems to rise with education levels. If your children are graduating from high school and then studying on the campus quad, you’re more likely to land in our happy retiree camp. However, it turns out the old axiom about “too much of a good thing” applies even to education.
Families with college-educated-and-beyond children saw the highest happiness levels, but those began to decline in families where the adult children received doctorate degrees. Why? Well, guess who continues to foot the bill for your eternally jobless academic offspring? Here’s a hint: It’s you.
I believe happiness levels typically rise with education because it creates options. But it’s important for your children to have an end goal with a financial upside when continuing their education. Otherwise, it’s not sustainable for you, and it’s not good for them.
These family habits take time, planning and courage. There are a lot of variables, and that’s why it’s important to take advantage of things you can control. Find the balance between connection and freedom.
And remember, you don’t have to get all of these right. I certainly haven’t as a father of four, but I know that I can sprinkle some other happiness ingredients into my recipe for retirement.
If you want more options for finding that balance, pick up a copy of “What the Happiest Retirees Know: 10 Habits for a Healthy, Secure, and Joyful Life,” available now!