Parents worry their children will be worse off

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A recent Pew Research Center study found people in 17 wealthy countries have a positive outlook on the global economy but still believe their children will be worse off financially than they are.

Canada ranked sixth among those 17 countries, with 68% of parents expressing this fear. The younger generations feel it too, although they do link their worries to COVID-19.

Last fall, a survey from payment-system company Interac found half of millenial and gen z Canadians say they’ve worried more about managing their finances during the pandemic than at any prior time in their lives.

Children aren’t achieving traditional milestones

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What’s at the root of this worry? Experts point to a tendency among parents to measure their kids against outdated markers.

“I think for the broad populace, they use benchmarks that are familiar to them. And one benchmark that is familiar to most Canadians is home ownership,” says Mark Yamada, president & CEO of PUR Investing in Toronto.

He argues it’s not just rising home prices and a lack of cash that’s preventing young people from entering the housing market. There’s also a social component. “The reason kids are not buying real estate is not only that the price is high,” says Yamada, “it’s [because] they’re getting married later; they’re not having children.”

He adds younger generations are holding off on major commitments until they feel financially stable.

But Natalie Jamison, senior wealth advisor and associate director, wealth management at Scotia Wealth Management in Oakville, Ont., says young people may need to reassess what it means to be financially stable. “We’ve always been told you’ve made it if you can own a home,” says Jamison. “That gives you financial stability and yet the younger generations today are thinking, ‘But how is that achievable?’”

Young people aren’t armed with needed skills

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That’s where financial literacy comes in. Jamison says part of her job is to educate her clients’ young-adult children about money. Doing that’s shown her many of them have no idea how to budget, how debt works or how to plan for the future.

Her observations are backed by data. A 2019 Statistics Canada analysis found millennials have a debt to after-tax income ratio of 216% — 1.7 times more than young gen-xers and 2.7 times more than young boomers.

“If there is any reason to really be concerned about the next generation, it is that they do not have the resources or the training and motivation to defer gratification,” says Yamada. And that’s a problem for millennials and gen z because those skills matter now more than ever. A large percentage of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations were able to rely on workplace defined benefit pension plans that would support them financially right up until death.

But those types of plans are rarely offered by employers today. Young people are having to initiate and manage their own retirement investments — something many seem unprepared to handle. “Future generations will need to pay more attention to saving for retirement,” says Wilmot George, vice president of tax, retirement and estate planning at CI Global Asset Management in Toronto.

That includes their pool of retirement money, he adds, because it will fall directly to them “to ensure ... they have sufficient assets to provide for them throughout their retirement.”

Parents at a loss on how to help kids

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As for how parents should help their children achieve financial success, experts are torn. It’s recently become common for parents to give children their inheritances early to help with a down payment on a house, pay for school or get out of debt.

But George argues parents must be careful because it can prevent children from learning important life skills. It can also lead them to misallocate funds and put their own retirements at risk.

“Wanting to help their kids, a lot of parents might stretch themselves,” says George. “And very quickly and very easily, parents and grandparents can find themselves in a situation where they now are struggling.”

Rather than spreading themselves thin, he says parents need to tell their kids that planning and saving early gives them the best shot to one day retire comfortably. “With millennials, you have time on your side,” he says.

Jamison adds the most important thing parents can offer is honest, open communication around finances. Taking the time to teach fundamental skills like budgeting and how credit cards work will give children their best chance at success.

And, most importantly, they can help their children redefine what success means. “The markers of financial success are: You are living within your means and you are not in debt. And the measure of success in life is: ‘Are you happy?’,” says Jamison.

About the Author

Sigrid Forberg

Sigrid Forberg


Sigrid is a reporter with MoneyWise. Before joining the team, she worked for a B2B publication in the hardware and home improvement industry and ran an internal employee magazine for the federal government. As a graduate of the Carleton University Journalism program, she takes pride in telling informative, engaging and compelling stories.

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