The Color of Money / Home & Consumer

Color of Money: What Grandparents are Grand

WASHINGTON -- In proclaiming the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day, President Jimmy Carter said that our grandparents "bore the hardships and made the sacrifices that produced much of the progress and comfort we enjoy today. It is appropriate, therefore, that as individuals and as a nation, that we salute our grandparents for their contribution to our lives."

In time for this years National Grandparents Day, Generations United and MetLife Mature Market Institute released a survey that again reminds us just how vital grandparents have become to caregiving. Many are the financial safety net for their children and grandchildren, the survey found.

Over the last five years, the majority of grandparents polled said they had provided financial support or monetary gifts for their grandchildren. The average amount of this support was $8,289.

Forty-three percent of grandparents gave money for clothing, 33 percent for general support and 29 percent for education, such as pre-school through private high schools, tutoring, college tuition, and graduate school.

If you are familiar with my work, then you know I've long saluted the influence that my grandmother, Big Mama, had on my life. She provided me with essential financial lessons that helped me form good money-management skills. Big Mama still influences my financial choices 17 years after her death. I can't get her "credit is evil" out of my head.

I give honor to my grandmother for saving me from foster care. Big Mama took me in when I was 4. She also took in my two sisters -- 8 and 3 -- and 1-year-old twin brothers. In this respect, my grandmother did what many have done. The fact that a great many grandparents are raising their grandchildren results in a $6.5 billion savings to taxpayers, estimates Generations United, an intergenerational advocacy organization.

"The number of grandparents helping raise their grandchildren has ebbed and flowed over the years but in recent years we have seen an increase because of the economy," said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United.

Often grandparents give too much. One-third are giving financial support to grandchildren even though they believe it is having a negative effect on their own financial security, according to the grandparents' survey.

"Grandparents are making financial sacrifices that could cost them when they find themselves short of the savings they need to support themselves in retirement," said Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. "There is a need to balance what they're giving with what they can afford to give."

Big Mama was eligible to receive government support for my siblings and me, but she refused, save for medical assistance. My grandmother didn't want the handout and the interference that could have come with financial assistance. So on her low-paying salary as a nursing assistant, she took care of our basic needs.


Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group


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