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Happy families, senior citizens, and the elephant in the room

Posted By Marilynh / February 5, 2020 / 7 Comments

A YEI member article


South African senior citizens,
seemingly the stalwarts of the community. 

Do you, the children of ageing parents really know what’s going on behind closed doors? 


sad senior couple 1200


Happy families.  We see them out and about. We see them on Facebook and Instagram. Senior citizens – happy snaps of smiling grandparents, busy, active parents and greatly adored grandchildren, not forgetting the family pets.  These families are the ‘norms’ of society; seemingly the stalwarts of the community. 

Yet, on the flip side of the coin, if we delve a little deeper, we find that we have a relatively high percentage of dysfunctional families too. Home circumstances where drugs, alcohol and domestic violence are rife. Mix poverty into the equation, and we see that many families are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain an acceptable, moderate lifestyle which allows for the provision of daily essentials and a nutritious meal on the table each evening. 

It’s true, we are living in tough times.  It also appears that among the hardest hit are those being forced into early retirement or finding themselves jobless due to redundancy.  Many affected people are of the ‘baby boomer’ generation.  Folk in their sixties and seventies, who have successfully raised children, and should now be at a stage in life where they are able to travel and enjoy their twilight years, without fear of ending up aged and penniless.  The sad reality, however, is that unless both spouses had essentially lucrative careers, this is seldom the case.  The floundering economy has taken its toll in spite of provisions made.

Poor financial choices for whatever reason, lack of career advancement over the past years, and even marriage failures ending in divorce, are additional pitfalls that have led to the trauma of facing the future with anxious financial concerns. This can have a devastating effect on the aged person’s mental health, which will in turn eventually affect their overall physical wellbeing. 

Hopefully those seniors whose children do earn a sizable income, will offer to contribute towards easing their elderly parents anxieties regarding their remaining years. Even slightly subsidizing their parents’ waning income may grant the elderly the assurance tthat they need in order to enjoy their golden years without constant worry.

I am not for one minute suggesting that children are totally responsible for their parents finances or lack thereof, but here are some points to ponder –

How many children know what their parents’ approximate monthly income / expenditure is?  How long have they been retired? How is inflation impacting their investments?   Do they have sufficient income for their monthly needs? 

It is so easy, and even natural, especially for children living abroad, to assume that their parents are doing okay. This is particularly true if the parents were always good providers and still live in a comfortable, bond-free home. But this might well not be the case. Many retired people that I’ve spoken to have confided their concerns in that they are becoming poorer by the year.  This is soul wrenching, and more so when their children are known to be living relatively luxurious lives and are totally oblivious to their parents’ ongoing struggles to make ends meet. 

In most cases, aged parents are too proud to ask their children for financial assistance. Having always been the bread winners / providers, they feel that they would be deemed failures and perhaps not be loved as much if they were suddenly forced to admit that they are no longer in a position to travel or afford expensive gifts. 

This is a very real fear, and a source of stress and distress.  Most parents would rather sacrifice their own needs in order to spoil their loved ones on birthdays, and special occasions. Such behaviour, of course, in turn gives children the impression that all is well, and so the sad cycle continues.  

To some, this may sound exaggerated, but it’s a real thing and affects many seniors. The  question remains – how many children are aware of their parents’ financial position? And how about medical aid?   This is the time of life when older people need it the most, yet many seniors are being forced to downgrade to hospital plans or even no medical, in order to live without supplemental income.   The same applies to insurance policies – many seniors are cancelling insurance policies just to exist. 

With respect, may I please encourage young people to do the responsible thing.  Have that difficult conversation with their parents.  Yes, address the elephant in the room.  Use the “F” word – that ‘thing’ that causes their lips to smile, but their hearts to ache.   Namely, Finances.  Your parents cared for you during childhood; accept the challenge and privilege of doing the same for them in their golden years. If it turns out that they’re secure, good and well. They will know you cared enough to check, and be grateful for your concern. If there is a shortfall or you find they are living on the breadline, see how you can help. Even a small amount or taking over a bill payment could make a huge difference.  If needs be, think out of the box. For example – your parents might be thinking of selling their home to make ends meet.  If that happens, there is a good chance that the profits will be swallowed up in no time, as the cost of living continues to rise.  A point to consider is that, if you had been in the know, you may have been able to contribute a small amount each month, resulting in there being a property to inherit further down the track.  An all round win-win situation?

Lastly, yes, it is normal for young couples to be so wrapped up with their own lives, careers, and children big or small, that it doesn’t occur to them to ask their ageing parents about their financial status.  I have written from my heart, and I hope that my words speak to yours.

Don’t leave it until it’s too late and your nearest and dearest have passed on.  Stay in touch. Your parents desperately need the contact.  Stay on top of their affairs.  Encourage your children to love their grandparents and to share their interests with them. Make use of technology and embrace the moments of connection.  These caring interactions will ensure that your parents enjoy a great quality of life in their golden years, and will fill their hearts with warm gratitude, whilst you will have the knowledge that you showed love and compassion, resulting in a life lived with no regrets.  

It is sometimes the case that the children are the ones who need financial assistance from the parents.  And there are parents around who are in a position to assist in such situations. 

At the end of the day, open and honest communication is key,
nothing is more important than family.



We look forward to you sharing your comments
and stories, in the comments section below…



An article by a YEI member, Carrol Harrison


Carrol is 71, a baby boomer, retired and living in Sedgefield.
Carrol lives in a village, home to mainly retired people and her story emanates from the conversations she has had with many retirees, which is appearing to be an all too common thread in many seniors’ lives. 



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  • Nancy Bowring
    February 5, 2020 at 7:57 pm

    I am a financial advisor and most of my clients have been drawing incomes for over 20 years. The effects of inflation combined with the “lost decade” in South Africa has affected their capital in some instances and they are having to draw down more than the 5% recommended.
    What a lot of clients are afraid of doing is taking on some investment risk which allows for inflation beating returns. Instead they opt for cash which although having delivered fair returns up to end 2018 did not perform as well as equities did – delivering just on 12% on the Johannesburg Stock Market. Remember that our economy is now more affected by Global movements as a lot of the top 40 companies are dual listed on other stock markets. Essentially you are investing in world markets.

  • Lyn Rosen
    February 6, 2020 at 8:17 am

    This article is so spot on,my children bought our flat from us and saved us from ending up on the street.It is a very difficult conversation to have.

    • Marilynh
      February 11, 2020 at 9:36 am

      Thank you for your input, Lyn. So glad it has worked out for you and your family.


  • Audrey Smith
    February 6, 2020 at 6:46 pm

    My husband is 66 years and still working, and I am 61 years and not working for the past 4 years. My husband has been retrenched twice in his working career. The last retrenchment coming at the age of 54 years. He was out of work for 5 long years. Although I worked, at the time, it was a contract job and my salary was not enough to support us and my daughter who was still at high school. We had to take the difficult decision, out of sheer necessity, to use his pension payout to supplement my income in order for us to come by every month. By the time he found a job (he was actually given a job by a friend who owned his own business) his pension was long gone. He has been paying into a provident fund for the past 5 years, and although it will eventually pay out a small sum when he retires (which may be soon as he had to go onto a contract basis from age 65 years) it will never be enough for us to actually retire on. We will become SASSA pensioners with a monthly income of R1600-00 each per month. We do own our house (fully paid for) however just the municipality account for electricity, water, rates, refuse, etc comes close to R1900-00 per month. Our car is already 14 years old. Bottom line is that I lie awake at night worrying and thinking about our situation. Should we sell our house when the time comes or should we keep it and somehow cut back on absolutely everything and live by the skin of our pants? I don’t know the solution and I guess I will only be able to evaluate the situation once we are in it.

    • Marilynh
      February 11, 2020 at 9:33 am

      Dear Audrey

      Thank you for sharing your story with us. We live in extremely difficult times, especially for pensioners. We do find that the organisation, 50Plus Skills, with which YEI has partnered is doing great work in helping people to learn how to become entrepreneurs and to find their niche in the world of work. Might be worth investigating. The link to their page on YEI is https://youve-earned-it.co.za/site/50-plus-skills/

      Warm regards

  • Ginny du Toot
    February 10, 2020 at 7:55 am

    This is an excellent article – scary and realistic. My children both live overseas and after losing my husband had to make a difficult choice of going to live in Australia closer to family but having to be heavily subsidised or remaining here in SA where I can manage reasonably well.

    The end result is that I chose to stay here and try to see the family every few years but it is hard not watching your grandkids grow up & being able to spend time with them! they left as little ones and now 3 are married and the youngest is about to turn 21!

    I am extremely fortunate in that I could buy into a small life rights retirement village and still have some money invested. I can mostly manage on the 75% of my husbands pension as it came with an annual 7% increase but each year the medical aid goes up as does the cost of living. I take advantage of pensioner discounted restaurant meals and living in Mossel Bay we have quite a number of free or semi free festivals. Wherever I shop I always ask for pensioner discounts.

    I feel very blessed being able to do the things I do but do worry about whether the investments I have will provide enough as I grow older (I’m now 77) . I use a financial advisor to help manage my money which I keep an eye on and check the statement they send me every month.

    I have a word of advice for those who are fortunate to still be with their life partner:
    1. Both should know and understand how your finances work!
    2. You BOTH need to understand about how to manage when one goes.
    3. I have seen too many left on their own with no clue about banking, insurance, rates & taxes, income tax as it was all done by their partner. Look at those statements every month and learn about finances!
    4. Become a bit tech savvy! Know how to use the internet and that dratted cell phone.
    5. Don’t become a hermit but get out there – play cards, bingo, a garden club, a bird club or a knitting group or whatever it is that you enjoy. It is too easy to simply not bother and become one of those unhappy lonely old people!

    • Marilynh
      February 11, 2020 at 9:17 am

      Hi Ginny

      Thank you for sharing your story with YEI. Thank you too for the words of advice – they are very useful.

      Warm regards

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