It’s approaching six o’clock and Mary Bartle, 84, is preparing for the evening as the temperature drops. The energy crisis and worries about her spending mean she has only two out of eight radiators on in her three-story townhouse.
“I bought an electric heating mat to put under a blanket on my knees,” laughs Mary, a widow and retired secretary. “I sit next to my favorite radiator and live very frugally. I don’t have many needs.’ It’s not that Mary doesn’t have money to pay for the heating. Her late husband, an ex-cop, left her £100,000 when he died three and a half years ago and she has a comfortable annual income from a pension and rental property. Still, it’s not enough to keep up with her spending, which is well over £40,000 a year.
For someone living modestly and alone, watching the price of milk and fretting over the heating, you might be wondering what on earth could be causing such a rapid drain of money. The answer is simple: Mary, from Bromley, south-east London, has two daughters and four grandchildren aged between 15 and 23 – and she is CEO of her own ‘Bank of Gran’.
Young families across the country have been pushed to the abyss due to the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis. Rising inflation and interest rates, rising bills, mortgages and rents are taking their toll.
Julie O’Connor, 62, a London-based retired local government worker, is another granny putting her hand in her pocket to support the generations below her. She is pictured here with her daughter Amy and grandchildren Florence and Annie
And according to findings from digital wealth manager Moneyfarm, it’s grandparents like Mary — those at the top of the intergenerational food chain who are more likely to have savings and accumulated wealth — who are taking the financial stakes.
The survey, conducted in November and based on 2,000 Britons, found that one in six grandparents (17%) now financially supports two generations of their family.
It found that one-third helped adult children with weekly grocery shopping, and one in five paid for gifts for grandchildren on behalf of their parents. While most (67 percent) said they were happy to help, 19 percent felt an obligation to keep their offspring afloat.
Another survey last month found that 30 percent of those over 65 and 37 percent of those aged 55 to 64 are waiting for an inheritance to fund their retirement or pay off mortgages.
Data from real estate website Zoopla shows how midlifers still depend on their parents, often in their 80s or 90s, for financial help.
It’s a heavy burden, but I don’t want them to suffer
Chris Rudden, head of investment advice at Moneyfarm, says a lot can be attributed to the fact that “Mom and Dad’s bank” went bust as a result of the cost-of-living crisis. He warns: “It’s wonderful when the older generation is willing and in a good position to help. But before any offer of help is made, they must make a financial MoT to ensure they can afford it.’
Mary would agree. What started as a flood of generosity and excitement at being able to support her children and grandchildren has turned into something a little unnerving. She estimates that she has donated up to £40,000 a year to support her family over the past three years.
“If you had asked me if I would do something differently, I would have been more cautious and given less from the start. I don’t want to see her suffer, but it’s a heavy burden. I’d like to change the situation, but how do you stop giving once you’ve started?’
Mary’s son died 16 years ago from sudden health complications that devastated the family. Her daughter-in-law managed without her financial help until her income dropped 18 months ago.
Since then, Mary has given £1,000 a month to help finance the mortgage and living expenses of her daughter-in-law and granddaughter, who is 21.
“I was a single parent for years growing up my kids, so I know how tough that is,” says Mary. “They needed help and of course I wanted to offer it. It’s my son’s family.’ Mary has also paid for the last two holidays for the whole family, including herself, to Portugal last year (£10,000) and Italy the year before (£7,000), and gives the three grandchildren who are at university £100 a month each. She also pays for things like sneakers or clothes when they need them.
“None of my grandchildren earn anything anymore. They don’t rush to work these days. I was a secretary when I was 17 and my daughter was a hotel maid when she was 15.” While she wants them to get summer jobs, they are reluctant to do anything that isn’t an ideal job or position.
Amy is studying social psychology while her husband Sam is a local tax officer. However, financially they still need the help of their mother Julie
For six months during the pandemic, she gave one of her daughters £1,000 a month to help with her mortgage and a credit card for groceries, which Mary paid off monthly.
Mary’s latest concern is that the extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to include London, due to come into effect this August, will mean two of their children’s cars will need to be replaced – something they are finding difficult to afford on their own.
She is aware of how fortunate she is to have property, savings and a steady income, but her generosity comes at a personal financial cost, with her savings plummeting and increasing anxiety about the future.
“My savings are going down,” says Mary. “I look at all of this and I think, damn, all the benefits I got from my husband are going away. what will i do I had planned to leave as much as possible to the family in my will so that they could take a big leap in their finances and the grandchildren could have deposits on houses. That’s why I don’t want to waste it anymore.”
Julie O’Connor, 62, a London-based retired local government worker, is another granny putting her hand in her pocket to support the generations below her.
As a baby boomer, she’s lucky enough to be able to save up and pay off a mortgage. Their children Amy, 29, and Nick, 24, are in very different situations. Nick, a trainee electrician, still lives at home and Amy is studying social psychology while her husband Sam is a local tax officer. The couple have a mortgage and two girls to support, Annie, seven, and Florence, two.
Julie and her husband Patrick, a painter and decorator, estimate that they give their children and grandchildren up to 10 per cent of their annual income, around £3,000, to help make their lives easier
“Helping the children and grandchildren is child’s play,” says Julie. “My son is a part-time student and my daughter doesn’t have much money after the mortgage. She doesn’t ask for help, but I want to give them beautiful things. With the livelihood crisis, food and everything else has gone up and we need to help more and more.’
Julie and her husband Patrick, a painter and decorator, estimate that they give their children and grandchildren up to 10 per cent of their annual income, around £3,000, to help make their lives easier.
You pay for gym memberships for gymnast Annie (£37 a month) and baby clubs for Florence (£6 a month) and children’s clothing. Last year they spent £1,200 taking the family on holiday to Devon and funded a holiday to Spain before the pandemic. Amy gets £50 a month for her utility bills and Nick gets help washing and eating.
“I have a pension and my husband is still working,” says Julie. “We have a rental property that helps us financially. Without that we would have problems. Bills are ridiculous. We had to tighten our belts.
“I don’t use the tumble dryer, I bitch when someone turns on the floor heating in the bathroom and my husband is a yellow sticker man in supermarkets. I want to help the kids more, but we’re doing what we can.”
Since they were little, Julie has looked after her grandchildren two days a week so that her daughter and son-in-law can go back to work without having to worry about childcare. “You just want to do everything to help them and give them a good life,” she says. ‘What is more important than children and grandchildren?’
It’s true that the baby boomers have reaped many socioeconomic benefits, some more powerful than others.
According to the Office for National Statistics’ latest Wealth & Assets Survey, UK property wealth has grown by 51 per cent over the past decade. The prices of other assets, including stocks and shares, have also increased.
As Anthony Villis, chief executive of First Wealth, a financial planning and wealth management firm, says: “The costs were far lower when the baby boomers started saving and investing, and this has helped with lucrative inflation-adjusted annuities, the perfect To create conditions to give them a higher level of performance in today’s markets.’
Of course, not every grandma and grandpa bank has unlimited cash flow, and some are starting to offer other ways of accessing money.
Linda Daly, 68, a retired care home worker who lives in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, near her two daughters Fiona, 42, and Emma, 41, is in the process of selling her home so they can move in and be with Emma may be better physically and financially able to help them and their five grandchildren, ages nine to 21.
I step in when a big bill comes in or a loan needs to be paid off
Fiona is a hair and make-up artist and cleaner, and Emma is a dog walker. Both are single, which puts more of a strain on them in terms of time and money. “It’s the right thing,” says Linda.
“Times are tough and I can’t see them fight. Every Sunday I cook a lamb or beef roast dinner for the whole family. They cannot always afford such meals. I’ll pay for anything I can what they need.’
Recently this has included replacing a broken Xbox games console, funding driving lessons, £50 school trips, helping with uniforms, school shoes, fashionable clothes for the older grandchildren, a holiday to Greece and fixing a van and running the school.
“It’s not like they wipe me,” says Linda. “They work hard and for themselves, which is not easy. I step in when a big bill comes in or a loan needs to be paid off.” The problem is that as the cost of living rises and interest rates rise, this is happening with increasing regularity.
“I want to enjoy my family as long as I live. The money from the sale of the house should last a while, but I hate to think how they’ll deal with it if something happens to me.’
Some names have been changed.