Seventy-two percent of parents in a new poll say paying off debt is their chief financial priority for this year, rising to 80% among millennial respondents, New York Life reported this week.
Two-thirds of parents also said they planned to save more this year. But when asked what they would do if they should win $5 million, 58% said debt reduction would be one of the top three uses for their windfall.
Only a third of respondents said they would use the hypothetical jackpot to save for retirement.
“While reducing debt can be a worthwhile endeavor, a singular focus on it at the expense of other planning can be dangerous to a family’s overall financial well-being,” New York Life vice president Brian Madgett said in a statement.
“Adopting a protection-first financial planning approach is crucial, as even the best laid plans can get derailed without a strong long-term foundation.”
Ipsos conducted the survey in English in mid-November among 1,102 adults from the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii. Respondents had to have at least one child under age 18 living at home in order to participate.
Parents in the survey were generally optimistic about their finances in the year ahead, even though many had a debt load that could keep them from achieving financial stability. Fifty-eight percent said they expected their finances to improve this year, and 61% believed they would be better prepared for the unexpected.
Younger parents were particularly optimistic, 65% expecting their finances to improve this year, and 77% saying their families will be better prepared for the unanticipated contingencies.
Missing in all this was an action plan to make it happen. Only 28% of parents said it was important to have a financial plan in place to care for their children in the event something happened to them. And just 30% of respondents said they would seek expert advice this year, compared with 38% who said they would do so in the 2018 survey.
Younger parents in the poll were likelier to understand the importance of long-term planning, even with their focus on debt. Forty-four percent say they would pursue professional financial planning advice this year.
Madgett noted the disconnect between expectations and reality when it comes to financial planning as illustrated by the survey findings. “It’s encouraging to see a more positive outlook for 2019, especially among younger parents who have the benefit of time, but optimism can only carry us so far,” he said.