Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials all have one thing in common – we love to talk about the joys and trials of our own generations. The social proof is all over the media. However, there’s a whole generation of people that deserve equal time in the spotlight, and they have commonalities that span gender, race, socioeconomic status and sometimes age. We’re talking about the Sandwich Generation.
The term was coined in 1981 by social worker Dorothy Miller who used it to describe women in their 30s and 40s undergoing the juggling and balancing act of caring for both young children and elderly parents. This trend has expanded into a phenomenon with many Americans starting families at a later age while their parents are living longer; resulting in a broader intersection of child-rearing and elder-care years for millions of people in the Sandwich Generation.
Nearly half of adults between age 40 and 59 find themselves caring for an elderly parent and raising a child (or supporting a grown child) with 15% of this group providing financial assistance to both, according to a study by Pew Research.1 However, being caught between the caretaking needs of multiple generations isn’t exclusive to this age group. It’s essential for all members of this frankly heroic generation to get their finances in order to keep the focus where it belongs – on the family. Here are some ideas to consider.
Let’s Talk Money
We know it’s an uncomfortable subject and perhaps taboo for some from older generations, but it’s important to get the money talk with family members out of the way early. Managing finances is complex enough for just one person, so gaining a shared understanding of the entire family’s financial landscape is vital to maintaining stability and preparing for bumps in the road or significant life events.
When speaking with young children, educate them on how to use money wisely and encourage them to practice! You can help them develop money management skills by starting small. For instance, establish a simple “financial goal” of a new video game or bike purchase. Then give your child opportunities to earn and save money to meet the desired goal. If you have grown children who haven’t left the nest yet, or recently returned, see if they can cover a portion of the household’s expenses to spread out some of the financial responsibility. Also, consider being transparent with your kids about your financial situation today and how you’re planning for the future.
On the other side of the support spectrum, if you’re serving as a bridge for your parents financially, you’re not alone. About a third of adults say they’ve provided financial support to their parents (age 65 and over) which primarily went to everyday, ongoing expenses.2 No matter your involvement, have an open conversation with your parents about their financial needs and resources. Together, you may be able to stretch their post-retirement savings further and make more informed choices for the whole family.
Know Your Options
Explore all financial resources at your disposal to help balance the complexity of supporting a multi-generational family. For example, for young children, saving for college may be a goal, and there are a variety of options available to you such as 529 education plans which have become even more attractive with the recent changes to tax laws.
After your conversation with your parents, hopefully, you’ll have a clear picture of what they can and can’t afford on their own, but ensure to include all of their potential sources of income and assets, including Social Security, personal savings (401ks or pensions), investment and property income. It’s important to understand how these can work in concert to get the most bang for their buck. You may want to consult with a professional to help you navigate the nuances.
Assess Your Financial Situation
After getting the lay of the land and potential options, take a step back and a look at your personal situation. Prioritize what’s important to you – financial or otherwise. Before fulfilling your loved one’s needs, it’s essential to carefully weigh all the demands on your finances and time to avoid overextending yourself or sacrificing your wellbeing for your children or parents. You’ll need to be crystal clear on your capacity so that you can support them with confidence. If needed, find areas where you can tighten the belt a bit, especially in the discretionary spending area. Also, keep an eye on saving for your future and ensure you’re on track to retire on your terms.
Carve Out Time for You
Managing all of the financial, personal and emotional pieces of child and elder care can be incredibly complex – as it is profound – and it can be easy to lose sight of you. Go easy on yourself and be realistic about what you can get done in any given day. We know that’s easier said than done when dealing with the tremendous pressures of fulfilling dual caregiving roles, but it’s worth a shot. Delegate responsibilities where you can, even if that means a simple weekend getaway or hiring a housekeeper. If you would like to explore handing off some of your financial management responsibilities or are looking into funding care for your parents or child’s education, reach out to us and we’ll review options together.
1. Parker, Kim and Patten, Eileen. The Sandwich Generation: Rising Financial Burdens for Middle-Aged Americans. January 30, 2013. Pew Research Center. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/01/30/the-sandwich-generation/. Accessed July 11, 2018.
2. Parker, Kim and Patten, Eileen. The Sandwich Generation: Financial Support Across Generations. January 30, 2013. Pew Research Center. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/01/30/financial-support-across-generations/ Accessed July 11, 2018.