Taking care of aging parents AND raising kids of your own? Congratulations and welcome to the club. You’re now a member of the Sandwich Generation.
Membership isn’t exclusive. Studies indicate that 47% of all Americans in their 40s and 50s are currently in this situation,1 which is why it’s important to understand how to prepare for what you may face in your future:
- Have a plan. Review your financial goals regularly and adjust your financial plan as needed so you can deal with an unexpected event like a career change or a healthcare emergency.
- Save for college. If you haven’t started, you’ll need start saving for your kids’ college tuition as soon as possible. Education after high school isn’t getting cheaper, so it’s a good idea to start putting away as much as you can now.
- Get your debt under control. For many Americans, this may be a tall order. Installment debts (car payments, credit cards, personal loans, college loans, etc.) should account for no more than 20% of your take-home pay.
- Stay focused. Put as much as you can into a retirement plan, where your savings (which may be matched by your employer) grow tax-deferred until you retire.
- Set expectations. Be realistic with your children about which colleges you can afford.
- Talk to your parents. Do they have long-term care insurance? Adequate retirement income? Know where their documents are and get a list of the professionals and friends they rely on for advice and support.
Caring for your parents.
If your folks don’t live near you, you’re probably monitoring their welfare from a distance. Daily phone calls can be time consuming and relying on your parents’ support network may be frustrating. If their needs are great enough, consider hiring a professional geriatric care manager to help make sure their needs are met and to show you helpful community resources. Eventually, they may need to move in with you. If so, keep in mind:
- Parents will want to feel part of your household and may be happy to take on some responsibilities. Share your expectations in advance.
- Your parents may need a separate living space and phone for privacy.
- Local civic and religious organizations have programs to involve your parents in the community.
- When you need a break, enlist other family members to help with temporary care.
- Be sympathetic and supportive of your children. They’re trying to adjust, too. Be honest about the pros and cons of having a grandparent in the house. Ask them to do certain chores, but don’t make them be caregivers.
Consider your children’s needs, too.
Your kids may feel the effects of your situation more than you think, especially if they’re teenagers. They’ll also need your patience and attention. As you balance their needs with those of your parents, remember to:
- Explain what to expect when caring for your parent. Children usually only need their questions and concerns to be addressed before making the adjustment.
- Discuss their college plans. They may have to settle for a different school than they wanted or take on a job to help meet expenses. Try not to dip into your retirement savings to pay for tuition. Instead, use other options like student loans or grant programs. Your retirement savings may be the only income you have when you stop working.
- Make sure your “boomerang children” (i.e., kids who have moved back in after finishing college) know your expectations. You shouldn’t be afraid to discuss a date for when they’ll move out.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself.
It’s easy to neglect your own needs when taking care of aging parents. The situation can be stressful and pull you in all sorts of directions. Get enough rest, try to maintain a healthy lifestyle and stay involved with your friends and your interests. You can’t support your parents or your children if you don’t take care of yourself first.
Finally, talk with others about how you’re managing your situation. With so many people in the Sandwich Generation, you’re bound to know at least a handful of others who are juggling these responsibilities. They may have some useful advice they’ve learned through personal experience.
1 Passy, C. (2015, October 10). 6 lessons for the sandwich generation. Retrieved March 14, 2017, from http://www.marketwatch.com/story/6-lessons-for-the-sandwich-generation-2015-09-10