Navigating the Financial Strains of the Sandwich Generation: Are You Feeling Stuck in the Middle?
Updated: Sep 25
Caretaking is a stressful calling in life, and when you’re caring for growing children and aging parents, that stress is multiplied. Many of us are now finding ourselves as part of the Sandwich Generation. The term "sandwich generation" refers to those individuals who find themselves squeezed between the financial demands of raising their own children while also caring for aging parents or other family members. As life expectancy increases and economic challenges persist, many people are finding themselves in this precarious position.
If you're feeling stuck in the middle, you're not alone, and there are strategies to help you navigate these financial strains.
The emotional strain is a force to be reckoned with, but being part of the Sandwich Generation is also draining financially. Let’s explore some of the unique monetary challenges of being in the Sandwich Generation, as well as some ideas and resources for healthily managing them.
5 Financial Challenges for the "Sandwich Generation"
Carting for multiple generations while you’re at the peak of your career is challenging and it can be difficult to know where to focus your time and energy. Consider these five common financial challenges the Sandwich Generation faces as you think about your financial position and goals.
1. Increased Costs. When you’re responsible for more people, your expenses naturally go up. Whether it’s rent or a mortgage on a house big enough for Mom and Dad to join you, additional food, or higher utility bills, increased costs are inevitable when you’re caretaking.
2. Reduced Savings. The additional money you spend on your children and parents has to come from somewhere, and often it’s short-term or retirement savings that take a hit. You may have to divert cash that would otherwise be stashed away in an emergency fund or 401(k) to pay for braces, school supplies, or putting a grab bar in the shower.
3. Healthcare Complications. Many retirees rely on a fixed income from a pension, Social Security, or their retirement accounts. As such, fielding unexpected medical expenses can be difficult. Helping parents shoulder their increasing medical costs can be a drag on your own finances. Medicare doesn’t cover all medical costs, so as your parents age, out-of-pocket payments for procedures, appointments, and medications can become increasingly expensive.
4. Career Pauses and Setbacks. Some parents take a few years off of work to stay at home raising their young children. This family arrangement is often rewarding and worthwhile, but the career interruptions it causes can be challenging to overcome.
If the years of caretaking are extended due to supporting other loved ones, it compounds the difficulty. Lapsed credentials, obsolete technical knowledge, and forgotten skills can make returning to work extremely challenging for Sandwich Generation caretakers.
5. Delayed Retirement. If you’re unable to bear the burdens of child-rearing, caring for older relatives, and saving for retirement, you may end up working longer than you want to. What’s more, you sacrifice the earlier, more productive investing years, making it difficult to save enough for your own retirement later on.
Even if you do manage to play catch-up before retirement hits, you may need to save more to build your nest egg than if you’d been able to stash the cash earlier.
6 Tips and Resources for Those in the Sandwich Generation
While the prospect of keeping all generations of your family afloat is intimidating, it’s not impossible. And you shouldn’t go it alone. There are many resources to help you care for your children, parents, and yourself as a caregiver. Here are a few tips to help you balance your time and money demands.
1. Set Boundaries
It’s up to you to set limits on how much time, energy, and money you’re willing to give. It’s like your trusty flight attendant says: Put your own mask on first. You have to ensure you don’t give more than you can handle, or you will end up in financial ruin yourself.
Drawing boundaries may sound harsh, but it’s an act of love. This way, everybody knows what to expect and what they have to work out on their own. This goes for both kids and parents. If you have X amount of money for sports teams or activities, let your children know what to expect. If you can afford to contribute X dollars toward your parents’ housing or medical expenses, tell them that you can give up to that amount.
2. Build a Support Network
Every parent needs a group of friends to swap babysitting with, vent to, and get advice from. Parents truly do need the support of a village to raise a child, and adult caregivers need the same reinforcements. The constant demands of helping someone else through day-to-day living are exhausting, so build up your support network.
This network can include neighbors, siblings, friends, coworkers, church leaders, and more. When people ask how they can help, don’t revert to your default, “We’re fine, thanks.” Ask for help! Remember—leaning on the support of others also permits them to ask for help if they need it in the future, too.
3. Delegate Tasks
You’ll drown if you try to do every little thing yourself. When caregiving responsibilities increase, you may have to let go of tasks you once took care of.
Get grocery pickup or delivery. Hire someone to mow the lawn. Ask a friend to pick up Mom’s medication. Delegate the little tasks when it doesn’t matter who does them. Save your time and energy for the things that only YOU can do well.
4. Prioritize Self-Care
The danger of caregiver burnout is very real, so take time to care for yourself physically and mentally. Get sufficient sleep, eat healthy foods, move your body, and take time to meditate, journal, pray, or take deep breaths to clear your mind. When you’re a caregiver, self-care is more important than over.
5. Seek Professional Guidance
Some tasks might simply be outside your wheelhouse. When dealing with the implications of selling assets to your parents’ benefits and taxes, estate planning, or navigating complex medical decisions, it’s a good idea to consult a professional.
Many lawyers and financial advisors will usually give you a short, free consultation to see if they are best suited to help your situation. Choose professionals that are trained to help with elder care situations.
6. Find Community Resources
There are likely programs to assist your caretaking efforts right in your community. Senior centers, respite care services, support groups, pro bono legal aid, Medicaid advocates, Meals on Wheels, and other organizations can be instrumental in caring for aging parents. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to see what resources are available locally.
Learn More about Managing Your Finances with Wealthly
Being a member of the Sandwich Generation poses unique mental, physical, and financial challenges. The strain of caring for children and parents simultaneously can have a major impact on your savings, retirement, spending, and more.
Being a caretaker doesn’t have to spell doom and gloom. There will certainly be hard times, but the sacrifices you make to care for family members have deep, significant meaning and draw you closer to your family members, by leaning on the people and resources you have available, you can access the support you need to be the best caregiver for your parents and your children.
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Content in this material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.