Senior Care, Financial Fitness, and the Sandwich Generation

The financial burdens that many middle-aged Americans face are certainly daunting. With an aging population that is living longer and more young adults struggling to make ends meet, the generation in the middle feels the economic pinch. More older people require senior care and other professional assistance. This phenomenon is certainly not new. Back in 1981, social worker Dorothy Miller coined the term “Sandwich Generation”.  This appropriately describes the people who are “sandwiched” between taking care of their children and their aging parents.

Labeling an entire generation of people seems to have become a regular activity. In this age of constant information, writers and academics are coming up with new and creative names. It is interesting to discuss the habits and characteristics of certain age groups. Unfortunately, many generational labels end up descending into discussions about stereotypes and biases.  However, of the many labels that exist, the term “sandwich generation” seems very appropriate to describe those who are facing the economic realities of their family situation.

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The Economic Reality

We have seen a great deal of research on the sandwich generation since Professor Miller’s article first appeared. Research indicates that the economic impact has only continued to grow those people who meet the criteria. To show how far-reaching this situation is, the Pew Research Center released a study in 2013. The data was an eye-opener that showed how many people are affected by this economic reality.

The study indicated that nearly half of adults (47%) in their 40’s and 50’s have a parent over the age of 65 years old and are supporting their children financially. What was particularly interesting is that one-in-seven (15%) of those adults were providing financial support to both their aged parents and their children. This data included grown children as well. The economic hardships in recent years have caused financial burdens for the sandwich generation to keep mounting. Senior care is certainly a priority for more American families.

The Great Recession and the economic fallout had a great toll on young people. The numbers tell a very sobering story. Roughly half (48%) of adults ages 40 to 59 had provided some financial support to at least one grown child in the past year, with 27% providing the primary support. While the economy has continued to recover since 2013, we still see many lasting effects. This has led to the phrase “Boomerang Generation” – describing those who are 34 years of age and younger still living with their parents.

Senior Care – Struggling to Find a Balance

It can be a real juggling act for members of the sandwich generation. Having aging parents to care for while still raising or supporting your children presents a stress not faced by other adults. Adults who become caregivers for their parents require not only financial support but also emotional support. While members of the sandwich generation tend to be as happy as any other adult group, they are more likely to say they are rushed and constantly pressed for time.

It is interesting to examine different cultural attitudes towards this situation. Some of my family members come from cultures where it is not uncommon for several generations to live together under one roof. Those of us who grew up in the United States are used to the mentality of moving out on your own and being self-sufficient at a young age. Some people embrace having their parents live with them in old age, while many treasure having a place of their own.

Regardless of our background, it’s a reality in this day and age for people to feel pressure from all sides. Our society is set up in a way that those in middle-age are the go-to group for support and problem solving. While many of us in this age group embrace this responsibility and consider it an honor and a duty, you have to take time for self-care.

Setting Boundaries

People who make the situation work are good at setting boundaries. It is important to communicate your expectations and needs to your family. Many people who are inclined to be givers can feel easily taken advantage of if they are not careful. Many people who are willing to support adult children struggle with establishing guidelines. When they feel that their kids are not doing enough to support themselves, it can cause resentment and hard feelings.

It might be a different situation with adult parents in need of senior care. Many of them simply are not able to take care of themselves anymore. They need someone to help them with day to day life. If you have a parent in a nursing home, there still emotional needs and discussions about their care you must manage. You still need to set boundaries so that you have time for self-care.

Please do not be afraid to have meaningful conversations with those you assist. If you financially support your children, set some expectations with them. It can really go a long way in helping maintain a strong relationship.

Maintaining a Good Attitude

Sometimes it is important to remember the “why” behind your actions. For the vast majority of the sandwich generation, the motivation comes purely out of love. Appreciation and gratitude toward your parents is a wonderful feeling to have. It’s natural to want to give back to them in their time of need. For some, senior care involves purely a sense of duty. Regardless of your motivation, it is very commendable.

The same goes for your children. Parental love never goes away, and many well-meaning parents still provide for their adult kids. While you never want to enable bad behavior or be taken advantage of, it is truly a good feeling to help a child who has fallen on hard times and needs a helping hand to recover.

Senior Care and Financial Realities

Regardless of how far-reaching your assistance is, you have to maintain a firm view on the financial realities. You deserve to enjoy life now and in the future. While it is wonderful to be generous, it is critical to look out for your needs as well. You deserve a long and fruitful retirement. If you are busy taking care of everyone else, who will take care of your needs?

Good financial planning is critical when you are in the sandwich generation. The Pew Center data indicated that 28% of the respondents felt that they were living comfortably. 30% met their basic needs with a little left over. 30% more said that they just barely met their basic needs. Unfortunately, 11% said they did not have enough to even meet their basic needs.

It is very sad to see so many people strained by the responsibility of supporting so many family members. The good news is that there is help available. As a financial planner, it is a privilege to do a deep examination of a person’s entire financial picture. It is not a simple matter of discussing saving and investing. True financial planning involves discussing their entire family obligation and what is important to them. It is a holistic activity that takes everyone’s best interest to heart.

Go For a Healthy Sandwich

If you feel crushed in by being “sandwiched” by your responsibilities, make sure to get the support you need. Your needs have to be met in order for you to help everyone else. It’s difficult, but find ways to maintain a balance. Regular exercise and good nutrition are powerful tools in providing physical and emotional support.

I work with members of the sandwich generation on a regular basis. It is helpful to have a professional you can trust and that looks out for your best interest. Often times, a neutral third party can help you get practical advice and give you a different perspective on matters. Another nice thing is that a planner like myself can help give strategy to benefit all the members of your family. Sometimes we struggle with a problem and do not realize that there are practical solutions out there for us. I have experience in obtaining senior care for some of my family members. It can be emotionally draining and frustrating. If your loved ones need senior care and have only basic insurance like Medicare, it can be especially challenging.

Being a sandwich may be a big responsibility, but there are a lot of hidden joys that come out of it. The fact you want to help your loved ones says a lot about your character. Time, experience, and the setting of boundaries in a kind-but-firm manner is a big help. You may feel guilty taking care of your needs along with those of others, but it really is a key to success for members of the sandwich generation. If you would like to discuss your personal situation with a professional, let’s talk!  You can easily schedule an appointment with me on the home page of buildfinancialmuscle.com 

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