People are both living longer and waiting longer to have children. As a result, about half of adults in their 40s and 50s are now feeling sandwiched between raising young children or supporting a grown child, while also helping care for aging parents. According to a Pew report, about one in seven middle-aged adults are experiencing the squeeze financially, providing support for both a child and a parent. In addition to providing care and financial support to both aging parents and young or grown children, about 38 percent of those also feel the pressures of providing emotional support to both children and parents.
If this describes your situation, you likely feel both financially and emotionally drained at times, even as you feel grateful to be able to help. Here are five ways you can better navigate the financial and emotional challenges of being in the generational sandwich.
1. Schedule a financial checkup
First things first: how are you doing with meeting your current financial obligations? According to that same Pew report, about 30 percent of adults who are helping to support both an aging parent and a child say they are just able to meet their basic expenses, with another 11 percent saying they don't have enough to meet even basic expenses. Even for those who are able to meet basic expenses with a little left over (another 30 percent), the financial situation can still feel tenuous.
Consider conducting a financial checkup, where you assess everything from credit and debt to insurance coverage and retirement savings. It's also a good idea to start an emergency fund if you don't have one already, along with earmarking any savings milestones you're working towards, such as putting a child through college.
2. Create guiding principles
PBS Next Avenue columnist Jeff Brown suggests that adults in this situation create guiding principles for figuring out financial implications. There are several ways to do this, but a great first step is to write down on paper the financial responsibilities and expectations of each generation, tackling questions such as "How much can each generation contribute financially to the others?" and "what non-financial contributions can each generation make?" (such as mowing lawns, providing transportation, babysitting, etc.).
3. Increase retirement savings
It's easy to let your own retirement savings slide when you are focused on others' needs. Most Sandwich Generation adults fail to think about retirement early enough, which makes sense, because you are trying to fund your current life. Imagining the needs of your future life can feel overwhelming. At least make sure you have taken the first step toward retirement planning by establishing how much money you will need to save using a retirement calculator.
4. Adjust your portfolio for your situation
A common portfolio allocation strategy is to go heavier on stocks for younger people (because they have time to ride out the risk), heavier on bonds for older people (who are nearing or in retirement and don't want as much risk), and balance the two accordingly for the midlife set. However, those in the financial sandwich are likely dealing with the needs of multiple generations, so talk with a reliable financial advisor about how to adapt your situation.
5. Focus on self-care
Beyond the financial burdens of attending to the needs of multiple generations, there are basic caregiving burdens which shouldn't be overlooked. On average, caregiving still tends to fall more to women than men.
According to recent research on sandwich generation women, maintaining health and well-being is one of the key ways that women with a range of responsibilities across the generations balance their roles. The women in the study define health and well-being in different ways, but common themes were getting enough sleep, eating nutritiously and taking time to exercise to benefit both physical and mental health. The women in the study admitted that it was hard to find time to practice self-care, but setting small daily goals was a good strategy. Taking care of yourself may mean you need to ask for help, whether from a financial advisor, a lawyer, or a social worker. Getting the support you need can help alleviate some of the pressures you may feel as you juggle issues ranging from homework to in-home care.
Lessening the pressure may enable you to better appreciate the fact that you get to share your life with both your children and your parents.