THE TERM "SANDWICH GENERATION" HAS BEEN USED FOR YEARS IN REFERENCE TO THE SECT OF BABY BOOMERS WHO WERE FOOTING THE BILL FOR BOTH AGING PARENTS AND KIDS IN COLLEGE. IN THIS ARTICLE, WE WILL DISCUSS THE UNIQUE STRESSES AND EMOTIONAL BURDENS "SANDWICHED" INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES FACE, AND HOW TO PLAN FOR A FINANCIAL FUTURE DESPITE IT ALL.
Survival Tips for Members of the Ever-Growing Club Sandwich Generation
In the 1990s, when Carol Abaya first introduced the term “Sandwich Generation,1 ” the metaphor referred to the sect of Baby Boomers who were footing the bill for both aging parents and kids in college. Her personal experience as a caregiver for her parents and her reputation as a renowned journalist enabled her to bring wide attention to the unique stresses and emotional burdens “sandwiched” individuals and families face.
Today, relief may be on the horizon for those first generation Boomers, who are 57-75 years old themselves. To the rescue comes a whopping 65 million 41-56 year-old Gen Xers who now reluctantly inherit the same challenges their parents have owned for years.2 In fact, Gen Xers are already feeling the squeeze. According to a recent T.Rowe Price survey, more than a third of parents with school-age children are caring for an aging parent as well.3
Spikes in longevity can mean that multiple generations may be in need of financial and emotional support, and there’s a chance that responsibility for all of that care and cash will fall to a single person or family unit. Remember that this includes not only college expenses for the kids, but the real probability that unemployed college graduates may be moving back home.
And let’s not forget to add that big helping of Boomers and Gen Xers trying to plan and save for their own retirement to our already overflowing hoagie. With all these layers, we’re talking about more than just a $5 Foot Long. In fact, I have labeled the members of this uniquely positioned group the Club Sandwich Generation.
Let’s start by taking a look at how this club sandwich got put on the menu in the first place.
Americans have traditionally strived to turn over to their offspring a better standard of living than the one they knew. Technological advancements and economic expansion over the past generation have multiplied the number of opportunities for young adults to earn a living, right? And aren’t senior citizens active, engaged in myriad activities and living healthier lives these days? Yes, many are.
So why have so many younger and older people squeezed Boomers (and now, Gen-Xers) in the middle?
The Bottom of the Club Sandwich – The Boomerangs
First, there is the younger generation, the adult children (“boomerangs”) who have moved back home in record numbers. Why?
Well, it’s not because they can’t get enough of our home cooking. No, a TD Ameritrade study confirmed that the chief culprit driving 50% of millennials home after they finish college is the burden of student debt.4 The amount of student debt is no small number. It now stands at $1.7 trillion and is growing at a rate six times faster than the nation’s economy.5
To exacerbate the problem, just throw in a coronavirus pandemic when as many as 1,102 colleges and universities in the U.S. closed their campuses and an estimated 14 million students stayed home.6
That has helped push the number of 18-29 year-olds living with their parents to a staggering 52% of the overall age group.7
Not only are returning young adults facing financial challenges, but emotional challenges as well, as it’s difficult to see young adults come back home, often with a sense of failure and an acute need for personal and professional guidance.
This, in and of itself, can be an extremely daunting task. Many of the boomerangs have never mastered such A-B-C financial skills as creating and sticking to budgets, avoiding consumer debt, putting money aside for an emergency and investing for the long-term.
Combine this lack of knowledge with little or no income, and you have adult children who will once again be relying on parents for support who may be ill-equipped to take on the additional responsibility.
Lessons & Thoughts on Handling Your Boomerangs
- Be ostentatious about setting budgets and make a big deal about sticking to them. Even at an advanced age, your children are still likely to watch and emulate your fiscal responsibility.
- Set and make clear your financial expectations for your boomerangs. Consider charging monthly rent or ask for help with utility bills, as these small items can help take some pressure off your pocketbook while assisting the kids in getting back on their feet.
- As hard as it may be, it might make sense to put a time limit on their stay. If your boomerangs know that their lodging situation has an expiration date, they may be more motivated to step up their search for a job.
- Ensure that your boomerang is looking for a job, and help them if necessary. Consider having explicit check-ins to check their progress toward financial independence; making money at a job is one thing, but putting it away to use later is another thing entirely.
- Setting goals is important for adult children in helping them find their way in the world. Once they achieve even a small goal and they can see that their efforts are bearing fruit, they’ll find they can provide the emotional and financial support they’ve been looking for from you.
- It’s normal to get frustrated, but try to avoid letting your frustration show. In most cases, boomerangs are as upset by their financial situation as you are, and fighting about it will only make it worse. They will thank you for your patience later.
The Top of the Club Sandwich – Aging Parents
Different as the end result may be, putting a plan together with the older half of the sandwich is just as important as it is with the younger half. By any measure, it’s a fact that, overall, Americans are living longer, more active lives.
Sixty-five-year-old American men and women today have a better chance than ever before of reaching their 80th birthdays and even their 90th birthdays.8 But those longer lives need money to fuel them and, the fact is, not many people prepare financially for a retirement that is 20 or 30 years long, much less one that is still going after that.
Many members of earlier generations worked at jobs that provided an attractive pension at the end of a long and often grueling career. But it’s entirely likely that your mother or father’s pension check has not kept up with inflation over the years.
Couple that with the likelihood that your mother or father has consistently increasing healthcare costs, and you can easily see how helping an older loved one can become financially stressful. In fact, a recent study found that almost a third of those caring for an aging parent or relative spend $3000 or more a month in financial support.9
As with the younger half of the sandwich, it’s important to have a plan where it concerns your older loved ones. Planning should start as long before a parent’s needs arise as possible, but keep in mind that many subjects can be touchy with a member of a proud generation that rarely discussed money or looked for sympathy.
Lessons and Thoughts for the Young at Heart:
- Caring for an older family member may require a little more self-interest on your part. Even though a parent raised you and made sacrifices in the past, that doesn’t mean you have to be driven to financial ruin by caring for them.
- Communicating early in the process is the key. Start with a discussion about money, about how much your loved ones have and where they intend to spend it. Have they expressed an interest in leaving a legacy? Will there be enough there to cover the expenses? Once you get the dialogue started, you may also want to get an advisor involved, as expert help can be crucial in creating a plan based on a lifetime of accrued funds in a variety of different accounts.
- Make sure your loved ones are getting the most out of health insurance programs. For example, can money be saved on prescriptions with one MediCare program instead of another? Then there’s long-term care insurance. It’s something that can potentially protect your savings and investments in the future, when the emotion of caring for an older loved one can be taxing.
- And speaking of taxes. Be sure to check with a tax professional, as you may qualify for claiming a parent as a dependent on your tax return, getting a dependent care credit, and claiming a medical-care deduction if you’re paying a parent’s medical expenses.These savings could make a big difference in reducing the impact on your own funds.
- The frustration tip works both for boomerangs and aging parents. Remembering that everyone is struggling with the situation in their own way can help you keep a clear head.
The sandwich generation is a big club, and being caught in the middle of your own club sandwich can be an emotionally, physically and financially taxing experience. Educate yourself as much as possible throughout the process, try not to lose your cool and try to take the steps you can to ease the burden. And remember, although you may have a lot on your plate, in the middle of it all, don’t lose track of saving for your own financial future.
For more details download our free eBook "Sandwich Generation", click here.