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Our tendency to live longer means that many families are in the unenviable position of supporting elderly parents while preparing for their retirement and trying to send their kids to good colleges. 

It’s impossible to get everything you want without an infinite supply of funds. But there are some reliable guiding principles. July is Sandwich Generation Month, a month dedicated to all the families struggling with this issue.


Put on your own oxygen mask first


We’ve talked about this principle before, particularly around the idea of self-care. It’s equally important when you’re trying to juggle your financial needs with those of others.


Why do the flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on first? Is it because they think your selfish, or they want you to be selfish? Is it because they think you don’t care about the others around you? Do they believe, without even knowing you, that you feel you’re more important than everyone else?


It sounds ridiculous when put like that, right? You know why you need to put yours first: because you can’t help other people when you can’t breathe yourself.


Your financial needs are no different. If you don’t secure your financial future, how can you help others with theirs? If you drain your resources to help your parents, you cannot help your kids. If you assist your kids, you may put yourself in the position of needing their help in the long run.


Hopefully, by looking at the situation this way, you can see that it’s not selfish for you to want to prioritize your financial health before you try to support others with theirs. It’s common sense, not arrogance or unwillingness to help others.


Get help when you need it

There are a lot of services available for the elderly that your parents can use. You may need to research them. If you can’t spare the time to make all their meals or take them shopping, you’ll probably be able to find a program that will help them. 


And even if you do have the time, make sure that you get a break. Caregiving is a wonderful gift that you give to others, and it is also emotionally and mentally draining. All caregivers need to be able to take breaks to recharge


It’s not selfish to recharge your batteries. When you let them run down, you have nothing left to give to anyone. Keeping them charged is the best way for you to provide the care that you want your family to have. There are organizations specifically for caregivers that help with the mental and physical resources you need.


Years ago, a friend (at the time in her sixties) whose mother had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease was the primary caregiver. Her brother agreed to pay her for the service she provided. 

But because she took her mom to an adult daycare a few days a week, he wouldn’t pay for caregiver relief to come in so that she and her husband could go on vacation. This stress went on for years until her mother died of related complications. A few months later, she realized that she was displaying symptoms of the disease and that she had inherited it. 


Imagine spending all those years unable to take a break and enjoy time with your spouse or children due to your caregiving duties. Then you spend more years unable to take a break and enjoy that time because of a disease that prevents you from doing so. 


It would help if you took the vacation time that you get at work because rest and breaks are crucial to maintaining productivity, and even more importantly, joy in your life. Also, make sure that you get breaks and rest when you’re caring for a loved one. Renew your energy by spending time with your spouse and children too.

Loans for school, but no loans for retirement

On the other side of the sandwich, many parents feel the need to provide for their kids’ education in the same way that their parents did. Or because they recognize how important education is.


You and your kids are in very different phases of life. Your own earnings years are either drawing to a close or decreasing. While your kids either haven’t started yet or just entered the workforce. They have the time to pay off loans that you don’t. Most of the time, when you die, your loans and debts stay live.


Which means that you need to make sure you’re saving enough for retirement. You probably are already aware that Social Security is on somewhat shaky financial ground. However, it’s highly unlikely that people who have already paid into the system for decades won’t get anything. Currently, the program is fully solvent until 2035, but after that, it will be able to pay out only 75% of promised benefits.


We’ve been here before, most recently in the 1980s, when one solution was to push back the age at which people could take normal retirement, from age 65 to age 67. There are other ways to fix Social Security, including paying the tax on all wages, not just the first $138,000. On the other hand, it’s probably not a wise course to decide that you will depend utterly on Social Security for your retirement either.


Few workers have pensions anymore, so your retirement savings will be the bulk of what you live on in old age. If your balance is low, you have less time for the money to compound and you need to beef it up significantly. If you’re in the middle of your prime earning years (your 40s and 50s), you need to sock away as much as you can.


That may leave less for your kids’ college educations, but they can take out loans. They can also look into work-study programs. Many families save by enrolling their kids in community college for the first two years, before transferring to a 4-year university. There are a lot of options when you’re not focused on specific institutions or specific degrees. 


Be honest with your kids that they’ll need to contribute to their college fund. They might choose to supplement what you can give them with earnings from summer work, or save up birthday and holiday gifts. Get them involved in the future. Not only is it good for your wallet, but it’s better for them too.


If you want to discuss how to balance out your sandwich situation, please give us a call at 619.255.9554 or email us for an appointment.


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