Aging parents, boomerang kids and club sandwich

by Suba

Nah, no one is giving out free sandwiches for kids and seniors. I am talking about sandwich retirement. I fully expect to be part of the sandwich generation in a couple of years.  My parents and in-laws are either retired or very close to retiring. For various reasons (cultural, monetary and others) there is an expectation that my husband and I will provide for our parents as well as (obviously) looking after our own family.


I feel responsible to do so as well because I know how much my parents and in-laws sacrificed during DH’s and my childhood, foregoing many things to provide us a better chance in life than they had.  I was looking into various aspects of being a part of the sandwich generation and for starters came across these interesting facts from Wikipedia:

  • July is Sandwich Generation month! I must remember to check Hallmark next year to see if they have cards celebrating this :)!
  • 1 of 8 Americans in the 40 – 60 age group falls into this category
  • There are 3 sub-classifications within this genre: traditional, club (grand kids + kids + you + parents or kids + you + parents + grandparents) and open faced (anyone else involved in elder care).

Now that you are thoroughly up to speed on the topic :), let’s not forget that better healthcare can mean that you are going to be in the middle of the sandwich for a while.  This is especially true these days because of ‘boomerang kids’ (more cool terms to bandy about at the next party!).  In case you didn’t already know, boomerang kids are the ones who follow the trajectory home -> college -> back home without a job.  Effectively this can put a severe financial (as well as mental and emotional) strain on the meat of the sandwich, namely the sandwich generation.

A number of baby boomers are faced with the prospect of caring for aging parents while supporting their children all on a diminished nest egg thanks to the vagaries of the stock market.  Even the next generation is in potential troubled waters because their parents entered retirement just before the economy went south and the kids are still in college/fresh unemployed graduates. In addition to being the financial lifeblood of their families they also have to save for their own retirement. Enough of all the doom and gloom.  If you are a gen sandwich person, what can you do?   

Caring for parents

First take stock of your financial situation to know how much financial load you can handle.  Next open communication channels with your parents.  The earlier you talk about the financial realities and take stock, the better off you will be.  You may even notice that your parents are solicitous of your opinion.  I’ve noticed that as my parents’ age they seem to depend more and more on my opinion and judgment even in matters that would have been entirely routine for them 5-10 years ago.  The next thing is to implement a plan of affairs.  Make sure you are aware of which doctors they need to see on a regular basis and also try and estimate how much you might need in addition for future health problems.  Make sure you have access to the financial, medical documents, living will and a power of attorney you will need in case things take a turn for the worse.  It’s also a good idea to check on the costs of long term care and have a contingency plan before you need it.  Be aware of the many benefits that are available to seniors.  There are Government benefits and other company benefits (like pharma companies providing drug assistance for seniors). Do the research and know where to cut costs without affecting lifestyle. If needed, you can always avail the assistance of social services and elder care attorneys.

Caring for the kids

The other aspect the sandwich generation has to deal with are kids.  In this regard the first step is probably to set the right level of expectations with your children and teach them fiscal responsibility and good monetary sense.  Unless you really can, do not pay for your children’s college education (especially do not dip into your retirement savings to do so).  While this may sound harsh there are sound reasons for this.  If you do go heavily into debt to finance your children’s college education and do not have enough to retire on, you are going to be depending on your children financially anyway.  It is better to make them pay their way through college or if needed take modest loans.

If your children are back home after college without a job, talk to them about why that is so.  If the reason is that they are not finding the “right job” you may need to set the expectation that right job or not they are expected to earn a sum of money to at least partially offset the costs of living under your roof.  That way you provide them with support while teaching responsibility and not burning a hole in your pocket.

Caring for yourself

Most important is to keep yourself on track for your retirement.  You shouldn’t have the expectation that the government of your children will help you out.  Start early and put away as much as you can.

photo: Some rights reserved by berendbotje54

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Maggie@SquarePennies August 24, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Good suggestions for an important topic. As your parents age be sure to keep up communication with any siblings you have. Come to agreement with them about who will do what & when. Make sure that one person is not doing it all. It’s a process–not everything needs to be decided right away, but keeping the lines of communication open about it can help in the future.

101 Centavos August 25, 2011 at 3:49 am

Caring for aging parents is not something we’re having to do yet, but we’re prepared to do nonetheless. As for our kids, we’re already trying to condition them that they’re obligated to feed us and change our diapers when we get old… 🙂 It’s only fair since we already did this for them. So far, they’re not buying the argument.

Squirrelers August 26, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Good post. There are so many people that just don’t consider the possibility of caring for the prior generation – and some of that might be cultural. However, this can become a need for many people. Another reason to live within one’s means and save as much as you can. I know that with everything my parents did for me, I’ll be there for them in some way for sure.

Harri @ TotallyMoney August 31, 2011 at 7:26 am

Graduating in the middle of the recession, I was a boomerang kid (not, I must add, for want of trying). Here are my recommendations for dealing with boomerang kids:

1. Try and be sympathetic. Tough I know, but hear me out. Getting on to the career ladder as a grad is hard (dare I say it harder than in previous years). Academically successful I had never ever dealt with rejection before. Now I was being rejected from (literally) hundreds of jobs and my confidence plummeted. If your kid is sat at home all day playing Halo, fair enough- I can understand that won’t make you too happy. But if they’re slogging their guts trying to get a foot on the career ladder, be patient. Mum’s sympathy for my situation helped me a lot and she helped me realise I wasn’t completely unemployable or useless.

2. Be frank about expectations. By that I mean length of time your kid is planning on living at home for, how much time will be dedicated to job hunting, how much they’ll be contributing to the house and the chores they’ll be doing. When I moved back home I was totally broke for the first month. I couldn’t afford to pay my parents rent so I earned my keep fixing fences, painting and cleaning. In other words jobs that my parents would have forked out money on. Once I started working I paid rent and made dinners in the evenings and did the washing.

3. Even when your child is searching for a job (career), encourage them to get a job for the time being. My time filler job (as a receptionist) was dull as ditch water but it boosted my confidence, brought in rent money and surprisingly gave me discussion points for my subsequent interviews.

Kevin@RothIRA August 31, 2011 at 2:16 pm

This phenomenom has been pretty well documented in recent years and it’s tough situation to be in. It makes a strong case for keeping your investments flexible! In preparing for retirement, where most peoples money usually is, that may mean avoiding tying up most money in qualified plans like 401k’s and traditional IRA’s, where there will be taxes and penalties for early withdrawals.

Some money should be accessible in case it’s needed before retirement, as will be the case if you’re caring for both children and your parents. Roth IRA accounts and non-retirement accounts will fit the bill. We can no longer think exclusively of the very long term (our retirement) when there are so many pressing needs between now and then.

Lisa @ Cents To Save September 4, 2011 at 8:32 pm

My parents are 90 and 76. My mom is healthy and takes care of my 90 year old dad. She does not want assistance, (this is how her generation thinks) and does not think it is that big if deal. But in reality, it is a big deal. She bathes him, makes sure he eats right, checks his blood sugar several times a day, ….you get the picture. God Bless her, I say. She is remarkable.

If she will eventually let me help her, I will. I am an only, so it is me and my family that will take care of them when they let us 🙂

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