The “Sandwich Generation” and the Changing Family Dynamic

The “Sandwich Generation” is becoming a more commonly used term as more and more individuals begin caring for not only their aging parents, but their children as well, all the while planning for their own personal retirement.  According to an April 2010 Merrill Lynch Affluent Insights Quarterly survey, more than one-third of affluent Americans financially support their children and parents while trying to maintain and build upon what they have set aside for retirement.  According to the Pew Research Center, 1 of every 8 Americans aged 40 to 60 is both raising a child and caring for a parent, in addition to between 7 to 10 million adults caring for their aging parents from a long distance.  The US Census Bureau statistics indicate that the number of older Americans aged 65 or older will double by the year 2030, to over 70 million.

With the complex equation of most individuals within the sandwich generation being baby boomers, added to the intricate family dynamics, financial advisors are finding themselves advising over three generations.  What is the family dynamic like?  Many boomers work full time jobs while raising a family or supporting children in college, in addition to serving as the primary caregiver to one or both parents.  How do these families cope with the changing dynamic?  Most consider trade-offs, such as significantly cutting back on personal luxuries, making lifestyle sacrifices to support their family’s needs, and even cutting back on their own personal retirement.

So, what kind of help can advisors give to those facing the pending or already existent sandwich generation?  First and foremost, ease the stress of competing demands by identifying core values and priorities to find balance in life.  Always keep open lines of communication – of course it’s difficult to discuss the financial impact of diminishing health and the eventual loss of a loved one, but putting off that conversation can leave you unprepared for the consequences.  Implementing a plan of affairs for aging parents can off-set the negative consequences of a life-changing event.  Be sure to know where your family members keep important financial and medical documents, as well as the contact information of doctors, lawyers and advisors.  Always know the type of long term care, and how much it will cost.

When it comes to financing children’s education, only 12% of the sandwich generation said they were cutting back on contributions.  What’s the biggest tip for parents?  Start saving early.  Teach your children early on the skills necessary to embrace financial independence, budgeting, and the importance of credit and planning for retirement.  You can even bring your kids with you to an advisor meeting to discuss all these great education finance tips.

I’m sure you’re thinking: but what about me?  Get with an advisor and review your investment strategy, as well as home financing, asset allocation, insurance, securities, your portfolio, and your general retirement strategy in general.  This way, advisors can help shift financial securities based on the family’s specific dynamic.  According to the survey, 54% of the members of the sandwich generation work with an adviser, and among them, 32% wish that they had started working with one sooner.  Among the remaining 46% who don’t work with an adviser, 83% think that they would benefit from such a relationship.


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