Sandwich Generation: How to Survive Financially

Q. My husband and I are in our mid 40s and caught between raising our 10 and 14 year old children, working full-time, and caring for my father, who has Parkinson’s. We are particularly concerned about saving for college for our children and for our own retirement, while helping my father live safely and comfortably with all the assistance he needs. We are also stressed about long-term care, should my father need a nursing home in the future, since we are convinced that his savings will not last long.  Are there any strategies to help families like ours?

A. According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, 47% of adults in their 40s and 50s are part of what is known as the “sandwich generation.” In other words, they are being pulled in many directions, with a parent age 65 or older who needs assistance, a job, and children who they are raising and supporting.

Life in the sandwich generation could be a bit stressful. Having an aging parent while still raising one’s own children presents certain challenges not faced by other adults, which often include:

  • Lost Time: It’s estimated that responsibilities, including driving parents to doctor’s appointments, running errands, driving the kids to after-school activities, and overseeing homework each night, can take up to 18 hours a week. That leaves little time left to work during the day.
  • Forgoing Full-Time Work and Benefits: Sandwich generation caregivers may have to give up important benefits, or turn away promotions and the higher salary because they can’t stay late at the office or travel for business. This can add up to a lot in lost income. In fact, “the average worker who takes time off to provide care for an aging parent sacrifices more than $300,000 in lost wages and benefits over a lifetime,” says Sandra Timmermann, a gerontologist and director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute.
  • Saving for college: According to the College Board, over four years it will cost $129,700 for a student who entered a private college in 2013, and $38,300 for an in-state resident at a public college or university. Many families have a hard time saving enough, but luckily there are other options that don’t require refinancing the house.
  • Costs of Long-Term Care: The latest 2014 report by Genworth Financial estimates that the national median daily cost of a private room in a nursing home is $87,600 per year, an increase of 2.62 percent over 2013. In the DC Metro area, the survey shows that the average cost of a nursing home in 2014 is $110,595 per year. That can quickly deplete an older parent’s hard-earned savings, and without proper Medicaid Planning the adult children can then become responsible for payment of the nursing home bills for the parent.

If you’re trying to juggle your own life and career while looking after aging parents and young children, here are some financial strategies to help get you through:

  1. Look for outside help: Those who experience Sandwich Generation stress need to recognize that they can’t do it all. If your kids need extra help in school, consider hiring a tutor. If your father’s home is not suitable for his condition, consider hiring a consultant to help make it more accessible. To learn more about these resources, the National Family Caregiving Support Program is a good place to start. We also have a list of trusted referrals on our Website.
  2. Keep saving: It’s often difficult juggling a mortgage, children’s needs, retirement, and costs for aging parents. A good place to start is by creating a budget and sticking to it.
  3. Think about your own retirement: Don’t sacrifice your own financial future to take care of a parent. The end result will be that your children will have to take care of you one day. Instead, work with a financial planner (see our list of trusted referrals) to build up your net worth.
  4. Fund a college savings plan: A 529 plan is a terrific way to save, and qualifying educational expenses can be distributed tax free.
  5. Plan ahead: It is prudent to be prepared, in case your father needs long-term care down the road. By being proactive and planning for long-term care in advance, you can help make sure your father always receives the care he needs without worry or financial struggle. You’ll further avoid many costly legal headaches that adult children face when they are not prepared for their parent’s incapacity or ongoing care needs. Generally, the earlier someone plans for long-term care needs, the better. But it is never too late to begin preparing. Even if your were father were already in a nursing home receiving long-term care, it would not be too late to do Long-term Care Planning, also called Lifecare Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection Planning.

Caring for kids and parents at the same time is extremely challenging. However, there are ways to work around the challenges. With a bit of advanced planning, it can be done successfully.

To do your own planning, or to help plan for the future needs of your parents, please call the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Long-Term Care Planning Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation.

 

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