As we grow older, it is important to invest time and energy towards planning for one’s retirement, considering their personal and financial needs for later in life. However, this can prove difficult, as many of us face several challenges that eat into our time and money. You go from a business meeting to your kid’s soccer practice to helping your parents with some home renovation. It is difficult to plan for your future when you not only have your own life to worry about but those of your loved ones as well.
If this describes you, then you might be part of what’s called the “Sandwich Generation,” a group of people facing the pressures of managing their own career and personal issues, while also helping your family members on both ends of the family tree. No matter how capable you are though, you can’t really do it all on your own. If you stretch yourself too thin, your risk burnout, cutting into your own personal happiness while leaving yourself with little time to prepare for the future.
What is the Sandwich Generation?
The Sandwich Generation usually refers to middle-aged people who are pressured to support both their growing children and their aging parents, facing a serious financial squeeze at both ends. The term comes from the fact that they are effectively “sandwiched” between the obligation to care for their parents and their children, who often require financial, physical, and emotional support. Journalist Carol Abaya first coined the term back in the ‘90s, basing her thinking on her personal experiences with taking care of her elderly parents.1
Though the Sandwich Generation typically refers to middle-aged people, there are multiple demographics that exist within this wider concept:
- The Traditional Sandwich Generation — Adults typically in their 40s or early 50s sandwiched between their elderly parents and their typically adult children who both need financial or other assistance.
- The Club Sandwich Generation — Older adults in their 50 or 60s who are wedged between aging parents, their adult children, and possibly grandchildren. This term can also refer to younger adults in their 30s or 40s who have younger children, elderly parents, and aging grandparents.
- The Open-Faced Sandwich Generation — Anyone who’s non-professionally involved in eldercare.
These types of situations where people are forced to support multiple generation’s worth of family members are increasingly common. According to a Pew Research Center study,2 it is estimated that about one in seven Americans between the ages of 40 and 60 are simultaneously providing some financial assistance to both a parent and a child. Not only does this make balancing your time and energy across all your responsibilities a constant challenge, but it also creates problems for those looking to prepare for later in life. This can be especially difficult for women, who are often expected to serve as caregivers, and thus are more likely to have these responsibilities thrust upon them.
Taking Control of Sandwich Generation Stress
To stay healthy and support their loved ones, Sandwich Generation caregivers need to take time to take care of themselves, address financial burdens, and manage stress. It can be tough, but there are multiple steps that you can take to gain control of the situation, better manage everyone’s financial situation, and still find room for yourself.
- Take stock of everyone’s financial lives: Knowing where everyone stands financially eliminates some of the uncertainty involved. Some might feel embarrassed or not want to burden their family with their financial challenges, but the sooner you get a handle on these things, the easier it is to ensure everything is in order.
- Separate personal expenses from parents and adult children: This clarifies the level of support being provided so you can balance your own needs against those of your adult family members.
- Establish financial boundaries with family members: No matter who you’re responsible for financially, you need to set boundaries with each party by agreeing to keep them from becoming over-reliant on you. Consider creating a set amount of support each month or year for pre-determined expenses.
- Set realistic and well-defined goals: Whether it’s financial or personal, you can’t accomplish a goal unless you are clear about what you hope to achieve. Instead of saying you want to be “comfortable” in retirement or that you want your children to attend “good” schools, define exactly what “comfortable” and “good” mean so you’ll know what it takes to reach your goals.
- Reevaluate your finances periodically: Your financial goals will change gradually over time, so revisit and revise your financial plan so you stay on track to meet your long-term goals.
- Plan for emergencies: The past few years have shown just how unpredictable life can be, so when planning your finances, you should always account for emergencies and sudden disruptions.
- Keep everyone in the loop: One of your goals should be to promote financial independence, but that doesn’t mean cutting people off or going behind their backs. Keep the doors of communication open concerning expectations of family members, resolving issues quickly to keep stress levels low all around.
Ultimately, the path to correcting a “Sandwich Generation” scenario is to go from having one person supporting people across multiple generations to having multiple generations working together to support one another. This mitigates stress, encourages financial stability, and gives everyone the opportunity to focus on their own needs.
1. Abaya, C. (1998). The Sandwich Generation. The Sandwich Generation. https://www.sandwichgeneration.com/.
2. Livingston, G. (2018, November 29). More than one-in-ten U.S. parents are also caring for an adult. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/11/29/more-than-one-in-ten-u-s-parents-are-also-caring-for-an-adult/.