Many Americans today are part of what is known as the sandwich generation. No, that doesn’t mean covered in peanut butter or surrounded by lettuce and tomatoes. It refers to being economically sandwiched by two other generations, one older and one younger, that rely on you for financial support.
Providing emotional support for parents and children is part and parcel of being human. It’s both demanding and rewarding, but also creates some fear for the future. Providing financial support for these loved ones while taking care of yourself and your own future, however, can be tough. For many, it seems like an inescapable burden, and fulfilling it can leave you unable to provide sufficient resources to meet your own needs.
If you’re still funding your adult kids’ lifestyles and struggling to take good care of your parents’ financial needs at the same time, you might want to consider whether it’s the best strategy. Despite the desire to provide everything you can for your family, this financial sandwich can leave you in a bad situation a few years down the road.
- Your kids have their whole life to pay back college and other debts. It feels good to provide your children with a debt-free college education and help with a car, house or other steps toward the good life. But can you afford it? Ignoring your financial future so you can give them the best start isn’t in anyone’s best interest. If you can’t support yourself in retirement, they’ll feel duty-bound to help. It’s often better to let them take out loans to accomplish their goals, while you save for your retirement years. That leaves you better prepared to take care of your own future needs while helping them realize the true costs of their choices and value them appropriately.
- Learn from your parents and save more toward retirement. The financial sandwich you’re in now should illustrate the importance of saving for retirement. It’s more expensive than most people expect, between rising healthcare costs, inflation and longer lifespans. You’re seeing that first-hand with your parents; learn the lessons that their predicament illustrates and get serious about saving now, so you won’t be in the same one later.
- You cannot take out loans for retirement. While it’s relatively easy to get a loan for a college education, house or car, just try asking for one to pay for retirement expenses. Lenders will laugh at you! Once you’re past working age, it’s virtually impossible to get a loan unless you can prove you have the resources to pay it back. That’s not a situation that inspires confidence for older Americans who need extra income just to get by, so let the kids get a loan now. It’s far easier to obtain and pay back than the one you’ll need if you don’t save enough for your retirement.
What’s the takeaway? Giving your retirement savings short shrift so you can keep paying for the generational sandwich isn’t wise. If you don’t have enough saved, it’s helpful to do what you can to maximize your Social Security income. But in the big picture, it’s probably more important to save for your own retirement than to fully fund your children’s college and post-college years.
Not associated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other government agency.