As a certified financial planner, I often find that working with people and their money is like solving a good puzzle. This is especially true when I work with those in the "sandwich generation". The sandwich generation is defined as adults in their 40s and 50s who find themselves sandwiched between taking care of young or adult children and supporting younger parents, as well as taking care of themselves. If you're in this "caught in the middle" group of people, here are some ways you can prioritize and manage these competing responsibilities.
Many older parents want to maintain a level of independence and may not be willing to share all their financial details with their children. However, it's important that some plans are made in the event there are unforeseen circumstances. You can start determining how willing they are to engage in these discussions. Are they willing to share if they have legal and financial documents in place? Even asking for a copy of these documents can spark a conversation that can lead to getting clear about what has and hasn't been done. If you find it hard to start these conversations, consider working with a professional ho can serve as a facilitator.
Too often, people wait until a parent is cognitively impaired to start thining about these issues. Once that happens, the choices are limited regarding what can and can't be done. If you have siblings, it's important to define who will be the caregiver when needed and who will be able to step in to provide financial assistance when warranted. The best way to combat family disruptions is to open the lines of communication so everyone has a chance to express their concerns.
Communication is also key with children. What is their level of expectation regarding support, financial and otherwise? I meet so many parents who end up sacrificing their own financial situation on behalf of their children. This is especially true when paying for college. I always tell parents to remember that you can finance college, but you can't finance retirement. By setting boundaries on how much you're willing and can afford to help, you'll help them manage their own financial decisions.
Often, the sandwich generation spends their time and money taking care of everyone else around them while avoiding looking at their own financial situation. This may be easier to do while you're still working, but at some point, you may have to scale back or stop working. In that case, switching from working to living off the assets you have can require a major life adjustment.
Before thinking about taking on the financial responsibilities of parents and children, make sure your financial house is in order. Do you have a "liberty fund"? Are you saving 15-20% of your income for retirement? Do you know how much money you'll need in retirement? Are you properly protected? Making sure your own financial situation is solid gives you the freedom to ffer some support to others without feeling like it's jeopardizing your own financial needs.
Taking a Timeout
As a financial behaviorist, I know the importance of emotions can play in financial decision-making. There can be a sense of obligation, guilt, or anger that can manifest when you're trying to juggle these competing priorities all at once. It's important to maintain some level of realism in what you can and can't do. This is the case financially, emotionally, and physically.
You can't reasonably be expected to take care of others if you first don't take care of yourself. There are many support groups that can provide some assistace, even if it's just listening to your pain points. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is not engaging with a professional who can provide resources and expertise to work through all these issues. Don't be afraid to ask for support to get help when you need it. No one expects you to do it all.