Caring for your aging parents while your children are still at home can leave you feeling like you're being pulled in opposite directions. Two generations rely on you — leaving you little time, energy or resources to take care of your needs or plan for retirement.
Prioritizing your financial needs isn't selfish. It's the key to protecting yourself and everyone you love. With a solid financial plan in place — including a plan for retirement — you'll be in a better position to age independently, guide your children into adulthood and give your parents the support they need.
Here's what members of the sandwich generation can do to plan for retirement.
Know Where Your Parents Stand
According to a September 2020 CNBC report, Americans are more comfortable talking about drug use, mental health and marital difficulties than money. Being related to someone doesn't make having difficult financial conversations any easier, either.
That's one of the reasons caring for aging parents can be so trying. If your family just doesn't talk about money, it's much more difficult to determine how you can help your parents meet their financial needs as they age.
Members of the sandwich generation need to overcome that reticence and have hard conversations with their parents about money. Specifically, caregivers need to know what assets their parents have — including any insurance policies they carry, whether life insurance or long-term care insurance — as well as their plans for their retirement years. You'll also want to find out who your parents' financial advisor is. Knowing this information early can head off any problems if your parents can't make their own financial decisions. It can also help protect them from scams.
Discussing money with your parents can also help you avoid miscommunication and hurt feelings. These discussions can help everyone know where everyone else stands and make informed decisions about each other's finances and abilities.
Your Retirement Comes First
When you have a limited budget, you might be tempted to channel whatever money you can to your parents' long-term care and your children's education instead of your retirement. That's what a dutiful child of adult parents and giving parent of beloved children does, right?
The problem with this plan is that it simply passes financial problems onto the next generation. If you use your limited budget to pay for your aging parents' care and your children's education, your kids will eventually face the same problem. Will your children thank you for expecting them to financially care for you as you cared for your parents?
Prioritizing your retirement ahead of your children's education might be the easier pill to swallow for the sandwich generation. After all, your kids can take out student loans. But prioritizing your retirement ahead of your parents' long-term care can be a much more painful proposition.
Using your parents' assets for as long as they last, rather than bankrolling their long-term care, makes better financial sense. If you skip saving for retirement in your 40s and 50s to pay for your parents' care, you won't see long-term growth and you won't reap the benefits of compound interest. Exhausting your parents' assets will also make them eligible for Medicaid and similar programs.
Prioritizing your retirement means your children won't have to sacrifice theirs. Though it can feel hard-hearted to ask your parents to rely on their assets, remember it isn't a selfish decision. It's not selfish for caregivers to prioritize themselves, and it's not selfish to contribute to your retirement.
Carry Adequate Insurance
Having the right insurance plans is an important part of your plan for retirement.
Nearly one in four workers will be out of work for at least a year because of a disabling condition before they reach retirement age, the Council for Disability Awareness reports. A disabling condition would be a financial emergency for anyone, but it could be disastrous for a worker with two generations depending on their income and care. Carrying disability insurance can ensure that your family is taken care of while you get back on your feet. It also means you won't have to dip into your retirement savings to keep everything afloat.
Long-term care insurance can protect your family, too. A long-term insurance policy covers the long-term nonmedical care that your aging family members might need and usually isn't covered by Medicare. For instance, in-home assistance, adult day care, assisted living or nursing home facilities can help your parents with daily activities like eating and dressing, but Medicare won't pay for it. Medicaid will, but only after patients' assets have been exhausted.
Long-term care insurance can help you pay for your parents' care so you don't have to exhaust their assets or tap your retirement to get them the help they need. The cost of long-term care insurance increases with age; the earlier you take out a policy, the better.
Members of the sandwich generation should also have adequate life insurance to protect their parents and children. Two generations are counting on your income; a life insurance policy protects them from the potential loss of that income if you die.
Understand Medicare and Social Security
Federal programs for retired individuals can be an important lifeline. Reading up on what your parents are entitled to through Social Security and Medicare can ensure you don't overspend on their needs. Make sure that your parents get the full benefits they're entitled to through these programs. The federal benefits website has eligibility questionnaires that can help determine what benefits are available and whether your parents qualify.
It's also smart to brush up on the benefits you can expect once you retire. Social Security gives you personalized estimates of your future benefits based on your lifetime earnings when you create a my Social Security account. This information can help you plan for retirement and make the best decisions about your retirement finances. Knowing what federal programs can provide you and your parents can help relieve some of the pressures of caring for two generations at once.
Making the Most of the Sandwich
It's not easy feeling squeezed between two generations. But being proactive about your plan for retirement can be the best way to provide for everyone. Talking openly about finances with your parents can align everyone's expectations and make decisions easier. Prioritizing your retirement is an important way to protect your family from financial problems that span generations. Having adequate insurance will help you and your loved ones stay on track if something happens to you. And becoming familiar with Medicare and Social Security can help you receive everything you're entitled to and avoid unnecessary spending.