Don’t worry too much if you haven’t heard, but April is National Stress Awareness Month. Of course, stress can present emotional and physical challenges to all of us, but if you belong to the “sandwich generation” – that is, you may be caring for aging parents while still supporting your own children – you may be facing some financial stress as well. What can you do to relieve it?
For one thing, be aware that you’re certainly not alone. About one in seven middle-aged adults is providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child, according to the Pew Research Center.
Still, knowing that you have plenty of company won’t provide you with solutions for your own situation. So consider the following:
Suggest “downsizing.” Are your parents still paying a costly mortgage on a house that’s now too big for them? You might want to encourage them to think about downsizing. They may be emotionally attached to their home, but they might benefit substantially if they moved someplace that’s less expensive.
Talk to parents about their income sources. Are your parents maximizing their Social Security payments? Are they following a sensible withdrawal strategy for their IRA, 401(k) or other retirement accounts? You may want to recommend that they work with a qualified financial professional.
Discuss all legal arrangements. Be aware of your parents’ estate plans and the status of important legal documents – will, living trust, power of attorney, health care directive, and so on. When the time arises for any of these arrangements to take effect, you don’t want to face any unpleasant – and possibly costly – surprises.
Find out about health care. Try to learn about your parents’ health insurance coverage. And have they done anything to protect themselves from the potentially catastrophic costs of long-term care, such as an extended nursing home stay? You may not be able to do a great deal for them in these areas, but at the least, you may be able to get them to take some positive action on their own behalf.
Don’t ignore your own retirement savings. Even if you can afford to provide some financial support to your parents, don’t shortchange yourself when it comes to your own retirement savings. You don’t get a “do-over” when it comes to putting away money for retirement, so contribute as much as you can afford to your IRA and your 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan.
Prioritize your investment choices. If you would like to help your children go to college, you might want to consider a college savings vehicle. Still, you may need to prioritize your investments. After all, your children will likely have a variety of options – such as loans and scholarships – to help them pay for school, and they may also be able to reduce costs substantially by going to a community college their first two years. But you are basically “up against the clock” when it comes to saving for retirement, so you’ll want to take that into account when allocating your investment dollars.
Belonging to the sandwich generation can certainly produce feelings of anxiety. But by following the above suggestions, you may be able to reduce some of this stress. And by doing so, you can help your parents, your children – and yourself.