The Sandwich Generation is a term Merriam-Webster officially added to its dictionary in July of 2006. But 43.5 million Americans in 2015 didn’t need to go to Webster’s to find out what they already knew. 1 And by the way…the first time we wrote on the Sandwich Generation was in 2008 and there were only 20 million Americans on this list. The responsibilities of this generation undoubtedly take a toll—mentally, emotionally, physically and financially.
Most people quickly realize the mental, emotional and physical drain, but not the financial drain. Have you ever thought about the economic cost of unpaid caregivers? The latest figure we could find was from 2013, but these value of services was estimated at $470 billion!2 In fact, according to a 2008 statistic (which is really old) caregivers lose, on average, an estimated $659,130 over their lifetime between trimmed down salaries and retirement benefits3. Ouch! This may seem crazy, but consider some of these questions:
- Are you contributing to a retirement plan through your employer? Will this stop or be reduced?
- Is your employer making matching contributions? Will this stop?
- Will you be forced to put other saving and investing activities on hold without this extra income?
- Will you have to take from your current savings or refinance your home to make the adjustment?
- What possible opportunities will be lost such as job promotions, higher education for your children, etc?
This sometimes overwhelming sense of duty to both our children and our parents may cause us to lose sight of the responsibility we owe ourselves. So how, when we love them, can we care for them? It starts with a conversation.
There is a wonderful website: caregiveraction.org. It has an abundance of information for family caregivers. One of my favorite concepts from their organization is the “The 40/70 Rule.” This means that by the time you are age 40 and your loved one is 70, you need to have “the talk.” You probably thought this was done with during your tweens, but this is a very different talk and probably a little more difficult. No one likes the idea of losing control in any capacity, but it is a real threat and can be addressed a lot easier if it is discussed before it actually happens. This is the time to not only address issues like driving or health decisions, but also living arrangements, financial matters, legal needs. The “who” and the “how” in every one of these topics is must. And, this also gives you the opportunity to think rationally of how you and your spouse could be affected and what you may need to do in the interim.
Likewise, this same concept of “the talk” applies to your teenagers. We visited with a couple recently that gave me one of my new favorite lines which she told her tween after he mouthed off about them not buying something he wanted—“Remember, we have money; you don’t.” There are circumstances where we will all need to help our children in one way or another; but they need to remember that they will end up taking care of you financially if you can’t afford it and they don’t learn to fend for themselves. And believe it or not, many of the other conversations need to happen as well—legal needs after they turn 18, health decisions, and expectations for finances and living arrangements.
The hardest thing to do when you are taking care of loved ones is to take care of yourself first! During the safety guidelines speech on your next flight, your flight attendant will tell you to put your oxygen mask on first and then help others sitting next to you in case of an emergency. You cannot help someone else unless you help yourself first. This means eat well, exercise, sleep and take care of your privacy and close relationships. And as hard as it might be, it is imperative to put your retirement first, then your children, and then your parents. The fact is, that with around 80 million Baby Boomers in retirement or entering retirement, it doesn’t matter if you are one of them or part of Generation X, you might not be able to obtain the same pensions and government benefits your parents enjoyed, thereby placing a much larger burden on your own children and bringing them into the same club.
- National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP 2015. Caregiving in the US
- AARP Public Policy Institute 2015. Valuing the Invaluable: 2015 Update
- thefamilycaregiver.org, 2008