BOSTON – I spend my nights worrying about my nearly 80-year-old father and stepmother. My wife and I spend our days worrying about funding college bills for four children (expected cost $1 million at Harvard with no scholarships, loans, grants and the like). And in between those worries, I think about saving $3 million (give or take a million) for retirement.

Yes, I am member of the sandwich generation. The good news is that I am not alone. There are millions upon millions of us caught in the middle. And the even better news is that there seem to be experts aplenty ruminating on solutions for this generation.

Consider: In recent weeks and months, AARP, MetLife, Merrill Lynch, Charles Schwab & Co. and likely many others have all released something having to do with the sandwich generation. The surveys don’t necessarily reach the same conclusions. But there are nuggets and tips worth sharing.


If you’re in the sandwich generation, and especially if you’re a woman, and your household has $250,000 or more in investable assets, perhaps you can relate to these findings from the recently released Merrill Lynch Affluent Insights Quarterly.

You’re probably making some lifestyle sacrifices to support your family, cutting back not just on personal luxuries but also saving less for retirement or delaying retirement or both. What’s more, you may have invited your adult children or your parents to move in with you to cut down on expenses.

MetLife’s Mature Market Institute found in a recent survey that “middle boomers” (the 28 million Americans who are ages 52 to 58) have at least one parent still living and half still have children living at home.

Nearly three in four of the middle boomers have been providing financial assistance and support to their children and grandchildren and that’s averaged about $38,000 over the past five years. Some 14 percent are providing care to older parents.


So what to make of those findings? What’s in the tea leaves?

If you’re a certified, genuine member of the sandwich generation and you’re caring for elder parents, soul-searching is the first order of business, according to Andy Sieg, head of Bank of America Merrill Lynch Retirement & Philanthropic Services. “You have to do as much soul-searching as you do portfolio planning,” Sieg said. “You have to identify your core values and priorities.”

In some cases, you might be able to do that on your own. In other cases, you might need a shaman or an adviser who has a good deal of experience dealing with the trials and tribulations of those in the sandwich generation.

No matter whether you go it alone or not, you’ll need to address the potential issues and trade-offs in as forward-looking and proactive a manner as possible.

In a zero-sum world, fulfilling a responsibility to a parent — paying for a geriatric-care manager for instance — means cutting back on your lifestyle or saving less for retirement or for college.

“It’s no fun talking about trade-offs,” said Sieg. So, it helps to talk about the financial realities and priorities in a rational and calm conversation, long before there’s a crisis.

Make no mistake about it: You don’t want to talk about such things in an emotion-filled moment; It will bring out the worst of your family history and sibling rivalries.

Another issue that those caring for elderly parents should address, according to Sieg, is this: As your parents age, it’s quite possible that their mental faculties might diminish. And as that happens, you’ll find yourself increasingly involved in decisions about their medical care and finances.

Indeed, even though you’re not even close to being eligible for Medicare, you’ll likely need to become expert in Medicare and all its parts.


The other side of the coin for those in the sandwich generation is raising children and, in some cases, supporting adult children, even up to age 30.

There are reasons some sandwich-generation parents are helping their adult children. According to Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, president of Charles Schwab Foundation, some adult children have overwhelming college debt and are unemployed.

But the adult children of sandwich-generation parents are dependent for other reasons as well: Some have overspent and have a tremendous amount of consumer debt.

According to Schwab-Pomerantz, sandwich-generation parents who are supporting adult children need to help their children acquire the money skills necessary for financial independence and to create a timeline for their children to achieve that independence. “Parents have to teach their children how to budget and save and live within their means,” she said.

Parents need to teach their children to save more and reduce their expenses. “They have to find creative ways to make it part of their everyday life, just like brushing their teeth,” she said.


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