If you’re between thirty-five and fifty-five years old, you are part of the Sandwich Generation. 

“What’s that?” you ask. 

It’s a relatively new phenomenon. These are the modern day adults who are being squeezed from both sides: dealing with children and aging parents. 

In previous generations, kids tended to grow up more quickly and leave the nest more permanently. In the past, people didn’t live as long.  When Social Security began in the 1930’s the average life expectancy was about 67 years. Today, many people are living 25, 30, 35 years into retirement.

All of this is good — but it can make for difficult circumstances for the Sandwich Generation. As I speak around the country presenting the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar, I’m seeing more and more middle-aged adults who should be busy saving for their own retirements, but who are still supporting grown kids (or, at least paying college bills), and simultaneously trying to care for their parents.

If you identify with this, let me share a few thought sparklers that you may find helpful in managing your time, money, and the demands being placed on you.

1. Don’t let the inmates run the asylum!  It is almost always a mistake to become a crutch to our children. But I see good parents doing it all the time. As a matter of fact, Bon and I have had to fight this temptation. Sooner or later, kids should grow up and leave. 

I recently counseled with an elderly lady who was struggling with huge financial problems. As we sat talking in her living room, the basement door opened and out stepped a forty-something year old man. 

"Who is that?" I wondered.

“He’s my son.  He lives downstairs,” she told me. 

Then the mother went on with a diatribe of excuses for why this healthy grown man still lived at home, depleting her minimal assets — and contributing nothing. I was fuming! 

Admittedly, that was an extreme case, but it behooves all parents to set boundaries and draw lines. There are always a million excuses for doing the wrong thing. But it’s important to remember that softness and love are not always the same thing. Assuming normal health and intelligence, the most loving thing a parent can do is raise godly, responsible, self-reliant kids who become contributors rather than societal mooches.

2. Regarding our parents, it is vital to open the lines of communication early. While discussing personal money issues is still taboo with some people from the Great Generation era, it is vital that we do it. 

In my experience, the healthiest financial situations are usually in homes where the Sandwich Generation sits down early with the Greatest Generation and asks the hard questions with an attitude of love and deference.  

This may take some time. There may be some old wounds that have to heal first. Some apologies may be in place. Showing appropriate respect is key here.  Do whatever is appropriate to open lines of communication. Then, discuss the toughies: 

  • How much do you have saved? And who is it with?  (I can’t over emphasis the importance of this one. Elderly people tend to be far too trusting. It might be wise for you to personally go with your parents and meet their advisor. Ask the hard questions — do a true due diligence in their behalf.  If the advisor becomes offended or defensive, consider that to be a red flag.)
  • What insurance coverage do you have?  If they have life insurance, learn all about it. If they don’t have good long-term care coverage—consider it. Be sure their homeowners and Medicare supplemental coverages are paid and proper for their needs. Look for insurance that they may be paying for needlessly. For instance, if they no longer are driving, why keep paying for car insurance?

3. Don’t fall into the trap of depleting your own retirement fund to care for your parents. Obviously, this has to be considered on a case-to-case basis, but in general it can make more problems than it solves.  It may seem wise on the surface, but ultimately may only shift the cost of your retirement to your children — at which time, if things continue going the way they are now, will cost even more.