How to Prepare for Getting Caught in the Middle of the “Sandwich”

by Lila Quintiliani, AFC®
Military Saves Assistant Coordinator
Communication & Outreach

Sandwich generation.  It’s the term used to describe the group of Americans who have a parent aged 65 or older while still raising or financially supporting a child.  According to a recent Pew Research study, this population is on the rise – nearly half of Americans fall into this group, and 1 in 7 Americans is actually providing financial support to both a parent and a child.

While the active duty military population is fairly young (according to Military OneSource, the average age of the active duty force is 28.6), military families still need to be concerned about being stuck in the “middle” of the sandwich – raising children while acting as caregivers for an aging parent.  Here are some steps that can be taken to prepare for the time when a servicemember becomes a caretaker to multiple generations.

Have “the Talk”

Children, even adult children, may not be accustomed to talking to parents about the state of their finances.  While it may be slightly uncomfortable to bring up the topic at first, it’s better to know the facts about their retirement plans rather than speculate.

·    Do they have a retirement plan and savings or are they depending on social security?
·    Do they have long-term health care insurance?
·    Do they have an estate plan in place? It doesn’t have to be a complicated legal document; it can even be a simple letter with instructions for where their bank accounts are and what insurance policies they hold.
·    Have they signed paperwork giving someone authority to act on their behalf if they are disabled or incapacitated?

Set Realistic Expectations

While most parents would love to provide for a full university education for their children, the reality is that college is very expensive.  Most military families would be hard-pressed to fully fund their children’s education while simultaneously funding their own retirement and possibly assisting with their parents’ care. 
While there are many vehicles for saving for college such as 529 plans, prepaid tuition plans and Coverdell accounts, it’s never a good idea to exclusively save for a child’s education at the expense of one’s own retirement.   And parents should not completely drain their own retirement savings to pay the tuition bills – students can take out loans to fund college, but parents cannot take out a loan to fund retirement.

·    Save for a child’s education and contribute to a retirement savings plan at the same time.
·    Consider other avenues for funding a portion of college, such as scholarships, federal student grants/loans, or signing over a portion of a parent’s GI Bill benefits.

Make Sure Your Own Ducks Are in a Row

If having to care for a parent is a distinct future possibility, it’s a good idea to take stock of one’s own financial situation to make sure all is well.   Being mentally and financially prepared to take on the role of caregiver can help smooth the path ahead.

·    Do you have a spending plan in place?
·    Do you have an emergency fund?
·    Are you automatically saving?

For more information:
Helping Your Kids Think About Money
The Path to Living Debt-Free in Retirement
It’s Time to Schedule Your Annual “Financial Check-Up”




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