At a time when your career is reaching a peak and you are looking ahead to your retirement, you may find yourself as part of the ‘sandwich generation’. The sandwich generation is people in the unique position of having to take care of both their kids and their parents.

People commonly find that they must help their children with college expenses while at the same time looking after the needs of their aging parents. If you feel squeezed in the middle, you’ve joined the ranks of the “sandwich generation”. Here’s what you may want to anticipate in this phase of life.

What challenges will you face?

Being part of the sandwich generation isn’t easy. There’s a good chance that right as you were warming up to the idea of being an empty nester, you were also getting reacquainted with your spouse and planning your retirement. As you took on the new challenges that life gave you, it seemed to get even more complicated.

While your parents likely went through a similar phase, things are different now than they were when you were younger. Here are some of the things you can expect to face as a member of the sandwich generation today:

· Your parents may need assistance as they become older. Higher living standards mean an increased life expectancy, and you may need to help your parents prepare adequately for the future.

· If your family is small and widely dispersed, you may end up as the primary caregiver for your parents.

· If you’ve delayed having children so that you could focus on your career first, your children may be starting college at the same time as your parents become dependent on you for support.

· You may be facing the challenges of “boomerang children” who have returned home after a delayed start to their career, job loss, or divorce.

· You may be incurring debt, facing pension shortfalls, and wondering about the future of Social Security.

What can you do to prepare for these challenges?

Holding down a job and raising a family in today’s world is hard enough without having to worry about keeping the three-headed monster of college, retirement, and concerns about elderly parents at bay. But, if you take some time now to determine your goals and work on a flexible plan, you’ll save yourself both stress and expenses in years to come.

Planning gives you the chance to take the wishes of the entire family into account and to reduce future disagreements with your siblings over the care of your parents.

Here are some ways you can prepare now for the issues you may face in the future:

· Start saving for the increasing cost of college as soon as possible and encourage your kids to pay for a portion.

· Work hard to control your debt. Installment debts (car payments, credit cards, personal loans, college loans, etc.) should account for no more than 20 percent of your take-home pay.

· Review your financial goals regularly and make any changes to your financial plan that are necessary to accommodate an unexpected event, such as a career change or the illness of a parent.

· Invest in your future by putting as much as you can into a retirement plan, where your savings (which may be matched by your employer) will grow tax-deferred until you retire.

· Encourage realistic expectations among your children; their desire to attend an expensive college will add to your stress if you can’t afford it. You may want to warn them that they will have to take out student loans as well.

· Talk to your parents about the provisions they’ve made for the future. Do they have long-term care insurance? Adequate retirement income? Have they created a will? Learn the whereabouts of all their documents and get a list of the professionals and friends they rely on for advice and support.

Caring for your parents

The task and stress of caring for a parent will depend on several factors. These factors may include if they live with you, near you, or far away. It may also depend on their financial situation and if they’ve purchased long-term care insurance to help alleviate the cost of their care.

If your parent lives a distance away, you may have the responsibility of monitoring his or her welfare from afar. Daily phone calls can be time-consuming and having to rely on your parent’s support network may be frustrating. Traveling to your parent’s home may be expensive, and you may worry about being away from your family.

To reduce your stress, if you have siblings, enlist their help in looking after your parents. If your parent’s needs are great enough, you may also want to consider hiring a professional geriatric care manager who can help oversee your parent’s care and direct you to the community resources your parent needs.

Eventually, though, you may decide that your parent needs to move in with you. If this happens, keep the following points in mind:

· Share all your expectations in advance; a parent will want to feel part of your household and might be happy to take on some responsibilities.

· Bear in mind that your parent needs a separate room and phone for space and privacy.

· Contact local, civic, and religious organizations to find out about programs that will involve your parent in the community.

· Try to work with other family members and get them to help, perhaps by providing temporary care for your parent if you must take a much-needed break.

· Be sympathetic and supportive of your children–they’re trying to adjust, too. Tell them honestly about the pros and cons of having a grandparent in the house. Ask them to take responsibility for certain chores, but don’t require them to be the caregivers.

Considering the needs of your children

Your children may be feeling the effects of your situation more than you think, especially if they are teenagers. At a time when they are most in need of your patience and attention, you may be preoccupied with your parents and how to look after them.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you try to balance your family’s needs:

· Explain fully what changes may come about as you begin caring for your parent. Usually, children only need their questions and concerns to be addressed before adjusting.

· Discuss college plans with your children. They may have to attend a less expensive school, help pay for their tuition, or take on student loans.

· Avoid dipping into your retirement savings to pay for college. Your children can repay loans with their future salaries but soon your pension will be the only income you have.

· If you have boomerang children at home, make sure all your expectations have been shared with them, too.

· Don’t be afraid to discuss a target date for their departure.

· Don’t neglect your own family when taking care of a parent. Even though your parent may have more pressing needs, your first duty is to your children who depend on you for everything.

The bottom line

Most importantly, take care of yourself. Being in the sandwich generation can be tough, but you are fortunate to have a family that loves and trusts you. Be sure to get enough rest every evening and stay involved with your friends and interests.

Finally, keep lines of communication open with your spouse, parents, children, and siblings. This may be especially important for the smooth running of your multi-generation family, resulting in a workable and healthy home environment.

If you feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities, know that it’s normal. If you want help navigating the financial stress brought on by being in the sandwich generation, contact a financial planner. They will help you navigate your current situation and plan for a bright financial future.