Every generation has its own challenges, and adults in the sandwich generation — those caring for both children and elderly parents — often can find themselves balancing a full plate with a host of responsibilities.
The good news: There are steps you can take to manage the financial and emotional stress this phase of life may bring.
1. Build an Emergency Fund
Unexpected medical expenses or last-minute travel to help an ailing parent can throw a wrench in your financial plans. Reduce the impact of these kinds of surprises by building an emergency fund before they happen. "If there's ever a time in your life to have an emergency fund, this is it," says Trent Hamm, founder of personal finance site TheSimpleDollar.com.
Building cash reserves might seem daunting, but it's important to get started and be consistent, even if you're only putting aside a small amount each month. Set up an automatic transfer into a savings account, Hamm advises, and don't turn it off.
Create a budget to make it easier to manage your money.
2. Talk to Your Employer
If you're juggling an outside job in addition to your caregiving responsibilities, don't feel like you have to hide your situation from your employer. You may be able to negotiate flexible work hours to make your schedule more manageable. Also ask if your company offers benefits related to senior or child care.
3. Reconsider Family Time
An over-full family schedule can leave everyone feeling frazzled, and quality time together can suffer. "It feels like there's never enough time to do all the stuff you need to do," Hamm says, adding that you need to be mindful about how you spend time.
Take a close look at your kids' extracurricular activities — and then consider cutting back. "Ask yourself, 'What are my kids actually interested in? What are the things they want to do versus what I'm pushing them to do?'" he says. "Have each child choose one activity to focus on. It saves time, money, and evening stress."
When it comes to family vacations, you may want to opt for nearby, low-key visits instead of travel-intensive, highly scheduled trips. Casual travel can be much less costly and can promote bonding.
4. Hold Proactive Discussions
Discussing difficult matters with your parents should happen sooner rather than later.
"Estate planning isn't going to be an easy conversation," Hamm says. "But it's going to be easier now than when things go downhill."
Topics to discuss can include:
- Do your parents have a will?
- Who is the executor on your parents' estate?
- Do they have a living trust?
- Who are the beneficiaries on their insurance policies?
Caring for multiple generations of family members is a significant responsibility, but being mindful about how you spend time and money can help alleviate the stress that accompanies this phase of life. With a little planning and communication, you can make these years meaningful and fulfilling.