Today’s article is brought to you by Cindy, our main writer at Midlife Finance. I’m still busy trying to deal with a rental condo, but it should be done this week. I hope you enjoy Cindy’s perspective.
“I crawled through the cemetery. In the snow,” said our seventy-something Mama. She’d stopped to put a rose on my dad’s grave (gone five years now), slipped on a flat tombstone, and lost her footing. It took her a half-hour to push herself back up through the elbow-deep snow and crawl back to the open door of the van. Fortunately, she managed to get the van started, in spite of numb fingers and soaked clothes. She escaped with some bruises, and a touch of frostbite on her fingers.
Guilt kicked in. I should travel the 1800 or so miles to double-check on her. Or arrange for a ride for her next time. Or something.
But I also had our twenty-something daughters to think about. Daughter #1 just had shoulder surgery, spent a week recuperating at home, and still needed help getting to the doctor for checkups. (I was worried about her, too. Checking eased my mind.)
Daughter #2 and I had planned a fast trip to Tucson, AZ to visit the gem shows there, and buy some inventory for our respective businesses. We were leaving in just a few days for the 14-hour drive each way. Before that, though, I had to clear away a load of tasks, and make sure the Mama was ok, as well.
Like many of you, I’m a member of the Sandwich Generation. We have children still getting established…and, thanks to improvements in medical care and healthy living, at least one parent who is older, and needs us, as well. Both generations on the spectrum will make claims on your time, energy and finances. (Add a grandchild or two, and it gets even more interesting.) And out of love, as well as obligation, you’ll want to help.
Concrete Things You Can Do
*Bottom line — it’s their responsibility. Unless your child is underage, it’s not your job to feed, clothe and house them. It’s theirs. You’re not responsible for your parents’ debts, either, unless you co-signed with them, or share a credit card. (Hopefully you didn’t. Cancel the credit card asap if you did!)
*Encourage that independence wherever you can. In our case, it was making sure that Mom carried a cellphone with her, no matter what. Other options: researching plans and programs on the Internet, especially for older users who have difficulty using computers. (Simpler ones are available…or teach them how to use e-mail and Skype yourself.) When you visit, clean their house, shovel their driveway — or stock their freezer with nutritious frozen meals. (Or arrange for these to be done or delivered.)
Are kids still living with you? If you have to work for your living, they should, too. Charge rent. (You can always save it up and return it when they move out.) Expect them to help out with chores and other family activities. If needed, teach them how to cook and do laundry. (If you haven’t done this already with your teenagers, start now, including household chores and helping to cover personal expenses.) If they have small children, make it clear that you may babysit now and then — but it’s not your regular job.
*Insurance: it’s important. Now that Obamacare is firmly in place, has your twentysomething child applied for insurance yet? (For that matter – have you?) Not only are plans more plentiful — they’re more affordable for those with lower incomes. (They may still have higher deductibles, but at least you’ve got some protection. Even a broken leg or sprained ankle can cost thousands of dollars now in emergency room, therapy and doctor fees.) Another option: children can now be included on their parents’ plan through their 26th birthday.
In spite of this, many people, especially those 25 and under, remain uninsured. Don’t get insurance — and not only will you be unprepared and unprotected, but you’ll pay extra in taxes. As of January, uninsured filers will have to pay at least $98 in penalties, or 1% of their household income, whichever is more.
Applying for Medicaid may be a better starting point, especially if your loved one is elderly, has a lower income or a large family.
A side note here: long-term care insurance is an important consideration for the older people you love. It may cover items like nursing facilities, home health aides, therapy and other specialized care. The problem: plans are this are expensive. Its coverage can be limited, as well: sometimes the total amounts are limited, or coverage ends after a year or two. (Make sure before you sign the policy.) The sooner you enroll, the cheaper the premiums are — but make sure the plan’s worth it before committing to it.
*Older people are more resourceful than you think. They just may handle things differently. Grandma may only have Social Security — but that stretches a lot further if her house is paid off, or she’s found subsidized housing. (More info on low income housing is here — including resources like HUD or Habitat for Humanity.) She can take advantage of free food distribution, heating credits and other senior discounts. (If she’s like my grandma, she’s already doing something about it, but doesn’t feel you need to know. It’s her business, after all.)
*Kids can be just as clever as their elders. Many college students are incredibly good at finding inexpensive sources of protein (this website has lots of ideas), sharing living arrangements, or using alternative transportation. Offer help only when it’s truly needed, and make it occasional. A bag of groceries; a ride to the doctor (and perhaps covering a co-pay); funding schoolbooks or a new jacket; paying for an oil change (or helping them do it) — these will have more meaning when they’re not expected.
*Encourage them. A gift card lets them choose the food or clothing they prefer — or the restaurant they really like. (Give these at Christmas, or on their birthdays.) A small check can have the same effect — provided it’s small. (One aunt uses the $25 we send every other month or so to help fund her favorite knitting projects.) Phone calls, letters and e-mails help you keep in touch and monitor how they’re doing. Invite them for coffee or lunch…and let them talk.
*You must take care of yourself. Are you going to put your children and grandchildren in the same position you’re dealing with now? Instead, start planning and putting aside money for your retirement. Find ways to cut back on your expenses; MidlifeFinance.com is full of articles on ways to do just that. (Or get them for free.) You’ll be teaching by example, at the same time you improve your own situation.
If you’re a Sandwich Generation person, you’ll have a chance to learn from a variety of ages in your family. Even better, they may learn to love each other better, through you. This may end up the most rewarding period of your busy midlife.