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Living In The Sandwich Generation


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.

Living In The Sandwich Generation

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!)

  The best gift you can give to those you love, regardless of their age: independence. 

*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.

Living In The Sandwich Generation

*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 distributionheating 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.

Most Important

*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.

Living In The Sandwich Generation
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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, the job became too stressful and Joe retired from his engineering career to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. Today, he blogs about financial independence, early retirement, investing, and living a frugal lifestyle.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is increasing his investment in real estate with CrowdStreet. He can invest in projects across the U.S. and diversify his real estate portfolio. There are many interesting projects available so sign up and check them out.

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help DIY investors analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.

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{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Bryce @ Save and Conquer February 25, 2014, 5:09 pm

    I am a bit peeved with my older brother and his family. Our mom is 89 years old, and they have her picking up our 6 year old nephew “Kyle” from school, and looking after him until they get off work. Mom has complained to me several times that it is tiring for her to look after a 6 year old for the better part of the day, but she is too nice to tell my older brother and his wife. She loves all of her grandkids, but I am afraid that dealing with Kyle is wearing her out. I have asked my brother about the possibility of using after school services for Kyle, but he says it’s too expensive and that Mom likes hanging out with Kyle. My mom is a multi-millionaire and can afford to pay for after school services for Kyle. I have suggested that to her in the past, and she just says that might be something to do, and then it doesn’t go anywhere after that. Perhaps I should mention it again.

    • retirebyforty February 26, 2014, 9:39 am

      Maybe Kyle can go to the after school program for a few days/week. It’s tough keeping up with a 6 year old. Maybe a few days a weeks would be enough. Yes, you should suggest it again. Kyle will have more fun hanging out with his friends too.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules February 25, 2014, 11:55 am

    Thank you for the perspective and actionable tips! We’ve thankfully not had to deal with this yet, but definitely could as our oldest is six and our parents are all in their mid to late 60’s. Thankfully they’re all in relatively good health, with the exception of one, but the closest one is right at 1,000 miles away. Our biggest problem so far is convincing them of their need to have a will drawn up in addition to getting LTC insurance as none of them really want or like discussing it.

  • Ryan @ Impersonal Finance February 25, 2014, 11:17 am

    I don’t have any kids yet, but I kind of feel the same way about my parents. After seeing all of the horror stories of people being inadequately prepared for retirement, I would help them out if I were able (and especially if they were in dire situations) but I’ve got family members who are well past the age of majority, who should be taking care of themselves, but aren’t I just really hope their parents aren’t risking retirement by still providing for adult children.

  • Celia February 24, 2014, 4:35 pm

    The pension & medicaid scenario is difficult. There are legal guidelines for gifting your children or grandchildren which may help protect some $ for mom. Medicaid goes back 5 years in regards to your income & benefits. It is not to “hide” money – I’m not suggesting anything illegal. If you are gifted you get taxed but maybe that $ puts you in a better position later to help mom out. I am not a lawyer or tax accountant, get legal guidance for that. At the least you should discuss Getting durable power of attorney (financial & medical) enables you to pay bills & make decisions they are unable to. Also a living will should be discussed way before it is anywhere near necessary. Of course many families can get into huge conflicts over money & such. Which is another reason to have these uncomfortable discussions long before the golden years roll around, then reviewed periodically. I was sued & had to defend my power of attorney for 6 years. Judges kept throwing it out(my favor) & she would then pursue it at another court between NY & NJ. My dad was legally only my “step father”, blood tie is more important in court of law. I didn’t get any $ from my parents (which I did not want- & stated it verbally and legally days after dad died) because my mom died first. It was a nightmare because I didn’t have time to grieve after losing my best friend (mom) and dad. Oddly enough the niece used the money inherited to sue me with. lol I can look at myself in the mirror everyday & be proud of how I cared for them. She on the other hand will have to live with the truth & karma can be a witch. The lawsuit was over money I paid to bury my mother & for $ I had paid an aid to sit with dad when I was unable. Every cent was accounted for and there was 40 k in POA account which I offered back in whole. Nope, she hated my mom & wanted some form of vengeance or jealousy. She had over a mil. & was suing me for 12 k. Just wanted to wreck me financially. You can’t make this stuff up! I spent 80 k minimum defending myself. His niece spent in excess 150 k. So please have these uncomfortable conversations now for your parents, yourselves & your children. This blew out our stock, savings & we had to sell our home. We/& lawyers are now financially stable, I’ve moved on. Faith & karma 🙂

  • JP February 24, 2014, 1:24 pm

    I would like to add that not only healthcare advances have created this situation; but also these last generations (last 30 years or so), with women joining the working force at the same rate as men, have been waiting much longer to have kids (mid 30s and up). I see it in my own household. This is extremely difficult, because you put YOURSELF at an age where chronic diseases and disability could hit you WHILE still having kids at home.

    My sister is 2 years younger than me and her two kids are out of college. My youngest is still in elementary school!!! Yes, I am not ashamed to admit, I envy my sister!!

  • Daizy February 24, 2014, 12:30 pm

    My parents moved here to Tucson to get away from the snow and to find help for my father with Alzheimers. Just last weekend, I was stuck in Gem Show traffic trying to get to the hospital on Tucson’s westside because my father had fallen at his care home. Luckily, his pension covers the cost of the care home although if/when he needs more care, my parents’ savings will be eaten away until Medicaid kicks in. This is a big worry for my mother. Although she has long term care insurance, I was surprised to find out it is only good for 2 years. And about that cell phone. It is quite a challenge to get Mom to keep it with her, charged, on, and actually answer it. And she doesn’t do voicemail. I do enjoy having them close though and being able to help them when it is possible. I’m also the guardian of my nephew. He is going to high school out of state but I get to deal with medical bills, travel arrangements and I don’t even want to think about college yet. I never dreamed that I would be in the middle of a sandwich. Somehow it just turned out that way.

  • davidmichael February 24, 2014, 8:35 am

    This is a great topic that is very difficult to handle well. It seems that we all wish to postpone these questions until the last moment. In the case of my wife’s family in Vermont with five siblings, we knew the parents did not have enough money to go to an assisted living home or retirement resort. So, the five adult children pitched in and purchased their parent’s home, built up a nest egg handled by an attorney, gave them money monthly for extra living expenses beyond Social Security while they lived in their home for another eight years. About a year before they passed away, Medicaid paid for their last 12 months or so in a state retirement/assisted living home. It worked out very well for everyone, although it took three years to sell their house after they died because of the real estate downturn nationally. During their last two years together in their own home (age 93.95), they often dined on their favorite foods with the extra monies and had lobster and shrimp at least twice a week.

    At age 77, I cannot imagine winding up in an assisted living care center or similar. I’d rather go off in the wilderness and fall off a mountain top or maybe zoom down a hill on my bicycle with no brakes. It’s a dilemma for all of us. For most, long term care insurance is out of the question. Most retirement homes cost $50,000 and up a year. Thank God or should I say thank the Democrats for Medicaid which benefits not only the elderly but also their children.

    • retirebyforty February 24, 2014, 9:41 am

      It’s great that your wife’s family helped out so much. I don’t like assisted living care center either. I’m sure my parents wouldn’t stand for it. They are still young right now so it’s ok. We’ll probably combine household and see how it goes. We definitely need to have a talk, though. Thanks for your perspective.

      • Celia February 24, 2014, 10:41 am

        I agree assisted living is really expensive & definitely not for everyone. Mainly the issue is the topic never really truly being discussed. It may have been a good situation after my dad broke his hip. It was down the block from me, basically an apartment complex. Once someone is injured or ill there is just so many hours a day you can spend with them or doctor appointments etc. & still maintain your life. My folks good probability wouldn’t have even done it. But it was completely unexpected how nice this place was. Unexpected how hard it was to come up with alternative solutions on the fly. They had a basic apartment in my basement but after hip injury that wouldn’t work. Their apartment in NYC had neighbors were constantly changing. It wasn’t safe anymore. Previously I had noticed a ranch home nearby for sale, but not with the right mindset. They received an approval for an apt. in local senior citizens complex probably a month after they passed, go figure. Mom had signed up for that four years before only because she knew of waiting list. It is disconcerting when you get a glimpse they may be “losing it” (for lack of better word), or that maybe they aren’t necessarily eating right or using good judgement. I believe the question that needs to be addressed is Will this current arrangement work If , or when _______?
        It is good to have some ideas researched or ideally a plan of what your options are in a worst case scenario. Best wishes to all.

  • Celia February 24, 2014, 7:04 am

    I read your blog daily. I just HAD to comment on grandma. After having been available & helpful to my parents in numerous ways hind site is 20/20. Everyone is lucky grandma here is alive & didn’t break a hip or arm. Having a cell phone isn’t going to help in that situation.
    My parent were of sound mind & actually would be considered extremely wealthy with pensions, social security, stock, rent controlled apartment/utilities included. Rent control or a paid off home also makes it harder to change living arrangements (if you ask me). They also were pretty healthy. Then my father slipped & broke a hip. He was in a nursing home getting rehab. Nursing homes are not great even the best. My mother who was a real get up & go 78 yrs young was anxious. Her high blood pressure soared & she died suddenly from an aneurysm. Her health was closely monitored & even her doctor was shocked. Dad followed mom 40 days later basically from a broken heart.
    They were very independent. It was only after dad fell I seriously started looking into assisted living. That was TOO late. I realized they would have had more company, entertainment, nutritious meals, their own apartment, medicine monitored, banking & more. They actually were missing out on a very healthy lifestyle change because everything was going smoothly & affordable. They were comfortable & didn’t want any change. However, dad Was starting to get forgetful, My mom didn’t want him cooking least he left a pot on the stove & forgot it. Food shopping, cooking, routine Dr appointments, banking, pharmacy pick up didn’t seem to be a problem. Even if dad had fallen while at the assisted living it was annexed to rehab, nursing home – mom still would have had her apartment & could walk through the buildings to be with dad or have him brought to apartment for meals. It would have really simplified their life & they could have still stayed by me anytime. Assisted living may not be affordable for everyone but roommates, cleaning ladies, some sort of buddy system could be implemented.
    My grandmother (50 years ago) fell and was just few feet from a phone yet she lay there for a day until my mom found her. That fall led to her death as well.
    Having gone through these experiences I realized we could have planned better. It is very hard to start advising your parents when they have taught & told you what to do all your life. Sometimes it feels disrespectful or as though it is not really urgent. Trust me, independent parents especially do not want to change their ways or their living arrangements. My generation did not question their wise elders. We could have transitioned into a better safety net & Should Have a lot sooner. Especially considering they could afford it. Some parents do not want “strangers” in their home. Also my parents would come & stay with me a few days a week & that was a blessing as they got to know their grandchildren & good nutrition. However in this situation your grandma should have had a companion to go with to the cemetery in poor weather. Sounds like this may be a routine for her to visit his grave. I don’t even want my daughters to go alone to the cemetery to visit my parents grave. Cemeteries often are pretty empty or isolated. I strongly suggest having some sort of aid regularly stopping in to help clean or shop. Not an aid because now it is necessary & she needs help but to have eyes on the situation. You can speak everyday & be unaware they are not eating right or letting garbage pile up, not taking their medicine, leaving the stove on, endless scenario’s. One friend’s dad had burn marks from cooking, maggots in the garbage & wasn’t eating right. He sounded fine & didn’t think he needed any help. Another friends’ folks had a chair propped up against the fridge because it didn’t close correctly, they thought that was good enough.They were actually babysitting 4 days a week for her w/no problems. They got food poisoning.
    We never really wanted to talk about death & dying. Actually they didn’t want to have those conversations. What we forgot is simple accidents & situations can be deadly yet easily avoided. We waited too long to talk about these things. The last thing they want to think about is moving when they just broke a hip.
    I don’t want to sound harsh but a cell phone is no where nearly enough. This accident was a wake up call. I am sincerely happy she is ok. The numb fingers is what set me off, I recently shoveled w/out gloves & was shocked how quickly my fingers froze & I was only in my driveway very well bundled up.
    I am 50 years old & already have a grave site next to my mom. I have already told my children I want to be somewhere cared for or assisted if I suddenly get Alzheimer or something. My husband & I are trying to figure out our long term financial care plans. We also probably have too much life insurance but that will protect each of us if either of us suddenly die. My brother died VERY unexpectedly at 58, no insurance to speak of when you consider the high cost of living here. I make it a point to speak to my children so if & when the time comes they can freely say ” you told us to tell you” , “it is time for a change”. Moving, clearing out a house, having Dr numbers, contingency plans etc can not start soon enough. It also is easier to take care of selling a home or even just getting rid of stuff gradually for when that time comes. I can be a hoarder. Lol & I am already getting rid of unnecessary items. I truly wish you & your mom the best, just be sure to consider if her independence is holding her back from having a better lifestyle in the long run. We certainly would have done things differently & my folks agreed after the fall. As my mom said “too smart, too late”.
    I just believe & have faith it just was their time to go. I’m sorry this was so long but I felt our experience could have been less traumatic. I just wanted to share in the hope of being helpful. I am not judging by any means. Sincerely, Celia

    • retirebyforty February 24, 2014, 9:40 am

      Thanks for sharing. I’m sorry to hear about your parents. My grandmother broke her hip from a fall too and passed away from the complication. She was in her 90s though so it’s not unexpected. My mom is coming to live with us part time so we can keep an eye on her. It’s hard when your parent live so far away. You can’t really tell if anything is wrong unless you spend significant amount of time together.

  • Justin @ Root of Good February 24, 2014, 6:25 am

    I’m lucky my pieces of bread are young enough to be relatively trouble-free (on the younger side) and not quite old enough to need lots of attention (on the older side).

    I think the “independence” thing is key. Or maybe “self-sufficiency”. It makes the people involved feel responsible and in control of their own destiny. And frees you up (mentally and temporally) so that when emergencies really do strike, they are true emergencies and not merely quotidian struggles.

    • retirebyforty February 24, 2014, 9:17 am

      What about your parents and older relatives? Do they need some help? Independence is good, but the kid needs to know about taking care of their parents too.

      • Justin @ Root of Good February 25, 2014, 11:34 am

        My parents are fine on their own so far. My parents in law need a little help occasionally. We live nearby both sets of parents, so I’m sure we’ll be there to help out as necessary.

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