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The Sandwich Generation - Kids, Parents, and Your Money

By David Smyth

When you daydream about your future retirement and becoming an empty-nester, what does that look like? Do you envision a simpler way of life? From the time my first child was born and we learned to make sacrifices for his (and now his siblings’) well being, I’ve been told that someday, somehow, when the kids grow up and have gotten their education and the last one has walked across the last stage, that then, life would finally simplify.

But I’m starting to realize that that’s not really how it works. As a financial planner I have had the benefit of living vicariously through many of our client families. I get to see the choices you make, and I get to see the outcomes of those choices. In some small way, this insight allows me to continue to understand how we all make sense of a world that doesn’t always make sense. I’m realizing that I’ve been fed the lie – and until recently, believed it – that a time will come when life will magically get easier.

If child-rearing and financial decisions happened in a vacuum, this theory could hold true. But with the economic challenges of the last 15 years, I’ve started to see more and more boomers becoming the “sandwich generation.” Many of your kids aren’t exactly living independently as you’d planned. They’re not just coming home to do laundry anymore, they’re coming home to live because of economic difficulties. Adding to the complications of boomerang kids, many of you are also taking care of your parents, as they’re of the generation that faced the adjustment from pensions to personal retirement savings during a challenging economic landscape.

Whether you have personal experience with either or both of these situations, it’s almost certain that you know someone who is being challenged right now by this very scenario. And, there is no easy solution. Different choices have to be made about amounts of support, how to support, when to say no and when to defer your own plans. I had a family friend whose daughter moved home for a few months after college, and they actually drew up a friendly contract outlining what financial and household responsibilities each would handle.

This “sandwich generation” scenario is not unique. It’s happened many times before in our society, and it’s actually a way of life in many cultures – or on the TV show “Dallas” where everyone lived at the Southfork Ranch forever! In seriousness though, as I’ve spoken with many of you, I realize that you didn’t choose this way of life – it chose you. And, I appreciate and respect the fact that you are taking personal responsibility for your loved ones.

So many times I speak with client families and they appear to be ashamed of either A: how much they’re spending; B: how little they’re saving; and sometimes C: that they’re in a situation that has been forced upon them, they’re not comfortable, and they don’t know how to explain this to a financial planner.

Above all, I want you to know I understand that life doesn’t always go the way we planned, and that each of you has unique challenges you face within your family. Whether you’re in the sandwich generation, you have an adult special-needs child, or you just found out that you’re facing a significant medical or health issue, our team is here to listen and help.

When planning for life’s twists and turns, I’ve seen over the years and I fully believe that having a relationship with a financial planner not only when times are good, but also when times are tough, can add significant value and a different perspective on life’s curve-balls and how to deal with them. Financial planning, for all the fancy words that get thrown on it, really comes down to honesty, openness and trust.

We appreciate each of you who has entrusted us with your challenges, and we want each of you to know that our team understands that life isn’t always perfect. Contribution deadlines aren’t always met (hey – did you know that April 15 was yesterday?), and life sometimes goes off script.

For those of you in the pre-retirement phase of life, these challenges are real. Even if your boomerang kids move out and land on their feet within a few months, as my friends’ daughter did, or your parents’ health improves, how you deal with these unexpected situations can dictate what your retirement will look like. It’s not just about the ups and downs of the stock market. The quality of your retirement is the result of all the choices you’ve made – small and large – along your journey.

We look forward to being there for each of you as a trusted advisor as you continue on your path – whatever it might look like.

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