By Kurt Smith
Learn more about Kurt at NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor.
Being in the sandwich generation can be hard. While you’re raising children and dealing with the stress of managing your own family, you’re also caring for aging parents and helping them with health care and other important decisions.
If your parents haven’t been preparing financially for their retirement or end of days, that can put you in an especially tough situation. It can be very difficult to have the burden of financially negligent parents fall on your shoulders. You’re likely concerned about how you’re going to pay for your own bills, children’s college education and retirement, rather than thinking you might have to help out your parents as well.
The truth is a lot of parents haven’t thought through their retirement or planned at all. A U.S. Government Accounting Office study showed that 29% of people 55 or older said they have no retirement savings or pension plan. Here’s what you can do if your parents fall within that category.
Start the conversation
No matter how old your parents are or how close to retirement they are, start talking about it now. If you know they don’t have a plan, suggest ways for them to make one. It’s never too late to start planning for the future, and planning now is better than having no plan at all.
Money can be a hard subject to approach, so do it gently and respectfully, and try not to come across as judgmental. Our parents still want us to look up to them, no matter what age we are. They may also want to keep some of their money matters private, but try to get a feel for their financial situation and offer to help them set up a budget now that they can follow.
Gather some important details
There are some specifics you’ll want to learn about your parents’ planning or lack thereof. Is their home paid off? Are they in debt? Do they have 401(k) or IRA savings accounts? Have they drafted and updated a will?
Finding out these preliminary things will help you get a more accurate idea of their overall financial picture and what may be in store for the future. It’s best for you to get an idea now if they have no plan or might be expecting you to care for them in the long run.
Continue to save for your own retirement
Don’t forgo your retirement plans in order to help your parents have one. That will only keep the same bad pattern going. Continue to plan and save for your own retirement. If you feel comfortable doing it, you can help your parents after you’ve met your own goals. Watch out for guilt to sneak in and lead you to take responsibility for them without appropriate boundaries.
» Is your money working for you? Use NerdWallet’s free retirement planning tool to learn how to get your retirement on track.
Set expectations now
You need to start preparing yourself for whatever financial circumstances your parents have put themselves in and think about what you’re willing to do for them when the time comes. You may be able to help them out financially or take them in to live with you. Conversely, you might not have the means to offer financial support, or you might not want them to spend the rest of their days in your home.
It’s important to be open and honest about what you’re able and willing to do for them, and to start setting those expectations now. You might not be able to care for them 24/7 in your own home, but you may be able to help them find an affordable place to live and provide guidance and emotional support, which can be just as important to them as money.
The bottom line is that if your parents aren’t willing to help themselves, there’s not much you can do. If they haven’t learned by now to save money and plan for the future, they may be unwilling to change those habits in their old age. If you start thinking about what you’re comfortable with and preparing yourself for the days ahead, they may be less of a challenge when they arrive.