A Place for Mom

The Importance of Prioritizing Family Financing

Dana Larsen
By Dana LarsenAugust 30, 2013
The Importance of Prioritizing Family Financing

Being a Sandwich Generation caregiver is tough. Balancing finances for caring for your aging parents with college savings for your children can be difficult. Read the following advice and tips from the financial experts at The Mutual Fund Store.

You are a Sandwich Generation caregiver. Your parents are getting older, and you anticipate having to give them financial support. Meanwhile, your own children will start college in several years and you want to be able to help pay for school. And of course, you wouldn’t mind being able to retire someday — so retirement savings are always at the back of your mind. Sounds like you may have some tough decisions to make.

Why You Should Prioritize Your Own Retirement Plan

Every individual’s situation is unique, and every family is different. Still, it’s generally wise to prioritize your own retirement first. Here’s why:

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  1. Your children can look for scholarships, grants and loans. They can also work while they attend college and/or start at community college to save money. In retirement, you won’t have the same options.
  2. If you don’t make your retirement savings a top priority, your children could find themselves in a similar situation someday, worrying about how to help support you.

Saving for retirement is important, but you still want to be able to help your parents and children. This is what is especially difficult for Sandwich Generation caregivers — how do you do it all?

First, determine what you need to save to reach your own retirement goals.

Then, any remaining invest-able income can be split between investment accounts for your parents and your children’s college.

Finally, when it’s all said and done, if you feel you need to contribute more to their accounts, you might consider adjusting your retirement goals: retire later; plan to work part-time during retirement; travel less; downsize your home, etc.

3 Financial Steps for Sandwich Generation Families

Sometimes you have to be a little creative when it comes to financing life for multiple generations. Sandwich Generation caregivers have it especially tough, but do have options to make finances a little easier:

1. Re-evaluate Budgeting

Once you have a savings target in mind, create a monthly budget to ensure you’re contributing everything you should to each investment account. You’ll need to identify each of your monthly expenses and the amount of money you’ll spend on each — including what you’ll be putting into each of those three investment accounts — and then track your expenditures daily and ensure you stick to your budget. Take advantage of free budgeting tools like Mint or consider software programs like Quicken to make the process easier.

2. Let Investment Accounts Help You

There are different types of accounts that you can utilize for your different goals. For retirement, contribute to your 401(k) plan and/or to an IRA; for your children’s schooling, open a 529 plan; for your parents, open a brokerage account.

In each case, diversify the money across several asset classes, or investment categories. Here’s a great introduction to creating an appropriate investment lineup for your retirement account: “Smart Investor: Covering the Asset Classes.” You can apply this asset allocation strategy to all your investment accounts, but consider that the length of time until the money is earmarked for your children and your parents since they likely need a much shorter timeline than your personal timeline to retirement. So you might consider a more conservative approach to investing for your children and parents than you might for your own account.

3. Take Advantage of Gifting

If the time does come when you need to help support your parents, pay attention to the IRS gifting limit, which is $14,000 in 2013. You may be able to pay some of their expenses outside of the gifting limit, too. Consult a tax adviser to help you navigate the rules for gifting and ensure you’re not exposing yourself to unexpected taxes.

What Else Can a Sandwich Generation Caregiver Do?

If you are a Sandwich Generation caregiver, consider the following to help generate more income:

  1. If they’re able to work during retirement, ask your parents to explore that avenue. They may be able to look for part-time retail or babysitting jobs, turn a hobby into money by selling craft items, do freelance work related to their careers or tutor local students.
  2. Have your children work as soon as they’re legally allowed to do so — and consider smaller jobs like mowing lawns or babysitting prior to their “official” working years. Rather than letting them spend all of their earnings, have them contribute a percentage of it to their own college savings accounts. Not only will they be building their college savings, but they’ll also learn the value of hard work and be better prepared to work during their college years.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic solution to the budgetary dilemma of meeting financial obligations for three generations, but don’t fall into the trap of sacrificing your own long-term financial needs in the face of other Sandwich Generation responsibilities. You may have to make difficult decisions and have tough conversations, but with some advance planning, you can get on course toward a more secure future and better safeguard your family’s financial well-being.

About the Author

Providing unbiased, fee-based investment advice and asset management with a focus on doing what’s right for its more than 34,000 clients, The Mutual Fund Store is a nationally branded, independent Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) organization. Today, the company’s system* of fee-based RIA firms includes more than 100+ company and franchise locations across the U.S., which include affiliated companies and independently owned and operated franchises.

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Dana Larsen
Dana Larsen

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