The Sandwich Years Part I – Tackling Finances

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Globally, the number of people age 60 and older is growing faster than all other age groups bringing new attention to the challenges faced by today’s “sandwich generation.” A term coined in the 1980s, the sandwich generation refers to working adults between the ages of 40 and 60 who are caring for older parents in some capacity while also raising a family. Often referred to in Europe as “the squeezed middle” this generation is dealing with multiple stressors related to balancing work and family.

Darlette McCormick

One area of potential stress involves helping aging parents with financial matters. Darlette McCormick, AFC, CHC, is a financial counselor at Workplace Options, the world’s largest independent provider of employee support solutions. Workplace Options has dedicated Work-Life consultants who help participants navigate a variety of eldercare issues, including finances. According to McCormick, it is important to have financial conversations with parents, but both children and parents are often reluctant to start the conversation.

“Even though it is challenging, I encourage people to begin opening the lines of communication about finances with their parents sooner rather than later,” says McCormick.  “Unfortunately, I’ve worked with many clients who waited too late and as a result spent years trying to piece together loose ends.  By working through some uncomfortable conversations now, while a parent’s mind is strong, the entire family will be better prepared to manage the road ahead.”

Below are some suggestions from Darlette on discussing financial matters with aging parents.

Start with casual conversations.

Begin opening the lines of communication with short, casual financial conversations.  As an example, Sarah recently mentioned to her mother that she switched banks and shared some of the reasons for the switch.  Then she asked her mom where she was currently banking and why. By having a non-threatening conversation about her own place of banking, Sarah was setting the groundwork for longer conversations down the road. In addition, Sarah now knows where her mom is currently banking, should a situation arise.

Help parents pull a credit report.

A growing number of scam artists are targeting seniors. On an annual basis, offer to help you parents pull their credit report to look for red flags or suspicious activity. If they are willing to review the report with you, check to see if they are paying their bills on time or accumulating debt. This also opens the door to a more in-depth conversation about their overall financial wellbeing.

Bring in outside help.

If parents are reluctant to share their financial details with you or your sibling, offer to help them find a bookkeeper.  This can be a less threatening step and allows parents to maintain their privacy and autonomy.

Discuss housing options.

The biggest expense for senior citizens is housing when they are no longer able to live independently. You need to know if your parents have savings set aside or if they qualify for any assistance. Are they willing to move in with you or a sibling when they are no longer able to live on their own?

Allison Harris, a Work-Life lead who specializes in senior care shares that in the United States there is a lot of misunderstanding about Medicare and Medicaid benefits, particularly when it comes to assisted living and nursing homes. In addition, the type of assistance varies significantly by state.

Alec Guan, a Work-Life consultant in the Shanghai office, says in China elderly parents traditionally move in with their adult children or live in a nearby apartment, although assisted living facilities are becoming more popular.

Involve key family members.

Difficulties arise when siblings and key family members are left in the dark, especially when it involves money.  As much as possible, keep siblings and other important family members in the loop. A family meeting or conference call goes a long way in preventing miscommunication.

Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family and personal needs to become healthier, happier and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. To learn more visit www.workplaceoptions.com.