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It sounds kind of delicious, but it’s really not. If you’re part of the “sandwich generation” – ie a baby boomer with adult children living at home who’s also helping out elderly parents - life can be tricky. Especially when it comes to managing your finances.

If you’re in your 50s or 60s you probably envisaged life by now to be less demanding than your younger days. However, many Baby Boomers are increasingly becoming the meat in the sandwich between different generations.

A recent study from REST Industry Super found 46 per cent of people surveyed expected to retire with debt. Some 21 per cent anticipated they would still be paying off a mortgage, 25 per cent expected credit card debt and 12 per cent envisage they’ll have unpaid bills. Many of these respondents were in the sandwich generation.

Nowadays with rising house prices and other costs grown-up children are leaving the nest much later compared to previous generations. According to the ABS, 24 percent of 20 to 34-year-olds, and 47 percent of those aged 20 – 24 still live at home.

“These young adults are more likely to have completed a degree which has delayed the start of earnings,” says social demographer Mark McCrindle of McCrindle Research. “Many are wanting to save for a house deposit which has become much more expensive.”

At the other end of the scale people are now living longer. “Average life expectancy [according to the ABS] is now around 82 and many elderly choose to live in their own homes until they need aged care. This can place extra pressure on other family members,” says Mr McCrindle.

This has created a unique set of circumstances leaving many Boomers somewhat out of pocket. A 2012 University of Adelaide study surveyed 612 people over 50 asking them to estimate the amount of money and time given to relatives. It found Boomers on average collectively give a whopping $22 billion to younger generations and $1 billion to older members. Many boomers gave adult children around $2500 yearly in various ways and spent about five hours a week helping parents.

The meat in the middle

  • Pauline Quentin, 62, is a Sydney-based book-keeper who works four days a week. She and her husband Malcolm, 64, have three children aged 35, 27 and 24. Her mother Carla, 86, lives close by and Pauline regularly helps her with chores and sometimes buys her groceries if Carla needs financial help.

  • Pauline’s youngest two offspring still live at home. “They both want to save up to buy their first home,” explains Pauline. “We want to help them save so we’ve never charged them rent or expect them to pay bills.”

  • Pauline admits that whilst she’s happy to help her family, she often wonders if having more money in her pocket would be nice at this stage of life. “We still have a little way to go on our mortgage,” she admits. “I know we could have paid it off sooner had we not had outgoing costs for family members. I got annoyed recently because my son did the grocery shopping online and bought a whole lot of stuff with my card that I know he won’t eat! Sometimes it feels like a bit of a strain and means that Malcolm and I will have to keep working for a little longer. But ultimately it’s worth it to help out family.”

  • On retirement, the pair plan to travel more to Europe. “Hopefully our sons will be more financially set up by then,” Pauline says. “We have started seeing a financial planner as I want our finances to be in good shape when that time comes.”

Financial tips for Baby Boomers juggling family members

  • Putting yourself first can be difficult when it comes to family and with the pension age increasing, the need to be self-sufficient in retirement is growing. Planning so you have savings inside and outside of superannuation, and are either mortgage free or aiming to be, is vital to enjoy the lifestyle you want.

Keep on top of your finances with these tips:

  1. 1. Don’t forget about yourself financially and mentally. Taking on too much can cause stress or illness, so work out a plan with family members.
  2. 2. Ensure your children understand your financial position and don’t expect too much from you.
  3. 3. Offer assistance to adult children in non-monetary ways and teach them how to cut costs.
  4. 4. There are pros and cons to handing over large lump sums to relatives or going guarantor for a home loan. If you’re not sure how to proceed, get financial advice.
  5. 5. Ask for help – there are many options, including Centrelink benefits, government programs, or home care to assist elderly people.
  6. 6. Although your parents may not be in the position yet, talking to them about future plans can relieve the financial and emotional strain down the track.