Sandwich Generation Gets Squeezed

Posted on August 27, 2012 at 11:48 AM PST by

Marketers love to pigeonhole us into neat little groups: soccer moms and NASCAR dads, Generation X and Y. The DINKs (Double Income No Kids) and the KIPPERS (Kids In Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings). And of course the baby boomers. Now get ready to meet the Sandwich Generation.

You probably haven’t heard much about them. They are smaller in number than the boomers, less malleable from a marketing perspective than young people. They no longer have the discretionary income to spend on image-conscious products associated with big-budget marketing, and their votes probably won’t reshape the political map anytime soon.

the Sandwich Generation is getting squeezed

If you’re wondering “Who are these people?” it’s probably because these people are you: The Sandwich Generation is adults, likely over 40, who simultaneously raise children and care for aging parents. And they are getting squeezed.

Fidelity Investments covered the issues facing this group in detail in a recent Fidelity Viewpoints piece:

Why are so many of us feeling financially sandwiched? On one hand, people are living longer, having children later, and continuing to support adult children (“boomerang kids”) who find it too expensive to live on their own. On the other hand, several years of rough economic/financial market conditions have dented the home and investment values of today’s elderly, to the point where they’re having trouble making ends meet in retirement.

The problems facing the Sandwich Generation are likely to create discussion around how to assign political blame, one way or another. Their kids in many cases borrowed heavily for college, only to enter the workforce during an extremely weak, slow recovery. Meanwhile, their older parents face a mix of concerns, both financial and health-oriented. If the direct cost of aging is not born, certainly the effort and expense of caring for sometimes-distant parents is undeniable.

These financial tremors are being registered amid an extremely touchy investment environment. We’ve been here before, of course. But for much of the Sandwich Generation, the 1970s malaise is more a faded page of economic history than a specific experience upon which they can draw for perspective.

Solving the Sandwich Generation conundrum

Where should these folks turn? Cliches such as “work smarter not harder” are not much help. But we would strongly argue that, at least in terms of the investment environment, the tools to reduce anxiety are right at hand.

For the middle-age children of the Greatest Generation, nothing matters more than lowering risk. Overcoming even one mind-bending asset crash (never mind two or three) is simply not mathematically possible, and they know it.

There are no guarantees in life, not even that such crashes will happen soon or at all. The bottom line for savers is that investing is a matter of securing a steady return while avoiding horrific mistakes that can set back your retirement for years.

The answers, thankfully, are very simple. You can learn the right way to invest in a weekend, even an afternoon, strategies that have been tested and shown to work. A well-designed asset allocation plan, rigorously executed at the lowest possible cost, is the way out for those of us being squeezed.