The New Longevity

Planning In Between

A retirement recipe for the sandwich generation

by Mike Downing

Mr. Downing is Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Athene Holding Ltd. Visit

Since the term “Sandwich Generation” was coined in 1981 to describe the crunch caregivers face tending to the needs of their relatives both older and younger, the number of Americans meeting this definition has rapidly grown. In fact, the Pew Research Center estimates that nearly 60 million Americans are currently sharing their homes with their parents, children and relatives of various generations.

As the frequency of the Sandwich Generation situation has increased, so have the financial and emotional challenges these parents face — specially for clients in their 40s and 50s who are trying to balance their career and financial goals while caring for their family members. The pinch between caring for both older and younger family members while also trying to keep their own financial goals — including retirement — on track is no small feat in any economy, but it has become even more challenging during this period of increased volatility, a challenging inflationary environment and geopolitical uncertainty. However, this doesn’t mean that the Sandwichers should sacrifice their own goals and priorities.

Unfortunately, a recent study by Athene revealed that nearly half of the Sandwich Generation — or 47% of Americans 40-59 who financially support their adult children as well as older relatives — are putting off retirement to offer financial support to aging extended family or adult children. Even more concerning, 46% of respondents are tapping into retirement assets to help cover these expenses. With financial responsibilities coming from both sides, it’s important to talk with your clients about how they can find a recipe for retirement success, without sacrificing the support they choose to offer relatives both younger and older.

Here are three ways to help Sandwich Generation clients navigate this situation and keep their own financial goals on track.

Offer Trusted Guidance And Support

While becoming less taboo, money conversations can still be very difficult for anyone, especially when it comes to supporting family and dealing with financial uncertainty. Our research showed that only 39% of Sandwich Generation members are completely confident in their ability to take care of their adult child or children and extended family, offering ample room for improvement.

To help Sandwich Generation clients navigate this situation and keep their own financial goals on track, it may not only require a flexible financial plan, but also having open conversations with their family about money and achieving financial independence. With the number of financial responsibilities this generation may be juggling, the value of seeking professional advice and guidance cannot be understated. However, among the study’s respondents, only 36% of men and only 15% of women report that they currently work with a financial professional.

In addition to helping your clients navigate multiple financial challenges simultaneously, it’s crucial to remember that many of these clients are in their peak earning years and are busy trying to build their savings for the future. When unexpected expenses could emerge at any minute — like a medical expense for an aging parent or an adult child who moves home after a layoff, the uncertainty can be daunting. Take the opportunity to reassure clients that by working together, you can create a flexible financial plan that accounts for these current responsibilities but keeps their own financial goals front and center.

As their go-to resource for information, you can also offer advice on understanding their parents’ finances and estate planning and what questions they want to be asking, including:

Prioritize Retirement Readiness

To help Sandwich Generation clients navigate this situation and keep their own financial goals on track, it may not only require a flexible financial plan, but also having open conversations with their family about money and achieving financial independence...

When asked about their greatest concerns for retirement, the Sandwich Generation indicated that they are most preoccupied with worry about maintaining their standard of living, not having enough assets to retire, and having to rely on adult children for financial support. Generational generosity can threaten the ability to prepare and save for retirement with a long-term mindset, and our research shows that it has. In fact, the study found that 55% of respondents say supporting family has affected their retirement readiness.

In conversations with clients, reassure them that their financial wellness is extremely important and that there are steps they can take to help keep their retirement on track. This includes considering products that can help savers set and forget contributions to retirement savings accounts or purchasing products like annuities to create a paycheck for life. The percentage of respondents who say supporting family has affected their retirement readiness actually decreases significantly to 30% for those who have an annuity as part of their financial strategy. As many annuities can offer growth potential and principal protection from market downturns along with guaranteed income, these options may raise a fruitful discussion with your Sandwich Generation clients who are looking to create a more secure retirement.

Where possible, take a step back to remind clients that by creating a diversified financial portfolio that addresses all of their goals and future income needs, they can help make sure their personal finances are still a priority. There are many investment products and retirement savings vehicles designed to help meet their evolving needs, and a financial professional is just the person to walk them through these options.

Foster Productive Financial Discussions

While the Sandwich Generation members are responsible for keeping their own financial plans on course, they’re often also responsible for navigating the money matters of their children and parents. The study revealed that many heads of households are serving as a source of financial literacy for their adult children, with almost 60% of respondents helping their children learn about financial independence including helping them open a bank account, 56% explaining credit and debt and 52% encouraging children to get a job if they don’t have one already, as the top three topics for financial independence discussions.

At the same time, a surprising 3% of Sandwich Generation members in the study shared that they’ve offered financial assistance to their aging parents. Helping parents and other older relatives save for healthcare expenses is a common conversation and giving your clients the right tools and questions to ask their parents and older relatives about their priorities for end-of-life care, previous estate planning and what their current sources of income are can be extremely helpful in alleviating their stress about the uncertainty.

Whether dealing with relatives older, younger or both, find helpful ways to educate your clients so they can educate their loved ones. You can also offer to facilitate money conversations between family members if they find these discussions challenging — it may even help open the door for a financial professional to build a relationship with a client’s children.

Supporting The Sandwich Generation Through Uncertainty

Fostering these conversations with Sandwich Generation clients now can help keep them from feeling overwhelmed down the line. The financial professionals who can find helpful ways to help educate clients so that they can educate their loved ones can foster deeper, more productive relationships with clients feeling overwhelmed with responsibility.

While talking about money can be a source of stress, with the trusted advice and guidance of a financial professional important discussions can be more productive. Encourage your clients to meet with you regularly to assess if their needs have changed and to determine how you can provide more support and offer patience, flexibility and encouragement in all interactions. Even with the unique challenges they may be facing, Sandwich Generation clients can find financial balance and empower those around them to reach financial independence as well.