Caught in the middle: a sandwich generation that keeps on giving

Written and accurate as at: 14 March 2023

Tight knit families that care for and support each other can provide an abundance of happiness and fulfilment. And living close by, or under the same roof as loved ones, certainly has its benefits.

But if you’re caring for or supporting multiple generations, it could be time to check in on your own financial circumstances and wellbeing, and make sure you’re looking after you too. We share some tips.

The ‘triple decker’ sandwich

If you’re in your 50s or 60s, there’s a good chance that you might be part of a ‘sandwich’ generation caring for children and ageing parents at the same time. While older Australians are living longer and needing more care, adult children faced with higher living costs and unaffordable home ownership are staying in the family home longer.1 For the first time, an entire generation of parents are entering their 60s while still providing financial and personal support to their children.2  Often those children leave, then ‘boomerang’ back to the family home years later, sometimes with grandchildren in tow, creating a ‘triple-decker’ sandwich for the parents.3 

‘Hands-on’ grandparenting and the impact on your retirement plans

Being heavily involved in your grandchildren’s lives can be a source of great satisfaction, so it’s no wonder that grandparents are playing a bigger role in the care of grandchildren, with 73% of surveyed over 50s saying they regularly take care of their grandchildren.4

But caring for grandchildren, and helping out financially, can come at a cost to well laid retirement plans. According to a survey by Australian Seniors, more than 1 in 3 over 50s have helped with household and living costs for their children’s family, 1 in 5 have spent some of their retirement savings so they can help out, and 12% have adapted their retirement plans5. Perhaps if you have children and grandchildren living under your roof, you may have even delayed the downsizing of your home to create space for your family.

3 tips to help balance family commitments with your own

While help and support for children and grandchildren may come from a well intentioned place, it’s important to check in with your own wellbeing and plans for the future, to make sure it’s not costing you more than you realise. Here are some tips:

1. Set your boundaries and communicate them

In order to avoid any conflict or resentment down the track, it’s important to think about what kind of help, and how much of it, you can provide. For example, you may have committed to one day of childcare each week, and then suddenly, that day becomes two days. Or, some short term financial assistance might have gradually snowballed into something much bigger. It can be difficult to say no to a loved one, but often, being clear about your own needs and boundaries is the best thing for your relationship.

2. Consider the impact on your own financial situation

If you’re helping children out financially, have you sat down and worked out how much it may affect your finances? On the surface, decisions such as delaying the intention to downsize your home, working-part time so that you can care for grandchildren or dipping into your retirement savings here and there may seem insignificant, but they could have a much bigger impact on your retirement savings and income than you imagined. Having a clear picture of what financial sacrifices your future self may be making can put you in a better position to decide where the line might be.

3. Remember to take care of your own needs too

Your retirement is likely something that you’ve worked hard towards. You may feel fit and healthy now, but no-one can predict how long your good health may last. While you’re busy helping out your loved ones, remember to take care of yourself – whatever that looks like for you. Do you take time out for yourself each week? Are your future goals and plans still attainable, or have you over-compromised? Take some time to reflect on whether you have the balance right.

It’s only natural to want to help your family out, especially when you’re in a fortunate position of being able to do so. But often, it’s about deciding how far you’re willing to go for your nearest and dearest. 

1 ABC News, meet the sandwich generation
2 Mccrindle: Q&A: the sandwich generation
3 Mccrindle: Q&A: the sandwich generation
4 Australian Seniors research, Raising Modern Australia
Australian Seniors research, Raising Modern Australia