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Caught in the middle: the financial woes of today’s sandwich generation

Catherine Elliott13 August 2019

Any parent will tell you that raising children is a pretty tough job. And it’s not cheap either — raising a child to the age of 18 now costs in the region of £155,000 for couples or £187,000 if you’re a single parent.

So imagine that at some point during these 18 years (or more), you also had to start caring for your own parents.

Having to look after young dependants on one side and ageing parents on the other is the very real situation that 1.3 million Britons — the so-called ‘sandwich generation’ — now find themselves in.

And apart from being a huge emotional strain, trying to support two generations can have some significant consequences for your finances, too.

If one thing’s clear, financial planning is more important than ever for the sandwich carers of today.

Who’s part of the ‘sandwich generation’?

Typically, those in their 40s-60s who are supporting both their children and their own parents, emotionally or financially.

According to a recent report, over a third of parents with children under 14 are also caring for an ageing family member, and two in five Britons are financially supporting their parents in later life.

What’s behind it?

For starters, people are having kids later. For older generations, getting married in your early 20s and having children soon after was the norm. But now, more men and women aren’t starting a family until they’re in their thirties or even their forties.

The average age of first-time mothers in the UK has now hit 30, while women over 40 are the only age group among the population currently experiencing a rise in conception rate.

Parents are therefore much older when their little ones finally do fly the nest, meaning elderly relatives might already be in need of some support.

Young adults are also living with their parents for much longer, due in large part perhaps to the difficulties of getting on the housing ladder. The proportion of those aged 20 to 34 who live with their parents has risen from 19.48% in 1997 to 25.91% in 2017 — that’s about 3.4 million young adults still living under mum and dad’s roof.

And of the 2.7 million parents who have grown-up children living with them, only 40% of those living at home contribute financially.

Finally, it won't come as a surprise that we’re all living longer...

Britain’s ageing population

According to a recently published report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 24% of the UK population will be over 65 by 2042 — up from 18% when last estimated in 2016.

While it might be something to celebrate, the general trend of living longer could have some serious effects on our working life and finances.

With almost a quarter of Britons to be classified as ‘pensioners’ in the near future, the ONS has urged that the State Pension age be raised from 65 to 68 a full seven years sooner than planned (in 2039, rather than 2047), to help relieve some of the strain on public spending.

For those nearing retirement, it means having to work for longer — or dipping further into other sources of income before getting a helping hand from the government. (If you get one at all.)

For sandwich carers, this could mean having to support a loved one for longer, while also working later into life to build up a sufficient retirement fund of your own.

The cost of care

Long-term care is expensive. On average, residential care costs £617 per week in the UK (£721 in London), while for nursing care you’re looking at a basic weekly rate of £844 (£922 in London).

Alzheimers UK has also estimated that two million people in the UK will be suffering with dementia by 2050 — heartbreaking and financially hard-hitting, too. Some care homes for dementia sufferers can cost up to £20 per hour, meaning a lifetime bill of £100,000 isn’t beyond reason.

And because long-term care is typically paid for by the person in question or their families, a bleak reality is unfolding for a lot of sandwich carers: having to foot the bill for an elderly parent while also trying to set aside enough provisions for their own care when the time comes.

To make matters worse, 40% of the sandwich generation who care for an elderly loved one said that doing so prevents them from working full-time hours.

As a result, they’re not only faced with the prospect of their own retirement fund growing more slowly; they’re also in danger of failing to qualify for the number of national insurance credits needed to claim the full State Pension — potentially leaving themselves even further short. (You can find out more about the State Pension and how it’s calculated here.)

Financial planning for sandwich carers

It’s not surprising, then, that those who are being pulled in both directions are struggling to build a nest egg of their own.

Turning a blind eye to your finances is risky business — but if you’re one of the 1.3 million sandwich carers in the UK, the consequences are likely to be even greater.

Putting your children through university might be harder than you’d expected. And retiring when and how you’d like might be out of the question — or at least require a serious rethink about your standard of retirement living.

Financial planning, therefore, has arguably never been more important for those who currently find themselves caught in the middle.

Taking a proactive approach to your finances today will ensure you and your family are financially protected in the future. After all, it’s never too early to get on top of your financial planning, but it can be too late — for you, and your family.

Considering financial advice? Find out what financial advice is and how it could help you in our free guide.

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