What they couldn’t have foreseen is that many Gen Xers would grow up to be responsible not only for their own well-being, but for the care and livelihood of their parents and their grown children as well.
So, if a sequel about Gen Xers was made today, it might be called “The Breakfast Sandwich Club.” And why? Many members of Gen X struggle to plan for their own futures while facing the financial impact of caring for the generations before and after them.
Survey Paints a Startling Picture
Balancing the competing priorities of financial support for family members means that Gen Xers are having a hard time with their own financial wellbeing. Researchers found that especially applied to building up both their emergency funds and retirement savings, according to a new survey released by PNC Financial Services.
“The survey revealed that current members of the sandwich generation, as well as those we call ‘half sandwich’ – folks caring for either children or elderly parents, but not both – are under financial stress. They’re struggling to save for their own needs,” according to Rich Ramassini, a director at PNC Investments.
“Adding the demands associated with financially supporting children and/or elderly family members now or in the future, paints a very grim picture for this demographic unless they take immediate action.”
PNC says it commissioned the survey to understand how respondents, who were between the ages of 36 to 60, handle financial decisions and any related stress involving investing and retirement.
Those interviewed were either the main financial decision-makers or they shared financial decision-making duties in their household, PNC explained.
For Many Gen Xers, Household Savings Either Short or Non-Existent
One of the most alarming findings in the survey is that the majority of respondents—almost 40%—admitted to having no emergency savings at all. An equal number of people (31%) said they either would run out of funds within 6 months or would have enough to weather a financial storm that lasted more than six months.
The survey also revealed that almost a third of the members of the sandwich generation have less than $25,000 saved for retirement, and only 15 percent have saved more than $500,000.
Who They Will be Caring for and When
Another key finding of the survey is that “8% of respondents report that they currently have financial responsibilities for both parents/elderly family members and children of any age; 45% are financially supporting either children or parents/family members; and 47% do not have any financial obligations to other family members.”
Where is the financial support going? One fourth of the sandwich generation currently pays for childcare for children under the age of 18, with 20% expecting to do so in five to 10 years. Sixteen percent of respondents currently care for elderly family members, and 32% expect to do so in five to 10 years. Yet only 20 percent say they have planned for those financial responsibilities.
“Because Americans are living longer, their expenses in retirement will only increase. Whether it's day-to-day expenses, the cost of healthcare or other needs, retirement is expensive," Ramassini said.
"Unfortunately, many retirees will be relying on their adult children to supplement their income in retirement. Yet we see that Americans are largely unprepared to assume those expenses, and most of them don't expect to financially support family members. Unfortunately, that's wishful thinking."
A Solution to Rising Stress
The survey found that respondents supporting parents or elderly family members are more stressed than those who are supporting children under age 18, “though respondents with multi-generational financial responsibilities report being twice as overwhelmed as those who do not have financial responsibilities for children or elderly family members.”
Unfortunately, rather than spurring them to action, respondents say the stress causes them to ignore the seemingly overwhelming issue. According to the survey, “29% of them said they would prefer to do nothing than think about their finances.”
However, the survey also found that one thing brought more peace of mind: having a written financial plan in place.
Ramassini noted that survey respondents who reported working with a financial professional or having a financial plan – written or informal – feel less stressed and overwhelmed than those who have no plan or don’t have an advisor.
“A financial plan will not only help you document what you need to do in order to achieve your goals, but now we also know that it can influence your emotions and confidence,” he said.
“The best strategy to feel more financially secure and have a greater chance of reaching your goals is to work with a financial planner who can create a personalized plan that incorporates your unique situation, objectives and habits.”
Taking Action toward Better Financial Wellness
Just like the baby boomer generation, Gen Xers face multiple challenges in retirement: market volatility, the prospect of funding a long retirement, rising healthcare costs, and a growing likelihood of needing paid long-term care with advances in age.
While nothing is a sure guarantee, working with a financial professional can help bring more confidence and relief about your financial future. In fact, surveys repeatedly show that those working with a financial professional report better outcomes in a number of areas, including:
- Higher retirement savings
- Higher likelihood to say they are on track for financial goals
- Better sense of overall well-being
- Reportedly improved sense of emotional wellness from financial security