Money in the Middle

Sandwich Generation Talking About Money Up, Down and Across Generations

Resetting Expectations: baby boomer family dilemma

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These are tough times.  We’re all worried about money and jobs –even if we still have one.  If you are of the baby boomer generation (age 44-62) you are wondering what happened to the good life you thought you had…or the early retirement you were going to have.  Poof!  Expectations reset.


So, how do you now talk about our finances with family members?  Cutbacks here and there can flow up and have an impact on aging parents and down to adult children or those still at home.  Family gatherings are no longer a time to boast about the latest bonus or show off the new electronic “toy” you bought. It’s a time to be honest and seek support.  


Research continually reminds us how much we hate to talk about our personal finances – a recent survey of women showed they would prefer to go to the dentist for a root canal than talk to their husband about money.  And, have you ever talked with your parent about their finances? 


Yet, giving a people you care about a “heads up’ about your personal financial situation is important.  They’ll understand your actions and attitude better; they can provide counsel and support; and, it helps you adjust to your new reality.  So here are three groups you should talk with about if your financial situation is changing (which is most of us).


 Your children – Whether they are young adults just out of the house or still at home, talk with them about why you are cutting back on spending.  For adult children whom you probably slip a few dollars to now and then, or even provide some level of support, let them know things are changing.  It changes their life, too.  


This can be a great “learning moment” with teens.  Habits developed in these years carry into adulthood.  If they don’t know much about money or budgeting, it’s real life lesson time.  Seek their cooperation and set expectations – trips to the mall will now more frequently be for looking rather than purchasing; there will have to be choices made among afterschool activities that come with additional costs; and eating out will be less frequent.  For college-aged children it is often a really difficult discussion because you feel promises made can’t now be kept.  Work together to figure out a plan that keeps them in school (maybe community college for a year or two) or a less-expensive state school option. 


Your parents – Your parents are being rocked by their own financial reality.  You need to understand what this (more in a later post).  And, they need to know what is happening with you, especially if you are providing some financial support to them.  If they are out of town, you need to let them know visits will be less frequent; holidays will be celebrated with cards and small tokens rather than large gifts if that has been your custom; and trips or family gatherings may have to be put off for another time.  You don’t need to go into great financial detail.


Letting them know you are cutting back will help avoid misunderstanding about why you aren’t visiting or sending your usual gift.  I recently saw a wonderful e-mail an aging adult sent to his children about cutbacks he’d be making – shows, gifts, trips – that wouldn’t be as they were in the past.  No dire predictions, no “woe is me” – a bit of levity and hope that these things will return in the future.  But for now, a few changes were being made.  A great gift to his children. 


If you are helping provide financial support, it needs to be a more detailed discussion.  And you need to begin looking at government assistance (if they qualify) to help when you can’t.  Look to their local Council on Aging or Office on Aging for assistance. Don’t wait until it is a crisis. 


Rather than continue to increase the pressure on yourself by pretending everything is the same, take a step today to share your situation with a family member.  Resetting their expectations help you accept your new financial reality.






Written by Laura Rossman

February 10, 2009 at 2:08 pm

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