How Much Is This Sandwich? The Costs of Caregiving to the Sandwich Generation

Professional caregivers work hard for the money. Family caregivers work hard ... but not for the money. In fact, it costs families money. Sometimes a lot of money.

“The sandwich generation gets hit hard financially,” says Jillian Castellano, Director of Community Relations at YourLife™ of Palm Beach Gardens, a senior living community offering Independent Living with Supportive Services, Assisted Living and Memory Care in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. “That’s not surprising when you consider that family caregivers who are still raising their own children are usually of working age. When full-time caregiving requires them to cut their hours or give up their careers, they often sacrifice financial stability, but there are other factors, too.”

In this post, we’ll explore the high costs to sandwiched caregivers.

The sandwich generation of caregivers is defined as the ever-growing group of 30- to 60-somethings caring for an aging parent while supporting their own children and/or grandchildren. Home Instead’s Daughters in the Workplace program found that 26% percent of working women are caring for children and parents, more than 50% of caregivers surveyed are financially supporting an adult child, and many senior caregivers 65+ are regularly caring for a grandchild. That’s a lot of people demanding a lot of time, energy, and money.

NYT: ‘It’s Pretty Brutal’

To drive home the high costs and losses to the sandwich generation caregivers, a recent New York Times headline summed up the subject in three poignant words: ‘It’s Pretty Brutal.’  In its 2020 survey, the Times found that, on average, respondents who are caring for both children and older relatives estimate that they have lost more than $10,000 annually due to reduced working hours, increased expenses, or complete loss of paid employment. According to the T. Rowe Price 2019 Parents, Kids & Money Survey, nearly one-third of sandwichers spend $3,000 a month or more to care for an aging parent or relative, 34% spend $1,000 - $2,999 a month, and 35% spend less than $1,000. Seventy-four percent said they do not receive any kind of financial aid or support from social services to help care for their family member.

Experts: Don’t Get Caught Off Guard

In an article adapted for, Jody Gastfriend, a former Vice President of Senior Care at and author of  My Parent’s Keeper, The Guilt, Grief, Guesswork and Unexpected Gifts of Caregiving, notes that part of the problems plaguing caregivers in their 40s and 50s is that they are caught off guard. Most of us plan for the costs of caring for our kids, she writes, but when it comes to our parents, we often underestimate the long-term senior care costs.

According to Chris Cooper, a certified financial planner who frequently consults on the needs of the elderly, families underestimate their financial obligations and how long they will have them. Families “start out thinking they’ll take care of Mom for a year or two,” says Cooper, “and ten years later they are still together.” Such situations, he warns, can lead to divorces, family estrangement, and financial devastation. 

Some families think Medicare will provide for their parent. Think again, says Gastfriend, Medicare does not typically pay for long-term care. Families are also on the hook for things not covered by insurance, such as medicine, medical supplies and services, plus hidden costs of caregiving like food, transportation, home modifications, and household expenses. AARP reported that in 2017, families’ out-of-pocket expenses were three times higher than Medicaid’s payouts for long-term services and supports.

A Cycle in the Making?

This financial stress comes at a high cost to all family members, now and in the future. Lost employment means lost savings potential and retirement contributions, both personal and employer-matched. If caregivers deplete their assets caring for their parents, the next generation might have to pay for their care, and the cycle begins.

According to one AARP study, 30% of family caregivers dip into their personal savings to cover long-term care costs, 16% reduce contributions to their retirement accounts, and 45% cut back on leisure spending. For many strapped families, not even their child’s college savings plan is safe when Grandpa’s care bills are due. T. Rowe Price reported sandwiched caregivers were more than six times as likely to have tapped into their kids’ accounts (71% vs. 11%) in 2019.

Still, many sandwichers think it’s worth the sacrifices. One who participated in an survey commented, “I am unable to earn the income needed to continue caring for both my parents and my own family. I’ve not only given up my job, but also my dreams for now. It is very lonely and financially difficult, but I have to do what I feel is right.”


RELATED: What Is the Sandwich Generation, and What Does It Want?


The experts at YourLife™ of Palm Beach Gardens can help your family explore your loved one’s care options and financial options. Give us a call at 561-214-8549!


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