Many adults face the prospect of not only putting their kids through college (and maybe supporting them afterward), but also having to look after their aging parents. In many families, that can add up to an unsustainable burden. With good investment planning and a realistic perspective, many of those in today's “sandwich generation” can overcome the challenges and help keep their parents, children — and themselves — going strong.

Here are some steps that could help you head off trouble and keep you on track with your retirement goals.

  • Teach your kids well. Young adults starting out today face financial and economic obstacles their parents never encountered. You can't fix the economy, but it's never too late to teach them about saving, making smart purchases, and the importance of managing their money.
  • Keep saving. When it comes to planning, nothing beats the power of investment compounding. The sooner you start a college fund for your children while continuing to build a nest egg for yourself, the more options and opportunities you create for you and your family down the road. And while there are scholarships and financial aid for college, there is no such thing for your retirement.
  • Talk to your parents. It’s all too easy to avoid speaking with your parents about money. It may be hard for you and them to think about if they’re unable to handle their finances alone or later in life. Having a conversation with your parents about their finances is not only essential, but it can be a rewarding experience for everyone involved. Try taking it slow and:
    • Make your conversations as positive and productive as possible by talking with your parents in person and not over the phone.
    • Initiate the discussion while your parents are healthy and able to participate fully.
    • Plan your talks for non-stressful times — not at holiday get-togethers.
    • Over several conversations, reassure your parents that you want to learn more about their plans for and concerns about retirement. And explain that you want to understand their wishes, not impose your ideas upon them. If something happens down the road, you want to be able to step in and help.
    • Remember: you don’t have to do this alone. Talk with your siblings and keep your spouse or partner informed.
    • And if they won't talk to you, maybe they'd sit down with your financial advisor to discuss their current situation and their plans for the years ahead, including long-term care. It could help give all of you comfort.

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