retirement

10 ways to survive the sandwich years

8. Consider different housing options. Your 82-year-old father has enough income to stay in his $700-per-month apartment. But what if he falls or develops a serious illness and can't live independently anymore? Here are some options, but remember that the costs and availability vary by state.

Where Dad can live if he needs skilled attention:
  • Personal care home. State-licensed individuals who take care of at least two or three elderly people in a residential home operate these. Expect to pay $1,000 to $3,000 per month.

  • Assisted living facility. Services offered and independence requirements vary by facility. Expect fees to range from $2,000 to $4,500 per month.

  • Skilled nursing facility. Costs vary widely, but expect to pay $4,000 to $8,000 per month. There are some beds available for Medicaid patients, but you may not get your first choice or a desirable location.

  • Section 8 housing. These HUD-subsidized programs are for independent seniors with limited incomes. The monthly payments are determined by your parent's income. There are often waiting lists for these, so think ahead.

For more advice and recommendations on housing options in your area, talk with an adviser at A Place for Mom Inc., a free referral service that inspects personal care homes as well as nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

9. Don't jeopardize your own retirement security. After you've done everything you can to lower your parents' expenses, evaluate how much you'll need to spend each month to keep your parents afloat. Then be sure that's a line item in your own budget. And fund your own 401(k) regularly, even if it means giving up a few luxuries along the way.

If you're tempted to withdraw funds from your own IRA to help out your parents, Burns suggests rethinking that strategy. "Unless you're at least 59½ when you withdraw funds from retirement plan accounts, it creates taxable events," she says. "A better choice is to access government and community resources."

10. Open a college fund. You're making your monthly mortgage, contributing to your dad's monthly expenses, funding your 401(k) and now you need to pay for college. If your kids are still relatively young, consider opening a 529 plan. Space suggests requesting donations to the college fund on your children's birthdays, special occasions and for high school graduations. Your parents may not be able to contribute, but tap into the generosity of godparents, aunts and close family friends.

Even if you don't have a robust amount in the 529 account, you might be surprised to learn there's often wiggle room in tuition fees. If a college is very interested in your child, you can negotiate -- but this only works if your child has another option. "The real key is to make sure your child gets accepted at two or three schools," says La Spisa.

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