Groceries, housing costs and medical expenses top the list of expenses that nearly a third of midlife adults contribute to support aging parents and adult children, according to a new AARP telephone survey.

While 32% of midlife adults ages 40–64 provided regular financial support to their parents in the past year, four in ten midlife adults (42%) expect to be doing so in the future, according to the survey. Most often the money is going for basic living expenses.

Meanwhile, meeting the needs of older parents is not the only financial burden that midlife adults are shouldering. Half of midlife adults are still providing money to their adult children ages 25 or older for basic expenses, the survey found.

“This reality creates a financial strain on their own family finances and places particular pressure on retirement savings during a crucial point for building wealth,” said Laura Skufca, a senior AARP research advisor.

It is becoming increasingly clear is that midlife adults have a dire need for the type of financial planning and realistic advice that can save them from spending down all their assets, so that they too may risk being dependent on their kids.

About a quarter of midlife adults say their parents or adult children rely on the money they provide “to a great extent.” This money is used most often to buy food, with groceries topping the list for aging parents as well as adult children, AARP found.

The sums contributed hardly constitute spare change. The survey found that 54% of respondents have given $1,000 or more to a parent in the last 12 months, and 20 percent have provided $5,000 or more. Financial support to adult children was equally striking, with 56% of midlife adults providing $1,000 or more in the past year and 25% contributing $5,000 or more. 

In addition, support for parents is more likely to help cover medical expenses. Financial help for adult children, on the other hand, is more likely to be used for paying transportation costs. Other common cost areas being covered both for older parents and adult children include personal items, utility costs, and phone, internet and television bills.

The AARP survey results are based on telephone survey of 1,508 adults ages 40–64. The problem is more common than some financial advisors might think. According to the Pew Research Center, 1 in 7 middle-aged adults (15%) provide financial support to both an aging parent and a child.

Why are so many feeling this financial squeeze? People are living longer. They are having children later. Meanwhile, many young adults are finding it too expensive to live on their own. Throw in rising health-care expenses for older Americans, and you have the makings for today's sandwich generation.

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