We had the beatniks of the ‘50s, the hippies of the ‘60s and the yuppies of the ‘70s. Now we’re seeing something called the “sandwich generation” emerge. This group finds itself in the awkward position of preparing kids to leave the nest, taking care of elderly parents and trying to plan for their own retirement.

Studies conducted by the Pew Research Center confirm that roughly one out of every eight Americans aged 40–60 is still caring for both their children and at least one parent. Census Bureau statistics indicate that the number of older Americans (over 65) will double to more than 70 million by the year 2030. It is not uncommon for baby boomers to be caring for one child at home, putting another through college and looking for a nursing home for one or both of their parents.

Paying for college

Providing our children with a college education is part of the American dream, but American parents are getting a bad case of sticker shock when confronted with the cost of higher education. The cost of attending a four-year private university is now more than $37,000 per year. That includes tuition, fees and lodging. Four-year public universities cost more than $18,000 per year. The average cost of attending a two-year public college has now reached $14,000 per year. The killer is that costs are increasing by about 8 percent per year. The fact remains, however, that getting a college education is essential for most to pursue the American dream of getting a good job, owning a home and raising a family. So, even though the cost of a college education is high, the cost of foregoing it is even higher.

In order to help pay for their education, students are taking on debt loads that would have been unthinkable when their parents went to school. Nationally, student loan debt topped $1 trillion in 2011, eclipsing credit card debt for the first time. Just as there are retirement planning strategies that can save thousands of dollars, there are strategies that can save thousands when it comes to paying for college.

Financial aid

Many think that financial aid is only for needy families. Not true. As a financial advisor, it pains me greatly to see how much money slips through the hands of students and their parents because they don’t know how the system works. By not helping their children take advantage of grants, scholarships and financial aid, some parents unknowingly forfeit their security in retirement. More than $125 billion in financial aid is distributed each year and, if you are sending kids to college, some of it may have your family’s name on it. In theory, the federal financial aid system is based on need, but in practice and in reality, you don’t have to be needy to get it — you just have to know how the system works. Don’t think it’s welfare. It’s your tax dollars at work. Your congressmen and senators have put the rules in place by which you can obtain it.

Federal financial aid comes in many varieties. Nearly 70 percent of student financial aid is provided by the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) program, and consists of grants, loans or work-study programs.

Grants don’t have to be paid back, and they are a great way to help pay for college. Grants can come from private organizations, such as churches and civic groups; they may be awarded by professional organizations, seeking to advance their cause in the world; and they may even come from the educational institution itself. Yes, the school charges you on the one hand, but offers you a way to pay on the other. And, of course, state and federal governments offer grants. These grants may be awarded based on a student’s race, religion, special interests, or his or her financial need.

Sadly, billions of dollars that are available in grants from both private and government sources go un-awarded because people don’t know how to apply for them. We live in a paperwork world, and just saying the word “application” makes us flinch. But many of these applications can be filled out online. If you are somewhat computer savvy, just throw a few key words at your favorite search engine, and you will come up with thousands of sites containing information on how to apply for these grants.

Coach Pete and his team offer complimentary retirement strategy sessions to Chapelboro readers.  Contact them at 919-657-4201.