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What If You Have College Tuition and Nursing Home Bills to Pay?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The sandwich generation -- the baby boomers now faced with bills and responsibilities for both college-aged children and aging parents -- don't have it easy. With expenses on the rise for education and health care, the question looms as to how the 62% of Americans over 50 now providing aid to family members will manage. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those over 50 (91%) never budgeted for multi-generational financial support, according to a Merrill Lynch retirement study. Although the options may be limited, there are some things you can do to ensure your financial future doesn't falter in the process.

1. Create a plan, even if you still have a lot of unknowns.

It's very important to sit down and try to create some sort of plan, even if there is uncertainty, so you can get an idea of the expenses that lay before you, says Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise.

"With a college-aged child, it may be easier to calculate some of the expected expenses," she says. "With an aging parent, look at what they've needed during the last year and try to estimate how their needs may change."

De Baca admits that it may be difficult to calculate elder care expenses with any degree of certainty, but there are some constants in every situation -- for example, if you have to travel to see your parents, you can estimate the cost of a plane ticket and a hotel room. You can also estimate nursing home costs by making a few calls and looking at how prices have evolved over the past few years.

2. Get rid of the guilt.

If your child ends up having to take out student loans because your funds are tied up with eldercare expenses, don't feel guilty, de Baca says. Your parent simply can't earn anymore, but your child has the ability to borrow and 40-plus years of earning power ahead of them.

"You can't do it all," de Baca says. "If you jeopardize your own financial future taking care of your parents and your child, then you're going to become a burden on your children one day. Stop feeling guilty -- you can't be everything to everyone right now."

When you have to choose, the reality is that it's smarter from a financial standpoint to care for your parents, says Jeff Salter, CEO and founder of Caring Senior Service, a national in-home care company.

"You can't borrow for eldercare, but you can borrow for college," Salter says. "One day if you're in a position to help your child pay down their debt, then you can do that, but right now, they need to take out student loans."

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