Last updated: May 22, 2009
Last week I wrote about how my sisters and I arrived at the painful conclusion that we could no longer provide all our mom's care ourselves and that our mom couldn't continue safely living alone in her house without some help. We chose to use an in-home care agency, primarily because with full-time jobs, we wanted to have back-up care available in case the caregiver got sick or my mom fired her unexpectedly (a distinct possibility, as my mothers' moods were volatile.) The next thing we did was to sit down and figure out how many hours we could afford, and how to come up with the money. Here are some tips based on what we learned during this process.
1. Assess your parent's income and spending to see how much money is available for care. We started by making a monthly budget for my mom, based on her social security and pension income and her monthly spending. In my mom's case, she was using almost her entire income to live on, so there was only about $50 a month to put towards caregiving costs. But that was a start.
2. Make a list of caregiving skills that could save you money. This is where the big surprises came for us. The minute we started thinking about hiring care, we realized there were some ways that a caregiver who provided particular services could save us money, which we could then put towards the cost of care.
3. Cut transportation costs if the caregiver drives. In our mom's case, she didn't drive, so she was taking taxis whenever my sisters and I couldn't drive her, and paying to have groceries delivered. By hiring a caregiver who drove, we realized we could save on these transportation costs and put that money toward the cost of care. If your parent or other family member owns a car and hiring a caregiver would allow you to sell the car and reduce gas and insurance costs, that would save you even more money.
4. Pare down your parent's food budget by having the caregiver cook. Because my sisters and I all have full-time jobs, the only way we could have meals ready for my mom was to buy a lot of prepared food. By asking the caregiver to cook from scratch at least once a week and make meals in bulk, we were able to cut my mom's grocery bills. That money also went back into the "caregiving kitty."
5. Reduce phone services you don't need. During the years when my mom was taking taxis and buses, my sisters and I had bought her a cell phone, so she'd be able to call us in emergencies, such as if she fell or got stuck anywhere and needed a ride. With a caregiver to drive her and a portable phone in the house, she would no longer need that service, so we cancelled her cell phone plan. More monthly savings.
6. Save on household services. Although my sister and I were doing most of my mom's cleaning, we'd had to resort to hiring a housecleaner once a month or so to do the big jobs. We discussed this with the in-home care agency and figured out a plan for the caregiver to do the daily cleaning my sisters and I had been doing, freeing us up to do the bigger jobs when we visited. With housecleaning rates in our area at $25 an hour, this saved us about $100 a month. The social worker we'd originally hired to assess our situation told us about a discount plan for fixed-income seniors offered by our local gas and electric company, which saved my mom an additional $50 a month.A further surprise turned out to be that our caregiver liked to garden, and was happy to do the watering and weeding. We gave up the monthly garden service my mom had been using, and an added benefit was that my mom spent time outside "helping" the caregiver. The sunshine and fresh air benefited them both.
7. Add up all the savings and see how much your parent has available each month. By the time we re-budgeted, taking into account all these cost savings, mom had several hundred dollars available a month for paid care. We talked to several agencies, found one that would provide a half-day shift three days a week, and we were set.
8. Ask family members to pitch in to make up the difference. As time went on, my mom required more hours of care, and her budget didn't cover as many hours as she needed. But with all four of us splitting the cost of covering the difference, it was a very small expense for each of us. And it was well worth it for the decrease in stress and the increase in time it gave each of us to spend with our own families.
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