The Cheerful Caregiver

Are We Broke Yet?

Last updated: Nov 07, 2011


In 2010, my friend Elizabeth Shean caused a bit of a sensation when she dared to discuss the hard costs involved in caring for an elderly parent. Shean took her father into her home and was unprepared for the real dollars-and-cents impact it would have on her and her husband's finances. But elder care can be an expensive proposition, and saying so doesn't mean we love our parent any less. It's simply a fact.

Taking care of a loved one with dementia or physical incapacity can be expensive. Let's dare to speak out loud about this and admit the stress caused by seeing our finances drained even as our stamina and emotions also take a beating.

And once we've felt the relief of our admission and released the guilt involved, let's look at ways to reduce the stress money issues cause so that we don't grow resentful of our loved ones or burn out financially.

Even though I don't have to pay any of my mom's expenses (for which I'm grateful), my personal finances have taken a toll since she moved nearby. For nearly 30 years, Lee and I have lived our lives alone, just the two of us, and we've been fortunate to have experienced a bit of financial freedom along the way. Since Mom moved nearby, however, we've seen our monthly budget take a hit. Mom loves to dine out, and she likes one or both of us to accompany her. Our budget isn't set up to accommodate that. But I dote on Mom and hate to say no to her. Consequently, I've been overspending our restaurant budget. And that's not the only thing.

Mom and I spend every Monday together. We usually go grocery shopping, eat lunch out, then do something fun like visit a museum or browse a bookstore. Normally, I chauffeur us on these outings. That's a significant gas expense. So, guess what? I've been overspending our monthly fuel budget, too.

To correct for these budget overages, I started 'borrowing' money from other budget lines: health insurance deductible, vacation, home improvement. Our finances started looking a little precarious. At the very least, I can say our financial picture didn't look as comfortable and robust as it did before Mom came to live nearby.

I finally came to the conclusion I needed to put Lee's and my finances first. If I didn't, I knew it would cause problems in my marriage and also between Mom and me. Those were the last things I wanted.

So now, on Mondays, I still chauffeur Mom and me around town "“ but I do it in her car (which is fine with her). And we still eat lunch at restaurants regularly "“ only we scour the web and the Sunday paper for coupons to reduce the cost. Sometimes, we even split a plate. Not only is our budget looking healthier, but I feel less stressed about money. I don't feel I'm compromising my future by taking care of my mom.

I'm not sure people realize the financial impact on caregivers that caring for a loved one has. That's why I'm here to spread the message to all my caregiving friends: It's OK to put yourself first. If the caregiver doesn't take care of herself, she won't be in any position to care for her loved one. And that includes finances. So let go of the guilt and look after yourself, OK?