Caregiving for a family member is like taking steps into the ocean. At first, the water playfully splashes against your toes – it’s a quick errand or medical appointment with your loved one. Then the waves come with greater force and urgency – your loved one needs daily reminders for medications or has a fall and breaks a hip. Before you know it, the water is nearly up to your head – your loved one has advanced Alzheimer’s or another chronic health condition requiring around-the-clock care.
The costs of caregiving can come upon you in similar fashion. One day you are helping Mom pay for a prescription. Then you are missing work to help her manage from day to day. Before you know it, she moves in with you because her Social Security check is no longer enough for medical bills, rent and food.
According to a 2016 AARP study, family caregivers, on average, spend $7000 per year on out-of-pocket costs of caregiving. About 41 percent of those costs are household expenses (such as rent and mortgage payments), while medical bills account for 25 percent.
Being proactive can help you manage some costs of caregiving. That way, you can enjoy each day more completely with your loved one. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Have the talk – While 94 percent of adult children and their parents agree it is important to talk about the financial future, these conversations often lack depth. Take the time to learn the details. Determine your loved one’s true financial worth. Identify sources of income: savings, pensions, annuities, IRAs, Social Security, etc. There may be more resources than you expect.
- Know where to find important papers – Where does your loved one keep their will, life insurance policy, tax records or trust documents? Where is the checkbook? Knowing their whereabouts as well as various account numbers can help you avoid a frantic search.
- Be ready – Work with your loved one to set up powers of attorney with a trusted family member. That way, your loved one will have help with financial decisions and tasks when needed. Designate someone who will be trustworthy and sensible in handling funds.
- Utilize their assets first – According to a Harvard study, the median older-aged homeowner has enough resources to pay for about two years of home care or assisted living (without tapping into home equity). Additional sources to pay for caregiving may include long-term care insurance, veteran benefits or a reverse mortgage.
- Watch for unexpected financial losses – An occasional trip to the casino might be fun for your loved one. However, frequent trips could signal a problem. Also, older adults are more vulnerable to scams, which can result in huge financial losses. Intervene at the first sign of problems to protect their retirement income (and yours).
- Allocate some vacation time for caregiving tasks – You would probably prefer to take a beach trip without Dad than use your vacation for his surgery and recovery. However, if you earmark some vacation time for caregiving responsibilities, it won’t result in a smaller paycheck.
- Check out employer benefits – According to a 2016 national study, 78 percent of large employers (50+ employees) offer paid or unpaid family leave for elder care. Nearly four in 10 of those workplaces allow employees to designate pre-tax dollars for elder care. So, even if you shoulder caregiving costs, your tax bill will be less.
- Pool resources – If your loved one lacks sufficient funds to pay bills, divide the costs with other family members, when possible. Set up an informal family time bank – where one of you runs errands for an hour or two, while another does the laundry or fills out tax forms. Make sure everyone has a role in care.
- Savor the day-to-day rewards – Cherish the smiles, the corny jokes and mumbled words of thanks. Take a moment to enjoy simply being with your loved one. Along with costs, caregiving brings untold rewards: opportunities to grow in compassion, love selflessly and make a positive difference.
ComForCare/At Your Side Home Care can help you make the most of every caregiving dollar. For suggestions on how to pay for in-home care, download our guide. We can help you identify possible payer sources, such as long-term care insurance, veteran benefits, worker’s compensation or Medicaid. Call 800-886-4044 for the help you need.