Reducing the Financial Fatigue of Caregiving
There are many rewards of caring for a loved one, but caregiving can also come at a cost. According to several studies, the average female caregiver loses more than $324,000 during their lifetime in wages, pensions and Social Security benefits, due to their caregiving responsibilities (The MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers (2001).
I have been riding the ups and downs of caregiving and constantly redefining my new “normal” for the past four years. Not only am I a caregiver, but I am also the Director of Financial Counseling at Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), a subsidiary of the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging in Cleveland, Ohio. ESOP is a non-profit Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-approved housing and financial counseling agency. It is our mission to help adults in all stages of life achieve and maintain financial wellness and housing stability.
Although my profession is about ensuring that others can navigate complex financial issues, ranging from powers of attorney to reducing debt and repairing credit, I have been overwhelmed by taking on the role of both caregiver and financial coordinator for my own family. I have notes on my computer, stuck to my bathroom mirror, in my phone and on my calendar to remind myself to pay bills online, mail the mortgage check, schedule a doctor’s appointment, help my daughter with her financial aid for school, order new medical supplies and the list goes on and on. I cannot tell you the number of times I have driven around with bill payments in the visor of my car ready to be sent, and yet I still forgot to mail them out.
About two and a half years into my caregiving journey, I was exhausted and almost every area of my life was in disarray. I had to take a pause and look at how to get everything in balance. I needed some self-care for my mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. I could not do it all, and I needed to ask for help!
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, more than 66 percent of family caregivers are women, and while many caregiving tasks may come naturally to some of us, most of the financial responsibilities can be outside of our experience and can require legal proficiencies we simply do not have.
There are two different types of financial caregivers. The first is a caregiver who also provides financial support and contribution for their loved one. The average out-of-pocket expenses a caregiver pays on behalf of their loved one is $7,000 per year (“Family Financial Caregiving: Rewards, Stresses and Responsibilities,: AARP, 2015.) According to a Merrill Lynch study, 68 percent of caregivers report that they are financial contributors.
The second type of financial caregiver is the financial coordinator who manages the hands-on financial activities of paying bills, handling insurance, managing assets and investments, filing taxes and monitoring accounts. According to the same Merrill Lynch study, 88 percent of caregivers handle financial coordination tasks, and 64 percent of caregivers report that they are providing both financial coordination and financial support for the person receiving care.
Regardless of which category of caregiver we are today or may be in the future, help is available. We may want to consider:
1. Having open communication with family members, including parents and children, about finances and legal topics. Resources for talking to our families about money can be found through many non-profits, ranging from local organizations like mine (ESOP) to other national organizations.
2. Creating a household budget. This can help families at any stage, but building a plan can keep loved ones from being a burden should they require caregiving.
3. Understanding which financial and legal documents are needed for our situation, then ensuring those files are organized and easily accessible. Documents to consider discussing with an attorney, a financial counselor at a HUD-approved financial counseling agency or other trusted person:
- Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
- Health Care Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy
- Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order
- Living Trust
- Last Will and Testament
- Living Will
Caregiving is demanding, but having our family’s financial health in order goes a long way in supporting the overall health of our loved ones and ourselves.