November is National Family Caregivers Month—an annual event celebrated by WISER and partner organizations of family caregivers across the country. It’s a time to raise awareness of family caregiver issues, celebrate their efforts and increase support. This month’s theme “Caregiving Around the Clock” emphasizes that caregiving is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week job.
Caregiving is a consuming role—physically, mentally and financially—yet many who take on the work don’t identify with the job or fully realize the toll it takes. Often, it comes on unexpectedly, and sometimes the responsibilities may be shared. For example, caring for an elderly parent might be divided between siblings or a paid worker. Still, even if you are doing the actual work of caregiving part-time or just a few hours a week, the effort affects every part of your life. It becomes something you have to think about and plan for around the clock.
The financial challenges of caregiving often come as a surprise to caregivers, as the day-to-day costs can really add up. Many smart retirement planners who believe that they have everything properly planned for are still often unprepared for the financial shock that caregiving for a family member can bring. Even if the role of caregiver comes unexpectedly, there are ways to keep your retirement savings on track while caring for others.
Create, and stick to, a household budget.
Caregiving can affect your daily and long term spending in unexpected ways. That’s why it’s important to create and follow a budget. If you already have one, adjust it to consider your new expenditures. You may also have a lower income if you decide to stop working or reduce your hours. While you’re at it, have financial conversations with the person you’re providing care for, too. It’s easy for costs to balloon, and when mental and physical capacities diminish, the elderly can also be at an increased risk for being victimized by financial scammers.
Try to avoid leaving your job.
It can be tempting (or in some cases a necessity) to run to a loved one’s side when they need care. Doing so, though, can be extremely harmful to your finances. Leaving your job will mean losing compensation and benefits, and maybe skills and contacts. If at all possible, try to exhaust all other options before leaving your job or see if you can at least work reduced hours instead of quitting entirely. If you have a retirement plan or pension through your employer, try to work at least as long as needed to be fully vested in your company’s retirement plan. If you are cutting back on hours, see if there is a minimum number of hours you can work to get reduced benefits.
Be smart about the financial support you provide your loved ones
Don’t drain your savings to help the person you are caring for financially. Usually, the major expense for older adults is health care. Drug plans run through Medicare and private companies may help cover the rising costs of medicine. Low-income seniors may also be eligible to receive help paying their premiums or for additional uncovered medical costs. Information about getting help paying for Medicare costs is available at Medicare.gov. The Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging is also a great resource for connecting with trusted resources in your community that can help with caregiving and other services for older adults and their families. Visit eldercare.gov or call 1-800-677-1116.
For more information and resources for managing your finances while caregiving, download WISER’s publication: Financial Steps for Caregivers. Included in the booklet is a budget worksheet that includes categories for caregiving costs.