Oh, April. The weather is warmer, the days are longer, and perhaps the countdown to summer has begun. But there’s also tax time and National Financial Literacy Month thrown in the mix too. Hopefully, by now, your taxes are a distant memory, and if you owed Uncle Sam any money, you’ve recovered from the hit. If you got a refund this year, you’re probably just back from your long-awaited vacation. But, if you’re a caregiver, tax time might instill a whole new level of stress that you are just now recovering from. In any case, I would be remiss if I did not highlight the importance of financial literacy as a millennial, caregiver, and entrepreneur.
In my early 20s, I watched Suze Orman weekly on CNBC. I was a recent college graduate with a modest (by comparison to my peers) student loan to pay off and was trying to find a job and get a car. In each episode, I would watch as people called in to ask Ms. Orman (as she will always be known to me) if they could afford something on their wish list. Some were raking it in and were easily approved, while others could barely afford the day-to-day making any purchase seem extravagant. Some people had debt of all kinds while others were well on their way to a golden retirement. Sometimes I would think, “How could someone rack up so much debt,” incorrectly assuming that they must have been financially irresponsible. Then, at 26, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and suddenly all of my little $20 co-pays began adding up. For the first time in my life, I looked at debt differently, as something that perhaps wasn’t born out of living above one’s means, but rather as the cost of just living.
I was fortunate as a cancer survivor to have never had to take on medical debt to afford my care. I had good health insurance that covered it. But now as a creative entrepreneur, that same coverage costs me almost as much as my rent, as I shoulder the entire 102% monthly charge sans employer contribution. Yet, that’s still peanuts compared to what caregivers go through to pay for not just their own expenses, but that of their loved ones. Taking over my grandmother’s finances when she entered long-term care was terrifying. First off, I had no idea what her monthly bills looked like because she had always handled her own affairs. Secondly, I wasn’t jointly on her accounts which further complicated matters. Either way, the money went quicker than I thought it would between paying an astronomical sum for her care each month and hiring an elder care attorney to help me navigate expenses and spend down her money to make her eligible for Medicaid.
When my grandmother first entered the care facility, I met with the woman in charge of their business office. We chatted a bit, and I told her that I was beside myself because I wasn’t aware of all of the things a person needed to think about as they aged. She then shared that she was in her 60s, counseled people on financial matters for a living, and had no long-term care plan other than her adult child herself. I’ll let you read that last line again. This woman did this for a living and knew what she should be doing financially speaking as she aged…and still did nothing. At that moment, it made me feel better about my situation, but when I’ve thought about it since, it scares me for what she and her family will have to go through if she takes no course of action soon.
If you’re a caregiver, here are a few things you can do now that will make life easier for you and your loved one in the future:
- Talk about money: It might feel like a tough topic to bring up, but if you are a caregiver for someone, you will need to know how much money there is that could be available to pay for their care. Having an understanding of their assets, expenses (and monthly bills), and any debts can help you both decide what kind of care could be feasible in the future (ie: home care, assisted living, etc). This knowledge will also come in handy should you ever need to manage their finances.
- Work with a trusted financial advisor/estate planner: There’s more to know beyond having a will, healthcare proxy, and power of attorney in place, and having a financial advisor who can guide you as you navigate your loved ones’ finances will be like having a new best friend—especially during tax time!
- It’s never too late: While starting these discussions earlier is better, you shouldn’t feel as though it’s too late to reach out to professionals for guidance. I know that when I did in my situation, a lot of them were impressed with the knowledge I had already gained through my research, which made asking the right questions easier. Also, there’s no need to feel like a failure as a caregiver for not having things in place (Hi, I see you). Just keep moving forward and taking care of your loved one—that’s the most important aspect of your job.
One thing I liked about Ms. Orman’s show is that it got people talking about money, and demonstrated that it’s never too late to start saving for a rainy day. As a caregiver, I often wonder about my own financial future. According to AARP, family caregivers spend more than $7,200 a year on out-of-pocket costs and often feel the strain of contributing to a loved one’s care. Given the current caregiving crisis and demands on family caregivers (many of whom leave the workforce to provide said care), this further demonstrates the need for caregivers to be compensated.