The Costs of Caregiving Go Far Beyond the Obvious
Seeing a loved one through a long illness or disability is an expensive proposition, and that’s not just in a financial sense. To be ready for this important role, you need to realize there are many other potential "costs."
Being a caregiver for a loved one is probably one of the most difficult tasks a person can undertake. Having professional caregivers helps minimize some of the physical strain but does not alleviate the mental, emotional and financial stress.
Obviously, every situation is different, but some of the common financial concerns that you may one day need to be prepared for are discussed below. For simplicity sake, I am referring to a married couple, but the issues are not dissimilar if one is caring for a parent or a disabled child.
It is not uncommon to have both the husband and wife work outside of the home. If one spouse is unable to work and needs prolonged care, oftentimes their spouse is the primary caregiver. At first, the caregiving spouse might be able to use their vacation time and sick days, but after those have been exhausted, they may also lose the pay for hours lost or even their job.
The couple has received a double whammy — money is flowing out for the necessities of life, but little or nothing is coming in. On top of being worried about their loved one, they are worried about money.
Even if the caregiver is self-employed, they are financially impacted because they either do not have the time or mental wherewithal to concentrate on their work. A decline in cash flow at a time when unexpected medical expenses increase is devastatingly stressful.
Professional service costs.
Even if cash inflows are stable, there are added expenses to consider. The tasks that the sick spouse routinely did, such as yardwork or shoveling snow, may have to be outsourced, which can be very expensive. Caregivers are too tired to clean the house, so they can find themselves using a cleaning service or have groceries delivered.
Health costs on caregivers themselves.
Depending on the length and severity of the loved one’s illness, caregivers can get burned out. Their health may fail or they may postpone having symptoms checked out because they have neither the time nor inclination to see one more health professional. As a result, they may wait so long that what may have once been an easy fix becomes both more serious and expensive to treat.
Caregivers often become depressed and frustrated. It is totally unrelated to how they feel about the ill family member. A person who has been a longer-term caregiver is running on empty. They do not sleep long or well; they tend to gain or lose weight. They may try to feel better by getting a massage or facial, buying a new outfit or joining a gym that they do not have the time or energy to attend. All of these things are expensive Band-Aid therapies.
Financial costs of your loved one’s care.
It is virtually impossible to accurately quote the cost of caregiving because there are so many variables involved. The cost of care in rural America is different than the same services being provided in New York City or Los Angeles due to the cost of living. The level of training and experience will impact the hourly fee. A CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) is lower than a Registered Nurse. The needs of the patient dictate both the time needed and the level of training required to safely care for a patient.
The nicest thing a friend or relative can do for a caregiver is to plan to spell them for a few hours so they can take a leisurely bath, take a walk or just take a nap.
The next time you see someone standing in line at the supermarket looking exhausted and perhaps a tad disheveled smile, ask “How are you doing?” You may well have made their day.
About the Author
President, HMS Financial Group
Barbara Shapiro is the President of HMS Financial Group located in Dedham, Mass. She is a CFP®, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and a Financial Transitionist®. She is also co-author of "He Said: She Said: A Practical Guide to Finance and Money During Divorce." Her firm specializes in comprehensive financial planning with a subspecialty in divorce that assists clients' transition from marriage to independence with peace of mind and confidence. Learn more at HMS-Financial.com. Securities and Advisory Services offered through Cadaret, Grant & Co., Inc., a Registered Investment Adviser and Member FINRA/SIPC. HMS Financial Group and Cadaret, Grant & Co., Inc. are separate entities.