The Unexpected Financial Burden of Caregiving: A Millennial’s Perspective

  • A reporter shares their personal experience of encountering significant financial costs associated with caregiving, highlighting the need for financial planning when parents become sick or elderly.
  • The reporter cancels their return flight and stays in Charleston to care for their mother, realizing they had not been forward-thinking with their financial planning.
  • The unexpected costs of caregiving, such as hospital expenses, transportation, and utilities, along with personal financial responsibilities, make it difficult for the reporter to consider taking short-term disability leave. Financial planning for caregiving becomes crucial for future preparedness.

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I temporarily moved to Charleston, South Carolina, this summer to take care of my mother. To my surprise, I encountered significant financial costs associated with caregiving, such as health aides, transportation, and food. This experience has led me to have conversations with my friends about planning for caregiving when their parents become sick or elderly.

My mother was given a prognosis of five years to live when her cancer spread five years ago. However, this year we celebrated her 68th birthday in South Carolina. Shortly after returning to Boston from that trip, my mother was admitted to the hospital in Charleston due to infections resulting from a previous cancer surgery. Her health rapidly deteriorated, and she was moved to the intensive-care unit and placed on a ventilator.

As a result, I canceled my return flight to Boston and made plans to stay in Charleston for the summer. While my siblings could come and visit to help, I had the most flexibility since I work remotely and do not have children to care for. I made arrangements for a friend to watch my cat and moved my prescriptions to a local pharmacy.

Although I thought I had everything figured out, I did not anticipate the financial burden that came with caregiving.

I consider myself fortunate to have a 401(k) and consistent savings. However, as a millennial who entered the workforce after a recession, simply having savings felt like an accomplishment. It was only when I became a caregiver that I realized I had not been as forward-thinking with my financial planning as I should have been.

The unexpected costs started to accumulate: hospital food expenses, Lyft and Uber rides to and from the hospital, gas and maintenance for my mother’s car, utility bills, and the care of her two dogs. Meanwhile, I still had to pay rent, utilities, and car payments for my own apartment in Boston. Considering the cost of living in Boston combined with the additional expenses of caregiving, I did not have enough savings to consider taking short-term disability leave, as I would have only received a percentage of my salary.

Therefore, I had to continue working while caring for my mother.

In addition to caregiving, my siblings and I had to manage our mother’s finances. This involved staying on top of her bills, understanding the costs of her recovery, and deciding which expenses we would cover ourselves. We also had to consider how long she would need financial assistance and how this would impact our own future plans and responsibilities, especially since my siblings have in-laws to consider as well.

Caring for parents is not something many people think about until the need arises. Growing up, we often witness family members taking care of older loved ones or visiting them in nursing homes. I knew at the back of my mind that I would have to consider taking care of my mom someday, but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon.

Unlike my siblings, I was caregiving without a partner to help carry the emotional and financial burden. When my mother’s care team informed me that she was well enough for me to return to Boston, I went back home, but my siblings and I are still discussing the financial responsibilities.

In conversations with my friends about financial planning, we often discuss topics like retirement savings and saving for big purchases. However, I have started to ask them about their plans for caregiving. Do they have enough savings to take short-term disability if their parent falls ill? Can they afford a nursing home if needed? Do their housing plans include space for elderly parents? These are important discussions to have in order to be prepared for the future and avoid additional financial stress.

While I wouldn’t wish our summer experience on anyone, it has prompted us to think ahead and plan for the future. Taking care of a loved one involves a great deal of stress, and it is best to anticipate and prepare for the financial aspects in advance.

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