Marc Lawrence explores the big (and small) financial implications of caring for a loved one.
Wherever you live in the world, caring for a loved one can often prove significantly costly. This may depend greatly on your location, your country’s healthcare system, as well as your individual circumstances.
While some of the most obvious risks are larger costs such as medical care and prescription drugs, I’ve found over the course of the last three years, that an equally serious and less conspicuous threat is from the build-up of smaller expenditures. For that reason, I would like to highlight the following, often less considered, categories of new or increased expenses that I have encountered.
Editor’s note: If you live in the United Kingdom or Europe, you may be entitled to some financial benefits and allowances to help you care for a loved one. However, this is typically means tested and depends on your individual circumstances.
We often hear the common adage “time is money”. I’d go further and say that saving time actually costs money. Being a caregiver is more than a full-time job, so any opportunity to save time or effort is important. However, this comes at a cost.
The good news is that the internet provides a plethora of time-saving conveniences, such as grocery shoppers, same day delivery, prepared meal delivery, and more.
The bad news is that many of these options come at a significantly higher cost. In fact, I think an entire article can be dedicated to the value and/or success of these services. (Watch this space.) Beyond the internet, using more convenient providers such as a nearby specialty grocer or laundry services may also come with increased cost.
Understanding and managing these costs on a monthly basis is vital, as $10 here or $15 there can easily add up to hundreds of dollars a month in unanticipated costs.
Prior to my wife’s stroke, we were both working parents. Unusually, we both had corporate roles that allowed us to work from home. As such, we had already encountered some increases in household utility costs associated with working at home – mostly increased electricity and heating and cooling usage.
After the stroke, our electricity and heating and cooling costs increased by roughly 20%. This was mostly driven by increased laundry usage, as well as trying to keep my wife comfortable and entertained (there’s a lot of binge-watching going on).
When dealing with a chronic condition, you can expect to become intimately aware with the geographic-specific cost of living. One example of a new post-stroke cost, is having to pay a contractor to clear my driveway after a snowfall. I used to do this myself but nowadays I just don’t have the time or energy, and I certainly don’t want to risk hurting myself. Depending on the weather, a service like this can cost nothing or several hundred dollars a month.
3. Consumables and disposables
Depending on the condition you’re dealing with, you can expect to need a variety of items to help you provide care throughout the day. The internet provides a mechanism for finding the best prices, quality, and delivery options, although you can easily spend too much time trying to find the right items.
I personally try to focus on established items that satisfy our requirements and are available from reliable sources. Nothing is more frustrating than becoming reliant on a product only to find that it’s no longer available a few months down the line. In our case, disposable items we use daily include adult diapers, surgical gloves, bed pads, wipes, flexible straws, and trash bags.
Consumables include apple sauce (for crushed medications), hand sanitizer, skin moisturizers and protectants, laxatives, liquid thickeners, and more. This all adds up to several hundred dollars per month in non-reimbursed expenses.
4. Nutrition and supplements
Given the nature of my wife’s brain injury, I’m always looking for ways to keep her well-nourished with healthy foods. Occasionally she also gets supplements as recommended by her doctors. Thankfully we have good access to fresh produce, fresh and minimally processed proteins, and many farm-to-table restaurant options.
However, again, healthy options come at a price. I estimate that our monthly grocery and restaurant bills have increased about 25% for the family post-stroke. We do have a growing 12-year-old daughter, but I also don’t try to do organic and natural everything. I’m always looking for value and focusing on quality where it is most important.
The subject of supplements is worthy of an article of its own. Depending on who you ask you will get a different answer about their efficacy and value.
Personally, I’m skeptical of supplements unless their value can be medically validated, but many people do swear by them. We did a short stint on a variety of Chinese herbs while my wife was getting acupuncture treatments. While she felt they were helpful, I didn’t see any physical evidence, so we discontinued using them after several months.
We recently started my wife on a fish oil and a magnesium supplement based on a bio-energy scan that indicated a possible deficiency. I’ll give it a few months, evaluate the results and decide whether to continue. The high cost of quality supplements requires you to carefully evaluate and manage their usage.