Danger: Aging Parents Overspending, Running Low, And What You Can Do
Briana called AgingParents.com in distress. She was feeling panicky and angry. Her 80 year old mother, Rhonda, had just bought another new car she could not afford. Briana explained that her mother’s funds were limited, but she kept insisting on living the life she had before her husband passed. Her parents had depleted their assets in the process of having a lot of fun in retirement, never considering that their money would not last. Rhonda was going to run out of savings in about a year, the way she was spending, and it was becoming clear that she was starting to need help at home.
Briana had a close relationship with her mother but she hesitated to try to talk about Rhonda’s spending. It felt uncomfortable to try to tell her mother what to do. It had always been the other way around! She sought advice: what could she do? Her mother might need expensive help and there was not going to be enough left to pay for it. Briana, a single mom with two teens still at home, could not see herself supporting her mother. Her mother ignored bank statements and kept spending as if she were wealthy.
What Briana needed was a plan for how to approach her mother and persuade Rhonda to be on a budget. She knew before she started that Rhonda would push back at any such suggestion. Reality had never been her mother’s friend.
The first step we gave her at AgingParents.com was to collect information on how much Rhonda had spent in the last two years, since being widowed. Briana got this data from Rhonda’s bank records. She was shocked. It was worse than she thought.
The next step was to consider how to best approach her mother. We let her know that most parents do not want to be a burden to their children and that should be in Briana’s pitch. Rhonda was setting up a situation that would likely create a financial crisis. Briana could not afford to pay for any of the help Rhonda needed starting now or in the future. Rhonda had no long term care insurance, other assets, nor way to cover her expenses without selling the home she loved. She was dead set against the idea of a reverse mortgage. She had no good options.
We gave Briana a full description of the limited choices Rhonda would have if she did run out of cash and needed caregivers at the same time. Would Rhonda want to spend down to her last dollars and then go on Medicaid? The only thing Medicaid would pay for was a nursing home. Going to “one of those places” was Rhonda’s biggest fear. We described what life is like in a nursing home. Raising that prospect was leverage Briana could use in the talk with her mother.
Briana set up a formal time to have a private conversation with Rhonda, records in hand. She begged her mother not to burden her with expectations that Briana was going to take care of her financially in the future. Briana explained how she could not pay for care for Rhonda while working, supporting herself and her kids. She couldn’t be a caregiver either. She showed Rhonda the bank records and pointed out the difference between Rhonda’s income and her spending over the prior two years. She described how Rhonda had grown very quiet and serious at this, even crying a little at the idea of a nursing home later in life. Briana related that her mother finally accepted the limited budget, slashing her spending by two-thirds, and agreed to not buy another car, ever.
While there is a difference between talk and doing, Briana was optimistic that she had indeed gotten through. She also persuaded Rhonda to allow her pay Rhonda’s bills each month so she could track what was happening. That was a successful interaction. Briana had never discussed this with her mother before. It went well.
- If you have an aging loved one who is an out of control spender, pay attention, take things in hand and address it now, even if it’s very uncomfortable. If you don’t, the consequences could be far worse than your discomfort at tackling difficult conversations.
- Aging parents who spend all their assets, ignoring the reality that they may need care at some point are not considering that YOU the adult child may not want to nor could you support them in old age. Unless you’re quite wealthy, you need to initiate a serious discussion and tell your aging parent that truth.
- Know that allowing an aging parent to become destitute and go on Medicaid can leave them with only the worst of care when care is needed. No one wants to live in a nursing home, but that is the one choice left to frail, low income elders who have used all their assets. Medicare does not pay for long term care, assisted living nor help at home.
Be honest and things can change for your aging parent with your guidance. You can be the voice of reason.