While I was growing up my father always handled all the bills – everything. My mother turned over her paycheck (when she did work – a portion of the time she was a stay at home mom) and he gave her an allowance. I know we didn’t have much money in those days – probably poverty level – so everything was very tightly managed. I know they struggled. Then, after 13 years of marriage they divorced and my mother was left to fend for herself. I was 13 at that time and old enough to realize I never wanted that to happen to me.
Then I got married and the way my husband and I managed our finances was totally foreign to my father. Everyone’s situation is different and ours was definitely non-traditional but it worked for us and we were both heavily involved in our finances. But we also needed to manage my husband’s grandmother’s finances. She didn’t have much nor did she spend much but she always needed help. Now we help with his mother’s finances after his father passed away.
Teaching an elderly person to manage their finances after someone else has taken care of this task their entire lives can be a challenge. I think our generation is very different. We no longer fit into “the man takes care of everything” way of living so the women will be able to manage things if they end up on their own. But we need to help our elders who didn’t grow up with that independence. Where to begin?
Do they need help
The first step is to know if they need help. They may not always ask for it. They also may not even want help – but you may need to step in before it is too late. Finances can deteriorate very quickly if not monitored. Find a way to keep an eye on the finances or even set up a third party bill paying service so they don’t feel like you are intruding on their life. Another option of course is to set the routine bills up as automatic payments directly through their bank account. They may not know how to do it but simply help them and explain how the cycle works. It may be a foreign concept for them but once they experience it, the out of sight out of mind will be a great relief to them.
Reroute the mail
My father in law was great for being sucked in by the junk mail. He made more donations to places than he could reasonably afford. And they were places he had no particular affiliation to – he just did. They sent him stamps, necklaces and other little trinkets and he would send them money out of feeling an obligation to do so. Once he passed away my mother in law was going crazy with all the donation requests. Money was now tight and she could not afford to give it away. Life became a lot less stressful for her when the mail was simply rerouted. In our case we live in the same house (three family) so she could easily grab the mail if she wants to but she enjoys the “not being solicited”.
Keep an eye on their health
When a person’s health starts to impact daily living, finances can easily take a back seat and not be a priority. During normal periods they may be able to make it all work but if they aren’t feeling well, they need assistance.
Keep them involved in the finances for as long as possible (assuming they want to be). It is respectful and humane to allow them to keep their independence, or semi-independence as long as it is responsible to do so. Some may not want it – they may not want to be bothered with the stress. Others will look at it as a sign of just something else they are losing. As the saying goes – treat others as you would want to be treated. This is even more important with the elderly.