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Budgeting 101: When Financial Planning Fails

Our dad worked as a welder in coal plants most of his years in the workforce. For extra money, he fixed things. He painted cars, sold extra parts, and worked on houses to name just a few. When he retired at 55, he had a healthy pension that was expected to care for him and my mom the rest of their years. That assumption was to care for mom her remaining years after a Parkinson’s diagnosis and then him once she passed. With that in mind, their financial planner said to take the larger portion of the pension up front, leaving the lesser payments when he was alone. Three years later, at the age of 58, dad died of a heart attack and their financial planning failed.

For many caretakers, money is part of their everyday responsibilities. As if caregiver responsibilities were not enough, who would have guessed the role would include CPA duties? It does and it’s hard when there never seems to be enough money to cover the most basic of expenses.

As we worked through the revised budget, there were a lot of cost surprises. Assisted Living Facilities were our first financial wake-up call. Next came expenses for medical supplies not covered by insurance. The list grows almost daily so soon began our budgeting journey. We found help in several online resources and they’re shared below.

The Sisterhood’s Step-by-Step Monthly Budget Planning Process:

  • Write down the total income for the month. These sources may include retirement benefits, social security, or other recurring income received monthly.

  • Determine the priorities. Write down item categories that must be paid for to live. Think of housing, food, and for many with health issues, medications. Lower on the list may be items like cell phones, clothing, and haircuts (and color!).

  • Write down the amount spent each month for categories placed on the priority list and be realistic. If groceries cost $200.00 a week but believe it can be reduced to $100.00 by eating Ramen Noodles for dinner daily, is that possible? No. Start with $200.00.

  • Subtract the expenses. This is where budgeting begins. If the end of the month is feeling stressful and penniless, this is where we begin to find save money.

Cost Savers:

  • Rent is high for us; however, it is close to doctors and activities. This saves us on transportation.

  • Note our utilities are the same every month. Ask you utility providers to put you on an “even pay” program. This takes the average of 12 months and fixes the payment. It is ideal in maintaining a budget.

  • We found out about a food service as part of mom’s benefits that provides delivered meals. It’s been a great way to save money and time. Be sure to fully review your benefits! There’s all kinds of hidden gems. If you are on Medicare and feel intimidated or unsure of which Medicare Advantage (Part C) provider to choose, reach out to a Medicare certified broker. There is no cost and they can assist you with choosing the right plan for your loved one.

  • We added a subscription service for medical supplies instead of manually placing the order each month.

  • The day center we attend offers free transportation. With a little coaxing, mom is enjoying the school bus experience!

  • Depending on where you live, your county or city may offer low cost bus transportation that picks up and drops off at your home. Mom is able to schedule transports for as low as $3.00 per ride.

  • Wifi, cable and cell phones were a huge expense. We ended up eliminating most cable services and going to a Roku tv with free channels. The company we were using did not offer a smaller plan. We found one that bundled our wifi and saved a lot!

  • The federal government offers discounts for Wifi, cable and cell phones through the Affordable Connectivity Program. This saves us $30.00 per month.

In the end - We spent $131.00. We are over budget on items and under on others. Mom needs clothes, haircuts and we eat out occasionally - especially ice cream! Life is short and it’s the little things that count.

Sometimes budgeting works, other times it doesn’t. That is the hard truth. When it does not, there are resources that will help. When you cannot afford housing, utilities or basic necessities, call them. Do not wait. Some programs take time to process.

Helpful Resources:

National Council on Aging Benefits Checkup:

Administration on Aging:

Affordable Connectivity Program through the Federal Communications Commission:


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