People are living far longer than ever before, and although we have excellent health care available, it comes with a steep price tag. The minuscule annual increases in Social Security checks do not seem to keep pace with how much gas and grocery prices go up each year. When you hear your elderly parents complain about the cost of everyday items or mutter they never expected to live so long, you worry they might not have enough money. Before you risk hurting their pride and ask them straight-out, here are suggestions on how to tell if your aging parents are struggling financially.
If your parents decline invitations they would ordinarily accept, they might be having to pinch pennies. If your family always goes out to eat on Sundays, for example, and your parents stop going out, or they cut back on what they typically order, they might be worried about money. Eating in restaurants is an unnecessary expense that people on a tight budget should limit, but it can be a red flag if this is a change in your parents’ behavior.
Dropping out of other social events where people are expected to do things like bring a gift or participate in a fundraiser can be indications of financial problems. Besides the direct costs of the social activity, the lateral costs, such as purchasing and maintaining “party clothes,” getting one’s hair and nails done, and participating in silent auctions and other wallet-busters at events can also be out of your parents’ reach, if they are experiencing financial hardship.
Ignoring Phone Calls
This red flag is a little more difficult to spot than before, because now your parent can say it was probably a telemarketer or scammer who called. We caution our seniors not to answer calls, if they do not recognize who is calling. If you notice repeated calls from the same numbers, search the numbers online to see if they are bill collectors.
Stacks of Unopened Mail
Your parents might be too depressed about their financial condition to open bills they cannot pay, so they just pile up without being opened. There might be unopened checks, if your parents are having difficulty getting to the bank to make deposits. Know that cognitive decline or the onset of dementia can cause your parents to have trouble managing their finances. The problem might be money management rather than the money they have.
If your parents are not regular television watchers, but they suddenly have a big screen TV delivered, they might be suffering from impaired judgment. Repeatedly buying items they already own can indicate a memory issue. Large credit card balances or withdrawals from their financial accounts can be a clue that someone might be perpetrating financial abuse.
It Is Not Their Fault
There are several reasons your parents might be facing financial hardship after a lifetime of hard work and saving. Pensions and savings that were more than adequate when your parent retired might not be enough now, particularly if your parents are in their eighties or nineties. When they left the workplace, people were not expected to live much beyond their mid-seventies.
Few people anticipate the cost of having to pay out-of-pocket for people to come into their homes and clean, cook, or help them bathe or dress. However, after a broken hip, heart attack, or another significant medical event, many seniors need help with these tasks. The cost can erode savings quickly.
How to Help Your Parents
Broach the topic gently. Your parents might be mortified about their financial condition, besides being terrified about their future. Put yourself in their shoes and think about how you would want your child to address this topic one day with you. Be emotionally supportive and work together to come up with a solution that works for the entire family.
Talk with an elder law attorney in your area about options available for your parents. The laws are different in every state, and this article talks about the general law.
Forbes. “A Startling Reality: Your Aging Parent Runs Out of Money.” (accessed February 16, 2018) https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolynrosenblatt/2012/03/24/a-startling-reality-your-aging-parent-runs-out-of-money/#35fe583244da
A Place for Mom. “7 Warning Signs Elderly Parents Need Help with Finances.” (accessed February 16, 2018) https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/4-25-16-warning-signs-elderly-parents-need-help-with-finances/