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Caring for Elderly Parents While Keeping Your Money on Track

6 Minute Read

Taking care of your elderly parents can be tough on your emotions and your money. It’s even tougher when it feels like you are being torn between caring for your parents and saving for your own retirement or the kids’ college fund.

Having the right plan—which, in this case, means saving for retirement first and then college—can do wonders for you. A plan keeps you from being overwhelmed and making emotional decisions. Stay focused on the plan and stay calm. You can do this!

First, get your budget in place and follow the Baby Steps. If you can pay your bills and have money left, that’s great! If not, work an extra job or see where you can cut costs until you’re debt-free. Then save an emergency fund of three to six months’ worth of expenses.

Now let’s look at caring for your elderly parents.

Elderly Parent Care

This is the toughest subject because it involves aging parents and all the emotions that come with that. It’s important to have two things in place: a plan for the money and healthy boundaries.

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Healthy boundaries means not letting anyone manipulate you or make you feel guilty. Emotions can run high when parents don’t want to move from their home or don’t have a lot of money saved. Grown siblings might argue about who should help mom and dad. In the midst of all that, stay calm and don’t forget to look after your own household.

It’s common for families to pitch in a little more when the mother and father get older. A 2015 Pew Research Center poll shows that 79% of Americans say family provides most of the help for aging parents. Mom and dad may still be able to live on their own and just need help cutting the grass or going to the doctor. Make a schedule and ask family members or people from your parents’ church community to help some each month.

If parents require in-home care, an assisted-living facility or a nursing home, look at their money situation with them and decide what fits within their budget. This is the part that requires emotional strength. They may not want to move or prefer a place that’s too expensive. They might direct anger at you. Don’t let that bring you down. You aren’t doing anything wrong. This is not a case of you being cruel—it’s about finding an affordable way to provide necessary care for your parents.

Talk through the situation with them using facts. It may take a while for them to warm up to the idea of getting help, so be patient. Any assistance you give while maintaining healthy boundaries is a blessing to everyone.

Related: How To Talk To Your Parents About Money

If you’re trying to take care of your elderly parents while saving for retirement and saving or paying for college, read on.

Retirement

If you’re on Baby Step 4, it’s important to save for your golden years even if you are taking care of your parents. Don’t overlook that. A 2015 study by the Government Accountability Office reports that about 29% of households with someone age 55 or older don’t have retirement savings or a traditional pension plan. Being older with no money is not a spot you want to be in. Take advantage of the time you have now so you will be ready for later.

Invest 15% of your pretax income—first into your company’s 401(k) plan (if they have one and they match your contributions), then into a Roth IRA. If your employer offers a Roth 401(k), put the entire 15% in there. Follow this plan even if you’re approaching retirement age and need to work a little longer.

This way, you’ll spare your kids the stress of trying to decide how to take care of their parents.

Learn all you need to know about retirement from Dave Ramsey’s trusted voice on retirement, Chris Hogan.

College

Once you are funding retirement, it’s time to turn your attention to paying for college if you have children. This subject causes stress for a lot of people—even if they aren’t the caretaker for anyone. A 2015 Gallup poll reports that seven out of 10 parents worry about how they are going to pay for college for the children. The good news is kids can really help on this one. Here are some tips for current and soon-to-be college students.

For Kids in College

The best thing a college student can do is get a job. They can work around their class schedule and should definitely work during the summer. See if there are any scholarships or grants they qualify for. Make sure they pick a major they love and focus on it so they don’t spend more time (or tuition) in school than necessary.

For Kids in High School

High-school-age kids can make a huge impact on future college costs by the choices they make. For starters, they can choose to attend a public, four-year, in-state university. Average tuition, fees, and room and board for the 2015-16 school year for that type of school are $19,548, according to the College Board. A kid who delivers pizzas or works at the student center once they get to school can make a big dent in that total, make things a lot easier on your budget, and even have some fun money.

Don’t forget to check out community colleges. Your son or daughter can get a degree from there at a much lower cost or transfer credits they earn to a public university. And remember to have them get a job now and apply for as many scholarships as they can find.

Whether your child is in college or heading there, they should live like a college student. That means staying in the dorm (or at home, if it’s close enough) and not going out to restaurants all the time. Living small is easier on your budget and gets the kids ready for a reasonable lifestyle once they turn the tassel and move out on their own.

Related: Top 6 Things to Know Before Going to College

Saving for retirement and college while looking after your parents takes a lot of energy, discipline and patience. And you know what? You can do it! Have a plan and focus on one day and one decision at a time. The stressful time won’t last, but you will.

When emotions are running high, it’s easy to get side-tracked with things that aren’t really important and let life control you. If you want to be better equipped to handle money problems and build wealth, check out Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. It’s a proven plan to help you learn how to navigate the choppy waters of life.

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