Being able to provide quality care for your loved one has personal rewards that outweigh the costs and concerns associated with being a family caregiver. But the emotional, physical and financial impacts of caregiving are very real and shouldn’t go unaddressed.

A 2016 study by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) showed that family caregivers spend an average of 20 percent of their annual income in out-of-pocket costs related to caregiving.

To cover those costs, the study showed caregivers neglect saving for retirement and often use their personal savings on costs associated with caregiving. It also showed caregivers spent less on vacations, eating out and most other leisure activities.

For caregivers who leave their full-time job, there’s more at stake than just a paycheck.

“When a caregiver decides to leave their job, they don’t think past getting along with just a single income,” says Gail Hunt, CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving (www.caregiving.org). “What they don’t consider is the impact leaving their job has on Social Security benefits, pensions and other retirement plans.”

Fixed Income and Finances

Choosing to leave your full-time employment is never an easy decision. In addition to the impacts on income and retirement, it can also mean a change in health benefits for you and your family. It may be worth asking your employer about reduced hours or if there are services available for employees who are also caregivers.

Hunt says there are a few finance-based options for families and loved ones in their care. Medicare Part D offers significant pharmacy savings but doesn’t provide coverage for over-the-counter medications or for incontinence supplies.

Certain medical conditions (like Alzheimer’s disease) that end up requiring long-term care can be detected years before specialized care is needed. In those cases, Hunt recommends working with a financial institution to help create a program or trust.

“The key is finding ways to make their money last as long as possible,” Hunt says.

Several states offer financial assistance for improving homes for loved ones who develop disabilities or special needs, such as wheelchair accessible entryways. The Administration for Community Living (www.acl.gov), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and

Human Services (DHHS), provides services and programs designed to help loved ones live independently.

In most regions of the country there are groups that specialize in elder law. The DHHS has created a database of elder law specialists around the country at www.eldercare.gov.

Other things to consider:

  • If you are moving your loved one into a facility, understand the medical coverages that are available before moving in. Many homes don’t offer or have limited dental, vision and specialized care services.
  • Educate yourself on Medicaid laws. Regulations can change annually and recipients must meet specific requirements to receive benefits.
  • Get a list of specialists in your area who accept your loved one’s insurance. Not all providers accept the same levels of Medicare/Medicaid benefits.
  • Talk to your phone provider about discounts for adding a line for the elderly or hearing impaired.
  • Your loved one may also qualify for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). Each state has different requirements, but most major retailers accept SNAP benefits. Visit www.fns.usda.gov/snap for more information.
  • Local civic organizations like the Lions Clubs International or Rotary International aid in obtaining eyeglasses and hearing devices.

 Cost associated with caregiving

78 percent of caregivers are spending out of pocket

Long-distance caregivers spend nearly $12,000 annually

Live-in caregivers spend $8,616 annually

Caregivers over the age of 50 spend nearly $2,000 more a year than their younger peers

Source: AARP 2016 report on out-of-pocket caregiving expenses.

Food for Savings

Maintaining your personal health while providing care is as important as the care you are providing your loved one. Skipping meals and skimping on nutrition in exchange for convenience or time management occasionally is understandable. But that should be the exception, not the rule.

Here are a few tips to help you shop smarter without the added calories and fats associated with fast food:

Shop in-season: Prices on produce tend to be lower when it’s harvest time.

Frozen is fresh: In many cases, produce is flash frozen after harvest, allowing fruits and vegetables to retain their nutrients and increase shelf-life. Go meatless: Twice a week, try having other protein sources. Eggs and beans are packed with protein and other nutrients and are easy to prepare. Breakfast for dinner is always a fun way to shake up the weekly menu.

Save at Home

There are many little things everyone can do throughout the home to cut costs, such as:

Power saver: Unplug phone chargers, entertainment devices and appliances like toasters and coffee makers. Many of these products use energy (display screens or small lights) even when they aren’t in use.

Temperature control: Be more mindful of temperature settings when no one is home and consider changing the thermostat by a few degrees when you are home. Over time those two or three degree differences add up.

Entertainment plan: Chances are your cable/entertainment/ internet service can be reduced. Providers often run specials, and it never hurts to shop around.

 Utility specials: Power, water and gas companies often provide programs to balance costs throughout the year, which helps keep bills more consistent.