This story begins three years ago, when my then 86-year-old mother Ginny called, quite excited.
“Have you seen anything on the news?”
“About what exactly mom?” I respond.
“Well, I think I’m a finalist and will win a lot of money!” she shared.
“What are you talking about? What money?” I ask, my heart beating faster. Her giddiness was contagious.
“I think I’m a finalist in the Publisher’s Clearing House (PCH) Sweepstakes.” (PCH is a direct marketing company. They sell magazine subscriptions and other merchandise.)
“Ahhh” I thought to myself.
“Why do you think this mom?” I asked politely.
“I got a letter in the mail that I have never seen before and I’ve been playing this for years. It’s very official and has a lawyer’s name on it. I have to mail back a code and I’ll be a finalist.”
“How much money do you need to send with the code?” I asked cautiously. It is her money, but I’m nervous. I don’t want them to take advantage of her.
“No, I don’t have to send any money. I can buy a necklace, but I don’t want it” she replied.
“Ok. That sounds good. Can you let me know if you get something else in the mail?” I ask.
“Sure” she replied.
Maybe a month later she calls again “Now, I’ve received a letter showing a map of where the winner lives and it’s in my area! The florist where they will buy the winner’s roses is a florist very close to me.” (in Clearwater, FL.)
Then she learned that the “Prize Event” (where they knock on the winner’s door) would be Friday, Dec. 23rd, and she called me panicked that my sister Hailey would pick her up for Christmas before they would get there and knock on her door – the big reveal.
This was heartbreaking. Ginny is a bright woman, but she is obviously older and vulnerable. PCH knew this because along with the sweepstakes carrot, she was bombarded with “opportunities” to buy this or that. Her check register confirmed that sometimes there were purchases. They knew exactly what they were doing.
At some point, something did dawn on me. Ginny’s savings were dwindling (this was pre-VA benefits.) She might have been buying into the hype more than usual because she was running out of money. This was her big chance and she simply chose to believe. Eventually, it was announced that the winner was in Tennessee. Ginny never brought it up again.
I’m telling this story now because it was the sweepstakes saga which launched an exasperating habit of check writing to a wide range of charitable organizations. Unfortunately, she no longer has the assets to be donating to anything. They are not large checks. They are typically in the $10.00-$15.00 range although, once in a while, there may be one in the $30.00-$40.00 range. The problem is that there are too many of them. They go to all types of social causes as well as political parties with “We Need Your Help Today!” slogans on the envelopes. And she believes them. She believes that they are reaching out to Ginny specifically; that she is that important and that her dollars will be the difference.
We try to explain that she can’t afford these donations anymore, but to no avail. When she starts to complain about all the mail and forms she continues to receive and fill out, we tell her that she is, in fact, receiving more mail because she is sending more checks. She’ll just nod her head and keep signing away.
A friend of mine recently told me that her father-in-law would constantly give his credit card number to phone charities so I know we’re not alone. But how do you stop it?
My neighbor gave me advice on what to say. Her mother was in a similar situation. She gently told her one day “mom, you have been so generous for so many years to the organizations you care about, but it is someone else’s turn now.” I love that. Unfortunately, that didn’t work either.
Hailey has cleverly tried to ask if she could just take the checkbook over and keep it. She does pay most of mom’s bills anyway and balances it every month, so frankly, it would be easier for her to have it. Needless to say that suggestion did not go over well. In fact, for awhile, it was harder for her to find the checkbook when she came over to pay bills. She’s pretty sure Ginny was hiding it.
So this is the status as we await her inheritance check (read that post here.) We are honestly afraid that once she sees more money, she’ll write bigger checks. We have already done the research on Independent/Assisted Living homes and the cheapest option is $2400.00/month. We know that day is ahead of us. We have to earmark that money for her care. We are at a loss on how to balance financial independence with future financial security.
If you have faced this issue with an aging parent, what did you do? Please feel free to share any suggestions or experiences below.