How Do You Control the Spending Habits of an Aging Parent?

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.

Adult Children/Aging Parent Money

9 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Wow, that’s a tough one. I like the idea of helping your loved one with their finances, but as you point out, they might not always be so receptive. I had a friend who had a specific day of the week, where he would help his mother with her bills. It worked in this situation because his mother looked forward to his visits. After they finished paying the bills, He would take his mom for a drive and go somewhere. She tolerated the bill-paying as she knew she would get to be able to spend quality time with her son when it was over.

    On another note, my mom passed nearly two years ago, but she lived in an assisted living facility for almost five years (she developed dementia). We paid way more than $2,400. My mother-in-law is 96 and was a teacher for many years with a healthy retirement. She has now gone through all of that. Because people are living so much longer, I fear that our society is in for a whole new crisis.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your comment Pete. There’s a lot of food for thought in there. Your friend had a great system set up that met both of their needs. That is the type of arrangement we would like too. Currently, my mom does want my sister to visit and “work on” the checkbook, but ultimately, she still wants control of it. Time will tell us how to proceed I guess. Yes, our “economical” price of $2400.00 is for Independent Living, Assisted Living starts at $3200.00. Her future costs literally scare us. No one has a crystal ball and can see when someone will pass away. It is close to impossible to know how far to stretch your dollars. I love that your mother-in-law is 96, but her “healthy retirement” is gone. Assuming most people at that age have run out of money, maybe Medicaid can offer no-strings-attached assistance for seniors over 90 or 92 etc. As you point out, it’s a growing crisis. Thanks so much for your input.

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  3. That was a very good post… My mom just recieved a publishers clearing house notice which required no purchase to enter. So I figured no harm in letting her enter. Now I guess I should be ready for an onslaught of mail. Live and learn. In truth though my mom is quite good at managing her money. I handle her online banking for her but she balances her check book each month and reconciles her visa charges each month which she pays off in it’s entirety each month. So far so good 🙂
    As for your situation do you think getting a power of attorney would be too difficult or better said, perhaps not an option for this situation? Food for thought, it would make things more secure for sure.

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  4. Hi V. That’s really interesting about your mom. First, what a bummer they “found” her. Maybe it won’t be too bad if she never buys anything (which it sounds like she won’t) so that’s good. It’s great that she completely handles her finances. I hope that holds for a long time. My sister is her Power of Attorney. It is absolutely an option if deemed necessary. We’ll have to watch what unfolds after the check arrives. Thanks for your input. 🙂

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  5. Excellent post Melanie and it is a problem. She was not writing cheques for a few years before she died as all her bills were paid by direct debit and I would get her cash out every week. But she was flooded with charity requests all the time and as soon as she was 90 it was very direct..’Please remember us in your will, leave behind a significant request’ I am afraid the vultures circle when they sense an elderly person is vulnerable. We were able to move in with her for the last four years of her life as the options in the UK are the same as in the US.. and terrifies the elderly.

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    • Thank you so much for your comment Sally. It means a lot. Asking to be included in a will BY MAIL is a new concept to me and is horrifying. We are going to have to figure this out. She is just an unwilling participant. She always argues that she has taken care of herself for 40 years and doesn’t need help, but her mind is not the same and she does need help. Moving in with your mom must have felt like a perfect solution. It made her happy to be in familiar surroundings and you were happy you could keep her out of a impersonal facility. Thanks again for sharing that. 🙂

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  6. My octogenarian mother fell prey to a telephone scam, purchasing thousands of dollars of Target gift cards to help my niece “get out of jail.” I cannot shut off their land-line phone, but I would think that a mail problem would be easy. Have her mail held or forwarded to another address. I don’t know if this is feasible for you, but that’s the first thing that I would do. I live close enough to my folks that I could hand-deliver their important mail and throw away the junk.

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    • Oh, I’m sorry about the scam on your mother. That is horrible. I suspect we haven’t tried forwarding the mail yet because getting it is a “big part” of her day and she would hate us doing that. That being said though, sometimes unpopular decisions have to be made. It’s something to think about. Thanks for the idea Rachel.

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