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‘Love yourself and protect yourself’: I care for my mother, 90, and husband, 73. He contributes nothing. I work and pay all the bills. What hope do I have?


I am 65 and had long hoped for early retirement, yet I am still working.

I have my 90-year-old mother with no income under my care, and my 73-year-old husband, who is retired. I never see a penny of his retirement income. He used to work as a home inspector, but he stopped working in 2018 because he couldn’t pass the state test after six attempts. He used to help with utilities, but does so no more.

‘I am embarrassed to tell this to anyone else in my life.’

I am healthy and I will keep working until the end, but I now realize that I am using my savings to keep up, and he is trying to find a job without any luck. I know it is my fault that all these years I allowed him to have it easy. I never demanded anything. I have no way out of this situation. 

We don’t have kids, but he had two of his own before we met. I embrace them like they are mine. I guess this is my way to vent and my way to tell people: Set expectations and goals, don’t settle for less, and don’t pay for love or a companion. Love yourself and protect yourself.

I wish I knew then what I know now. Why am I telling you this? I am embarrassed to tell this to anyone else in my life. Who would believe me?

Is this a hopeless situation?

Feeling Hopeless

Dear Feeling,

Never feel ashamed, and try not to believe that your situation is hopeless. Your life has changed, and you have found yourself in a situation where you are caring for one person — your mother — and financially supporting another. This situation will keep evolving, but you can and should advocate for yourself. Does your mother qualify for Social Security? Your husband needs to contribute to the bills, or else.

About that “or else.” You don’t say how long you and he have been married, and whether you jointly own your property or rent, but you can also look into options you have regarding a separation, should he continue to be unwilling to contribute anything from his retirement income and/or Social Security towards food and utilities. He will likely continue to drain your savings unless his hand is forced.

You stepped up to help your mother. That’s an honorable act, and not uncommon. One in five people, or more than 53 million adults in the U.S., are unpaid family caregivers. That number jumped by 10 million between 2015 and 2020; 40 million of those people are caring for an adult. You are one of them, according to a report by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.

‘You stepped up to help your mother. That’s an honorable act.’

That report highlights the physical, emotional and financial strain experienced by many caregivers. “For caregivers, positive emotions often coexist with feelings of isolation, stress, or strain,” it says. “Half of caregivers of adults ages 50 or older feel their role as a caregiver gives them a sense of purpose or meaning in life.” All of this was exacerbated by the pandemic.

There are options to become a paid caregiver, and you should see if any of them apply to you. Medicaid offers long-term care coverage for people on low incomes. The Older Americans Act of 1965 is designed to help people aged 60 and older with health issues who don’t qualify for Medicaid, but require financial assistance, including home-delivered meals and transportation.

Medicaid Self-Directed Services is the Medicaid program that aims to compensate family caregivers. It was created for people who are over 60, like yourself, and who need help at home and are leading the caregiving process. These apply to people looking after parents, but most of this financial aid does not apply to husbands/wives or legal guardians.

‘Medicaid offers long-term care coverage for people on low incomes.’

The Family Caregiver Alliance provides a list of self-directed programs for caregivers. “Resources include government health and disability programs, legal, in-home, out-of-home care, and more,” the alliance says. The Eldercare Locator, part of the U.S. Administration on Aging, can also help connect you to services for older adults and their families.

As one person noted on the Moneyist Facebook Page: “You are a wonderful person with a big heart. One doesn’t get into these situations all at once; we do one little action out of compassion and love, and over time it becomes expected of us. The other person adjusts, digs in and your compassion becomes expected and demanded.”

Ultimately, you need to show compassion for yourself. When you stop blaming yourself for decisions you have made in your life, you will feel stronger and more empowered to say, “Enough. There are no free rides anymore.” You have one life to live, and your husband is not going to step up unless you stand up to him. Put it to him — on paper, and in black and white. 

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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