The “hidden” financial costs when we quit our jobs to care for our loved ones

  • I don’t need a study to tell me that leaving the workforce to become a family caregiver has cost me, financially.  All I have to do is look my puny projected Social Security.


    Over two decades of my adult “productive” years have been spent caring for elders and children while not working at paid employment. Eventually, I did go back into the workforce, even though I was still a primary caregiver for three elders and one young adult with health issues. While I certainly was aware that I wouldn’t get any Social Security or retirement benefits for the years outside the traditional workforce, I also knew that our family didn’t have the money to pay agencies to do what I did for my loved ones.

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    MetLife Study tells us to think twice before leaving the workforce

    Family caregivers often work harder at their caregiving role than any paid job they’ve ever had. I know I did. The 24/7 responsibility a primary caregiver carries, even when elders are in their own home or in a care facility, takes its toll. The daily visits, the shopping, the record keeping, the emotional support, the medical appointments, the research, the hand-holding, the emergencies – the list is endless.


    When an elder is not in a care facility, there is of course, significantly more time spent in caregiving. I’ve been the sole caregiver to several people. I’ve also incorporated nearly every type of outside care into the mix of caregiving I provided for my elders. Many other caregivers share their home with elders.

    Any way you look at it, family caregivers save taxpayers millions of dollars. However, when we become seniors ourselves, there won’t be a lot in our retirement kitty.


    That vital point is what the MetLife study focuses on. The financial losses we family caregivers incur cannot be made up.


    "In addition to losing a paycheck, you could also be missing out on years of service required to become vested in a defined benefits pension plan, to receive matching 401(k) funds or to build Social Security benefits," Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute said in a statement.

    The study suggests that we keep our paying jobs and, “… budget carefully and check out possible free or low-cost community services and government health programs.”


    Services aren’t as readily available as the study suggests

    I have no doubt that this study is sound when it comes to our finances. The problem is that it’s not as easy as the study implies for people to get the help they need for their loved ones. Not every state or community provides “free or low-cost services.” Many elders are on their own, unless they qualify for Medicaid in a nursing home. Yet many of these seniors aren’t ready for a nursing home.


    We, as a nation, have a long way to go before such services are common, even though in-home services actually save money by keeping people out of nursing homes longer. There’s a trend moving toward understanding that concept, but the programs haven’t yet materialized in many communities.


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    What does love have to do with it?

    Most of the people I know who have sacrificed their own financial future in order to care for their elders have done so out of love. They see their beloved elders become frail and needy, yet they know the elders don’t have the money to hire in-home care. The elders may not yet qualify for Medicaid. Many are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to getting any kind of aid, so they depend on family members.


    We want the best care for the people who cared for us, and at this time, that “best” is often our hands-on care. So, we do what is not financially smart. We quit our paying jobs to become family caregivers. And then, when it comes time for us to retire, we realize we have very little money to retire on.


    Regrets? That is an individual matter. What we really need is more care for our frail elders, care that offers dignity and respect, as well as safety. Care that lets family members be part of the care team, yet allows them to hold outside jobs.

    Perhaps, even better, we need to have a business-like way to pay family caregivers to care for their own loved ones – a way that pays into Social Security. This would actually save tax payers money in the long run, as fewer people would need premature nursing home care.


    Meanwhile, the folks at MetLife are right about our needing to think twice about quitting our paying jobs. No decision is right for everyone. You can download this study, titled "Planning Tips: Financial Considerations for Family Caregivers" at


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Published On: July 21, 2011