100 Psychological Realities About Family & Money

I’ve spent the last ten years of my life making mistakes with money, learning hard won lessons, becoming proficient with my finances (although I still have my challenges) and building a bit of a financial nest egg.

I have hundreds of sheets in excel slicing and dicing my finances.  I’ve read dozens of books on personal finance and money management.  I’ve also searched wide for lessons on family and money in everything from “Chicken Soup For The Soul” to Marcus Aurelius.

It’s all lead to a few lessons.

Families have never been easy, but they’re also the greatest source of love in the world.  If you have a elderly loved one who needs care this post is for you.

Below are my 100 psychological realities about family & money.

(Hat Tip to James Altucher for inspiration for this post)

  1. You Won’t Have Enough – Unless you and your family are rich, you won’t have enough. Look for help. Ask friends, the government, and social services to lend a financial hand.  You’ll need it.
  2. The Truth About Long-Term Care Insurance – Few people have the fortitude to get it in their 50’s or 60’s. If your loved one hasn’t gotten it take a deep breath and move on.
  3. Spend Money On Art – Don’t buy actually pieces of art. Buy art supplies. Make art with your loved one.
  4. Families Either Come Together Or Break Apart – Difficult times drive families in one of two directions. What people don’t know is that it differs by person. You may get closer to your sister and move away from your brother.  Loss and growth are all part of the package (just like they are in life more broadly).
  5. Siblings Have Roles (This Is Good) – There’s often a “money” person. Then there’s a “care coordinator” person. Sharing the weight is a good thing.  Don’t expect everyone to share equally.
  6. You’re Scared Because You Haven’t Looked At Your Own Money – That’s a big reason why this is hard. You can view it one of two ways – you can see it as an opportunity or continue to hide. Most people hide.
  7. Your Parents Are More Willing To Talk Than You Think – Ask them, ‘What do you think’? You may be surprised.
  8. Your Parents Can’t Move Fast Enough For You – You’re a professional. You execute. You have checklists.  Your parents have moved out of this phase of life.  They don’t move at your speed.  The thing they understand that you don’t is that ‘solving’ the next problem won’t change the overall trajectory.  In this way they are closer to reality than you are.
  9. This Isn’t Like Your Job (Learn To Love The Process) – Relationships are measured in years.
  10. Papers, Papers, Papers – And we thought computes would change everything…
  11. Finding A Financial Advisor You Can Trust Is Hard – If you have to choose between working with a financial advisor and not, work with one. However, getting one you can trust is incredibly hard. Don’t be afraid to switch.  Tip: ask friends.
  12. Money Is Fungible In A Family – In a medical crisis all bets are off. The richest person in a family begins supporting the person in need. This is how it should be.  But take a step and talk with your family about this before it happens.
  13. Speak To Your Siblings About The Money Side – They probably have the same concerns that you do. Everyone deserves at least one conversation. Their involvement after that is up to them.
  14. This Experience Will Break You – All serious growth in life does. And just like before, you’ll make it to the other side and come out a bit stronger.
  15. You Spend More Than You Should – We all do. Do you want to spend less? Most people don’t.  But know it’s an option.
  16. Your Marriage Likely Needs A More Healthy Discussion About Money – Consider getting help from a professional. Money discussions are 1% about money and 99% about relationships.
  17. Divorce Is Very Common – If your family has divorces in it, welcome to the club. Know you’re not alone in this.
  18. Get At Home Care First – Unless there is a serious health issue that requires out of home care, help your loved one stay in their home. Ask yourself, where would you rather be?
  19. Ask Family Members For Money – We all so rarely ask the questions that really matter. Set yourself the goal of three months. At the end of the three months, just pick up the phone and say ‘can you help Mom with some of her medical costs?’ or whatever you’ve been wanting to know.
  20. Use Simple Straight Forward Numbers – Talk using a pen and a napkin. Anything beyond that will be too complex.
  21. Stop Talking – If someone starts crying or gets frustrated or shuts down, stop talking. Try to listen. Tip: listen at the level so that you could tell someone 30 minutes later the exact phrases your loved one used.
  22. Read About People Who Have Done This Before – There is nothing in life that relieves pain better than knowing a fellow traveler. Get friends, even if they’re literary. (dealing with Alzheimer’s – start here.)
  23. Get A Durable Power Of Attorney (both Finances & Medical) – This will enable you to make medical and financial decisions for your loved one in the event of an emergency. This is one of my top recommendations.
  24. Look At Your Savings – Look at the savings you have in cash. Take 25% and put it towards helping your loved one. Put the other 75% in a block of ice.  You’ll need it later.
  25. Assume You Will Spend Another $5,000 A Year Tied To Care For Your Loved One – Or it could be $10,000. Flights, gas, groceries, doctor’s visits…it all adds up quickly.
  26. Speak About Money…Scream If You Have To – The most important thing you can do is to open your mouth and speak with your family about money. Even if you have to scream “I don’t know how the hell any of this works!” Start.
  27. Don’t Hire A Financial Advisor Right Away – You have an education. Sit down for a weekend and conduct google searches. Find out what you can with your own horsepower.  Then do that for 4 more weekends.  Then find a financial advisor.
  28. Exercise – It’s one of the few free things in life that can actually change your life. Your money is tied to your brain. Your brain is tied to your body.  Running or yoga once a week can literally save you thousands.
  29. Sleep – 8 hours. No exceptions…which means you’ll actually sleep 6 hours…and six hours isn’t bad.
  30. Get Into A Support Group – Four factors have influenced my life the most: Being born in America in the 21st century, having loving parents, being blessed with good health, and getting into a support group.  All else is small potatoes.
  1. Get Into A Support Group (Really) – I’m not kidding. You may need to come close to losing your mind before walking into a support group. That’s fine (that’s how most of us arrive anyway).  Just walk in.  Sit down.  Listen.
  2. Say “I Love You” – If you’re a guy say it to your Dad. If you’re a woman say it to your Dad. (We all learned much earlier to say it to our Mom’s, no matter if we meant it or not.  Dad needs to catch up.)
  3. Make Time For Yourself (At All Costs) – You are a better person when you feel rejuvenated. Everyone around you notices. You’ll also feel better.
  4. Talk To A Geriatric Care Manager – They have seen what you’re going through hundreds of times. Trust them. Most Geriatric Care Managers have a calling to help families just like yours.
  5. Talk – If you’ve been at a table with family or friends and haven’t said anything for 20 minutes, say something immediately. Anything. We all feel alone when we don’t speak.
  6. Ask Your Loved One What They Want – It’s funny how often we all miss this basic question.
  7. Look At Your Own Life – Caring for a loved one will be equally transformative for your own life as it is for theirs.
  8. Get Ready For An Emergency – Emotionally make yourself aware that it will happen.
  9. Let Go – There are many things in life that you can’t control. Identify what those are. Then move towards letting go of your feeble attempts at controlling them.  This could be the hardest lesson of life period.
  10. Master Being “Present” – Jane Gross who founded the “New Old Age” blog on the NYT talks about ‘being a witness’ instead of changing someone.
  11. Look at V.A. Benefits – Check here, here, here, and here. It’s one of the few areas where the federal government helps the elderly financially.
  12. Ask Your Parents What Their Finances Are Like – The key pieces you need are their total living expenses each year, the $ amount of their retirement savings, and their current insurance info.
  13. Take Your Parents On A Trip – Go somewhere fun. Take pictures.
  14. Cry – A very good friend of mine often tells me, “when you’re in tears, you’re in the solution.’
  15. Consider A “Spend Down” – Medicaid covers a lot of end of life expenses (e.g., at home care, nursing home). Medicare does not. A “spend down” is when your loved one spends down their assets to be considered below the poverty line.  Then they can access Medicaid.   It’s a financial reality for many families.
  16. Ask For Help – If there’s one thing that buries people into misery more than anything else it’s the internal dialogue that “I can do this alone.”
  17. Earn More – As Mark Cuban says, “Sales solves everything.”
  18. Look To Family – family (siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins) will need to help.  It’s an economic reality.  If those financial lines aren’t available strongly consider Medicaid for end of life care (it will require your loved one to spend down nearly all their assets).
  19. Your Own Spending Could Decrease Immediately By 10% to 20% – It’s true.  You may not what to admit it.  But it’s reality.  The same is true for me.  Take a hard look at this if you need to.
  20. Pray (Or Do Yoga) – Or go to church.  Or talk with a friend.  Or go to a support group.  We all seek to be awake and alive during our lives.  Too often we feel reactive.  Too often life passes us by.  Feed your emotional soul.
  21. Master Fulfillment – Many people master achievement.  Few people have master fulfillment.  Think about one thing you can do today to make yourself more fulfilled.
  22. Actively Practice Gratitude – Each day write in your journal five things you are grateful for.  Write “I am grateful for…”
  23. Fees Matter (A Lot) – If there’s one way the financial world screws you and your family it’s fees. Look at the fees for your retirement accounts.  If they are over 1% you’re likely losing hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions by the time you retire.  If there was one financial topic I would recommend you look into this is it.
  24. Talk To Experts – Geriatric Care Managers, Occupational Therapists, Financial Advisors.  They have worked with dozens of families that are going through exactly what you are going through.  Lean on them.
  25. Read – Read constantly.  It’s one of the secrets to an enriching life.  Caregiving and helping a loved one can be fulfilling but it’s rarely intellectually challenging.  Each day read something that is hard.  Even for 10 minutes.  Challenge yourself.  Feed your mind,
  26. Do hard things – You can do far more than you think.
  27. Eat Healthy – Notice that your desire to eat sugar is in response to how you are feeling (NYT article).  Eat fish not meat.  Eat greens not bread.
  28. Write Someone A Letter – Even if they live down the hall.  There are things you can say in a letter that are harder to say face to face.  Have you ever received a letter?  It’s awesome.
  29. Create Something – Anything.  Get involved in art.  Write, paint, run, make a video on your iPhone.  Express your soul through creation.
  30. Spend Time With Children – Children see far more than we do.  Children question less and try more.  Do what they do – literally.
  31. Buy Yourself Something – Buy a candy bar or a shirt you’ve always wanted.  Put yourself first.  Caregivers subconsciously give too much and care about themselves too little.
  32. Buy Your Loved One Something – Surprise them.  Listen to what they say.  If you hear a want of theirs, go to the store and get it.
  33. DanceImitate this guy.  Find your inner groove.
  34. Volunteer – Give beyond your family.  Every time I do I’m shocked.  I learn something about how I judge people.  I learn to be grateful.  I feel useful.
  35. Draw A Vision – Define your path.  Take out a pen and paper.  Write it down.  Read it every day.  (When in doubt make it larger and bigger than you think you can achieve).
  36. Buy A Digital Picture Frame – A friend recently shared a story about his father with me who had late stage dementia.  They scanned 200 photographs from his father’s past and put them on a USB stick.  They plugged that into a picture frame that rotated the pictures.  Every day their father got to re-experience his past as if it was new.  My friend got to share this special time with him.
  37. Practice Difficult Conversations – Practice in front of a mirror. Better yet, record yourself with your IPhone. I know this sounds Insane.  Do it.  I guarantee the difficult conversations will be 70% easier.  You can also model it with your spouse or a good friend.
  38. Ask “What Are Your Goals?” – All too often we jump in trying to fix people’s lives. Start by asking your loved one what their goals are. It will frame your financial discussion in an entirely different light.
  39. Let Go – Every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in the world ends with the Serenity Prayer. It’s a good prayer for anyone, no matter if you go to A.A. or not.

“God grant me there serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

  1. Fund Your Retirement First – No matter what. Fund your retirement. Or else you’ll put your own kids in the position you’re in now.  Don’t negotiate on this rule.  If your parent needs to go on Medicaid do it.
  2. Do Something New – Innovate in your relationships. Use marketing. This is how you keep relationships fresh.  Play a game with your loved one.  Create a new activity.  Put on a play.
  3. Pay For Private Care In This Order – V.A. benefits (if you have access to them), long-term care insurance (if you have it), private savings of your loved one, retirement savings of your loved one, family savings (look to the most well off family members first), income from selling your loved one’s home, Medicaid.
  4. Trust Your Gut With At Home Caregivers – Switch the caregiver if it doesn’t feel right. Monitor how things are going. Hold onto someone who is working well with all your energy.
  5. Learn To Sit With Pain – I call this the “Big Heart” asset. Build an ability to sit in uncomfortable situations. Growth comes from discomfort.  You have a big heart to sit through the short-term pain now because you know it’s better in the long run.
  6. Avoid Alcohol – Look at your friends around you. Be honest with yourself about how many of them are self-medicating with a drink (or two or three). Ask yourself if you want to be like them.
  7. Let Go Of Resentment From Divorce – If some people in your family got divorced let go of resentments of the in-law that left. They have their own parents to care for. If they don’t want to help out so be it.
  8. Schedule Meetings (With No Kids) – Financial discussions are hard. Schedule time with your loved one. Make sure there are no kids around.  Minimize distractions completely.  Come with an agenda.
  9. Ask For A Raise – The number one thing that will help with increasing expenses is more income. Walk into your boss’s office and ask for a raise. If she says no be congenial and say ok.  Tell her you would like to discuss a raise again in six months.  Have her tell you what steps would be necessary to get that raise.
  10. Let Go Of The Bad Things Your Parents Did To You – They were doing the best they could. Their bad actions were anchored in their own internal pain. It had very little to do with you.
  11. Bring A Dog – Dogs are like kids in that they lighten the mood. But they also don’t talk. Dogs can bring joy to any situation.
  12. Talk To Your Own Kids About Your Death – Use this opportunity to speak to your children about your own demise. Talk to them about Durable Power of Attorney for healthcare. Tell them how much retirement assets they have. Start the dialogue about money.
  13. Ask Yourself, ‘What Makes You Feel The Most Awake’? – We all want desperately to feel awake and connected in our lives. This is the cash and prizes of existence. To see wonder and be in awe of the world.  For me, running therapy turns on the light bulb of life.  For you it could be yoga.  Or church.  Or meditation.

Protect this time mercilessly.

The tough reality is that you’re a bit of a jerk when you don’t take care of yourself.  Tough to hear I know (the same is true for me), but you taking care of yourself makes you more available for others.

  1. Strengthen Your Marriage – If you’re married this is the time to write your loved one an extra note. Now is when you should reconnect. It will help.  A lot.  Your partner in the trenches needs to be loved too.
  2. Read Something From Someone Who Is About To DieThis or this. Compassion , gratitude and forgiveness are the common themes. See which you can use today.
  3. Learn To Strengthen Your “Meaning” MuscleDavid Foster Wallace describes it better than anyone.
  4. Encourage – Use encouraging language with your loved ones. Act a little ‘political’ and send some positive vibes. It’s hard for everyone.
  5. Find A Nursing Home – When the time comes there is a right way to do it. Look here and here.
  6. Laugh With Friends – Laugh out loud over lunch and laugh hard. Shares stories of the trials and tribulations of caring for elderly parents. You deserve this support.
  7. Do – Have an educated conversation with your spouse about money. Think of ways to cut back costs and increase your household income.
  8. Don’t – Sell your home, sell your parent’s home (unless you have to), rack up credit card debt (unless there’s a life and death medical emergency), take loans against your retirement, take out money from your retirement funds, or take a third job.
  9. Give Gifts At The Nursing Home – The nurses and staff will care for your loved one when you’re not there. You want them to like you and your loved one. They also deserve recognition for their hard work.
  10. Create A Password With Your Love One – That they can use on the phone with you if they need your help. Often times the private caregiver will be in the room. They may need to express something that they can’t say in front of the caregiver.
  11. Get Up Early (Or Stay Up Late) – Having 2 to 3 hours of alone time each day is the only way to get things accomplished over the long arch of life.
  12. Sit Back and Listen To Yourself Breathe – Seriously. Take a moment now. Listen to the deep wind in your lungs.  Remind yourself that your body, your life, the whole enchilada is a gift.  This breath is a gift.  And this breath.
  1. Call A Friend – Someone who has gone through this before.
  2. Don’t Use A Reverse Mortgage – The economics on reverse mortgages are terrible. Your loved one gives up 20% to 30% to sometimes 40% of the value of their home. Only look to it as a last resort.
  3. Eldercare Fraud Is Real – As your loved one’s mental cognition goes down they will be more susceptible to becoming victims. Look here for what you should do.
  4. Consider How You Can Teach Your Children –Buy The Opposite of Spoiled.
  5. Invest In Your Own Retirement – While it may sound counterintuitive take 10% of what you earn and put it into your own retirement. There will always be a reason not to.


 100. Pick Up The Phone – Pick up the phone and ask your parents the financial question you’ve always wanted to know. The greatest challenge is starting the dialogue. Start.


Published: March 26, 2015
By: JP Adams

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