In 2009 I lost my job. The software company I was working for eliminated my division. I had no money and was living at home with my parents. I was 26.
Looking back I felt really sad and lonely during this point in my life. I dated too much just to feel connected. I went out and drank a lot of alcohol to cover the pain. I spent far too much time isolating in my apartment sleeping until noon.
I often hear from coordinators of care how meaningful the time is with their loved one. Certain periods however can be emotionally draining. Some are overwhelming. A tough reality of caring for those who are ill or aging is that sometimes it feels like too much.
What matters in times of emotionally difficulty is tools. Do you have the tools to connect? Do you have the tools to get support? Do you have the tools to receive love?
I am shocked six years later how affordable the most effective emotional support tools are. The vast majority are free. Most others are a few bucks a week.
Put together these tools have changed my life.
I want to share those tools with you now. I want you to feel that when you seek help you aren’t breaking your bank account. I want you to find affordable solutions that give you the support you richly deserve.
Take A Moment And Look Around For Love
Before I share my tools I want to share one lesson. It took me six years to figure it out. If you’re struggling emotionally take a moment and look around at the love you have. Often it’s hard to see. But if you stop and look carefully you may be surprised by what you find.
In 2009 my best friend called me every day. A family member helped me out financially. My roommates took me for movies and dancing to keep my spirits up.
The primary challenge I faced is that I didn’t know how to accept help. Put a different way, I didn’t lack love. Love was all around me. I just couldn’t see it. So take stock. There are probably people around you right now asking how they can help.
Next time they ask to take you to coffee or call to see how you’re doing, be honest with them. Share. Connection is the solution to pain.
Top 6 Affordable Emotional Support Tools
1. Support Groups ($8 a month)
I walked into my first support group in 2009. It was in a church basement. One guy started yelling about his life within minutes of me getting there. Another guy slept through the entire meeting.
My overwhelming feeling was “I don’t belong here.”
I thought I couldn’t learn anything from people who looked and sounded different from me. This is a common perspective of people when the first walk into a support group or 12 step program.
Stick with it. Go to a few meetings. It becomes easier. Just listening can be powerful. You don’t need to say anything.
The Cost: Most group support groups cost $2 per meeting. 4 times a month x 2 = $8.
How To Save Money: Many support groups suggest the $2 donation. If you don’t have the funds you don’t need to pay and can still participate anyway.
2. Therapy ($150 a month)
When I first thought about going to a therapist a friend said to me, “JP, do you know any therapist in real life that you actually like?”
That’s the kind of background I came from. Therapists are quacks, jokers and worthless.
What changed it for me was a good friend. An old roommate of mine dated a wonderful guy who went to a therapist. I respected him a lot. He changed my perception.
So when the time came where I felt backed up against a wall emotionally I googled therapists in my area. A couple weeks later I walked into my therapist’s office.
Therapy is one of those tools that has a big negative stigma in our country. If you’re considering it I recommend asking a friend who is or has seen a therapist what their experience has been like. This will make it more accessible and less scary.
See multiple therapists. View each initial session as an interview. Fit is really important.
The Cost: $75 a session. 2 times a month = $150.
How To Save Money: Medical insurance covers mental health services. If you have a good policy they will cover 50% – 90% of the cost of a session.
3. Meditation (Free)
I started meditating in 2010. There are many forms but don’t worry. Just sitting and watching your breathing can have a significant impact.
A great way to get started is with an app for guided meditation. Check out Headspace or Calm. Both basic versions are free. Right now you can do a 2 min meditation on the calm.com website if you want to try it out.
Meditation is particularly helpful for distancing yourself from your feelings. While you meditate you watch your feelings come and go. This process can be extremely helpful in managing stress.
The Cost: $0
How To Save Money: No need!
4. Open Up To A Friend (Free)
This sounds easy. However if you don’t have the tools it’s actually quiet hard, if not impossible.
A good place to start is to ask a friend you trust how they get support. This will start an open dialogue where you can see what questions they ask. Take notice of the language they use.
Here are some opener questions to consider:
- “I was wondering if you might have a few minutes to listen. At this point I’m not looking for advice. Instead just a listening ear and some support.”
- “I feel…”
- “Can we go grab coffee sometime?”
Stick with someone you really trust. And then let it rip. Share with them the fear, anger, and tough feelings that you have. Just getting it out can have a massive impact.
Remember focus on how you actually feel not on what you think people want you to say.
The Cost: $0
How To Save Money: No need!
5. Get Up Early, Or Sleep Late (Free)
Our bodies need different things at different times. Extra sleep can be a huge help. If you’re not getting 7 hours of sleep a night start there.
Getting up early has significant impact. I get up each day at 5am. I workout, read, write and eat for over three hours before I head into work.
I feel significantly more in control of my day because I am able to get ahead of it. I do several things each morning just for me.
If you’re not a morning person make sure you spend that extra time for yourself in the evening.
The Cost: $0
How To Save Money: No need!
6. Work On Your Primary Support Relationship (Free)
For most of us our primary support relationship is our romantic partner. When this relationship is strong, vibrant, and enriching everything in life feels better.
Caregiving responsibilities often put stress on this relationship. Make sure you take time out for a date night or walk around the block.
Don’t sacrifice this time. It’s critical to your happiness and well-being.
The Cost: $0
How To Save Money: No need!
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I often hear from family coordinators of things like ‘I called my Mom to talk about finances and instead we spoke for 45 minutes about how to use her TV’ or ‘I bought Dad a medical alert device but half the time he forgets to wear it.”
Caregiving can sound simple in concept but the logistical challenges are immense. The reality is that many caregiving strategies don’t work the first time. Or the second.
This is a function of aging, illness and an emotionally exhausted family. Many things are just harder. A simple trip to drug store can end up taking and hour and half and drains the caregiver of their last energy of the day.
I remember speaking with a good friend about his elderly father who is in his 80’s. My friend wanted to watch over his father’s finances. His father was forgetting some things and had been the victim of eldercare fraud recently.
I told him “It’s simple!” Gather together your Dad’s his name, address, social security number, account information and email. Then you can call the bank and setup online access in 15 minutes.
Boy, was I wrong. His father didn’t have an email address nor a phone that could receive text messages. They both needed to head to a physical bank to get it set up.
My friend had to wait until an upcoming trip to visit his Dad (who lives in another state) to get this done. After a trip to the bank a few months after our initial conversation it was finally done.
This story is the essence of real-life caregiving. It isn’t easy. It’s fraught with small bumps in the road that delay a lot. The logistical challenges of getting seemingly small things done can be daunting. Caregiver solutions need to embrace this reality. Solutions that take little time and minimal setup are critical.
I want to share with you one of the top caregiving solutions that harnesses this reality. It is incredibly easy to execute.
I often hear from family coordinators of care that they enjoy spending time with their loved one. “I cherish the time I spend with my Mom,” a friend recently told me.
Their lives revolve around making that connection. They pay that last bill at 11:00pm to spend more time with their Dad. They pick up medication after an exhausting day at work to relieve their loved one’s pain.
All of the financial, medical, and logistical tasks must be dealt with. And many caregivers do them with a smile. But the end goal is always connection and love. To get a few extra minutes with the person they care for.
A frequent roadblock that many face is distance. They live in a different state. The drive is three hours by car.
One of the most effective tools I have found to connect when far away is Apple Face Time. And it’s not just for families that live in a different state. Apple Face Time just works. A rare thing in the caregiver world. It’s easy, effective and powerful.
Face Time For Caregivers & The Elderly
Face Time is an apple product. It can only be used on Apple devices (IPhone, IPad and Apple Computers). The reason it is so powerful is that once setup, a single click will get the live video conversation going. This is particularly helpful for the elderly.
You will need two apple products. One with your elderly loved one. The other with the family members that want to make the call.
Apple IPhones and IPads vary in price from $199 – $899 depending upon what data plan you get (for better deals check out Apple’s refurbished products site). Yes there are other phones with video cameras but none of them are as reliable. They don’t connect half the time or it takes a lot of clicks and technical knowledge to place or accept a call.
The goal is to have a video device that your elderly loved one can use themselves. Without help or intervention they will be able to place or receive a video call. If you’re an experienced caregiver you know how valuable this is.
Face Time Setup
You will need a wireless internet connection in both locations where the call is being made. Your elderly loved one may not currently have wireless and this can be a logistical hurdle (which you may not want to deal with). You can make video calls over a regular phone data plan but it gets really expensive quickly.
There are several steps I recommend taking with your elderly loved one. For the below I will use the IPad as my example:
- Write Down All Steps On A Piece Of Paper – the elderly generation uses paper so write down the steps to make and receive a call on a piece of paper they can refer to.
- Remove The Password From The IPad – this makes it easier for them to open the device.
- Buy A Standup Charger – This way the IPad will always be charging. The elderly are not used to constantly charging devices like we are. Have them take the call while the IPad is still sitting in the charger.
- Move All Of The Icons Off Of The First Screen Except The Face Time App – Simplicity is key. Having 30 apps on a screen with multiple colors can be confusing.
- Edit Contacts To Only Have Face Time Contacts – Limit the contacts on the IPad to the 4 to 5 people that would make Face Time calls to your loved one.
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After a fall or illness a loved one can be highly dependent upon family members. Taking a shower, putting on clothes, or driving to the grocery store are now large tasks.
Whenever help is needed costs increase. Family members need to take time off of work and lose income. Private caregivers are brought into the home at large expense to assist with activities of daily living.
I often hear from family coordinators of care ‘I don’t feel like I have any more free time’ or ‘we’re spending hundreds of dollars a week on a nursing assistant to be with Dad’.
The changes are unexpected and costly.
A great way to lower costs and increase connection with loved ones is to outsource meals. There are several online calendar sites that enable families to coordinate the delivery of meals from loved ones and friends.
This solution is not for every family. Sometimes the websites are too cumbersome for less tech savvy users. Sometimes the approach is just too public for certain families. Proceed with what fits you and your family. The goal is to make things easier, not harder.
I want to enable you to easily coordinate meals. I want you to lower the costs of feeding your family. I want you to feel that at least one of the many new tasks that have coming your way is being taken care of.
Tops Food Coordination Sites
Most of the online services to coordinate meals are free. They all have similar functionality. The family sets up a calendar of when meals are needed and defines any dietary restrictions.
Friends and loved ones then log onto the site and pick days when they can bring over a meal. They can also reschedule days they sign up for if needed.
Without much effort the family has meals showing up at their door. It can be a great way get help and save a few dollars during a stressful time.
Below are the major players in the market:
- Take Them A Meal – Most commonly used website. Simple setup. Can define days and times for delivery. Can also define dietary restrictions and allergies. Passwords protect access to your calendar and allow only who you want in.
- Meal Train – Simple calendar view with drag and drop for availability. Can email volunteers summary information with times, location and dietary restrictions. Easy sign up.
- Meal Baby – While this is targeted for at parents the functionality can be used by anyone. Great tips for packaging and recipes.
Websites For Non Food Assistance
Several sites exist to help families get assistance with items beyond food. Take a look at these sites to see if they are a better fit for you.
- Lot’s A Helping Hands – Most successful website in the space. Expands to include covering child care duties, driving people to appointments, and a message board with pictures and stories.
- Care Zone – Focus on tracking information. Best for medical information, keeping family and friends updated, appointments, medication reminders, and general contacts. Invest your time only if you’re tech savvy and historically have liked these types of tools.
- Care Flash – Private community. iHelp calendar lets people know when they can lend your family a hand. Story board allows pictures and stories to be shared with loved ones.
- E Care Diary – Focused primarily on medical updates. Helps track appointments, medications, visits and documents. You can also start your own personal blog and privately share what you want with your inner circle.
Not all websites for coordination of food delivery are helpful. While the companies don’t want to hear it sometimes a simple phone call or a few emails works just fine. Many families also use Google Calendar.
Adoption of a food coordination service is highly personal decision. It involves bringing people into your world, depending upon them and sharing your vulnerability.
The type of illness people are facing matters. Users of these websites consistently say that they are better for people with sudden illnesses or the birth of a new child. They are not as good for the multi-year process of becoming elderly.
Whatever you choose go with what works best for you and your family. Focus on saving cost and time.
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