Can You Afford to Move Mom In?

Jessica Royer Ocken
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The financial costs of caring for elderly parents at home should be weighed against the social benefits.

As your parents age, you may find there’s an unspoken expectation that you’ll move Mom or Dad in with you at some point. When the time arises to make the decision about your parents’ care, reality hits and the questions begin: Do I have enough space? Can I afford it? Will we get along? Will I be a good caregiver?

While you may find that you have hesitations about moving your aging parent into your home, your parents may have their own concerns: Will I be safe there? Will I lose my independence?

It is important to bring the conversation out in the open, before some crisis forces a hasty decision. By taking the financial and personal costs into account ahead of time, you’ll both be in a better position to make an informed—rather than purely emotional—decision. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Use a cost of living calculator

As a senior financial planner with Syverson Strege and Co., Walt Mozdzer, 47, is used to advising clients about housing and financial decisions. But a few years ago, he found himself in his clients’ position: His mother was struggling with medical issues and a “souring relationship” with his sister-in-law, with whom she lived in the small town of Shady Valley, Tennessee. Mozdzer and his wife opted to move his mother into their home in Altoona, Iowa. Because his mother couldn’t manage the stairs in their two-story home, Mozdzer spent hundreds of dollars modifying the space to make it work for her.

“Our preparation costs included tearing up our dining room to put in a hospital bed and a modular shower downstairs,” Mozdzer says.

Mozdzer’s mother paid him rent every month. But because she liked the house to be much warmer than he was used to, the family’s utility bills had grown—as had their grocery bills, with an added person at the table. To give his wife some alone time, Mozdzer also took his mother to adult day care two days a week, which he says cost several hundred dollars per month.

“There are other hidden costs in caregiving, such as time spent transporting your parent to doctor appointments and to the local big box store for greeting cards, yarn, postage stamps and so on,” he says.

To figure out what the added expenses may be, start with an online cost calculator. A cost calculator can help you work through your parent’s monthly living expenses so you can determine the costs of bringing your parent into your home. It’s also important to think about how long you’ll be living together and how long the situation would be financially feasible. Consider using a financial counselor who can help you weigh your options and figure out what resources you have available.

Caregiver stress or child care bonus?

In addition to finances, there are emotional considerations to take into account.

On the positive side, grandparents who live with their adult children have a chance to bond, both with their own children and with their grandchildren. This is great for socialization and for distributing the child care responsibilities.

"My own maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather lived with us for years while I was growing up," Mozdzer says, adding that he enjoyed a closer relationship with them than he would have otherwise.

Still, elderly parents may miss their neighbors and friends. Adult children may lose their own social connections as they spend more time each day caring for their elderly parents. For Mozdzer, there was added worry.

“I realized that if my mother were to fall when I wasn’t home, my wife wouldn’t have been able to pick her back up.”

After four months of the living arrangement, Mozdzer says he and his family revised their decision and moved his mother into a senior living community just five minutes away, where she lived until she passed. When they calculated all their costs, senior housing became a more affordable and enjoyable choice than the Mozdzers had expected.

“There was an adjustment period, but she loved it and made some great friends,” he says. 

Publication Date: April 1, 2013
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