Grandchildren are a blessing and were put on this earth to be spoiled rotten by “Gran” and “Pop Pop.” Unfortunately, a growing number of grandparents find themselves moving from the role of grandma/pa to starring in their very own sequel—Parenting Part II. And while grandkids are a gift from God, they are a very expensive gift that can wreak havoc on a grandparent’s pocketbook.
The trend of grandparents serving as the primary caretaker of grandchildren has not only become common but it’s also becoming the new norm. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau, found that one in three households is headed by a grandparent. And recent upticks in increased life expectancy, single-parent homes, and female professionals, increase the likelihood that grandparent head of household trend will continue to rise.
Parenting from the posture of a grandparent is a lot different than it was the first time around. An informal survey conducted by RasingYourGrandchildren.com found that 64 percent of respondents cited money as their primary challenge when it comes to raising their grands. Maintaining financial stability with the grands in tow can involve a bit more than the standard living on a budget and having an emergency fund strategy. Below are few tips on making ends meet while rearing the grandkids.
The first thing you must do when you become a grandparent head-of-household is understand that you are not who you once were and the world has changed. This is especially true if your grands are small children. You are older now and you have less “bandwidth” than you used to have. You have a little less energy, patience, tolerance, strength and drive than you did the first go around. You have to remember that and plan your life accordingly.
This realization also applies to your financial bandwidth. You have less room for mistakes and missteps. Recovering from a financial disaster will be a lot costlier now that you are older and have a shortened earning time-span and a limited income. You have to learn to do more with less. You may have to shift your perspective and opt for things like paying for community or local college in lieu of a large and expensive university. Vacations may have to become staycations and eating out becomes a once a month treat at a cheap fast food restaurant instead of the usual twice a week meal at a pricey restaurant.
The main point here is that you can’t do the normal things you used to do when you were in your first phase of parenting. You have to be smarter, stricter with your budget and way more resourceful.
As a grandparent, you should be aware that there are financial assistance programs available that can help if you find yourself having trouble making ends meet. Most states have a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program. Assistance offerings vary from state to state but most offer bill pay assistance, food stamps and free or low-cost daycare.
If you find that you don’t qualify for your state’s TANF program you should ask about a “child-only grant” which provides financial aid just for the grandchildren. It’s also a good idea to see what other state-sponsored programs are available such as guardianship subsidies, non-parent grants or kinship care.
There are also tax benefits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), state-sponsored health insurance programs like Medicaid and other low or no cost assistance programs. If these avenues fail, check with the local churches and other community organizations in your area. Many have programs that offer aid to families in need. There are resources out there—you have to seek them out and use them when you need them.
When you are in your 20’s and 30’s you work hard and learn along the way. Once you reach 50, its time to rethink how you do things. The older you get the smarter you should become. It’s time to put that knowledge, expertise and wisdom to work for you. You’ve raised your kids. And you’ve undoubtedly made some mistakes. Look at raising your grandkids as a second chance an opportunity to put that earned knowledge to good use.
Think back on all the times you’ve said “man, if I only knew…,” and do now what you didn’t know to do then. You may have less physical energy but you have greater mental strength. Work to look at everything strategically. How long can you stretch a pack of chicken? Learn the art of thrifting. Teach the grands how to DIY whenever possible and look for deals—for everything.
You really have to work to make every dollar count. You may not be able to spoil the grands the way you envisioned but you are providing them with something far more valuable and substantive. You give them a warm, clean, and safe place to live, nourishment, clothes and most importantly, your love. You also will teach them how to live frugally, how to stretch what they have and how to live on a budget. You have the unique opportunity to directly shape and affect their lives. That’s far more valuable than anything you could ever buy them.
Living on a budget is a basic and fundamental must. But that doesn’t just apply to your finances. In addition to budgeting every dollar, you must budget your time, food and all of your resources. Everything you do (or don’t do) eventually affects your bottom line. For instance, if you fail to plan your meals before you go to the grocery store, you may find yourself going to the grocery store more often. And research shows the more often you go, the more vulnerable you become to overspending.
The same is true about your time. If you don’t plan how to spend your time and create a schedule, your sweet, darling, little grands will run you ragged. And exhaustion effects decision-making. The more tired you are the more apt you are to take shortcuts and use money to solve problems when more frugal options are available.
It’s also important to have money goals. Try to structure your finances in a way that allows you not to dip into your retirement funds. Continue to have a savings strategy and always, always, always maintain an emergency fund. If you know that you are going to be the primary caregiver for the long haul, make a realistic plan for their education. And that includes encouraging them to opt for non-conventional college payment options, like work study, attending a free/ low-cost community college or going to school part-time.
The fact that you are raising your grandkids qualifies you for a “good person” award. You are doing a noble and honorable thing. You are doing the right thing. Whenever guilt arises because you can’t give your grands the best of everything, remind yourself that you are doing your best.
You’ve raised your kids and were the best parent you could be at the time. Own that. You don’t have to raise your grandchildren. You are choosing to. Allowing guilt to drive your financial decisions is a bad idea and a quick way to buy yourself a heap of financial trouble. Work to always do the right thing. That means saying no when you should and yes only when you can.
Featured image by Matti on Flickr