Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What About Me?

After all these posts about dealing with my parents' finances amidst a health crisis, are you wondering how this might have affected my own finances? When I went running off to be with my Dad in the hospital, I barely thought about anything else... but the key word here is "barely!"

When I left, I had no idea how long I'd be gone. I emailed people at work, I threw some clothes in a suitcase, and was ready to bolt. But first, I went online and paid a few bills, knowing I might not be back before they were due. This almost worked perfectly, but as it turned out, I hadn't quite noticed where this left my checking account balance. Luckily, I have an overdraft line of credit, so I didn't bounce any checks, but it was the first time in a while that I hadn't remembered to cover all my bills by transferring money.

My next financial decision involved getting to Penn Station and deciding which train to take. As I've written here before, I am usually a fan of the Acela train, which is expensive but a bit nicer and faster than the regular Amtrak trains. When I got to Penn Station, I just barely had time to catch an earlier train-- it was cheaper than the Acela and would arrive 20 minutes earlier, so I didn't have my usual dilemma about whether to spend more. I just bought my ticket and ran for the train.

I was also having a lot of phone conversations with my mom about how she'd get home (she'd been away caring for her own mother). The ticket I'd bought her before had already been changed once, to a return date just before Christmas, and of course I'd already paid a change fee for that. I suppose I could have just paid another change fee for that return ticket, but this time I couldn't deal with going through the whole phone menu to talk to an agent. I ended up just buying her a one-way ticket, which cost about $350, which didn't seem that bad given I only booked it about 2 days before the flight.

Once I was with my dad and my sister, I found myself going into this mode of trying to pay for everything. The first night in the hospital, I went to get dinner with my sister and picked up the check. At another point, I went to the hospital cafe and bought food for a couple of family members. When we left the hospital, I paid for the parking. Once we were home and I was doing the grocery shopping, I put that on my credit card rather than taking any of the cash my dad had left sitting on the dining room table. Later, though, when my dad was well enough to go to a restaurant one night, he picked up the check, and when I drove him back to the hospital for more appointments, he gave me money for tolls and parking. Also, while we were waiting for him to come out of surgery, we had lunch and that time, my sister picked up the check.

Some of the miscellaneous grocery and parking expenses were paid with cash, and though I am usually so anal about entering everything in Quicken, this time I totally lost track. I ended up entering several balance adjustments, but at least I knew they all had to be categorized as either "Dining" or "Travel" as I didn't do any other shopping!

It's also interesting to note that the food in the hospital cafeterias was quite cheap-- I'd expected everything to be marked way up, but perhaps it was somewhat subsidized, as employees were eating there too. The hospital parking, on the other hand, was quite expensive. If you were visiting for more than 6 hours, you could get your ticket validated for a substantial discount. One night I forgot to get my ticket stamped and was so tired, I just thought "oh screw it." But then the garage guy said it would be $29 instead of $12, which was enough to make me run back a block and a half in the pouring rain to get that stamp afterall!

During all this time of stress, there were moments when I had to escape, just for my own mental health. There were a couple of days when I went to the beach near my parents' house, which was wonderful. Post-Labor Day, it wasn't crowded, and the water was very chilly-- my favorite, as it makes you numb and tingly in a very invigorating way! I walked to the beach without a penny in my pocket, which I did regret on one occasion, as the ice cream man was parked nearby and I rather fancied a fudgsicle. But other than that, those brief times at the beach were a wonderful reminder that the best things in life are free.

After I'd returned to New York, my mother told me that she'd talked to my dad about reimbursing me for her plane ticket and I guess some of the grocery money, which I wasn't expecting, but it would be nice. The other surprise I had after getting home was my cell phone bill, with $64 in extra usage charges because there were so many calls back and forth to friends and family about everything that was going on!

Fortunately, I didn't have to pay for a return trip on the train, as my sweetie drove up to get me, and refused to even take any money for gas. But I'm sure I'll be doing more frequent family visits in the future, without always getting a ride. I'll have to budget a little extra for that. And if I go over budget, so be it. Taking care of my family is more important right now.


mapgirl said...

I've been reading all your posts and my thoughts are with you and your family.

It's funny, the one time I really liked having folks who ran a gas station was when I had to drive up every week during my dad's stroke recovery/rehab. I always got a free tank before leaving to return home. I guess I am lucky that my job then, as now, provided me with a laptop so I could work from home and do all my bills that way.

My mom would make me a sandwich or something to eat at home when I got back from the ICU where I was sleeping overnight during the worst of it. My mom would leave me some money to go get something in the cafeteria during the day.

Hey, did the nurse care manager do some figuring of how to extend the insurance benefits at home for you? That was pretty good for us. She worked out the numbers so that my dad could get great care at the hospital, in rehab and then at home if needed. For people who self-insure, that's a really important thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes like you said it's just better not to worry about the budget for a little while and focus on family in a crisis. It sounds like your priorities are in order.

The Love Collective said...

Peace be unto you. Your financial advice is a must-read, btw. Keep up the good work.

Jessica said...

I'm so glad you were/are able to be there for them. Don't forget to take care of you during all of this, and thanks as always for sharing!

Anonymous said...

you rarely mentioned your sweetie on your blog.
it's nice to know you have support during this hard time.

Unknown said...

I am sorry for what you are going through. Times are tough. Due to the economic crisis on wall street I recently lost my job and am going through a very difficult time of my own. Not quite sure how to start from square one again. Any suggestions....

Anonymous said...

Hi Ava, Sorry to hear you lost your job. The economy is tossing everyone into a tailspin lately. I worked for awhile as a temp while I was finishing law school. The company I worked with is Atrium Staffing, and they were really good about providing health benefits so I didn't have to deal with a lapse. COBRA is ridiculously expensive. The brokerage where they placed me offered me a position, and I am still there now. (Knock on Wood) I wish you luck in getting that part of your life back together.

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