The financial impact of a family caring for a handicapped child has many challenges.
Today, I’m sharing a story from long-time CBB readers Maureen and Dave, who detail their journey with us.
Their heartfelt and courageous story comes at the perfect time with much to be thankful for.
Early I got a call Friday morning that my $10,000 cheque from an insurance policy that had come due would be in my account by Monday.
I got a call from our daughter’s group home Friday afternoon with more news.
Our daughter, who has been diagnosed with KBG syndrome, causes the gums to recede.
When the gums recede too far, the roots of the teeth are exposed, causing pain.
There is skin grafting surgery they can do It is not covered by any government plan.
The cost of the grafting surgery is estimated to be $10,000.
Costs Involved With Our Daughter’s Group Home
Currently, our daughter lives in a group home where she is very well cared for and happy.
In Canada, group homes are funded differently, whereas our daughter is government funded for personal care.
She receives a government pension of approximately $900 monthly, covering rent, utilities and food.
The family is responsible for clothing, entertainment and miscellaneous medical costs not covered by OHIP or Family Benefits.
An example is her allergy medications, which cost approximately $80 per month.
Hearing aids now cost $5500.00 in 2022.
The hearing aids last three years, and the government pays for a new set every five years.
The family must pick up the cost of one set at $5500.00 every three years.
This article aims to let you glimpse how my husband, our two sons and I are paying these bills.
Financial Impact Of Caring For Our Handicapped Child
So this is our story.
In 1987 we sold our house and two rental properties in Toronto and moved to London, Ontario.
This promotion was for me, and I would make over $100,000 in gross income.
After we sold the three properties, we had $200,000 in our pockets.
We paid $180,000 for a lovely house in the only school area where students used computers.
Our sons are intelligent, and we wanted them to be computer educated.
We put down $140,000 on the house and took a $70,000 mortgage.
Deposited was $60,000 into a Government Guaranteed investment at Confederation Life Insurance Company.
At the time, this was considered a very safe financial institution.
We chose the insurance company over The Royal Bank because it paid higher interest than the bank.
Lesson learned. A few points of interest should not be your primary consideration.
The institution’s stability is essential, especially with a maybe impending recession.
Dave got a job in London, making $45,000 per year.
Diagnosing Our Daughter
Our daughter was suffering from unexplainable problems which concerned us.
There were expenses, but with both of us bringing in a decent amount of money, I guess no one paid attention.
Looking back and having the time to add things up, we were spending approximately $600 per month on extra care and something like $100 per foot walking support.
The doctors were stumped about how to help her and treated them with band-aid solutions.
We know now; since genetic testing is available, what is causing the problems?
No stone was left unturned in searching for answers for our daughter’s condition.
She was seen at every hospital and institution in Ontario to see if anyone could help her.
These diagnostic trips took time away from our work. They also caused extreme stress as we realized the doctors had no idea how to help our daughter.
As she began to age, her hearing started to go, and hearing aids cost $3300.
The government paid for a new set every three years, although sadly, they only lasted two years.
Understanding the financial stress on a family with a handicapped child is essential.
Decisions must be made as other children in the family must be looked after.
Does the family pay for the hearing aids or allow their child to be deaf until the government funds another set?
Not at all, and there was no choice for us, so we paid for the extra hearing aids.
These decisions are gut-wrenching and painful, but we knew what we had to do.
Not only is a family doing their best and maybe exhausted trying to care for the child, but they are forced to make these painful decisions.
Job Loss And Tapping Into Emergency Fund
In 1989, the company Dave worked for suddenly closed, costing us $45,000 yearly.
Yes, we had an emergency fund; however, that disappeared fast.
A better choice would have been an income-producing asset.
At this point, we are starting to get into credit card debt.
We were barely making it, living pay to pay, although we were sure the situation would sort itself out.
Big lesson, the situation never sorts itself out; only creative thinking can do that.
Remember that in the 80s, most people do not have a cell phone and no internet like we are used to today.
One morning we opened the newspaper, and across the front page, we read that Confederation Insurance company’s files for bankruptcy.
That $60,000 we invested disappeared for 12 years, and we were paid no interest on the money during that time.
The company’s assets were broken up and sold off, and it was impossible to track the money.
Our best estimate is that we received $30,000, half of our original insured investment.
A better choice would have been to pay off the house in full and have no mortgage.
Refinancing First House in 1990
In 1990 we went to the bank with all our paperwork to discuss refinancing our first house.
The bank manager looked at our Confederation Life Investment documents and said. “I wish I could say something different, but these papers are worthless.”
To keep going, we refinanced, increasing the mortgage enough to handle six months’ payments and pay off the credit card debt.
It felt good, but I know now that was the wrong decision.
We should have sold that big house and moved to something smaller that we could afford.
Always Be Ready For The Next Curve Ball
Dave was home taking care of the boys and our financially beneficial daughter.
When he was staying home, there was no need to pay for extra care.
I loved my job, and all seemed to be heading in the right direction.
One night just north of Barrie, Ontario, I was driving my big fancy company-paid-for Buick.
We were on a 5-day trip to show off the company’s latest designs to our northern customers.
Suddenly, with no warning, my vision started to go black.
Luckily I had my friend who took over driving after I pulled over.
When we arrived in Sudbury, I struggled to walk but continued working.
Sales trips were different in the 90s than they are today.
You, as the representative, had to go to the customer and show the products.
We completed the five-day sales trip, where I mainly presented the product sitting down.
Good thing it was a chair company that I worked for. Humour.
Receiving Bad News From The Doctor
Back in London, my doctor sent me to the Ivey Eye Clinic, where I spent three days.
Then my doctor had to deliver the news that they thought I had Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
After a few visits to the MS clinic, the doctors confirmed my diagnosis.
The doctors diagnosed the cause of this sudden onset of MS symptoms as stress-related.
The government’s idea of leaving parents to care for handicapped kids is not good.
You have the handicapped child to care for, and now you have the parent down too.
Handicapped children are not generally considered for group homes until they are 20.
Long-Term Disability Insurance
I purchased long-term disability insurance in the early 80s and paid a $110 premium each month.
The premium was $110.00 per month, which included a clause that said if my doctor said I was disabled, the policy must pay.
My company offered short-term disability that kicked in almost immediately.
The long-term policy started paying us six months after the short-term disability.
Now here we are, and I’m in a wheelchair most days while Dave is out looking for a job.
The disability income is paying the mortgage, and the bills and our daughter is in the hospital more than she is at home.
Recession Of The 1990s
It’s the early 90s, the economy has tanked, and there is a profound recession.
Every other house in our neighbourhood seems to be for sale.
Twice Dave found jobs; however, after working for a few months, both companies decided to move out of Canada.
Six months went by suddenly and again with no warning; the insurance company stopped paying us.
I called that company daily, and their reason for the stop payment was that they needed to assess my case.
The insurance company sent me to their doctors, who immediately said I was disabled and could not do my job.
The insurance doctors instructed my doctor to take away my driver’s license.
It took seven months for this reassessment of my case.
We finally got the back pay, and the monthly payments continued until I was 65
Debt Kept Piling Up
It was 1999; we had gone seven months with no income and were deep in debt.
We had refinanced the house two times and were in over our heads in credit card debt.
We were forced to sell our house for $160,000, which was $20,000 less than the purchase price.
As soon as we got the money, we again paid off all our credit card debt.
We moved into a rented townhome where the rent was $600/per month, which included utilities.
After all, was said and done, we had $9000.00 left from our original $200,000.
The Red Lobster student program accepted both of our sons, working three nights a week.
A lot of what they earned went into care for their sisters care.
Today they are both doing very well in their early 40s, married, with kids and making decent incomes.
One son is a real estate agent in Toronto and our other sells giant welding machines in factories.
Financial Education – Debt Repayment and Investing
Money was tight, but we managed daily, month by month.
Time was one thing we had, so we read the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad.
Doing so allowed us to regain our financial security, and we continued reading books about debt.
Liquidity of Dividend Stocks
Then we read finance books about investing in stocks and discovered dividend stocks.
After learning about dividend stocks, we began our investing journey.
To us, investments could not be static. In other words, they had to pay us regularly.
Chartwell Riet was the one we started with because the buy-in was around $5.00 per share.
The dividend was at 4.1.
Buying Low Selling High
One day we went to the thrift store, where I purchased a set of 8 glasses in a carrying tray for $8.00.
At home, we cleaned them up and sold them for $60.00 to an antique shop.
Remember, there was no e-bay, so it was a nice profit of $52.00.
Back then, that was enough for groceries for three people for one week.
I knew those glasses were worth something because I had seen them in a Home Magazine.
Recently I bought a set of 3 cast iron pans in their original box for $40.00.
On eBay, one like mine recently sold for $160.00, so I’m up $120.00 on paper.
But I’ll hold on to it until I can get a $200.00 real cash asset.
Lady’s Investment Club
We purchased some other investments in small companies.
You must be careful where you invest your money, as they can go bust.
We also started an investment plan at the bank to purchase a certain amount of Royal Bank stock every quarter.
I joined a lady’s investment club modelled after The Bernstein Ladies.
We met once a month, and each member had to present stock to the group for purchase consideration.
You learn when you have to teach someone else.
Buying Real Estate To Reduce University Costs
During the fall of 1997, one son went to university, where he stayed in residence for one year.
That was way too costly, so we purchased a duplex the second year for $90,000.
My father had a life insurance policy and I was named the beneficiary.
There was an amount we could borrow from the policy. We took out $25,000 for the down payment on the duplex.
The house needed a lot of TLC, as you could write your name in the dirt on the wall.
However, the bones of the building were good, and it mainly needed cosmetic upgrades.
The three of us, Dave, one son and myself, worked tirelessly on that house together.
Walking was almost impossible at this time, so my job was to sit on the wood floor and hand sand around me.
I remember this project of making the duplex rentable as a good time and began to feel that I could, once again, contribute.
We rented the two-bedroom apartment on the main floor for $900.00 plus hydro.
Our son took one bedroom upstairs and rented the other room to another student for $350.00, including hydro.
Income from this house was supposed to pay back the insurance policy loan, but it never did.
The house made a decent cash flow, but once again, most of the money went for things our daughter needed.
Borrowing From Insurance Policy
For those of you who do plan to borrow from an insurance policy, ask questions.
If you pay the interest on the loan each year, the death benefit will not decrease more than the original loan.
However, if you pay nothing, the insurance company will charge the policy with the interest payments, and you will soon end up at zero.
The following fall, our son presented us with another income property he had found.
It had eight bedrooms, one room for him and seven to rent.
We rented each room for $350, including hydro, and we made this son the property manager.
It was up to him to collect and deposit rent, cut the lawn and do other property maintenance.
It’s 1998, and we have two rental properties and $9000 in the bank.
On paper, we had approximately $180,000 in equity with tangible cash assets of $9000.
What is an Asset and a Liability?
I learned from Rich Dad and Poor Dad what an asset is
An asset puts money into your pocket, whereas a liability takes money out of your pocket.
Today we are only interested in two different types of assets
We own liquid assets and move up and down in paper value.
These assets pay money into our pocket on regularly scheduled payout times.
We have an investment at a bank that pays us an agreed amount of cash each month.
Intellectual property that gives a payout each quarter can be considered a liquid asset.
Work or service asset is a different kind of asset as it kicks us back services or goods we would generally have to use our cash.
However, this asset is sometimes taxed. Maximizing these assets helps us keep more cash to pay medical expenses.
An example might be renting out a bedroom in exchange for outdoor gardening help.
Grocery Budget For Two Adults
Another good example here is learning to grocery shop without overspending.
Our grocery budget is $55 a week for two adults.
That is $2860 annually for two adults; we eat meat and drink good coffee.
I started reading Canadian Budget Binder about the time it began twelve years ago.
The skills I have learned from studying CBB by reading blog articles are an asset to me.
Trading Coupons To Reduce Grocery Costs
Here is an example: The 44-pod Starbucks coffee box is $31.99 or 72 cents per cup.
I had a coupon for $6.49 that I had traded for making the coffee for $25.50, 57 cents per cup.
Then I claimed on a rebate app called Check Out 51 for $6.50.
After all the savings, the box of 44 pods is $19.00, or 43 cents per cup.
I can’t complain as this is a reasonable price for a cup of Starbucks dark Sumatran coffee.
Ultimately, I have kept $12.99 in savings in my pocket.
Purchasing Our Forever Home
In 2015, I would turn 65, and my monthly insurance payments would stop.
In 2013 I was offered a one-time payment of the remaining disability payments at a 10% discount.
We took the money and decided it was time to find a house in Northern Ontario.
After searching, we finally found a home and purchased it for $200,000.
Since this was our permanent residence, we got the mortgage at 10% down.
At this time, everyone wanted mortgage money for rental properties.
Mortgage Credit Line
The private residence mortgage was easy to get for us, and we negotiated for a $100,000 credit line as part of the mortgage.
This means that we pay down the principal amount of the mortgage.
Doing so allows us to have the same amount of money available to spend.
If you incur unplanned expenses, as we do, this is a good plan.
The availability of an instant credit line has been used many times over the 17 years we have lived here.
Our current mortgage is $60,000, and hopefully, one day, we will be able to pay it off.
Zero-Based Budgeting Is Simple
Now we have to be very careful with any money that we spend.
We must generate all monthly income so we can pay our expenses.
Our first step was to sit down together and access every cent we had.
Related: CBB 10-Step Budgeting Mini-Series
Then we chose a budget that we thought would work for us.
The Zero-based budget (ZBB) was something we had learned about on CBB.
Using a ZBB is simple, where every bit of cash gets placed into a budget category.
His budget makes saving easy because even extra money has a place in the budget.
We allocate $20.00 per week for food which is enough for coffee, milk, cream and essentials.
Foraging In The Wilderness
Luckily we both have a lot of wilderness experience so getting food from Mother Nature is something we enjoy doing.
The Homesteading movement was just beginning, and we found this lifestyle rewarding and enjoyable.
It’s also worth noting that after our first winter here, I was walking without aids.
Foraging, Raising and Trading Food
We raise, forage, or trade for 70% of our food.
Dave raises 65 meat chickens which is enough for us, our two sons and the group home.
We also have chickens that are layers which produce eggs daily for our family.
Our vegetable gardens produce both vegetables to eat and sell to earn extra cash.
We spend $350.00 per spring on the gardens, which puts food on the table and money in the bank.
This year we sold $180 worth of fresh organic Rhubarb and $200 in squash.
Once again, I’m aiming for zero with a kick out to us of our food.
Related: How to grow potatoes in a pot
We had beef cows for nine years and no longer plan on raising beef.
In our freezer, we have the last of the beef, and when it’s gone, we will negotiate with a local farmer for a side of beef.
Foraging Is Fun
We sustainably forage for green vegetables to help supplement our harvest.
In spring, we cut green leaves from wild leeks, then wash, bag and freeze them.
From our foraging harvest, we get greens for about one year.
Foraging wild strawberries is in June, followed by raspberries in July and blackberries in late august.
After we eat as many fresh berries as we want, the rest are frozen.
We like to add wild berries to the top of hot oatmeal for a winter breakfast.
Right now, we are foraging crimson wild blackberry leaves. The crimson leaves are dried and become our hot afternoon tea.
This tea’s flavour is unique, tasting similar to a fine English breakfast blend.
Stress and Illnesses
Most summer days, we kayaked right off our dock, which was fun for all of us.
At the time, our daughter was doing very well settling into the group home.
There have also been no more nights spent in the hospital for me.
Could that doctor have been right?
Did the Stress of caring for our daughter bring on MS?
Struggling To Pay Bills As Seniors
In our early 70s, we still struggle to pay her bills.
We love where we live and enjoy life to the fullest.
I wish I could say raising and caring for a handicapped loved one is easy. It’s not. It’s incredibly challenging.
My family is strong, maybe stronger, because of the challenges we’ve faced and overcome.
Thanksgiving will see the whole family gathered around the table in our little house, enjoying each other’s company and eating one of Dave’s home-raised chickens.
Story As told by Maureen and Dave, edited by Mr. CBB.
Thank You, Dave and Maureen, for sharing this incredible story about your lives.
You’ve shared with us that anything is possible, and we have to find ways to make things work in hard times.
I’m glad you found Canadian Budget Binder and have made it your home for family finances and frugal living.
P.S We just found a fantastic new Canadian app, Too Good To Go. (Non-Affiliate)
It’s free to download from the app store. It’s similar to Flashfood but includes limited quantities of leftover restaurant food, bakeries, and grocery stores. I’ve added the app and plan to try it soon so I can do a full review.
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