You all know the famous saying, "Money doesn't grow on trees." My mom used to say it to me when I was a kid, no doubt her mom said it to her, and I find myself saying it to my kids. Sometimes it seems that my kids really do believe that I have a tree right in my backyard that I can go pick money off of whenever they want something!!
"Just use your card," my youngest daughter once told me. I can remember saying something similar to my mom,
"Just write a check!"
At that age, kids have no concept that there has to be actual money behind the check (or the card) to pay for it!
As a person with dementia regresses back into a childlike phase, they begin to lose their concept of money. A person who may have once been very frugal (before dementia) now might hand out $100 bills to total strangers! No joke! My mom isn't handing out hundred dollar bills (yet), but when it comes to money, I am finding it even more difficult to teach her the concept than my own children. I suppose that is because, while both are childlike, a child is teachable; a person with dementia is not.
When I was growing up, my mom was very frugal. I well remember her cutting coupons for groceries and allowing us to shop for clothes from the sale racks only. My sister and I both took piano lessons, and my brother played baseball for while, but whenever we asked for anything else extracirricular, mom always said we didn't have "the money." When we were in high school, mom made us pay for half of our sports "sprit" packs and we were expected to earn our own money, through hard work and fundraisers, for other extracirricular wants (such as our madgrials tours across the US, etc). Looking back, and talking with my dad about it in hindsight, mom was just being a penny pincher. Although as an adult, I very much appreciate the fact that she taught us about hard work. Those are values I instill in my children as well. But she was a bit tight and kept herself on a very strict budget.
Mom paid all the bills and was very organized in her method of bill pay by keeping a notebook where she would write every bill for the month, the amount due and when it was paid. My dad never had to worry about the bills being paid and really never worried about how much money was in the bank; my mom took excellent care of that. He just worked and brought the money home.
Since dementia, my mom has lost all frugality. For the past several months, my mom has been rapidly losing her concept of money. At some point, my dad took over the finances and transferred the money into the family account (which mom has access to) when needed. When the bills were continually being paid late, if at all, dad began resuming the role of paying the bills.
Mom is constantly asking people to take her to the JC Penney Outlet, because "they have really good clothes things for really cheap." About middle of this year, my dad, who is self-employed, had a little dry spell with work. Obviously, with no money coming in, money was extremely tight. There was no room to frivolously spend money on things that were not necessary. Yet mom would ask, day after day, for someone to take her to the JC Penney Outlet or to Kohl's with the coupons she had received in the mail. We continuously tried explaining to her that there was no money to be spent. She'd get a confused look on her face, furrow her brow and say,
"No, it's not really expensive. It's really cheap too and I have the good coupon things from the mail too."
Again, we told her that dad was not working and he had no income coming in; she could not spend money that was no necessary.
"No, it's okay. I have really good coupon things too and I can use the credit card thing too," she'd reply.
"Mom, you have to have money to pay the credit card," I'd argue back.
"No it's fine. It's not due for a really long time...a month or more so I'm fine. I can put it on the credit card."
No matter how much I (or anyone else) would try to explain to her that there is NO work lined up and all spending is on a temporary freeze (even with credit cards), she could not connect the dots.
These conversations still come up on a monthly, sometimes weekly, basis. Since summer time, she has started receiving a little bit of money from work disability. When she gets that check in the mail, she thinks she's hit the jackpot! She wastes no time in calling me, or someone else, to con us into taking her to the bank. On a few occassions, she has even planned to hide the check from my dad so he wouldn't know the money came. It seems she had plans of her own for the money! None of these plans ever involve paying the bills; this is "her" money. When the issues of bills come up, the response is,
"Well your dad hasn't given me money yet to go to the store....[or] to pay the bill." Just last week she received a check in the mail, and when I asked her if she wanted me to take her to the grocery store, she said that my dad had not given her money yet to go to the store.
The best way to handle this is to take preventative measures on their spending. Yes, we know that we need to set up automatic bill pay so she never sees the check. It's on the "to do" list. Yes, my dad needs to file power of attorney with the bank and make some notes on the account banning her from withdrawing large amounts of money. An allowance would be another good solution for a person with dementia. In her book, Susan Scarff shared that she traded her husband's large bills (that he once used to carry in his wallet, pre-dementia) with $1 bills. She limited the amount he had in his wallet. When he handed them out to strangers, it was not a big loss, and he didn't know the difference between large and small bills. [If you want to read her book, you can order it directly from this link, it is a must read if you have not read it!!] My mom can still count money and knows the difference between large and small bills, but eventually that knowledge will fade as well.
Indeed, when it comes to money, you must treat a person with dementia as you would treat your small child. There is no way to teach a person with dementia that money does not grow on trees.