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You can’t base your life on other people’s expectations.

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S.M.A.R.T. Financial Goals

Consider the times in your life you set a financial goal, such as saving money for a down payment on a car or house. While you knew you were committing to a potentially long period of monthly payments, once you received your set of keys, you materialized a dream and met a financial goal.

Today, you face higher expenses while caring for your child with special needs. Maybe you’ve had to put your career on hold or take on part-time work to help finance these expenses. Even if you face a less-than-desirable cash flow, you can still set goals that help improve your financial well-being. 

S.M.A.R.T. goals are: 

Specific: “I’ll go to the coffee shop only twice each week” is more specific than “I won’t go to the coffee shop as much as I used to."

Measurable: “I will call and speak to an advocate at my local Service Agency to get at least one list of organizations that might be able to help pay for assistive technology” is measurable; “I want to find out how other parents pay for assistive technology” is not.

Achievable: “I will save $5 a week” is more achievable than “I am going to save $50 a week” if you don’t have the money.

Realistic: “I will shop around for a low-rate, low-fee credit card by the end of the month” is realistic only if you set aside the time to actually do that.

Time bound: “I will start contacting funding sources for assistive technology by the end of next week” is a more specific time frame than “I will start looking for funding sources after the holidays.” 

When you first learn of your child’s disability it may be difficult to think beyond your family’s immediate needs. At some point, though, you’ll need to think about, plan, and set goals for the future:

  • Your future: estate planning and retirement.
  • Your child’s future: education, employment, independent living, and transportation to and from places.
  • Your family’s travel and entertainment.

My S.M.A.R.T Goals

Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals helps you stay focused on achieving them. Putting your goals in writing makes them seem more real. Use this form to write your goals. Read your goals out loud, and often. That will help make them seem even more real.

Family Relationships

All family relationships have some degree of tension—it’s natural and to be expected. You, as parents, try to work through those moments and help family members do the same. Because caring for a child with special needs requires more of your attention and financial resources, it is possible that tension among family members can reach an undesirable level. Here are some stressful situations that can lead to conflicts in some families.

  • Other family members may feel left out or abandoned because you have to devote so much time and money to caring for your child with special needs. 
  • You may differ with your spouse on what treatments to pursue and how much money to spend on them. 
  • Each family member’s emotions around your child’s disability may be expressed in different ways.
  • One parent may have had to give up working or put a career on hold in order to care for a child.

 Keeping the Peace

What are some of the ways you can come together as a family and diffuse the escalation of tension? Establishing some ground rules on how you will handle certain situations might help. Possible areas include:

  • The extent you’ll go to care for each family member. Will you do anything it takes, even if it means accumulating debt? For example, will you incur debt for certain situations, such as those that are life-threatening, but not for others? Will you try to stay within your financial means and forego some desirable treatments?
  •  How will you and your spouse come to agreement on all that? How you will encourage family members to talk about their emotions around your child’s special needs. If and how often you’ll set aside family-only or spouse-only time for fun activities or a vacation.
  •  How you will share with your spouse the responsibilities of caring for all family members.
  •  How you can involve other family members in the care of your child with special needs to instill a sense of responsibility while keeping it interesting and rewarding

If Things Don’t Work Out Between You and Your Spouse

If you and your spouse have tried several ways to reduce tension only to have it escalate, perhaps you’ve come to the conclusion, after much consideration, that a divorce would be the best thing for your relationship and your family. Should that occur, clearly state in your divorce decree who is financially responsible for what expense in the care of all of your children and maintenance of your household.

This includes expenses you have right now and expenses you think you might have in the future. Consideration should also be given to how you’ll handle:

  • Current expenses that might become more costly over time.
  • New, unanticipated expenses that you incur.

The expenses listed in your spending plan can help you determine who will become financially responsible for family expenses.

If your child receives funding now or is expected to receive it in the future, give careful consideration to how child support payments on behalf of your child with disabilities should be made. The important issue here is that you don’t want to disqualify your child from benefits. Child support payments should not be paid directly to the child. To help make sure you make the most equitable decisions around your divorce, seek the financial advice of a lawyer experienced in handling divorce for parents of children with special needs. For help on navigating the financial aspects of a divorce, visit www.SmartAboutMoney.org and click “Life Events."  This is an American site but has some good information.



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