It's been a rough couple of weeks in the Honeycomb. First, my husband Jake's grandfather died. Then, the very next week, we had to put one of our cats down. As a result, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about death and how it affects us, both emotionally and financially.
Funeral logistics: The flight out
Jake's grandfather was 91, and he is survived by his 92-year-old widow (they were married just over 66 years). We knew his health had been declining in recent years; indeed, as you would probably expect at their ages, they both had pretty significant health problems. However, his death was quite sudden (aren't they all?).
When we got the call, we started pricing flights from Arizona to Illinois. We first looked at the major aggregators and the airline websites. Since we were searching for last-minute flights, anything that would get us there in time for the funeral cost just under $900. We would also need to rent a car since we would be heading to the part of Illinois that is over three hours from anything.
At this point, Jake decided that if flights were that expensive he wanted to stay as long as he could reasonably get away from work (about a week). Between the expense and the length of the visit, I decided to stay home and take care of the pets (more on that later). Just when it seemed there was no silver bullet for finding cheap airfare, Jake went to Kayak.com and saw flights for less than $500.
He ended up booking his flight and car on Priceline. GRS readers have had success with careful bidding on Priceline in the past, as evidenced by this video. Since both Jake's flight out and his flights back were flexible as long as he got there in time for the service, this worked great. He got a flight and rental car for six days for $585.
In the meantime, I was feeling guilty for staying home essentially to take care of a cat, so I ended up totally overcompensating by ordering an $80 flower arrangement. Though I did log in through the employee discount portal at my work, so it was less expensive than it would have otherwise been.
Lessons we learned:
Even in your grief, don't forget that you have options at your disposal to save money. I knew about Kayak and Priceline, but they never would have occurred to me. I was super impressed Jake thought of it.
Don't buy flowers when you're crying. Also, those online florists really phrase their descriptions of the bouquets to make you feel like your family will hate you if you don't buy the largest arrangement they offer.
Post-funeral logistics: Stuff and property
I knew one of the biggest concerns for the family would be what happened to Jake's grandmother going forward. She and her husband had been living alone, with the nearest direct family about an hour away. Everyone had pretty much decided that this would no longer be possible even before we learned that she had been falling down a lot and not telling anyone.
I was afraid that she would put up a fight about staying in the house. To everyone's surprise she said she doesn't want to live there without her husband. However, now the two issues that have arisen for the family are: 1) where will she go? and 2) what will happen to their house?
The house is paid off. I think they lived there the entire time they were married. Unfortunately, it's in need of serious renovation. Additionally, as mentioned above, it's in the middle of nowhere. There are no jobs anywhere near their location. It would be a great fixer-upper, I think, for a recently retired couple who was handy and wanted a project.
However, Jake's grandmother really wants to keep the house in the family, to the point where her will deeds the property to her two daughters upon her death. While everyone appreciates the sentiment, the property is unlikely to be used by anyone in the family and will instead be a financial burden.
Lessons we learned:
Estate planning is important, but not just for the reasons commonly talked about. If it's your intention to will Stuff or property to family members, make sure they want it.
Yes, your retirement plans should take into account your young, active retirement (say, traveling the world on the cheap in your sixties). But make sure you also plan for the time when you're unable to live on your own, whether through long-term care insurance or another vehicle.
Logistics when it's not a person: The death of a pet
In April, my cat Max almost died. He was diagnosed with kidney failure and prescribed fluids, which I gave subcutaneously every other day or so. The difference was dramatic, and a month later his blood levels were almost normal. While the fluids cost about $90 per month and he had to be on special food, to me it was a small price to pay. I'd had him since I was 19 and he had been my companion through three degrees, two states and eight apartments.
On July 4, the day after Jake returned from Illinois, Max's breathing was really labored, so we took him to the emergency vet. We were shocked when the x-ray revealed that he had an abdominal tumor. As a result, fluid had built up in his abdomen and chest. You couldn't see any of his organs in the x-ray except his lungs, which were totally squished. No wonder he couldn't breathe.
The vet said the options were either major surgery (which he likely wouldn't survive anyway, plus would be uncomfortable and scared the whole time) or to put him to sleep. We opted for the latter. All in all, his last three months of life ran us about $1300. All the fireworks displays in his honor around the country? Priceless.
Lessons we learned:
Pets are expensive, and they don't live forever. To me, however, they are worth every penny. Fortunately, I had enough in my emergency fund to pay his expenses out of pocket.
I am grateful that I stayed behind to take care of Max while Jake was out of town. I am grateful to Max that he waited until Jake came home to tell us he was ready to go. I am also grateful that his death allowed Jake to open up and talk about his grandfather's passing in a way that I think he otherwise would not have.
Aside from that header sounding morbid in light of the subject of this post, I am curious. What have you learned about personal finance in the context of a pet or loved one's death?
Honey Smith has been reading GRS since at least 2008, right when she got her first â€œrealâ€ job and started getting serious about finances. She and her husband Jake are in their mid-30s and recently bought a home together. Currently, she manages graduate programs at a large state institution, and he is an attorney at a mid-sized firm.
Between them, they have paid off approximately $30,000 in consumer debt since she started writing for GRS in 2012. However, they still have nearly $200,000 of student loan debt, so she will continue to chronicle their debt-paydown journey. In addition to personal finance, Honey is interested in vegetarianism and cooking, gardening (despite living in the desert and having a black thumb), issues in higher education (including the student loan bubble and the slow death of tenure), and animal rights; however, her heart lies with fantasy novels, trashy TV and Skyrim.