Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Client’s Challenges of Managing Finances

Anthony is one client of mine who’s developmentally disabled and one of the challenging issues he deals with is budgeting. He receives a disability check and though he lives independently he relies on us heavily for support, including money management. It’s not exactly that I’m his payee because we don’t offer this service. The way it works is that after Anthony pays his bills I keep the rest of his money and he meets with me once a week to get a quarter of it in the hopes it would last him until the end of the month. From several years before I started working at the agency case managers have worked with Anthony in a similar way.

Anthony and I tried different systems and the weekly allowance method seemed to be more successful than the previous one. In the last system he’d get half his money upfront – around $175 – and then he’d contact me when he’d run out. What ended up happening is that he’d run out in the third week of the month and borrow money from other people and not always remember how much he borrowed. He would also spend at least $50 running up a tab at an overpriced grocery store.

Unfortunately, even though this system works better Anthony tends to come back an additional day a week, sometimes one or two days after getting his allowance and say he spent it all. With a bit of probing, I find out he spent a chunk of his weekly allowance (about $50) eating a meal out or getting candy from an expensive store.

After Anthony approached me a year ago and asked for help with his budgeting we’ve continuously talked about him ditching the expensive grocery store and walking an extra six blocks to the cheaper store. This month Anthony finally said he went to the cheaper store a couple of times, though he admitted he went to the other store too. It’s much more convenient to go to the closer store.

Today while meeting with me Anthony was ranting about not being able to hold on to his money and at some point he said “You don’t understand, I have no control over it (his money), once the money is out of my hands, there’s nothing I can do about it. Once they (candy man, restaurant, etc) have it I have no control over how they use it.”

Anthony seemed to insinuate through some odd logic that he doesn’t have control over his money by focusing not on his actions but on what other people do with his money once he spends it. I brought up the fact that an action needs to take place in between him having the money in his pocket and the money being at the salesperson’s hands and he smiled so I think he got that.

But something did click inside my head while he was talking about not having control over spending his money though he was referring to what other people do with it when they have his money. I looked at it from his eyes and I realized that he very likely has little control over it. He has become more independent in the last coupe of years I’ve worked with him, starting to pay his bills on his own (with his previous case manager she would take care of it for him completely) and following through with doctor appointments. But money management is something that will continue to challenge him because it’s that much harder for him to resist temptation of spending the money in his pocket. And the process of opportunity cost and thinking about "Is it worth to spend $40 here, but then all my money will be gone instead of spending it slower" is that much harder to. It feels good to have money and it feels good to spend it.

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