Helping Caregivers with Guilt


Written by: Mary Brintnall-Peterson, Ph.D., MBP Consulting, LLC, Professor Emeritus, UW-Extension

As a professional, you hear over and over again caregivers expressing how guilty they feel about something that happened or didn’t happen. Their guilt is told in stories of being unkind, ugly or short -tempered with their care receiver. They wish they hadn’t reacted the way they did, had been kinder, more loving or hadn’t done what they did. Their guilt surfaced as “what ifs,” “if only” and “should.”

As someone who caregivers turn to for insights, you can help caregivers understand that guilt is natural.  It involves saying or doing something that causes someone to be hurt or wronged. Guilt occurs when they have some responsibility or control over the situation. It is a reactive emotion to something that happened in the past which violated the caregiver’s moral perspective. Guilt often bothers the caregiver for a long time and if not dealt with can cause sleepless nights, unhappiness and depression.

Sometimes what a caregiver describes isn’t guilt, but regret. Regret is wishing that things or the situation could be different. It is a feeling of disappointment or distress when a situation is not the way they would like.  Here’s an example—a caregiver shares they are feeling guilty because John, her husband (recovering from an infected amputated leg), fell while she was at the grocery store. Did she cause John to fall? Was it because she went to the grocery store that John fell? The answer to both questions is no—she is feeling regret about John falling (not guilt) as she is distressed about the fall and wishes it hadn’t happened.

Understanding Guilt

As you work with caregivers help them understand that guilt can be a painful emotion and too much can be destructive.  It’s critical for them to know whether they are feeling guilt or regret.

The following two questions are key in determining if someone is feeling guilt:

(1.) Is there a direct cause and affect relationship between what they did or didn’t do resulting in harm to the care receiver?

(2.) Did they do something wrong or say something they shouldn’t have said that resulted in the care receiver being hurt?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then they are experiencing guilt. So the next step is to find positive ways to react to their guilt.  Some suggestions include:

  • Admit responsibility for what they did or said.
  • Apologize and/or ask for forgiveness from the person they have hurt, harmed or wronged.
  • Attempt to make the situation better.
  • Talk with a friend who can help them come to terms with their feelings by being understanding and supportive.
  • Identify and understand their responsibilities as a caregiver. Make sure they have realistic expectations of what they can and can’t do.
  • Focus on what they have done that is positive, good and right. Doing this helps them counter balance their guilt feelings.
  • Learn from their experience and try not to make the same mistake again.
  • Realize they are human and make mistakes especially when under a lot of stress.
  • Seek professional help if their guilt persists and consumes their thoughts.

As a professional who works with caregivers be on the look-out for signs of caregivers dealing with guilt. Help them figure out whether they are feeling guilt or regret and how to deal with it.  The bottom line is help them understand that addressing their guilt is one way they care for themselves. Remind them they are not alone in their caregiver journey and to hang in there.

Investing On a Shoestring

By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension,  

Many people mistakenly think that they need to have at least several thousand dollars to invest. This is simply not true. It is possible to invest on a shoestring, with small dollar amounts ($1,000 or less).

Hand inserting money into piggy bank

Even people with modest incomes can build wealth over time, and they don’t need a lot of money to get started.  For example, they could open an investment account with money from accumulated savings or an income tax refund and then make smaller regular deposits (e.g., $50 or $100 per month).

Some investments can even be purchased in increments of $100 or less (e.g., $10 per paycheck invested in an employer retirement savings plan).  Setting aside small amounts of money regularly and reducing household expenses to “find” money to invest are the keys to successful shoestring investing.

Below are six action steps to invest with small dollar amounts for service members:

  1. Make Tax-Deferred Deposits at Work- The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is the tax-deferred retirement savings plan for service members and federal government employees. Contributions are made as a percentage of basic pay via automatic payroll deductions. Other advantages are a federal income tax write-off for the plan contribution amount and tax-deferred growth of plan deposits and investment earnings.
  2. Buy Stocks on a Shoestring– Back in the day, stock investors often needed five-figure sums and a broker to buy 100 shares of several stocks to set up a diversified portfolio. This is no longer the case. Low-cost stock purchase options include investment clubs, dividend reinvestment plans (DRIPs), direct purchase plans or DPPs (where investors buy stock directly from a company), and various online investing platforms.
  3. Buy Bonds on Shoestring- All U.S. Treasury securities (i.e., bills, notes, and bonds) have $100 minimum deposits and $100 purchase increments. Specific details can be found on the Treasury Direct Other low-deposit, fixed-income investments include corporate bonds, zero-coupon bonds, and U.S. savings bonds. Series I bonds provide inflation protection, and series EE bonds pay interest based on current market rates.
  4. Buy Mutual Funds on a Shoestring– Initial minimum deposit amounts and minimums for subsequent deposits vary among mutual funds. If a mutual fund requires more than $1,000 to establish an account, it may still have lower minimums for IRAs and other retirement plans, minor’s accounts, and automatic investment plans where investors make regular deposits on a regular schedule (e.g., $100 per month).
  5. Collect Loose Change– Coins saved in some type of container add up over time and can provide “seed money” with which to make investment deposits. Better still, save $1 a day, plus coins (about $50 a month or $600 per year) or $2 a day, plus coins (about $80 a month or almost $1,000 per year). Ideally, use a clear jar or other type of container to see the investing seed money grow. Visibility provides motivation.
  6. Continue “Paying” an Expense- This strategy is powerful because it does not affect peoples’ cash flow or make them feel deprived. Simply continue making monthly “payments” as regular deposits to an investment plan after a loan or household expense ends. In other words, redirect the money from an expense to an investment. Examples include car loan payments, student loan payments, a mortgage, and child care.

For additional information about investing on a shoestring budget, review the archived Military Families Learning Network webinar, Investing with Small Dollar Amounts and its accompanying handouts, including presentation slides, an online resource list, and an investment risk tolerance quiz. Another free resource for beginning investors with small dollar amounts is Unit 8 (Investing Small Dollar Amounts) of the free online Cooperative Extension basic investing course, Investing For Your Future.