My True Story as a Caregiver

Sharing Stories

My True Story:

” I am sharing my story and my why with you, hoping that it will have enough of an impact for you to react. The only thing you can ever be certain about is that life doesn’t play fair. Proper planning for the low probability, highly impactful events can alleviate a little uncertainty, provide peace of mind, and at the very least, ease some afflictions.” 
– Ashley Nichols
Self love hug as esteem and confidence for being woman tiny pers

We all have a story that creates our why. Our stories mold us, build our point of views and provide a foundation for us to decide what, in life, is valuable to us. We then create our lives around those values and beliefs. This is what we call being reactive, which isn’t necessarily bad. It allows us to be more creative, react to new ideas, and make decisions based on newly-received information. The problem is, all too often, most of us live with the notion that tragedy or misfortune does not or cannot happen to us. It happens to other people. Until it strikes home and we’re unprepared. I am sharing my story and my why with you, hoping that it will have enough of an impact for you to react. The only thing you can ever be certain about is that life doesn’t play fair. Proper planning for the low probability, highly impactful events can alleviate a little uncertainty, provide peace of mind, and at the very least, ease some afflictions.

I grew up in an average middle-class household in Las Vegas, Nevada. Both of my parents worked full-time. My mother is a realtor, and my father was a Baccarat dealer for the better half of his career and then switched to Blackjack, or as he referred to it, Twenty-One. I grew up in a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house with three sisters, a fish, a lizard, two love birds, a dog, a cat, and the occasional injured pigeon that my younger sister would bring home to nurse. We owned two family cars. By society’s standards of the word “normal,” we were that.

My parents did many things to raise the four of us that I admire; however, if I had to list one thing, it would be that their children never wanted for anything. Sure, there was the occasional bratty melt-down at the grocery store because they said no to buying the candy or ice cream we wanted or the brand-new Nikes that just came out that my mother (dad usually caved) would always say no to because our feet grew way too fast. But what kid doesn’t throw a fit when they don’t get their way!? Nonetheless, we participated in every sport we wanted to be in without question. Every birthday and Christmas list made in that house was, dare I say, happily fulfilled. The kids were happy, at least! I can’t speak to how my parents’ wallets felt afterward. But I can, without a doubt, tell you that they were grateful to have had the opportunity to afford us the kind of childhood that they, themselves, did not experience. We weren’t rich, we were merely comfortable, and my parents worked hard to ensure it stayed that way.

And then, as “normal” families do, my parents divorced when I was seventeen. My father suffered from COPD for a couple of years before the divorce and finally had a double lung transplant shortly after their divorce concluded. It was that pivotal moment in time; for the first time, I was able to see my parents as people. Often, we hold our parents on these pedestals and expect nothing less than perfection from them. They must keep it together at all times because…because we simply can’t see them in any other way. We forget they are also just people navigating life the best they know how. They experience trials and tribulations, sadness and defeat. And with that, I watched my father slip into a deep depression after the divorce and surgery and simultaneously watched my mother become a single parent. Because mentally, my father couldn’t be there consistently.

The crash of 2008 was soon upon us, and my mother’s career came to a sudden halt. This year had a significant impact on real estate agents, but real estate brokerages also suffered. The brokerage where my mother held her license decided to make a “cost” cut. That “cost” was my mother. The verbiage in her contract read that should she leave or be asked to leave the firm, the properties that she managed, even the ones she had procured on her own, were to stay with the firm. She was now a single mother left to build her business back from nothing in the middle of one of the largest economic downturns since the Great Depression. What did she have to fall back on? A small amount of savings kept in a regular savings account and credit cards. That was the extent of her financial planning.

…where my mother held her license decided to make a “cost” cut.

That “cost” was my mother.

On the other hand, my father was fortunate enough to keep his job and continue work. However, he dissolved his entire 401k in fear of the market crash. The one major rule that we instruct our clients to NEVER do is to pull out of the market when it’s down! Ergo, my father violated the number one rule of investing. Soon after, due to my father’s depression, health issues, and what we now know was the early onset of dementia, most likely not fully cognizant of what was happening at the time, the bank foreclosed on his property. By the time he told me what was happening, he had one week to move out. I frantically drove my dad around town, trying to find him an apartment to rent. Because of his now less than acceptable credit, I also had to co-sign for him on a new place. I then had 48 hours to rent a U-Haul, grab one of my sisters, and move as much of my father’s belongings as possible before his home was sold at auction. Needless to say, we didn’t get everything.

A few years passed that were seemingly ok. He still suffered from depression but was managing, or so I thought. One night, I received a call that would drastically change our lives. The hospital called to inform me that my dad had been in an accident. I rushed down to the hospital and was told that he was experiencing acute hyponatremia. Basically, his sodium levels were critically low, and it had most likely caused a seizure while he was driving. He had not been taking care of himself, had not been taking his anti-rejection medication required from his lung transplant, and drinking heavily. I also found out that his place of work had terminated him earlier that day for “strange behavior.” For those as unfamiliar as I was, he described it as a “fishbowl” like perception where nothing really makes sense. He simply couldn’t understand what was
happening because of his health.

The hospital discharged my dad, and at that point. He had no job to return to, and his dementia was progressing, forcing him to retire. He was 63. So here we were. After growing up in a household where money wasn’t an issue, it now seemed to be an issue. And how quickly and drastically things changed after that. I was now my father’s caretaker. At twenty-four, I sat at his dining room table, trying to navigate the dreaded Social Security/Medicare System. After waiting on hold for what felt like an eternity, I finally reached someone on the other line. Half listening to the customer service employee, I was finally able to ask the most crucial question, “How much will he be making?” My jaw near touched the floor when she responded, “Ralph will be making $1800 a month.” Suddenly the little light I thought I would be seeing at the end of this long dark tunnel disappeared. My father’s rent alone ate up half of his monthly benefit. That left $900 for groceries, medications (anti-rejection medication is not cheap), his car payment, car insurance, cell phone, utilities…I could go on, but I think you understand that it wasn’t nearly enough.

Anything he couldn’t afford, I made up for it. It was not easy, but he was my dad, and I would make sure that he was ok.

I remember sitting at that table feeling overwhelmed and helpless. It didn’t matter that my dad had consistently brought in $6000 a month or more while he was working. He would not be making that now, nor did he have an option of going back to work. He had no retirement, no savings; there was no coffee can hidden in a cupboard with a rainy day fund. Remember that 401k I told you about? Yea, that had been gone since 2008. Oh, and by the way, social security decided to stop paying him for six months at one point to add to everything else. I, still to this day, could not give you a comprehensible explanation for why the payments stopped, and neither could the social security department. What was even more incomprehensible to me was realizing that if my father didn’t have a family that he could lean on, he would have been homeless for at least six months. 

The question presented itself, how many other seniors have found themselves in my dad’s situation? By the grace of God, I was in a position where I was making enough money that I could help him. Anything he couldn’t afford, I made up for it. It was not easy, but he was my dad, and I would make sure that he was ok. I was pretty much my father’s supplemental income from there on out. As he aged and his health deteriorated more, I moved him into a senior 55 and older apartment complex. He was pushing 70 at this time. He was so mad at me for making him “live with “old” people”! My dad was funny and the comedic moments made things a little lighter, but as he aged, things got harder.

I got into law school and had to move away. I now would not work for one year. However, I still had to be my father’s supplemental income and caretaker. I would drive back and forth from San Diego to Las Vegas to take him to his doctor’s appointments; I had to find creative ways to remind him to take his medication, coordinate when groceries would be delivered to him, etc. I cannot tell you how we managed that, but again, we did it by the grace of God.

A few more years passed, and I continued to care for him. Then in November of 2019, a week before Thanksgiving, he suffered a stroke. His health never recouped after that, and I was forced to put him in a nursing home where he could be adequately cared for. He hated every minute of it, and so did I. The last thing you want for your parents is to take away their independence. His dementia worsened, his health diminished, and my father died after being taken to the hospital on June 23, 2020. He did not have life insurance. His funeral was the last thing I paid for.

My dad was my best friend. I don’t tell this story to make you feel sad or pity me. I love my parents dearly, and if I had to do it all over again, I would. I know they would have done the same for any of their children. The lack of financial planning doesn’t only create a problem for the individual; it also has a substantial impact on your loved ones. What if things were different? What if there was a savings plan, life insurance, disability insurance, and a financial strategy? What if my parents came across an article like the one you are reading now, and it created the awareness needed for them to react and realize that life, in fact, does not play fair? There are a lot of “what ifs,” and it’s my job to eliminate those what-ifs for my clients.

So, how do we make a plan? Everyone’s financial picture and overall goals are going to look different. However, where we start is pretty standard.


Get very clear about your balance sheet. Figure out what you own and what you owe. The number one answer I get as to why some don’t do this is, “I don’t make enough” or ” I don’t have enough.” You do not have to be raking it in to identify these two things. It is essential to know what you have. Once you have a clear picture of this, you can decide what you want your future balance sheet to look like. Then, identify short, mid, and long-term goals. It is critical to be very clear about how you want our money to work for you.


Identify what forms of asset protection you have in place and what you think you need. Think of asset protection as the roof over your balance sheet protecting what you are building. You wouldn’t have a house without a roof, so why should your balance sheet be any less protected? Umbrella insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, and overall estate planning are some of the things you want to look for. Once you identify what you have, you can locate the holes you may have in your roof.


You want to identify what your cash flow looks like. How much are you bringing in for the year before taxes? Ideally, the goal is to save twenty percent of your gross income. Don’t worry if that number seems too large at first. Twenty percent is what we are working towards; it is not where we have to start. It is also not a hard cap. If you feel like you can and want to save more, that is a personal preference.


Create a budget sheet to know your fixed and variable costs each month. It is advantageous to see what you have left after your expenses. You can now identify where you might be overspending and what you might be able to cut back on.

These four steps may sound obvious and trivial, but they are crucial to creating an efficient financial plan. I have found disorganization to be the biggest proponent of stress and confusion, which leads to a paralysis of financial decision-making. A clear-cut picture of your net worth, protection, and cash flow can indicate where to pivot next.

We share our stories in hopes that they will impact others. I hope this article encourages you to act.



 Ashley Nichols J.D.

Ashley Nichols J.D.

Financial Planner

 In analyzing where my strengths lay and where I thought my time would be of most value, I realized that most are in need of financial planning and guidance. That is when I decided to pursue finance and is where my passion thrives. My responsibility as a financial representative is to ensure that my clients have an understanding of where they are today financially and to assist them in creating a roadmap of where they want to be, whether it be in the near future or long term. 

We will provide you useful and timely information you can use to be #financiallyfearless

Do Stay-at-home Moms Really Need Life Insurance?

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Blog Series

Do Stay-at-home Moms Really Need Life Insurance?

He scoffed at me and said, ‘No, she doesn’t earn any money!’ I was really surprised by this, given how busy she was and how many responsibilities fell to her.

Years ago I got into an argument with a friend. He was a high-income lawyer whose wife had taken a break in her career to take care of their four kids. I asked if they had life insurance on her. He scoffed at me and said, “No, she doesn’t earn any money!” I was really surprised by this, given how busy she was and how many responsibilities fell to her.

After 23 years as a financial advisor and licensed insurance agent, I’m no longer surprised. I know how common his opinion is. Unfortunately, I was unable to convince him that buying life insurance on his wife was worth it. Today I hope I can convince you.

Too many people believe life insurance is only needed on breadwinners.

Why does anyone need life insurance?

I always say as soon as another person is dependent on you, you should think about getting some insurance. Most calculators designed to help you decide how much you need start with the question, how much do you make?

The idea is that if the breadwinner, let’s call him dad, were to die and thus his income stopped, the death benefit would provide money the family could use to pay their bills.

I totally agree the breadwinner needs to have life insurance – probably much more than they do right now. But even if dad has millions of dollars of coverage, that still leaves a big hole in the family risk management. Tying life insurance need to income perpetuates the myth that women’s unpaid work has no value. The perspective of the insurance needs calculators is not really surprising when you think about it. Raising children and caregiving in general is vital work to our society. And yet, although our culture claims to value family, such work is consistently undervalued. It is evident in the low wages of teachers, childcare workers and healthcare aides.

Money is an interesting thing. It is important to survival because it’s how we get the things we need – both our most basic needs and the things that make life more enjoyable – often we get the priorities flipped. We tend to value things based on their price tag. It’s a type of mental short cut we use, sometimes without realizing it. A $70 bottle of wine must be much better than a $17 bottle, right?

So, if a mother’s work in the home is unpaid, does it really have any value? Of course it does, it’s just a bit invisible. A study by valued stay-at-home-moms’ work at a median salary of $178,000 per year!

An analysis from Oxfam in 2020 reported that unpaid work by women in the U.S. would be worth $1.5 trillion in 2019, using minimum wage per hour for its calculations. And I would argue that moms should make much more than minimum wage!
And yet there’s no paycheck, no dollars coming into the bank account for all the hours we moms work. No visual or tangible representation of the crucial value of what we do, which makes it easy to overlook in the broader financial plan for the family.

What would it cost to replace all the work done by a mom who dies prematurely?

Now let’s imagine the non-working spouse, let’s call her mom, is tragically out of the picture. Obviously, the family will be devastated – the emotional cost of losing a parent is real and lasting. But let’s look at the practical day-to-day impacts. Who will step up to do all the jobs a mom fills in a day, a month, a year? It’s a big list, as we know.

  • Childcare worker
  • Cook
  • Housekeeper
  • Laundress
  • Driver
  • Shopper for food, clothing, and everything else
  • Coordinator of kid schedules and activities
  • Supervisor of school expectations and homework
  • Healthcare manager, scheduling and driving to doctor, dentist and wellness appointments
  • Bookkeeper and bill payor
  • Travel and event planner
  • Communications specialist
  • And probably 12-25 others I’ve forgotten!

One person had been doing all this. And now she’s gone. Is it realistic to think that the remaining members of the family can or will step up to do all of the jobs? That would be tough, especially if the kids are young. Dad may be working long hours to keep up his income.

Unless extended family steps in, most likely they’re not going to find someone to do it all for free. So, they’ll need to pay – probably more than one person. This of course increases the expenses of the household, with same income. And let’s face it, most American families don’t have much wiggle room in their cash flow already. 

What would life insurance enable?

Let’s imagine again that mom is suddenly gone. But this time a large check arrives in the mail a few weeks later. Everyone is devastated. Life will never be the same. And, there’s a pot of money available to help with the logistical issues.
Now it wouldn’t be such a stretch to pay someone to do some or all of mom’s jobs.
If dad wanted to cut back on work in order to do some of the home tasks himself, there would be money to replace his reduction of income. Or the insurance check could be used to pay off the mortgage and fund college savings accounts, which in turn allows dad to work less.

It’s possible that the stress on family members will increase costs for mental health and/or wellness services. Money in the bank means they wouldn’t have to deny themselves care.

One friend of mine took his kids out of school on a giant trip, and even hired a tutor to go with them so the boys could keep up with school, after the tragic death of his wife. After witnessing and caring for her long and painful illness, he decided this would be a balm and a bonding experience for them.

God forbid both parents die, having insurance on mom as well as dad means more assets to whoever steps into the custodian/caregiver role for the children. That is a huge obligation for someone to take on, and of course, you’ll want to ease the financial burden on whomever is looking after your precious babies.

As always, money allows choices, options, and flexibility. Money is NOT a cure-all for the situation. It never is. But having life insurance on mom can avoid piling a financial disaster on top of the emotional one.

How much insurance do you need?

How much insurance should you have? Probably a number that sounds really big. The answer, as with so many things around money, is “it depends.” What do you want the money to enable if, God forbid, you were gone? Here are some ideas on how to answer the question:

Goal 1

Provide funds to pay for one or more service providers.

Do some research on what services cost in your area. Don’t assume family will do everything. Bad things can happen to them as well – illness, disability, moving for work, passing away. Maybe your calculation looks something like this:

  • House cleaning once a week +
  • Driving 1 hour per weekday +
  • Tutoring 3 hours a week +
  • Food delivery 3 nights a week =  $XX/month

Let’s say that totals up to $2,400/month x 12 months per year = $28,800 per year.

For how many years would you need these services?

Goal 2

Pay off the mortgage to relieve that monthly expense.

How much do you owe on the house? What is the annual bill for taxes, insurance and maintenance?

Goal 3

Fund the college savings accounts

What type of school would you like your kids to attend, and how much of the bill do you want to cover? Then you can use a calculator like this one to come up with a number.

You can see how the numbers add up quickly. The really short answer is, it’s hard to have too much. Most people have too little. (By the way, while you’re doing this exercise, make sure to look at how much you have on your breadwinner spouse as well! It may be time for a top-up.)

Possible Hurdles:

Isn’t insurance expensive?

Actually, no. Here’s how to think about it. The purpose of insurance is risk management. It should address a possible event that may be unlikely but would be financially devastating.

We have homeowner’s insurance in case of a house fire or a tree falling through the roof. Because it would be really expensive to repair or replace our house, we pay a more modest annual cost so the insurance company would help us pay for those needs, should they arise.

The idea is, for a small known cost today, you avoid an enormous possible cost in the future. Life insurance fills a similar role. As with all insurance, of course, we hope you never have to use it. But having it in place is the responsible thing to do – like having seatbelts and airbags, or childproofing your home.

My spouse and I don’t like to talk about this stuff!

Money is a common cause of stress and friction in marriages. Know that it’s normal! And you want to find a way to talk about it anyway.
On top of that, we humans don’t like thinking about our own mortality or possible disaster scenarios. Many of us end up avoiding actions like getting our will written and buying life insurance. (Go get your will done if you haven’t!!)

Try to take emotion out of it by focusing on the numbers and the financial risk. Hopefully, this article can help.





Think through what it would take to replace all the unpaid work you do for your family.

Be sure you’re talking regularly with your spouse about money and finances. One piece of that conversation should be disaster preparedness. Just like you stock up on food and supplies before a storm, know what you have in place in case disaster should strike. As you talk about the potential bad scenarios, include “what if one of us passes away?”

Money is not an end in itself. It is a tool that enables us to meet our needs and build the lives we want to live for ourselves and our families. If suddenly you were no longer here, wouldn’t you want choices, options, and flexibility for your family? 

Stephanie McCullough

Stephanie McCullough

Founder & Financial Planner

Our focus is working with women 45+ who are facing a financial future on their own and are looking for a true partner in money decision-making. I help professional women reduce financial stress by aligning their money story with their deepest-held values. I am a non-judgmental financial advisor. My team and I work hard to create a safe space to have the intimate conversations necessary. Since money touches all the most important parts of our lives, we have to talk about it all before we can decide what you should do with your dollars.

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