In the course of our lives, we're often put in situations where we're required to care for loved ones. And while it's noble to step up and help out in times of need, caregiving can take not just an emotional toll on those who do it, but a financial one, as well.

An estimated 44% of family caregivers spend $5,000 or more per year on expenses associated with providing that care, while 25% spend $10,000 or more, according to a recent Caring.com report. Furthermore, many of those who provide care to others find that their careers suffer as a result. In the aforementioned study, 55% of caregivers say they've had to miss one week or more of work to provide care, while 31% say they often have arrived late to work or left early to tend to their loved ones' needs.

Middle-aged woman helping an older woman out of a vehicle

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

And let's not forget that for some people, being a caregiver practically is a full-time job, albeit an unpaid one. In fact, 38% of caregivers say they spend more than 30 hours per week tending to a loved one in need.

If you've been put in a position of being a caregiver or expect to be in that position at some point in life, it's crucial to take steps to ensure that it doesn't harm you financially or destroy your career in the process. Here's how to begin.

1. Have open discussions with family and set expectations

Maybe you're not currently a caregiver but have aging parents who you feel will rely on you when their health starts to fail. If you have a thriving career with no plans to leave it, that's something you'll need to discuss ahead of time rather than run into a situation where you're either forced to take a leave of absence or your folks are left in the lurch.

Similarly, if you're caring for a loved one at present but it's draining your financial resources, that's something you need to speak up about. You never know to what extent your family might manage to come together as a whole and help share the burden, so it pays to have unfiltered conversations along these lines.

As an example, imagine you're spending $30 in gas and tolls five days a week to travel to your parents' home and provide care. Even if doing so isn't impacting your income (say you're retired yourself or out of work), that amounts to nearly $8,000 over the course of a year. Therefore, if you have three other siblings who can't physically provide that care, they may be willing to, at the very least, share in the cost of your travel, thus knocking your out-of-pocket spending down to $2,000. But if you don't have that conversation, you're less likely to see a dime.

2. Encourage older family members to buy long-term care insurance

It's estimated that 70% of seniors will need long-term care in their lifetime, whether it's for a number of months or a number of years. But because of the costs involved, some people rely on family members to take the place of paid care. At present, 32% of seniors 85 and over receive hands-on support from family for needs such as transportation, meals, and household chores. But what if providing that help puts you in a position where you're not getting your work done at the office, thus compromising your job security?

That's why it's so important to talk to your family members about buying long-term care insurance, which can help defray the often-astronomical cost of care later in life. The younger you are at the time you apply, the more likely you are to snag a long-term, health-based discount on your premiums, so it pays to research options with your older family members sooner rather than later.

It's honorable to want to care for a loved one in his or her time of need -- but that shouldn't upend your finances or cause your career to suffer. Rather than submit to the role of caregiver, talk to your family about what time and money you're willing and able to give, and aim to work out an arrangement where you're getting help and support rather than bearing the entire burden yourself.

At the same time, look into long-term care insurance so that paid care is an option for your loved ones down the line. It's a far better bet than resigning yourself to being a caregiver and resenting it as a result.

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