Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Living with a chronic condition has a direct impact on your budget. Anybody reading this who has a chronic condition is aware of that, for sure. So, at the risk of preaching to the choir, I am hoping to give you some ideas, based on my experiences with my clients, you might find helpful.
Here are a couple of examples of situations my clients have talked to me about:
A client whose husband has a debilitating illness talked to me about the pressure to take her husband and children to a fancy restaurant after her son completed a sports championship. She told me about how uncomfortable she and her husband felt, how she couldn’t afford most of the items on the menu and wasn’t able to enjoy the meal. They went because the other kids’ families were going.
Another client is having great difficulty handling the many copayments he is having to pay, for appointments, medications, tests. Sometimes multiple copays during a single week. He has started putting them on a credit card, but is worried about making the payments. He doesn’t want his friends and family to know he’s having trouble making ends meet.
Keeping up can bring you down
Nobody likes to have financial challenges. It’s not an easy way to live. And it’s an even greater burden when you are also living with a chronic condition. It’s also hard to be viewed by other people as having trouble paying the bills. And that’s what can get us into trouble.
My clients often talk to me about how they want to appear like they are doing just fine financially. As a result, they may spend at the same level as they did before they had more medical expenses. Parents may keep financial difficulties from their children, as my client who took her family to an expensive restaurant was trying to do.
We all want to feel like we are in control of our lives, and to appear that way to others. Being financially solvent is certainly an important part of feeling in control.
But the problem with maintaining that image is that we can push ourselves to make decisions that are less than wise. And to deny that we have to make adjustments because we don’t want to deny ourselves the indulgences we enjoy.
Financial pressure can take a toll on us in more ways than one. There is the obvious—it places the security of our family and home at risk. It also takes an emotional toll: anxious feelings and fear of the future, among others. And this can lead to stress which, in turn, can have a negative impact on both your physical and emotional health and your relationships. Few things in life are more stressful than “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” as my mom used to say.
Got some financial pressures of your own? Here are some ideas to consider:
Low overhead is a key to happiness. Sure, you may not have everything you want. You may be coming up short compared to your relatives or neighbors. But, on the other hand, you’ll be avoiding a whole lot of stress by working toward maintaining expenses that are reasonable in relation to your income.
Give up the shame. My clients often tell me how ashamed they feel, including in front of their own children, when they can’t afford to purchase or participate at the level they would like to, or used to in the past. I tell them that there is no shame in doing the best you can under difficult circumstances, and in spending what you can spend. There is honor in staying in your budget and not giving in to pressure to overspend. Also, don’t be ashamed to look into ways to cut the costs of your healthcare, including patient assistance programs for your medications.
Kids know when things are tight. Parents often talk about how they are attempting to hide their money concerns from their children. I tell them that kids see and hear a lot more than we think they do, and they are most likely well aware that their parents are under financial pressure. Be transparent, based on your children’s ages and what you think they can understand. Explain what it costs for you to stay healthy, and what that means for your family budget. As I said, they are already aware of this, but hearing it from you can help to lower their own stress.
Kids can learn from parents who budget. Knowing how to stay within your budget is a valuable lesson for children. Certainly this is a skill that can only benefit your children as they move forward in life with a greater sense of financial responsibility. Let your kids feel like their input is valuable by bringing them into the conversation.
Make it fun. You can turn cost-cutting into a game, for yourself, your partner, and your children. Look for where you can get more for less, including coupons and sales. Get creative about enjoying the best you can get for your dollar, starting with when you plan your next vacation, or staycation.
Remember: Happiness is not all about what you buy. In fact, it has nothing to do with what you buy. How about this: you can choose to view the challenges of living with a chronic condition as an opportunity to commit to what’s really important in life!
What has helped you face money challenges? Share a tip or personal experience by commenting below.