I am a firm believer that wealth doesn’t automatically equal happiness. Some of the happiest people that I know will openly share that they have very little in the form of material assets. The saying that “you can’t pay someone to lay in your sickbed”, is a beautiful reminder that a hefty bank balance does not solve all of one’s problems. However (and this is a BIG however), financial strain combined with illness is hugely stressful and can be all-consuming, running down your already drained emotional battery. The great news is that there is advice and support services available to cancer patients to help make their journey a little easier.
In part 1 of my 2-part series on Finance and Cancer, I shared my personal experience of financial strain during my cancer recovery and some wonderful insights from a number of women from my cancer communities. In part 2, I have invited Rachel Rademaker from The Wealth Hive to provide some expert guidance on how cancer patients can reduce their financial burden during their treatment, recovery and beyond.
Getting on top of your finances during cancer
Guest Blog post by Rachel Rademaker, Financial Coach
There are 4 types of wealth
- Financial Wealth
- Social Wealth
- Time Wealth
- Physical Wealth
Be wary of jobs that lure you into (1) and (2) but rob you of (3) and (4)
– James Clear
(I include Spiritual Wealth under #3)
A recent study by Your Financial Wellness involving more than 3000 respondents found that:
- 46% of respondents experience some form of financial stress
- Over half sometimes worry about meeting normal monthly expenses
- One in five cannot often afford to eat out or go to the movies, and
- 27% reported high or overwhelming financial stress.
These stats can appear overwhelming on their own, but when you look at the financial wellness index by gender, women were further impacted with reports of lower financial wellness results compared to men.
Finances and your wellbeing
The feeling of losing control and trust in one’s body, loss of income and ability to fulfil your normal responsibilities can be devastating. However, like the team of doctors and therapists supporting your cancer treatment journey, there is also a raft of financial strategies and services available to help you financially thrive throughout your cancer journey.
While each state of Australia has differing support networks, there are financial strategies that can be implemented that may assist with taking back some control of your daily life, and provide comfort and security during this vulnerable period.
Your financial wellbeing permeates throughout your life and includes both monetary and non-monetary stresses. For instance, having someone cook and clean so you and the family can concentrate on treatments and time together is invaluable, however, it may come at a monetary cost.
If those costs are out of reach, the chances of being side-tracked by the monetary aspects while attempting to keep up with the usual daily grind may add unnecessary stresses to your relationships and mental health.
Below are some strategies to utilise to enhance financial wellbeing, eliminate some of the monetary costs while adding valuable support to your journey.
Like a business does an annual ‘stock take’ to see what products they have on the shelf as compared to what’s in the accounts, one action you can take is to ‘take stock’ of your own current financial position.
By taking stock ‘now’, you can visualise your current cash flows which can then be used as a schedule to access support, discounts or respite. This process can also help identify if you are eligible for hardship payments, early release of super or access to certain insurances to cover lost income in the short term, and permanent disability insurance in the long term should you not be able to return to work.
No one really knows how they will respond to treatments, or for how long you may be impacted, so this first step provides a baseline for you and your family to make informed financial decisions.
Good Housekeeping – for Everyone
Taking stock of your insurance is good life housekeeping – it’s not just for those who are unwell. This process will make sure that you have the cover that you need, BEFORE you need it. There is nothing worse than the “I should have’s”, “If I only…”. Best case scenario is that you never need to lodge that application.
So how do you ‘take stock’?
- Contact your superannuation fund to understand whether you can access your superannuation early due to hardship or a critical medical diagnosis. Ask your super fund or financial advisor what insurances you have in place, what does it cover and more importantly, when does it kick in? Ensure that your partner checks their plan for any ‘family’ or ‘spouse’ coverage.
Some of the types of insurance available are;
Income Protection Insurance
Generally covers 75-80% of your income for 12 months but may not kick in for 30-90 days.
Lump-sum payment to cover medical or related costs due to a major injury or illness like cancer
Total & Permanent Disability insurance
Lump-sum payment to assist with ongoing care, treatment, housing modifications or discharging of debts should a person not be able to return to work.
If you’re self-employed you’re unlikely to have paid leave available but depending on the size of your business, you may have Business Continuity insurances or key person insurance in place to cover the cost of engaging someone to fulfil your role.
2. If you’re employed, contact your employer, and find out what policies they have in place for supporting employees with a cancer diagnosis. Ask for a confirmation of any personal leave, annual leave or long service leave that you may have available. Discuss the options in relation to part-time work, medical leave, and unpaid leave.
3. Jump over to the Australian Governments Money Smart Website and complete the budget planner. Don’t be put off by the word budget – this is just a tool to help you quickly and easily ‘take stock’ of your current financial cash flows. You can also just use a notebook and calculator – whatever works for you.
4. Use the Money Smart budget as a schedule to contact the service providers to access discounts, payment plans or freeze instalments. If debt providers won’t stop repayments, ask whether the interest rates can be put on hold, or at the minimum reduced. Most banks have a financial hardship line that will assist you based on your circumstances. Some utility providers even offer discounts. Please don’t let your pride, work ethic, resilient, strong character get in the way of asking for help……you deserve every little bit of help you can get!
5. Medical costs, in-home care, childcare benefits, travel costs can all add up during treatment. The Breast Cancer Network Australia has compiled a detailed fact sheet from navigating your medical options and Centrelink support to accessing travel and legal assistance in addition to the Additional Child Care Subsidy. The Australian Government In Home Care Child Care Package is also worth exploring.
6. ‘Discretionary’ spending (needs vs wants) such as cleaning, purchased meals, exercise classes, mental health assistance (for patients and families) may be out of some people’s budgets, however, they shouldn’t be out of reach altogether, as there are providers that can offer their services for FREE. Many of these services are local to your community, so ask around, connect with other cancer patients/network and refer to the Breast Cancer Network Australia Fact Sheet for potential contacts and referrals
7. Now that you have identified all the opportunities to support you financially on your journey, update your budget.
You can download the Smart Money budget or save the document to use and review. Keep it handy and review it as you become more aware of medical costs and the longevity of your treatment.
Questions to consider:
- What story are the numbers telling you?
- How long does it look like you will have sufficient funds to support your current situation?
- What is the monthly outflow and do you have enough income to cover it?
If not, can you:
- access any emergency funds or savings?
- redraw on your mortgage?
- reduce any discretionary spending?
- change to minimum repayments on low interest credit cards?
Be wary during this period of signing up for short term debt products with high interest rates and easy sign-up procedures. These are likely to hang around long into your journey.
8. Taking all the above into account, this now provides you with some boundaries to make informed decisions about your finances and choices regarding working arrangements
9. Remember, a budget is a live document – it is NOT fixed and can be adapted as your situation changes. Please be kind to yourself and reach out to all the support networks available as they understand and will compassionately assist you and your family in any way they can
10. Lastly, do you (and your partner) have a valid Will? Currently, around 45% of Australians do not have a Will! While this can be a taboo subject at the best of times, it is even more important to have on the priority list. So, while the expectation is for a positive outcome to your cancer journey, getting your affairs in order is a pragmatic approach regardless of your current health situation.
Severe Financial Hardship
If you are in severe financial hardship, please don’t suffer in silence, the MoneySmart website has links to Financial Counsellors (https://moneysmart.gov.au/managing-debt/financial-counselling) to assist anyone struggling to meet their financial obligations or just to put food on the table and a roof over their head.
TIP: Financial Counselling is FREE, so you should never pay for this service
About Rachel Rademaker
Rachel Rademaker is a Financial Coach at The Wealth Hive, Chartered Accountant and mum of 2 highly energetic boys. She specialises in empowering women to take control of their finances so they have security in knowing they will have money to pay for essentials and have ‘options’ to ‘choose’ where, what and how they live their lives! Rachel also coaches small business owners to organise their personal and business lives so they treat money as a tool and know what their money is doing, where it is going, and why and what they spend their money on.
“Being rich is having money;
Being wealthy is having time” – Margaret Bonnano