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How to Manage Your Money Through Illness

in Family, Oli's Posts

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Note: This is a post from Oli Lewington. Read more about Oli.

Almost two months have passed since my last (and introductory) post on here. The Top 4 Things Everyone Man vs Debt Reader Should Know About Me should really have been five things. Number 5? I’m going to disappear for two months without so much as a whisper.

What actually happened was that a surgery I’d spent almost a year on the waiting-list for finally came around, literally as I joined the Man vs. Debt team. Not great timing.

(Side note: It wasn’t anything major, but since it was on my stomach and involved damage to my stomach muscles and diaphragm, it did mean a long, slow recovery, which has gone well.)

What better way, then, to bring myself back into the fold than by examining how you can go about looking after your financial health while managing your physical health?

Understand what it means

The most important element of any lay-off from work is to know what impact it’s going to have. Often when we undergo some form of scheduled treatment, we plan for things like who will take care of us (will Mum be free when my wife’s at work?) and how our calendars will be impacted (will we still make that wedding, or should we update our RSVP?).

Sometimes we worry about the money side, too, but it’s all too easy to ignore the actual planning in favor of fretting over it instead.

We all know that stress can exacerbate (or even cause) ill-health, so the more we can do to deal with it ahead of time, the more chance we give ourselves of recovering more quickly and getting back to stability faster.

Here, then, are my top tips for making illness (especially extended illness) as easy as possible on your finances, work and relationships:

1. Figure out the potential impact.

I had just under two weeks’ notice that I was going in for my surgery, which gave me enough time to examine what the summer would look like. The doctors told me it would be a 4-6 week recovery, so that meant I’d be out of action from early July until at least the beginning to middle of August.

I work full-time running social media for a major international charity, but I also support us with extra writing and creative work on the side.

I sat down and worked out how many sick days I could take on full-pay from work (more than I thought, which was nice) and then how many I’d get what’s known in the UK as “statutory sick pay” – what amounts to a token payment in the region of minimum wage paid for by the government – and what the shortfall would be between that and our usual monthly income.

Then we had to understand what it meant for my freelance work: I certainly wouldn’t be able to do any filmmaking either in the two weeks prior to the op or in the recovery period, but that was usually bonus income anyway.

My writing work is more regular, but on a paid-by-the-article basis. To deal with that, I tried to get ahead of the game by knocking out a few pieces before I went under – I didn’t manage to get as many written as I’d have liked to, but something is always better than nothing!

2. Work out where economies can be made.

Once I knew the potential financial impact of my time off (always working towards the worst-case scenario of 6-8 weeks off), my wife and I worked out where we could save money.

We knew I wouldn’t be eating much for the first few weeks, since I was heavily restricted in my diet, so that meant our grocery bills would come down, and since my wife only works three days a week we’d save two days’ worth of gas on the commute.

Coupled with that, we could easily trim a few of the little “luxuries” we tend to enjoy a couple of times a month, like trips out to catch a play or film or the occasional bottle of wine.

Altogether we managed to cover almost all of the shortfall in cutbacks to our lifestyle, which eased a lot of the stress.

3. Know how to manage irregular income.

Before I was employed full-time, my income was 100% from freelance work, which meant irregular income was pretty common, especially working on film projects that may take weeks or months to get made with payments in stages over the course of production.

Joan gave some great tips on how to manage irregular income in her post on finding clients when working from home. The biggest thing that helped us was the one-month buffer she mentions: knowing that we have a block of savings that’s not going toward a specific short- or long-term financial goal, but exists solely to provide a cushion against unexpected costs or drops in income.

Despite the fact that our household now enjoys a far more regular income than we have before, we have still stuck to the habit of keeping a cushion on-hand to keep ourselves secure in bad situations.

Things will change

The biggest challenge with any health-related planning is that things change – we are all unique and none of us reacts the same to anything.

I was lucky that my recovery proceeded according to plan and I was, indeed, only away from work for 6 weeks. But even then, as this post attests, I still didn’t have the energy to pick up my writing gigs immediately.

Because I knew that I had taken steps to minimize the financial impact before I underwent the procedure, though, rather than worry about money I only had to worry about letting down my clients – and people like the Man vs. Debt team and community here – when it came to not producing content on time.

Luckily, the vast majority of the people I work with have been brilliant about it. Not all of them, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles and, as they say, you know who your friends are when you’re faced with adversity. So I have to pause to give a huge shout-out to Baker, Courtney and Joan for being so lovely with me over the past two months.

Surprises and unknowns

We aren’t all always afforded the kind of notice of ill-health that I was, and that can be tough. But if you can implement some of these steps ahead of time (building a cushion, planning where you could cut back if you needed to) it might make things a little easier and lighten the stress-load should the unfortunate happen.

I’m going to stay positive, though, and say that we don’t have to worry about these things for a very long time. But like a good Boy Scout, now I’ve been through it I’ll make sure I’ll always be prepared.

So have you dealt with illness – and its financial impacts?

We’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

dojo October 11, 2013 at 9:51 AM

When it comes to health you can never know what will happen. Saving in time and having a good plan will surely help out. Good job with keeping ‘afloat’ during this hard times ;)

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Danny Vah October 16, 2013 at 1:32 AM

Great post, Oli. It really is important to figure out all the ramifications of a medical emergency, and the subsequent recovery period. Good thing you had ample time to realize what your recovery time would be like- financially and otherwise. Glad to hear you’re getting well.

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Andrew Hayes October 16, 2013 at 1:40 AM

save up for a rainy day. Regardless of the amount of money that you can save, the more important thing is that you are actually taking the steps to do so. Emergency funds not only help you if something goes wrong, but they also provide a good backup so that you can break the cycle of credit card debt and feel secure that you will be taken care of in a worst case scenario. And most importantly, get health and disability insurance

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Kostas October 31, 2013 at 3:30 PM

Excellent post, glad you made it through. Andrew I couldn’t agree with you more, building a savings is great for not only medical emergencies but, if possible, doing as you said, getting out from under the stress and strain of credit card debt. Everyone should save something, no matter how small, it does make a difference.

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