If you ask the average person about things that come to mind when they think of mental illness, they probably won’t think of finances. But mental illness, and especially the disability that may result, can be expansive, and financial preparation can make it a little easier if a mental illness storm does roll in,
I grew up in a very financially responsible household. Debt was something to be avoided like the plague, and saving was seen as a must, not an option. Consumer culture was not a way of life to be embraced; personal responsibility and accountability for financial choices was key. I picked up a lot of my parents’ financial approach by osmosis, and I feel very lucky that I had such strong financial preparation. When I first got sick 11 years ago, I was off work for close to a year. There was a 6-month wait period to qualify for long-term disability insurance. I had enough sick time banked for around 2 months, and then I had to rely on federal Employment Insurance sickness benefits for the next 4 months. It was nice to get, but it was nowhere near enough money to be able to pay my mortgage and bills and still be able to eat, so I was very grateful I had savings.
Managing with illness
Ever since that time, my illness has stayed pretty front of mind when it comes to all things financial. It’s essential to me to have easily accessible savings, and I add to that rainy (aka depressed) day fund whenever I have the chance. I don’t want to be barely functional in terms of my mental health and have a lack of financial preparation mean I have to waste time and thought pulling my money out of investments, so I make sure there’s always money sitting in a savings account, there for me whenever I might need it.
After I bought my condo, I threw extra payments at the mortgage whenever I possibly could. With some help from my family, I was able to pay off the mortgage in full almost 3 years ago. That turned out to be the smartest move I ever made. In 2016, I quit my job because of bullying, but the bully-in-chief decided to make sure I would have a very hard time finding work again, and I ended up unemployed for 8 months. I was severely depressed, I had no income, and if it hasn’t been for having my mortgage paid off and all the other financial preparation I’d done, I probably would have had to sell my condo and move, which would likely have pushed me over the edge that I was teetering on. Universal basic income would definitely have been helpful in that situation.
Now I work 2 casual jobs. I make a good hourly wage, but I don’t always get (or feel well enough to accept) many shifts. While I have savings in the bank, I try to live as cheaply as possible and use a variety of penny-pinching strategies. I know that at some point, I’ll probably have to go on disability benefits for the long-term.
Coupons & other ways to save
Coupons are great. I also check store flyers and take advantage of rewards programs, especially those that offer gift cards as reward options. My local grocery store has a great rewards program, and I regularly redeem my points for gift cards for places I might not otherwise spend my money. Sites like Rakuten give you a percentage cashback for doing your online shopping via their links, and they sometimes have promos that offer a higher percentage back. None of this stuff is big bucks, but it’s essentially free money.
There are a number of different internet survey sites that give you rewards for doing surveys. Although the rewards per survey are small, if you’ve got time on your hands it’s pretty easy to accumulate rewards. I’ve collected several hundred dollars in rewards in the form of Paypal, iTunes, and Amazon credits.
I’ve pared back any services that I was paying for but really not using. I wasn’t really watching cable tv, so I ditched that. I realized that I didn’t need the internet speed I was paying for, so I cut back on that, too.
Managing medical expenses
I’m lucky that I live in Canada where there’s a public health care system and medical expenses are reasonable, but still, the costs aren’t negligible. When I had a regular nursing job, I had benefits, including extended health insurance, paid by my employer. Now that I work casual, though, I have to pay for this myself. It’s $200, but still saves me money compared to no insurance. When I was unemployed in 2016, I had to pay out of pocket for all of my drugs. I wish the government would realize that it’s cheaper to provide drug coverage than to pay for the costs down the road of people stopping meds because they can’t afford them.
Worry about the future
For the last couple of years, I’ve gotten gotten hit with a rush of worry about the future most nights, just before bedtime. How will I take care of myself? How will I support myself financially? What if I can never resurrect the tatters of my career? Then I climb into bed, the meds take over, and off to sleep I go.
II’ve gotten used to it sufficiently that I can shift my mind back away and not give it too much pre-bed airtime. It would be nice if it would stop, but I don’t think it will. I have no certainty, and there’s no safety net, other than the financial cushion that I’ve built for myself. I have no resilience to handle setbacks. All I can do is just exist each day. Perhaps that would be a good thing if it was about mindfulness and that kind of thing, and maybe there is an element of that, but when it comes down to it, it’s really just one more form of avoidance.
A few years ago I never would’ve imagined that I’d be having this kind of fear stop by to pay me a visit each night. I felt stable and certain looking towards the future, and being able to take care of myself at a very basic level really wasn’t a prospect for my future that seemed like it could be real. I didn’t consider that my illness might shift from episodic to constant. So many things I could never have guessed.
Having a mental illness can be expensive. And that’s before even thinking about the manic spending sprees that people with bipolar disorder may go through. If we do as much financial preparation as we can, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll be enough to keep us afloat when our illness throws the next “bomb cyclone” at us, and maybe it can help tone down at least some of those bedtime visits from the big bad wolf.