If you ask the average person about things that come to mind when they think of mental illness, finances is probably not something they’re going to come up with. But for those of us living with mental illness, it’s something we all too often don’t have the option of ignoring.
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. I picked up a lot of my parents’ financial approach by osmosis, and I feel very lucky that I did. 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 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, and 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 my mortgage hadn’t been paid off 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.
Now I work 2 casual jobs. I make a good hourly wage, but sometimes I don’t get offered a lot of hours and other times I’m just not feeling well enough to take on much work. I have savings in the bank, but I try to live as cheaply as I can and use a variety of strategies for penny-pinching.
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 Starbucks gift cards. Sites like Ebates 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.
Other ways to save
There are a number of different internet survey sites that give you rewards for doing surveys. Although the rewards per survey aren’t necessarily that large, 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 seldom watch cable tv, so I switched to the cheapest package that was offered. I realized that I didn’t actually 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 and medical expenses are reasonable, but at the same time, the costs aren’t negligible. When I had a regular nursing job I got benefits including extended health insurance paid by my employer, but now that I work casual 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.
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 set out our financial sandbags when we can, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll be enough to keep us afloat when our illness throws the next “bomb cyclone” at us.
Visit the Mental Health @ Home Store to find my books Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis and Psych Meds Made Simple, a mini-ebook collection focused on therapy, and plenty of free downloadable resources.