We recently sat down with Carla Youngblood for a Coffee Conversation on Financial Health and breast cancer. We’ve recapped the highlights below, but if you have a few minutes be sure to check out her full interview here: https://youtu.be/dWJzxYdcoPU.
What are some tips or advice for someone who might be nervous talking about finances?
We have to start getting more comfortable “being real” with our friends. When I grew up, we were taught not to talk about money. In my opinion, if you have conversations about money, then you can learn things from your friends and you can help one another. We need to be more vulnerable.
For unexpected life events, like breast cancer, people don’t realize how expensive a diagnosis can be. What are ways that someone can adjust financially?
Unfortunately, when you are diagnosed, you will and should think about your health first. But while you are working out your treatment plan with your doctor, ask about the cost of those things too. Call your insurance to talk about what the co-pays and deductions are. You are the best one who knows about your health and about your dollars.
Once you have this information, then you will know where you stand so you can find resources and assistance out there. It is always good when you can say something specific so someone knows how to direct you to the most helpful resources. Don’t just say “I need help.” Instead, say “I need help paying for gas to get to my appointments” or “I need help with my rent.” Always assess your situation and know your numbers instead of just making a broad and vague ask.
Most hospitals have a patient care advocate who will be your first direct contact to resources. Maybe they can’t pay your co-pay, but they can pay your light bill so never be afraid or nervous to ask.
Once you were in treatment or after treatment, did you experience fears related to finances?
During her treatment, Carla knew that she would have a $35 co-pay at every visit. Knowing she had those coming, Carla adjusted her personal budget. She recommends knowing what money you have coming in and what money you have going out and making adjustments to your budget from there. The costs add up if you aren’t keeping up with it.
Talk to your doctor about the complete cost of care so you can make arrangements. If your medical team selects a medication that will be expensive for you, ask if there is another brand that they can recommend that might do the same thing but cost less. There may be an opportunity to make a change. Ask “Is there an alternative that may be more affordable for me and my situation?” Talk to people because they are willing to work with you and willing to help. If they can’t do anything, then they can direct you to other resources.
It may be helpful to have a close family member or friend help you keep track of the financial side of cancer care. You will be focused on healing your body, but if you are also worried about the dollars, then that adds to the stress of your healing. We have to be honest and share with others. You may feel alone, but if you put it out there, you may be surprised how people can step up to help you. You may be amazed by what people may do for you if you just speak up / ask. These are healthy conversations to have and will be beneficial to your finances and your stress levels.
What are some things that you work on in financial counseling?
The first thing, you need to have some open and honest conversations with your financial advisor. Many people know how much they make, but they don’t know what their monthly expenses are. But we need to know our numbers. You need to identify what is coming in and what is going out.
Then we would track your spending to see what you are doing so you can create a budget. Creating a budget is important because 1) It puts you in control of your dollars, and 2). Once you take control, then you can set goals. If you are going to set a financial goal, you need to know where you are starting so you know how to get to where you want to go.
Then we would discuss creative tips on the things we could do to save some money. For example, we all have shoes that haven’t touched the ground. We have lots of things around the house that we don’t need or use. I haven’t been anywhere for 2 years because of COVID so everything in my closet is brand new! If you are in a crisis, there are many places where you can sell online so you don’t even have to leave your house. We all have these hidden talents, like cooking or painting, and you will be amazed to see how they can help you subsidize your budget when push comes to shove. If you don’t have enough coming in based on what is going out, what can we do to cut expenses or generate more dollars to help cover expenses?
Lastly, if you are married or live with someone, you should automatically have an accountability partner. Even if your partner pays all the bills, you should be looking at the statement. We have seen too many movies where one partner dies and the other partner is left not knowing how things are done or where the accounts are. And if you are single, ask a girlfriend or family member to be your accountability partner. No matter how small or how big, they can help you stick with your goals.
What about filing for bankruptcy?
Sometimes we are in a financial crisis, it is okay to file for bankruptcy. No one asks for cancer or for all this debt. Bankruptcy is a reset. You can file it and keep your home. That is what bankruptcy is there for. When you are in a crisis, consider it. It is okay to reset. Once you are done with cancer, you have to reset your life anyway. Why not get a fresh start? It is always the last resort, but it is always an option.
Less than 76% of Americans have $500 in emergency savings if something were to happen. Most people can’t afford $500 in an emergency. Be honest about what you have. Let’s get out of debt. Let’s get rid of things we don’t need. Let’s look closely at our bank statements. Pay attention to your finances like they pay attention to other things in your life. How many free trials do you sign up for and forget to cancel? Paying attention and creating a budget will help you make adjustments so you can pay for your cancer care.
What is the process for filing bankruptcy?
If you are diagnosed with cancer, your salary will be reduced. If bankruptcy is your option, you will need to contact a lawyer who specializes in it. They will gather your bills, understand your assets, go to court on your behalf and will explain your debts and situation and will petition to eliminate medical and personal credit card debt. When it comes to taxes and things like that, they won’t write that off.
If you are in that situation and that is what you need to do, Carla’s advice is to try to wait as long as you can before you file. Talk to your doctor and do everything for your treatment before you file. If you know you have more debt coming from more medical procedures, wait until everything you need to do is done and then file. It is a real option that is available to you. This is one of those things that is there to help us restart.
Is disability an option for individuals without health insurance?
Disability is tricky. Just because you are diagnosed with cancer doesn’t mean that you will qualify for disability because of your cancer. Everyone’s cancer is different. It affects our bodies differently. Some people can get up, pick up, and move right on. For others, disability may be an option. Just because you are diagnosed with cancer is not enough. There are so many people living with cancer. If it is something that is causing a medical issue and limiting your ability to work, then disability could be an option for you.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
If something happens with your job or if another pandemic happens, you might not have the income you were used to having. Start working towards savings and continue to build. We have rainy days all the time; it is going to rain at some point. It is reality. Savings will allow us to be accountable for it when the time comes.