Chronic illness can hurt your finances (pun intended). When I developed fibromyalgia and had to leave my graduate program, I left behind my scholarship and my teaching assistant position. We are now a one-income family. This is far from the exception. Many people living with chronic illness are working age (Arthritis Foundation, n.d.; Parlor, 2007). According to a Community Health Survey, 14% of people with fibromyalgia reported being permanently unable to work (Parlor, 2007). That rate is 25% for working-age people with arthritis (Arthritis Society, n.d.). In Canada, 51.3% of working-age people living with disabilities are employed, compared with 75.1% of non-disabled people (CCD, 2013). For those living on low-incomes, people living with disabilities are two times more likely to work part-time for most of the year than people without disabilities (CCD, 2013). The Arthritis Foundation reports that one-third of people living with arthritis have restrictions on their ability to work, the type of work they can do, and/or if they can work part time or full time.
It follows that the impact of chronic illness on employment affects income levels. For example, 43% of people living with fibromyalgia reported their annual personal income to be below $15 000, as compared with only 29% of the general population (Parlor, 2007). Overall, 20.5% of Canadians living with disabilities live below the poverty line (also called the Low Income Cut-Off) (CCD, 2013). Then, there are out of pocket medical expenses. This is bad enough in Canada, where many people may not have extended health insurance for medical drugs or treatments like physiotherapy or massage. In the U.S., there is no Medicare (national health insurance), so medical expenses just to see a doctor can be prohibitive. The CDA (2013) reports that, in the U.S., medical problems are behind 62% of personal bankruptcies and almost 50% of home foreclosures. Finally, for those who qualify for social assistance, income support is severely limited. In Ontario, Canada, the maximum financial support for a person living with a disability is $999/month, for all expenses (Community Living Ontario, n.d.). In the U.S., the average monthly benefit for a family paid by Social Security Disability Insurance is $1 130 (CDA, 2013).
Those numbers can look pretty bleak and do not capture the strength and resiliency shown by so many living with chronic illness! I think it’s important to bring awareness to this issue, which is what inspired this post. I think it is important for those who do not live with chronic illness to understand that we work harder than anyone you know everyday to manage debilitating symptoms, participate in our family and social lives, earn a living if we can, advocate, and live fulfilling lives. If your politics tells you that social assistance should provide only survival support for medical and living expenses in order to “incentivize” recipients to work harder, then you are condemning people to live in poverty whose only crime has been to be unlucky enough to develop a chronic illness. I believe a compassionate and farsighted society would provide adequate medical and income support because inequality wastes human ability and restricts the freedom of people to participate fully in society.
But here we are. So what are we to do?
- Build a budget. No matter how limited, every dollar will stretch further if we spend it on what we need. For a simple and practical approach, I like using Gail Vaz Oxlade’s budget builder http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/resources/interactive_budget_worksheet.html
- For your weekly expenses, use cash! If you also suffer from brain fog, then you will sympathize with how hard it can be to remember how often you swiped your plastic this week. If getting out to the bank is a hassle, then get cash back at the grocery store, so you can do two chores in one.
- Put your cash in labeled jars or envelopes, keep your receipts, and record your expenses.
- http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/articles/budgeting/magic_jars.html. My budget jars are labeled: groceries, entertainment, drugstore, pet, clothes, transportation and allowance.
- Don’t be too proud to get the help you need. Whether asking for financial advice, applying for social assistance, buying second hand, or going to a food bank if the fridge is bare, remember this isn’t your fault and you deserve the best quality of life possible.