Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Money Talk

Posted Nov 13, 2008 1:28pm

I’m going to get serious for a moment, because finances need to be addressed to help you prepare, just in case. Any illness is expensive, but I’m going to talk from the cancer perspective because, well, I’m here, and I was too cocky about my health and energy to prepare sufficiently. Fortunately, for the time being I have good health insurance, but don’t even get me started on that topic. Even if you have insurance, there are copays and deductibles that add to your monthly budget. It would greatly ease the burden if you determine ahead of time what your maximum copay/deductible amount is for the year, and contribute regularly to a separate savings account specifically for that purpose, so the money is put aside and the fees will never take you by surprise.

The other fortunate thing is that this happened before I was retired, and I haven’t missed much work. If you become ill, you may or may not be able to work, or may choose not to, and will need the means to cover your extra expenses. If you have kids or dependent parents, in addition to the emergency costs that you typically anticipate in their lives, you may need to pay for additional assistance in their care and daily transportation needs. What would your options be? If you examine them now, it will minimize the stress that fogs your brain when your life is turned upside down by a medical condition.

There are all kinds of doo-dads, remedies, lotions and potions that become essential to maintain a reasonable level of physical comfort. They are not considered medical expenses, and they do add up. There is extra gas for travelling to all the doctor’s appointments, which become part of your regular schedule. If you usually work away from home, extended time at home may increase utility and/or phone expenses. If you own your own business, you still have to cover your overhead. I do caution you about disability policies for the self employed. It has been my experience with some patients that many policies have loopholes that make it extremely difficult to collect the benefits, so if you are exploring this option, have it carefully reviewed by your attorney before you sign up.

And no one saw foresaw the enormity of this financial crisis that is affecting every industry world wide. Right now no one’s job is undeniably secure, and the effects are trickling down in ways we never imagined. One of the old economic beliefs is that regardless of the economy, the medical industry is steadfast because people will always need heath care. But if people don’t have jobs, they don’t have health insurance, and they sure can’t pay out of pocket expenses. No one can afford to feel smug about job security right now. So this is not just about planning for health care, but using basic financial foresight in general.

At the beginning of the year I undertook the daunting task of revamping our auto and homeowners insurance for better coverage, lower rates. The agent is someone I know well, and she did an amazing job of making the transition as smooth as possible. In the process, she suggested life insurance. Feeling healthy, financially secure and invincible, I declined. She is not a pushy person, and although she gently reminded me a few times when we talked over the next few months, I blew it off.

She is also not an I-told-you-so kind of friend. I say this because during a conversation a couple of months after my diagnosis she told me with tears in her eyes that it made her cry every time she thought of my rejecting the life insurance policy. According to the terms, it would have paid a substantial amount up front when I was diagnosed with cancer. And I emphasize substantial amount.

The policy was very affordable; I just did not feel I would ever need it because I was of the it-will-never-happen-to-me mindset. I had a solid retirement account. The stock market was doing great. I see now how egotistical this was, especially since at the time I had no negative health history, and even at my age, I would have easily qualified at a low premium cost. So if you do not have a life insurance policy like this, get one. This is a well known, well established insurance carrier. I’m not trying to sell policies, but if your agent can’t help you, email/call me and I’ll connect you to mine.

I’ve mentioned my Tarot collection before, and how the inspirational art is universal in its representation of the collective unconscious across time and cultures. There is a card called The Tower that is typically depicted as a massive tower in flames against a stormy sky, being struck by lightening as people fall off in terror. It symbolizes unforeseen catastrophe due to building on fragile theories, arrogance and greed, a point where there is no option but to overthrow existing ways of life, and face the disruption. Although it seems frightening, the wonderful message in this card is that disaster inspires reflection into how we got there, and that introspection is what makes way for enlightenment.

I can’t help but feel the world economy and our old beliefs are challenged on an unprecedented level and are plummeting from the Tower. On a global scale, there is no turning back; there will have to be accountability and change. Even those who have planned carefully and ethically throughout their lives are now finding themselves in a position they never expected to be in due to this inescapable economic fallout. In light of this, we have no choice but to acknowledge that we may not be invincible after all.

This is not intended to be a political statement, and I hope that for most people it’s not too little too late, but a suggestion to be mindful, to stay financially humble, to be more careful than ever to think twice before spending for instant gratification. And make your health a priority. Don’t wait until you feel lousy; honor your body. Eat well, exercise, rest, take your vitamins. Get your exams. Cover your butt. Ask yourself, what if the worst did happen? Not to focus on the negative, but to consider the possibilities so you can be prepared.

I have several senior patients that are such an inspiration to me. One lady who is now in her 80’s has been seeing me almost weekly for the past ten years, so we have had plenty of time to talk. Over that time I have gleaned her life history over a multitude of brief segments, and her steadfast determination has provided many valuable lessons. Some of her health issues have improved significantly, other things can’t improve, but we have slowed the progression, and she is thrilled that she no longer needs a cane and can move freely.

Her philosophy is that she wants to stay independent as long as possible, both physically and financially, and will actively do whatever it takes. She still drives, lives independently, maintains a demanding volunteer job and a stimulating hobby. She goes to exercise class every week, and follows at her own pace. She’s not a fanatic about her diet, but she is conscientious about keeping it balanced, and takes the necessary supplements. She keeps up with medical exams, questions any suggested medication, and does her own research on what else she can incorporate into her lifestyle to further minimize her few prescriptions. She and her husband never bought anything on credit except their house. They went without and saved up until they could afford what they wanted, and saved and invested conservatively. When he passed away, they were not rich, but she will be able to live securely for many years to come.

Our generation and those that followed have been bombarded with the buy-now-pay-later-live-for-the-moment mindset that seemed pretty safe in a progressive economy where raises and promotions and better opportunities were a way of life. But now that we have found that we were building on shaky ground, it’s time to clear the slate of those old ways. It was no surprise when I heard that a rapidly expanding business right now is a company that provides the old layaway plan for a growing number of big retailers. You get it when you finish paying for it, which means you can afford it without accumulating more debt. What a concept.

The other day my sister forwarded an email from my maternal grandfather’s relatives in France who have been working on our genealogy. We are not typically in contact with them, and had not heard from them in several years. Besides attaching a few old photos, their first greeting was “We hope you are all fine and you are pleased with the election of O'Bama! It has been a sigh of relief in Europe when the result was released.” Regardless of your political or spiritual affiliations, we cannot deny that change is afoot, individually and globally, and we will all be affected by it at some point.

The Tarot deck tells the story of life, and in the Major Arcana suit, the card following The Tower is The Star – reminding us that no destruction is final. If we recognize our role in the progression, it can bring great insight into the meaning of life. Although we may be forced to a point of unavoidable change, it can bring courage, hope, inspiration, health and a renewed spirit. But we have to dig deep into our souls to get creative and resourceful in a way we may have never been called upon to do. We make our choices with the resources we have at any given moment. If we push just a little more, stretch our usual position to stand on tiptoe and peek over the familiar horizon, we can increase the possibility to find a new resource that can guide our lives in a completely different direction.

It may be time to ask ourselves, “At this moment, what can I do to honor my future, and craft the life that is going to be part of history?”

I wish you vibrant health, wisdom, and an inspirational day.

Love, Laurie

p.s. I am honored by the number of you who have asked if you can share this update with your friends. One of the main purposes of these updates is to share my experiences with anyone who needs support or insight about challenges that can arise with illness - whether their own or that of a loved one. You are always welcome to invite people to view the updates.

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