Financial Fitness Workouts

From PEN-Powered Activity Guide VIII: Supporting Your Support System


It seems every day we’re being bombarded with ways to stay fit. there is always a new fitness program or a new types of fitness equipment that’s supposed to give us the best bodies we can have. But with those who are dealing with a chronic illness, fitness takes on a different meaning. Not only do we need to feel our best physically, we also must be prepared in every aspect of our lives with your sight always set on your best possible treatment and your continuum of care.

I thought this would be a great time to review four of the most impactful areas you can review, reallocate, and make the changes that are most appropriate for your specific circumstance.

A good way to look at it is, in the fall we make sure we perform maintenance checkups or in our furnaces. We prepare our gardens and lawns for the upcoming spring, we check the exterior for homes for energy efficiency and we do checkups on our cars to prepare them for the winter season.

Unfortunately, few of us take the time to review the foundations of our financial lives that in fact dictate our ability to remain on treatment plans and meet all of our financial obligation. It is my hope, that everyone takes the opportunity to review at least these four areas that I’m covering in this article before the end of the year.

Medicare

First, the big one for a lot of us, Medicare. As you know the Medicare season is almost upon us. And there are changes as there are every year. If you are already a Medicare enrollee, this open enrollment period gives you the opportunity to make changes if needed. And if you have been enrolled for 12 months or less and you have a Medicare Advantage plan you even have the opportunity to replace it with a Supplemental plan perhaps with guarantee issue If you qualify. Here may be a wait period but you may not be able to get in at a later date and the coverage may be better for you.

Also, if you have an HMO plan you may be able to switch to a PPO for more plan flexibility. Review your Prescription formulary if there have been changes to your treatment. The worst thing you can do is to not review your Medicare options as there are changes every year and more plans may be available to you and the cost may be better as well. Don’t assume that the cheaper the premium the better off you are. Review your total cost. That includes the premium, co-pays, deductibles, coinsurance, and the cost of your meds as well.

Life Insurance

Secondly, review your life insurance plan. Many people aren’t aware of the benefits that insurance offers. Such as, accelerated benefit riders in the event you need access to some cash or the options of taking a loan from your policy.

Additionally, if you are still employed, on your next enrollment period with your employer see if you can add or increase your life insurance amounts. Even if you plan to retire or terminate your employment next year or at a later date the cost to take life insurance with your employer may be the only place you qualify without medical underwriting and it’s much cheaper. Also, see if your employer offer a supplemental life insurance that you can enroll in that may be portable at your termination from employment.

Review your credit to make sure there isn’t anything on it that’s incorrect. If you anticipate making a big purchase this will really affect your interest rate.

Monthly Statements

Third, as a financial advisor, I found a lot of clients would not look at their monthly statements to see how their retirement accounts such as 401k’s and investment accounts were doing. You are doing yourself a huge favor if you keep up with these no matter if the market is up or down. Speak to your financial advisor to make sure you’re taking advantage of growth, income producing, and tax efficient opportunities.

Financial Assistance

And finally, don’t assume you won’t qualify for financial assistance. The cost of treatment is expensive and probably always be. Talk to your doctor or social worker to help you uncover sources that can help you pay for co-pay, deductibles, coinsurance and other needs.

Do this before you find yourself in a financial crisis. Be proactive with understanding your illness and the anticipated change in treatments that may be available for you.

Instead of waiting for spring cleaning, take the time to do a financial review now. Go into the new year in the best possible position you can. And then, like getting a check-up on your car, do the same for your financial future every year. After all, you are worth more than a car!!

Committing to Eating Healthier Can Lead to Savings in Your Pocket Both Now and in the Future

Have you ever eaten something that you really love but for some reason it doesn’t seem to like you back? I have. For instance, ice cream used to be my favorite desert. But sometime in my 30’s, ice cream started making me feel ill. And because of that, no matter how much I wanted it, I began to lose interest. I also started feeling better. The older I became, the more I realized that most foods containing sugar were making me feel sluggish along with some other no so pleasant symptoms. Additionally, bread became my enemy. Now I have to admit this was particularly hard. I absolutely love some hot crusty bread with pure Irish butter. Yum!!

Now I have more energy, sleep better, and have better focus as a result changing my eating habits. Another real surprise, I no longer had the body aches and joint pain I once suffered. Upon research, I found that sugar and carbs can cause inflammation. So, I also started reading labels. There is sugar in almost everything, including seasonings, ketchup, milk, breads, and so much more. And did you know that a lot of the foods you buy from restaurants are loaded with sugars and salts? To offset too much salt in a dish, sugar is added. And vice versa. So, I’ve begun to eat a lot more vegetables, and whole grains such as whole wheat, and quinoa, as well as nuts and fruit. Doing so also allowed me to explore other herbs and seasonings to add flavor. Also, being more mindful about what I ate made me think about the amount of red meat I was eating and how much I was eating out. Suffice it to say, way too much! I kept a journal of what I was spending eating out and found it added up to over $400.00/ month.

I surmised that a lot of people were in the same boat. And that this was as a country are making us obese, diabetic, have heart attacks and strokes, perhaps making us more prone to cancers, and migraines and neurological problems and learning problems and the list goes on and on. So, how does this relate to saving money? Well. Now that I’m more conscious of what I’m eating, I cook more often with better choices of food. I lean toward organic now and am limiting the amount of red meat. I am learning to shop more from the periphery of the store. In the summer, farmer’s markets are the way to go. I even have a small potted garden, which is so easy to maintain with fresh herbs, and some vegetables. These illnesses are making us less productive and we are taking more sick days from work than we probably used to take. And we are going to the doctors more often than we used to. Spending more on co-pays, deductibles and other out of pocket costs. Now that extra money saved on eating out can be directed to other needs such as medical treatment costs or other expenses or savings programs.

Now I’m teaching my 5-year-old granddaughter how to cook, raise a garden and especially understand nutrition and how to read labels. With the cost of healthcare going up more than inflation every year, I can’t imagine what the cost burden will be for her when she is an adult. In fact, in 2019, according to the OECD Health Statistics database and the CMS National Health Expenditure Accounts data, the US spends more per capita than any other comparable country on health care and related expenses. In 2019 that was $10,966 with comparable countries averaging $6,697.

That was an astounding 17% of the US GDP! And unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that we as a country are healthier. So hopefully, educating my granddaughter now, when she is young, will lead to a heathier lifestyle for her and reduce her costs of healthcare. So, if I can get heathier now, perhaps it can help keep me out of the doctor’s office and also save me money.

I shudder to think of all of the money I’ve wasted over the years buying meals that perhaps satisfied my immediate taste but all along was contributing to poorer health. In hindsight, that money could have been put to better use elsewhere. I could have felt better for most of my life if I had paid more attention to what I was eating, and my savings account could be bigger as well. I still occasionally eat out and enjoy the rare ice cream as well as the bread with butter. I’m not a nutritionist, I am a financial advisor, and financial coach. I just know that as a result of my personal experiences, and after 20+years working with my financial clients, many of those who have become more mindful of even just their eating out habits, have drastically improved their health and their financial lives.

The Difference Between Wanting and Needing: Redirecting and Prioritizing Spending

Often when I am out shopping, I find myself picking up items that I think I really need. I justify it rather quickly and find myself with buyers’ regret shortly thereafter. The most irritating habit I have is not returning it to the store and getting my money back. Last week, I was cleaning out drawers and found a few bags of clothing that I had every intention of returning but it escaped my attention. I also found dresses, jeans, shoes, several coats, and a suit that had purchased but forgot about. Some of them for my granddaughter who now had long outgrown them and for me, well I thought I needed them.   

I’ve also gone through storage and closets and found household items that “I really, really needed” at the time, but there they were never opened or rarely used some with the sales tags still attached. I thought I should add up the costs of these items and see just how much money I had wasted. It had added up to over a thousand dollars. Yes, I will donate these things to a charity such as a homeless facility, and, it makes me realize it can be a blessing to others, but is there a better way to serve than by happenstance? Am I doing a disservice to myself by spending without being mindful of where my dollars are going? I would argue that both are true.   

I’m learning to be mindful of all of my spendings. It’s making me prioritize my needs and wants. This is especially important when you have ongoing medical bills and prescriptions to manage and pay for. They can seem to be overwhelming at times. Though, I don’t have high medical bills currently, I do recognize that may not always be the case. So, diverting some money into an HSA or a regular savings account for the sole purpose of this future need could help me in the future. You can look at it as investing in yourself or, ” paying yourself first.”  

We all have bills to pay but rarely do we see ourselves as important as one of those bills. Consider setting aside $15 to $25 every pay period for medical expenses. Or, if you have bills that are already outstanding, call the service provider and request to pay a little toward those bills every month. You may be surprised how little they may be willing to take. They are in the business of service and you are their customer. Trust me, they don’t want you to leave. By putting a little each month towards the bills can help you stay in good standing with the medical provider and can help keep the bill from going to a collector and from hitting your credit report.   

Also, do what I did. Look around your house for things you no longer need or don’t want. Consider selling them. Not only will you be freeing up space at home, but you can also make some cash. There are online selling apps like OfferUp, BookScouter, eBay, and more. Terminate subscriptions you no longer need. Pay especially close attention to online subscriptions you may have forgotten about.   

Another creative way of finding more cash is to always make change when buying something at the store. Everything in coin change put in a jar. Deliberately seek out change-making opportunities. You may be surprised at how much you save. I did and saved almost $800.00 in a year.   

Consider online banks that may offer more interest than perhaps your neighborhood bank. Buy only what you’re going to eat. A study published in the American Journal of Agriculture Economics found that the average household wasted 31.9% of its food. The US total annual cost of wasted food was estimated to be $240 billion or $1,866 per household.  In fact, wasted food is the largest component taking up space in US landfills. And the United States discards more food waste than any other country.  That adds up to 30-40% of the entire US food supply. So, don’t waste and keep that money in your pocket.   

Spending comes down to desiring to satisfy oneself, however temporarily, and often supersedes logic. It’s impulse buying. Even when we know we should be directing our money to important things such as; managing the costs of healthcare, utilities, etc., it’s often difficult to stop wasteful spending. And the temporary feelings of satisfaction quickly wear off when bills start coming in.   

Getting control of this habit is achievable and not really complicated. Create a reasonable budget. Start by keeping a record of EVERYTHING you spend for a month. This may take a bit of work but is well worth the effort. Make a list of all your bills, including anticipated medical bills. Are you spending more than you make? I’ve found that when putting this down in writing, when you see it, it becomes real and important.  Putting together a budget is actually very freeing. It will allow you to reduce impulsive discretionary spending and allow you to focus on getting a firm grasp on your financial life. And, the payday of reduced financial stress is like icing on the cake.  

Claiming the Number One Spot

Assimilation can sometimes take years to complete. Or, it can be a slow imperceptible change. It can happen and you may not be aware until after some time has passed. For others, assimilation can be a brutal quick mind-numbing takeover. What am I speaking of? It’s the mental and emotional takeover of being seen as a person with a name to a patient with a date of birth, social security number, and insurance card.

From the initial time you get your cancer diagnosis, you’re thrust into a complex healthcare system and suddenly you find yourself trying to maintain and keep your identity as a mother, father, sister, brother, son, or daughter, husband or wife. Soon, you’re running from doctor appointment to doctor appointment. Your sense of choice and control over your time and understanding your body is now unrecognizable to yourself. Eventually, you’re a patient. It’s scary how quickly your mindset changes and you find yourself feeling more like a victim. Understandable when you’re over your head all consumed in perhaps the battle for your life. Instead of assimilating, perhaps transitioning is a better term. It is difficult, but necessary, however, not to the degree you may think. Just because you are now ill, it doesn’t mean you have to just sit back and let the doctor make all the decisions and you just follow. You have to be an active participant in your care, every day, all the time! Traditionally we have always felt that doctors know everything and they will always do what’s in our best interest, all of the time. Not so! I had to remember when my husband was in treatment for myeloma, no two patients are the same, and no one doctor knows everything. There’s a reason it’s called “the practice of medicine.” It’s time to look at yourself not as a patient but as a person with a disease. You can still have control over your life and steer the ship.

This is a short fact sheet on self-empowerment. Refer to it over and over to remind yourself how to manage your treatment plan with your healthcare team. And, use it to expand your treatment team.

First:

Anytime you are in your doctor’s office, you are the most important person in the room. It’s all about you. Make sure the focus is on you and that you are giving your treatment team everything about your health, even minor changes as they may be important. Ask about the treatment, how it has affected other people and how it can affect you. What are all of your options? And, also equally important, what is this going to cost?

Second:

Ask over and over until you understand. Whether it’s about your health or the cost of your treatment plan, you need to be in the driver’s seat. You need to be able to plan not just for next week but for the rest of your life. Don’t be afraid to ask and get answers. Be respectful of your doctor’s time. Perhaps call in and make your doctor aware of your need for a few extra minutes to go over your questions or concerns or ask if you can send these questions ahead of your appointment so they can be prepared. Be aware that the financial questions may be sent to a social worker or someone else. On your request ask that they identify that person. That way you know who to go to for that information in the future. Or, request a few  additional minutes to your appointment to have your concerns addressed. The point is, make sure you ask about all the concerns you may have regarding your treatment and its costs.

If you have problems asking questions there are people who can help you who can advocate on your behalf when you can’t. In addition to discovering or acquiring the skills you need to become an effective self-advocate, you need to be empowered to believe that your voice can and should be heard. Unfortunately, many older people, my mother was one of those, who are less educated or come from lower socioeconomic groups—those who are timid or shy by nature—may find it difficult to question someone they perceive as authority figures who control their destiny. They may fear asking “dumb” questions, or may not even know the questions to ask, or alienating their doctors by questioning them. And, trust is critical to any good doctor-patient relationship. Patients want to believe in their doctors. If you find yourself not getting the attention you need or answers to your questions, or you’re getting push back from the doctor, it may be time to look for another doctor. It won’t be easy, but not doing so can have a huge negative impact on the quality of your care. This is advocating for yourself and it’s so empowering!

Third:

The more you know about your cancer, the more you can participate in your treatment. There are many ways to research your illness. There are cancer-specific non-profits that offer a wealth of information and cancer-specific support programs.  You may have access to a medical library or don’t forget the wealth of information you can get from creditable websites online.

One of the most difficult areas of advocating for yourself may be regarding understanding the cost of your care and sharing with the doctor before it’s too late how you don’t know how or if you can afford the care that is necessary. Financial toxicity adds so much stress which interferes with your health outcomes. And, unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse. The sooner you bring this subject up with your healthcare team the better off you are going to be. Our society, unfortunately, judges people on how big their house is, what kind of car they drive, and whose name is on clothing labels. Look around, you can have all the money in the world, but cancer/illness is one of the great equalizers. Your goal is to get the best care you can. There are many resources available to help you do that. From healthcare to financial assistance to empowerment guidance. Just ask!

Financial Corner: Health Care Coverage Special Enrollment

One of the first things President Biden accomplished since taking office was by signing executive orders that will begin to restore and strengthen Americans’ access to affordable and quality health care. Let’s review what he has done and what that can mean for you, your family, and/or your friends. While you read this article, think of other people who you think could benefit and let them know. Just because most of you understand the need for quality insurance as a result of your cancer, others may not need it now but what if something happens in the future and they don’t have it? No one expects cancer to happen to them, it happens to other people, Right?    

The first executive order he signed in regards to health care was to reopen the enrollment period to sign up in the Health Insurance Marketplace (healthcare.gov). Many states that operate their own websites to enroll residents in the healthcare exchange have followed suit and have also opened. This special enrollment lasts from February 15th through May 15th, 2021. After a horrible year of the pandemic and the needs that have arisen as a result, this should be a huge step in bringing affordable healthcare to those who have lost their jobs and find themselves uninsured. The process is very simple and can be done via a phone call or online. And for those who have an illness, this is very comforting because the previous threat to limit access to quality and affordable care because of a preexisting condition is no longer on the table.    

In addition, President Biden is directing federal agencies to reconsider rules and other policies that currently limit Americans’ access to health care as well as consider rules and actions that will protect and strengthen that access.   

Agencies will be directed to review:    

  • Policies that undermine protections for people with pre-existing conditions, including complications related to COVID-19; (Critical since some of these complications can be long-term or lifelong). 
  • Demonstrations and waivers under Medicaid and the ACA that may reduce coverage or undermine the programs, including work requirements;
  • Policies that undermine the Health Insurance Marketplace or other markets that sell health insurance;
  • Policies that make it more difficult to enroll in Medicaid and the Affordable Health care Act; and  
  • Policies that reduce the affordability of coverage or financial assistance, including for dependents. This is important because many people think of children and college-age adults only as dependents but this could be an adult child that is permanently disabled that you take care of.  

These timely steps could provide additional coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. Some of whom may qualify for free or subsidized health insurance.     

As a cancer patient, you realize the cost of healthcare. Having quality care and affordable care can be what allows you to be proactive in your healthcare with your healthcare team to stay on your treatment plan as well as to mitigate and prevent financial toxicity.  

While thinking about these opportunities, don’t forget to consider your current insurance plan if you are enrolled in a Medicare Supplement, Medicare Advantage, or employer plan. Review with your healthcare providers to find out if your treatment may change. Then inquire if the costs are going to change as a result of medication changes or treatment facilities? Or perhaps you anticipate retiring before Medicare age or going on disability. Perhaps you are already on disability and will be completing the 2-year mark and can go on Medicare. Now is the time to review your options before the enrollment period expires.   

Make sure you have the best possible insurance for your needs that you can afford. Don’t let an opportunity pass you by without investigating its benefits. Take a step to strengthen your health insurance program and possibly lighten your financial load.   

Additional information can be found at:  


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