4 Tips To Help Ensure That A Serious Illness Doesn't Ruin Your Family's Finances

by Kelly Hoover Greenway
kdshutterman / iStock

You’ve heard the saying a million times: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” It’s the sort of thing that ends up on coffee mugs and refrigerator magnets. It’s the sort of thing that makes you nauseous from how trite it is. And yet, it’s also true.

In my family’s case, the plans I was making last January to phase out of working 70-hour weeks producing reality competition shows came to a screeching halt the very next month. “Life” came in the form of my husband getting diagnosed with brain cancer and having to stop working indefinitely. Life showed up in a big bad way and said, “Guess what, lady? Cancer is fucking expensive, so you’re not going anywhere. Now get to work!”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to provide for my family. I’m relieved we were able to stay in our home and still care for our children. It may sound dramatic, but it’s not: The financial repercussions of serious illness are severe. In the past year, we have incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills in order to give my husband a fighting chance of living to see our two young sons grow up. Insurance has paid for a large portion, but the medical bills are really only the beginning. I’ve seen enough Suze Orman interviews to know about that eight-month “emergency fund” we should have, but we didn’t have anything close to that. Most Americans don’t.

In the past year, I’ve thought a lot about my friends who made the choice to stay at home with their children. And it’s made me really grateful actually. Grateful that if this shitty thing was going to happen to any of us, it happened to me because I did have a good-paying job I could go back to when my family needed my income in order to survive. It’s also made me realize how important it is for moms, stay-at-home or not, to have a plan in place should their spouse be unable to work.

Hopefully, the insights I’m sharing will help your family should you ever face something like this in your home. I’ll be praying you never have to use them.

Know Your Options

There are definitely financial programs available to help families in these circumstances. Disability, though not something we could live off solely, has provided us a cushion. If you don’t know how much your state pays for disability, please look it up. Also, medical bills are always negotiable. It may take a few phone calls and definitely requires you to be a “squeaky wheel” but you should never look at a bill you know you cannot pay and believe it can’t be negotiated. If you can convince your toddler to put on their shoes, you can convince a claim’s representative to help you. Trust me.

Build Up Your Village

I already had a network of childcare providers in place because I worked outside the home. It still wasn’t enough. Doctor’s appointments, hospital stays, cancer group meetings; these are just a few of the things my husband and I attend together without our kids. You will need people you trust to watch your children. So if you don’t already have that safety net in your life, set up a few interviews with potential sitters.

In some cities there are also apps that allow you to book vetted babysitters on short notice. It’s worth investigating whether you have something like that available to you. Even just making a list of friends and/or family who live nearby and could help out is a step in the right direction. The last thing you want to be doing during a time like this is scrambling for childcare.

Maintain Your Contacts

You may have fled the corporate world like a bat out of hell, but I recommend maintaining at least semi-regular contact with colleagues in your field so that if you do need to return to work, you have allies who can help you. Stay current on the news in your area of expertise and always keep a current resume. These may sound like little things, but they will make a big difference if you ever need to re-enter the workforce.

Think Outside the Briefcase

These days there are many options for mothers to make money without having to enter the corporate world. People sometimes scoff at these companies as pyramid schemes but I know many women who are making a good living selling things they really believe in, and I’ve used a few products I enjoy as well. I’m sure you’ve been invited by a friend to learn more about these opportunities. Take her up on her offer and just see what it’s all about. Ask to sample a product or two so you can see if it’s something you would be able to truthfully support. There’s no harm in at least knowing what is required of you should you ever want or need to make extra money while still being able to stay at home.

I would like to say the chances of you ever needing this are very small, but I would be lying to you. If it can happen to us, it can happen to you. Life is always waiting in the wings to fuck up your plans, so be prepared mamas!