One of the things I wish I had been more conscious about when I was first diagnosed, was my money flow, being more disciplined about saving. And it seems that is more common than I thought: a recent article in the New York Times reports that 45% of Americans surveyed said they have not saved anything for retirement.
And since your earning power is widely regarded as your greatest resource, for those of us with MS it is even more critical to make financial plans as soon as possible: MS is a disease that tends to manifest in early to middle age, sometimes causing MSers enough disability to be forced out of the workforce early. Which shortens the time we have for earning power and lengthens the time we may be drawing down on whatever disability funds we have. You see where I'm going with this?
It is also an expensive disease, with most MS medications, currently recommended that you take the rest of your life, costing several thousand dollars a month. :(
In a recent presentation held by the National MS Society, Dick Bell of Financial Education Partners Foundation, describes Financial Planning as "Directing your limited resources to meeting your highest priority goals." Here are some of my takeaways.
1. Keep a quarterly scorecard
As I've explained before, I've always used "making a budget" as a way of making sure the things I needed covering were covered with how much or how little I was bringing in. Bell calls this a "financial scorecard" instead. It's a quick summary of your assets and liabilities, a snapshot of where you are with your money.
He suggests we track our income, our expenditures, our debt, our savings, and any investments quarterly on a spreadsheet. He points out that we are raised to be competitive and that in this case we are only competing with last year's version of ourselves. As in sports, if we don't measure it, how will we know if we are winning, or even getting better?
"Success breeds more success and that's why we need to keep a scorecard." I like this. I'm keeping it.
2. Pay off your credit cards
Really, I believe that paying any interest should be avoided: credit cards, student loans, personal loans, even loans from your parents. Of course that's "Do as I say, not as I do" as I have been carrying credit card debt off and on since college. Ouch.
Bell argues that not paying $500 a month in non-deductible credit card interest could be $500 more each month we could be saving for retirement. So I think getting rid of it and not creating more in the future needs to be one of the aforementioned highest priority goals.
3. Shop only with a list
Always make and stick to your list when shopping. If you discover other wants, add them to a later list. When you revisit that list, you may find that you prefer cash in the bank instead.
And pay cash whenever possible. Again, according to Bell, people who pay cash tend to spend 11-17% less than those who pay with a credit or debit card.
"The most critical part of getting ahead financially is living on less than you bring in each month." You may not be able to quickly adjust your income (although I can see several possibilities here), but you can easily control your spending.
4. Keep learning things
Having now lived with MS for years, I find that I come back to these a few websites regularly for money answers. I've had them bookmarked for years, so I've seen that I really can trust them. Well, I trust what they say but I'm no expert and am frankly a timid investor. Again "do as I say" yadda yadda yadda.
But sometimes I am bolder than others, and so I would challenge you to try to do something, maybe one thing a week, even something small, towards a financially stable future.
Nothing found here should be considered medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any changes.