I vividly remember all the sayings my father had about money. “Money is the root of all evil,” and “Money can’t buy happiness.” It took me many years to understand why he said this. He was a music teacher supporting nine people: his wife, six children, and Gram. We never had much money, but I never felt poor. I had plenty to eat, and our family had a lot of fun. I do remember driving up to Vermont and watching the skiers ski because we could not afford the tickets to do it ourselves, but Dad even made that fun. He bought us each a hot chocolate, and we had a snowball fight. My parents made do with what they had. Incredibly, they did not use charge cards. We only traveled by car, never stayed in hotels, and ate out on very special occasions at a modest restaurant.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized that other families went to exotic beaches, Europe, or Disneyland for vacation. It didn’t really bother me because I was content. But after I married Hugh, and we started a family, I wanted more — a week at the beach, dance lessons for the girls. Hugh had a good corporate job with benefits and I was able to supplement our income with my own work. When he sustained his brain injury, the money crunch added to my worries. He used up his vacation time and his salary was cut to 60 percent on disability pay. We were paying more than $800 a month for COBRA to keep his medical insurance coverage, and I had little time to work while caregiving. My financial worries escalated like the mountain of copays for rehab, prescriptions, and frequent doctor’s office visits.
Can money buy happiness? Maybe not, but I knew I could draw a stark line between anguish and peace of mind with dollar bills. Having money helps in a crisis!
Our efficient management of the money we have can relieve us of unnecessary stress. When TBI strikes a family, causing income to disappear and expenses to soar, a plan is needed to ensure financial stability. It’s hard enough to deal with the crushing emotional burden of TBI without worrying about going broke. Here are ten strategies that may help:
1) If you are not good at managing finances, look to your network of family and friends for solid advice. Ask a trusted person of your choosing for some free financial advice to help you get organized and begin a plan for the future.
2) Take a close look at your monthly expenses and figure out what can be cut and what must be spent to maintain a reasonable standard of living. Make cuts early on. Soon after Hugh’s crash, I sold my minivan and drove Hugh’s car. That saved me a car payment, cut my car insurance, and gave me extra income to use elsewhere. Hugh didn’t drive again for nearly a year, so that was a good move.
- Can you downgrade or eliminate your cable TV?
- Can you get rid of your house phone and use your cell phone only?
3) Can any bills you pay now be renegotiated? I was able to reduce the cost of Hugh’s rehab visits significantly by negotiating with the accounting department there. They gave us a price reduction and a payment plan I could work with. I also cut down on the number of visits per week while doing some therapy at home with the help and guidance of his speech and occupational therapists.
4) Enlist the help of any friends with special talents. We had a friend that was a physical therapist. He set up a pulley system at home for Hugh to exercise his weak left arm and shoulder. We also had a friend who was a masseuse who gave him massages, and one of his old bosses came over and helped Hugh on the computer as a cognitive exercise.
5) Make use of social services. The Brain Injury Association of Virginia offers support groups and a summer camp that allows caregivers respite. They also advocate for people and families dealing with TBI, so stay on top of what changes are happening legislatively that may benefit your family. There are Brain Injury Associations in most states.
6) If recommended, apply for Social Security Disability as soon as possible if your loved one may not return to work.
7) Use generic prescriptions when possible. Many new pharmacies now offer drastically reduced prescription plans.
8) Start clipping coupons and planning meals. You’ll be surprised at how well you can eat, and how much money you can save on food when you plan well.
9) Encourage your kids to earn some money of their own. Babysitting, house/dog sitting, or mowing lawns are all great part-time jobs. This is for older children who may want spending money. Working will teach them the value of money and responsibility.
10) Be open and honest without whining. Tell all your family and friends that times are tight, so for special occasions and holidays, you’d like gift cards. Be specific as to what you want/need: restaurant gift cards, movie passes, Visa gift card, etc.
11) Keep a family fun jar for change. Throw pennies and loose change in it whenever you can. When the jar is full, cash it in and go do something fun with the family like going out for ice cream or a movie, or buying something special.
Most importantly, try as hard as you can to not incur debt. By remaining financially responsible, you will drastically cut down on your own stress and the stress level in your family. With a little planning and some self-restraint, you can stretch the money you have coming in much further than you ever thought possible.