Originally published on Hemophilia News Today

Managing money is an essential skill every couple must learn. From the moment they decide to live together, and especially after they decide to walk down the aisle, the health of their finances will always be a huge determinant of their happiness. This is true even if one (or both) has a chronic illness. In fact, when chronic illness is part of the equation, money becomes even more important.

Whether we like it or not, the reality is that having any sort of health issue bears a significant cost — paid in either time or money. And in many countries, the lack of support for healthcare is a long-debated issue.

My husband, Jared, and I married young. He was 25 and I, 24. We were a couple of starry-eyed young professionals hoping to make our mark in the world. I had only been out of college for a year, whereas he was trying out full-time employment again, two years after quitting his first real job. His hemophilia and seizure disorder were factors in his resignation. But we got lucky and found an inclusive employer.

We knew full well that our salaries would be low. But I was just starting out, and Jared was physically disabled. He felt he had no right to be picky, knowing that people with disabilities have fewer opportunities. So we signed the contracts for the entry-level jobs we were offered.

At the time, we had no idea just how important money could be. Like many young professionals, we thought it was enough that we could eat and buy the digital playthings we wanted. We purchased gadgets and paid in credit installments. We ate at fancy places to reward ourselves for a job well done almost every time we got our paycheck.

Looking back, those were fun times. Living this way lifted some of the stress that Jared’s monthly bleeding episodes put on our life as a couple.

But not for long.

Things took a 360-degree turn when we decided to have a child, and then when we decided to move out and become independent. After I gave birth, we got hit by a truckload of expenses.

Throughout my child’s first year, I spent a good fraction of our common earnings on the mandatory two big boxes of milk. I attempted to breastfeed, and while that went OK for four months, I eventually needed to supplement. To Jared’s credit, he supported my breastfeeding “career.” But there were just too many “what ifs” at the back of my mind: What if Jared has a bleed and gets bedridden? Would he be able to support me in the way I need? I went back to business immediately.

At that point, we realized we had to change how we handled money.

If I had a chance to talk to a younger version of ourselves, I would give them the following money advice:

Start saving early.

You’re young, and understandably you want to enjoy what you’re earning. After all, this is your first time earning for yourself. You should be proud! Go ahead and reward yourself for your hard work. But don’t forget to save up.

Set aside a fixed amount of money from your salary and never touch it. At first, this may seem inconvenient, but you’ll get used to it eventually. Meanwhile, your future self will thank you, especially when emergencies strike. You have no idea what this means yet, especially if your parents still support you. But as you get older, and your responsibilities increase, you’ll realize that some situations can cause you to overspend.

No matter how well you budget your expenses, calamities can strike, or your kid can get sick. In our case, we experienced COVID-19. Our business struggled, and we still haven’t recovered. And with chronic illness, emergency cash always comes in handy. There are times you’ll be sicker than usual and won’t be able to work. What then do you use to live?

Purchase health insurance.

I’m sure this works differently depending on your country. But here in the Philippines, healthcare is extremely expensive. The cost of being terminally ill can exceed one’s entire life savings.

Therefore, getting health insurance is always helpful, even if it doesn’t cover all costs.

With a preexisting condition, such as Jared’s seizure disorder, it can be difficult to qualify for insurance. However, some companies are willing to find ways to work around this to help disabled people. Take advantage of this!

Lastly, contribute to your common needs according to earning capacity.

Jared and I have been doing this lately, now that we are both working as full-time freelancers. Now that he’s earning quite a bit himself, he contributes what he earns to our family’s needs — communications bills, groceries, and the like.

Column originally published on Hemophilia News Today as “My Money Advice for a Couple With Chronic Illnesses” on April 18, 2022.

Now let’s move on to the second part.

Regrettably, I have made some money mistakes. After all, I was young, adventurous, and ignorant at some point.

But if I were to re-live my early twenties, I might have changed up my strategy with money a little.

Here are some things I could have done differently:

Prioritized finding our own place upon getting married

Moving out of one’s parents’ house is a milestone for most young adults. One gains the liberty to make their own choices and enjoy the lifestyle best suited to them without facing criticism (or worse, opposition) from others. But there is a price to pay for this — and that is having to take responsibility for one’s own needs. Living on one’s own also serves as an excellent opportunity to learn independent problem solving — an important skill in the modern world. Although having a “village” where people live cooperatively is an ideal situation, we must acknowledge that one simply cannot rely on other people at all times.

My husband and I lived in his family’s home for three years after we got married. During these times, we experienced prosperity in business. We also started a family. But as time passed by, we felt like we were falling behind in terms of personal growth.

When we finally moved out, we started to see the world through the lens of truly responsible adults. We experienced scarcity firsthand, and only then did I realize the importance of setting aside funds for one’s regular expenses.

Although my husband and I contributed to the household expenses in his family home, we had no idea if our contributions were proportional to our actual usage. Our in-laws still fielded the general household expenses. As a result, we felt like we had so much money to spare. We became gallant with our spending and did not feel the need to stick to a budget. It did not help that I also suffered from manic episodes at the time and felt like I had to “treat myself” all the time. My trigger? A missing sense of independence — which was something that really mattered to me.

Saved some money first to create a “business emergency fund” before thinking about starting a business.

Entrepreneneurship is awesome. The list of advantages to being running your own business instead of working for someone else is seemingly endless. Becoming your own boss! Working at your own convenience! Doing something that aligns perfectly with your own beliefs!

As someone with ADHD, I’ll admit that self-employment is an excellent work arrangement for me, if not the best.

But entrepreneurship has its inherent risks — and one should always take these into account before starting any venture. One should have safeguards against bankruptcy in case business goes bad — and this can definitely happen for many reasons. Emergencies happen. A fortuitous event can drain a business’ resources so severely that even a high number sales cannot offset its eventual failure. A business needs to have backup, preferably in the form of liquid cash.

Considered investing in my own skills instead of setting up a product-based business right away.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with product-based businesses. However, after experiencing a major world crisis (that is, the COVID-19 pandemic), I’ve realized that the trade of products might be crippled during such times. Tough times can cause buyers’ priorities to shift. Those in the business of absolute essentials (ex. food) are in luck, but survival is not always guaranteed.

After I graduated, I should have thought outside the box. Instead of focusing on what products to sell at a time when I did not have much money yet, I could have seen myself as a sellable commodity (with my college degree and skills). I could have invested in obtaining more marketable skills, especially when I already had the cash for it. It could have been a new foreign language. Or technical skills that I could start a freelancing career with. That way, I wouldn’t even have to worry about leaving home, not being with my family, or making adjustments so both Jared and I could go to an office.

This Twitter thread sums up my sentiment:

A business can be unstable. Without a nest egg, one could lose everything and have a hard time coming back. Skills, on the other hand, are a guaranteed way of moving forward.

Prioritized seeking help for my mental health.

Going to a psychiatrist is expensive. Therapy is expensive. Most young adults would have second thoughts about getting professional help for their issues because one doctor’s visit would cost a good 10-20% of their monthly salary if they are earning minimum wage. I did, too. And looking back, I consider this one of my biggest mistakes.

The cost might be high, but consider it an investment. You’ll have much more to lose if you ignore the red flags. Your mental health might take a turn for the worse, leading you to do things that may sabotage your future.

Why cry over spilled milk, though?

Of course, these scenarios are only theoretical. After all, I couldn’t have possibly foreseen the future.

There’s no sense crying over spilled milk — but the story of how I knocked over my glass and soaked the carpet of my life’s second decade is my message to those younger than I am. Hopefully, they can spend their carefree twenties enjoying a milkshake.

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