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Tips to feel financially empowered when living with a chronic disease

(BPT) – For most people, planning for a financially secure future is complicated. It’s difficult to balance how much money you should be saving with what you need to live on now. When you add a chronic illness – such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – into the mix, managing finances becomes even more complex and critical.

An estimated 1.6 million Americans have RA,[i],[ii] an autoimmune disease that causes a range of symptoms including pain and swelling in the joints.[iii] Living with RA could lead to continuous management of symptoms and lifestyle changes – and could also mean added expenses. While RA can impose a substantial burden of cost on people with the condition,[iv] many people may not think about the financial impact of RA at the time they are diagnosed, which can add more stress down the road. It’s important to think about finances as early as possible and seek out resources that can help reduce the stress.

The good news is there are steps people living with RA can take from the time of diagnosis and throughout their RA journey to keep finances on track. Knowing where to start can be the hardest part.

Below are some tips that can help you set yourself up for financial success:

  • OVERCOME GUILT AND STIGMA — The first hurdle when tackling tough issues like finances is overcoming the guilt and stigma associated with money. Many people may feel guilty if medical bills compete with other financial priorities and prevent you from spending on other items for yourself and your family. You may also feel ashamed when talking about the financial burden of RA with others who don’t have a chronic illness. However, it’s important to take care of yourself and not skip recommended treatments or appointments – a healthier you now could mean less medical-related expenses later.
  • DEVELOP YOUR FINANCIAL FOUNDATION — Typical budgeting templates may not account for costs associated with RA, but it’s important to consider them as part of your reoccurring monthly expenses. Find an affordable planner or service that will help you to consider the expected (and unexpected!) expenses associated with your condition, along with future lifestyle and financial goals that are tailored to your needs.
  • MASTER BUDGETING — Financial planners recommend using the 50/20/30 rule to budget – set aside 50 percent of your monthly income on fixed expenses (i.e., rent or mortgage, car payments, gym memberships, and recurring medical bills), 20 percent toward your financial goals and savings (i.e., paying off debt, retirement and building an emergency fund) and 30 percent on non-essentials (i.e., shopping and entertainment).
  • REDUCE CREDIT CARD DEBT AND IMPROVE CREDIT SCORES Every credit card opened under your name affects your credit score, which can impact your ability to borrow money in the future. Consolidate accounts, organize records and set up automated deposits or online payments on credit cards, utilities and medical bills. Expert tip: Close only one credit card per year to avoid negatively affecting your credit score.
  • FIND PROGRAMS TO HELP WITH TREATMENT COSTS — Many companies also have services that can help you get access to treatments at lower costs. If you’re on Medicare, review your Part D prescription drug or Advantage plan, taking into account how your RA may change over time.

After you’ve put an initial financial plan in place, review it annually to make sure it’s keeping up with the way your life and health are changing. Having RA can make finances difficult, but there are steps you can take to help make managing them easier.

Don’t let RA keep you from feeling financially empowered. Visit www.Arthritis.com for even more tips from financial expert and founder of LearnVest, Alexa von Tobel.

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[i] Sacks J, Lou Y, Helmick C. Prevalence of specific types of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions in the ambulatory health care system in the United States 2001-2005. Arthritis Care Res. 2010;62(4):460-464.

[ii] Howden L, Meyer J. U.S. Census Bureau results — U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census Summary File 1. 2010.

[iii] Lee DM, Weinblatt ME. Rheumatoid arthritis. Lancet. 2001;358:903-911.

[iv] Birnbaum H, Pike C, Kaufman R, Marynchenko M, Kidolezi Y. Societal cost of rheumatoid arthritis patients in the US. Curr Med Res Opin. 2010;26:77-90.

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