How to cope with loss of income after a cancer diagnosis


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Dealing with any serious illness can cause a drop in income and a spike in expenses, creating a need to budget more carefully than ever.

"A cancer diagnosis will turn your life upside down," says Michelle Bass, legal and financial support services manager at Cancer Council NSW. "On top of treatment and breaking the news to your friends and family, most patients also need to consider the financial implications of cancer.

"Patients may have health-related expenses, such as medicines, equipment and specialist fees. There can also be extra costs for transport, accommodation, childcare or complementary therapies. At the same time, cancer may mean a loss of income if you or your partner or carer have to take time off work. At a time when people should be focused on their treatment and recovery, these costs can be a source of stress and worry."

budgeting during cancer

Cancer Council NSW financial counsellor Lynette Brailey says the first place to start is preparing a basic financial statement of current expenses - food, rent, energy, petrol, car registration, insurance - and calculate how much you need each week to cover those costs .

"If you're not getting the income to cover those general living expenses, that's really hard," she says. "People on a limited income learn to budget really well.

"You need to know if you're going to be short $20 or $100 and work out if there is anything you can alter in that budget to make up that money.

"Go to the op shops to get clothes -  there is no shame or judgment about that. And don't be afraid to put your hand up and ask for help - you'd be surprised who would be willing to help."

Seven tips for shopping on a budget

1. Check the pantry before going to the shops - how many times do you go to the pantry and find you don't actually need to go shopping?

2. Plan your meals. If you randomly go into the supermarket without a shopping list you're already one step behind. Set up a weekly or fortnightly meal plan - buy the extra mince and make an extra-large cottage pie or bolognese or meatballs so you have something on hand. Freeze the extras.

3. Look up and down the shelves to see if there is a cheaper option for the item you are purchasing. Check the unit price of the item.

4. Don't buy two for one if you don't need it.

5. Don't get to the till and, while waiting, choose lollies and other things that aren't a necessity.

6. Spending less doesn't have to mean boring meals - you can have fresh fruit and vegetables. Buy things in season, they are often cheaper.

7. Don't go to the shops when you're hungry or you'll be tempted to buy anything.

After shopping, put any change into a money tin in your pantry, and at Christmas time prise it open to treat yourself, buy gifts or just pay bills.

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Julia Newbould was editor-at-large and later managing editor of Money from November 2019 to February 2022. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.