Published in Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine
By Molly MacDonald
Ten years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer at a time of job transition. The diagnosis detoured my career plans to the off ramp, and without a penny in savings due to a financially devastating divorce, I was unable to provide for my family. My new self-employed husband’s income represented about 30 % of what we needed for the very basics of life. And I carried the health insurance!
Without my income we went into financial free fall. My COBRA premium alone was just under $1300 a month. Our home went into foreclosure; every 58 days I pulled out the cancer card and begged Ford Motor Credit to let me keep my car. And at the end of my treatment, when all our neighbors stopped delivering dinner, lasagna in every form imaginable, I found myself standing in line in the basement of a local church for a few corrugated brown boxes of food.
I was driven to despair. Feeling like a complete loser and without hope I began to believe my family would be better off if I died from cancer, rather than subject them to the potential of entering a cycle of poverty.
My attempts to get help were met with blank stares. It was then, that I experienced what I can only call a divine shift in thinking, “What if I could give help?”
That simple shift changed everything, yet changed nothing. I was able to rescue my home, but I was still bargaining with Ford Credit, and for a few more months standing in line at the food bank.
However, I became so energized and empowered believing I could give help, my financial problems took a back seat to my new vision of helping other women in treatment for breast cancer.
I began to realize and understand that real change begins in the mind. And while self-discipline and self-control are necessary components for change, the heart change was shifting my belief that my life worth is it, and that I AM WORTH IT!
Your New Money in 2016!
It’s a New Year and if you are like one in three Americans, you have made a resolution around self-improvement. The number one and two resolutions we Americans make are to lose weight and improve our finances. Going on a diet and improving our financial bottom line requires we Give something up to Get what we want in the long run. But for many of us, that giving up feels like deprivation. And we Americans don’t like to deprive ourselves.
A sense of deprivation is the single reason most New Year’s resolutions fail within a month.
The problem lies in how we see the steps to get what we want. In order to lose weight and improve our financial bottom line, we must first believe that what we see as deprivation, is in fact replacing what we have told ourselves we want with what we really need. Understanding this difference gives us a sense of financial control over our lives.
The deeper issue is that we don’t value ourselves. Replace the word VALUE with LOVE. We must love ourselves enough to care for ourselves with the bigger picture in mind.
According to Addie McHale, CFP, writing on The Daily Worth, 99 percent of us have a finite amount of money to work with each month. But McHale adds we all have “vices” which cause us to over spend on things we don’t really need.
We feel deprived when we do not indulge ourselves in the luxuries of life, whether it is that hot fudge sundae, or new pair of shoes on sale at a price we believe we cannot resist. So we eat that sundae and buy those shoes, only to feel bad about ourselves later when the sundae is sitting on our hips and the shoes are sitting on a shelf somewhere in our closet.
Once we have made a conscious shift in our thinking, we can begin to implement some of the following suggestions. But until we make that shift in our thinking and apply it to our actions, we will continue the cycle of failure and mentally berating ourselves.
This is why our belief in our self-worth is the key to success. Once we believe it, we can achieve it. I know that sounds corny, but it is true.
Honor your commitment to have more money in 2016:
Stephen Covey in his highly acclaimed The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People wrote, “Begin with the end in mind.” So ask yourself at the end of each month in 2016 “what amount of money do I want to see in my savings account?” See it and write it down.
Is this savings account going to be for an emergency? Or are you budgeting for a larger purchase, say a down payment on a newer car? Even if you are dreaming of a newer car, this savings account could be the difference between having to use credit cards or payday loans when you need emergency cash.
Or are you going to work toward unloading credit card debt, which could save a lot of money, considering the high interest lenders charge.
Either way, you need to start saving by not spending needlessly. But before you can begin to save, you must first understand your spending habits.
Track Your Spending
Every penny counts. Just like keeping a food diary to lose weight, when we write down everything that goes in our mouths we become aware of our eating habits. Keep a money diary. Write down everything you spend, every single day. From that pack of gum or candy bar at the drugstore, which is purely discretionary, to filling up the tank in your car, which is absolutely necessary if you choose to leave home.
At the end of the month, take a highlighter to your list tracking all those truly purely discretionary purchases, including the January sale items you bought, because you told yourself “It was a good deal.” Write down the sum of those dollars and cents.
How would you feel if you had banked that money in a savings account? Feel that sense of accomplishment. Write that number down where you can see it daily. This is key. We must visualize what we want.
Continue to track your spending, but now every time you are about to make a purely discretionary purchase, ask yourself, “Is this getting me closer or farther away from my financial commitment?
Imagine adding that amount to your bank account. Plant that visual in your head. How does it feel knowing you are moving closer to your long term goal? And then say aloud to yourself. I am worthy of saving money. I choose to use my financial resources to better care for myself.
Make Lifestyle Changes
If you color your hair, learn to do it at home. Personally my $7.99 box of Lady Clairol Medium Ash Blonde saves me both time and money. Over a year, my calculations of coloring my hair at home versus going to the salon once a month for color at an average of $60 plus tip will save me $764.12, and at least another 12 hours. Not to mention the cost of gas and parking.
Cut back on Starbucks from five days a week to one? If so, you will easily save yourself another $1,000 over 12 months, assuming you cut back on that venti white chocolate mocha at $4.75 a pop.
With just those two changes you will be saving close to $2,000 annually. Likely, many of us have five simple categories where we can shift our spending habits that would save us $1,000 or more annually in each category, from eating out to simplifying our cell phone or cable charges. That is a lot of money! Visualize $2,000 in your saving account. Now feel it. Feel the safety and satisfaction that comes from making healthy financial choices.
Month End: Transfer whatever is left in your checking account to your savings account. Most financial advisors say “pay yourself first.” But I am advising you to switch it up. Pay yourself last. The reason for this is that those of us who believe we live paycheck to paycheck and cannot save, may realize by making a few simple lifestyle changes, we were in fact wrong. By choosing to use your financial resources differently, you really can save for the future.
Save Your Loose Change: Find a one gallon or larger container. Encourage every family members at the end of every day to deposit their loose change in the container. At the end of the year, ask everyone to guess how much loose change is in the container. Count it together. The family member who comes closest can choose to use the change toward a fun family outing. According to Coin Star, an average family of four could have as much as $600 in change at the end of the year. That makes for a nice outing and lasting memories.
Give back: Philanthropist Bill George and his wife Penny, a 20 year breast cancer survivor wrote in the December issue of SKY, Delta’s magazine that I just “happened” to read while in route to the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, “When you’re helping someone, you have more of a sense of well-being.”
That moment in time ten years ago when I shifted from how can I get help to how can I give help was a turning point that has defined and enriched my life ever since. Whether it is your time or your resources, give something of yourself every day to another human or to a cause that you believe in. Give it freely and unconditionally. This is a priceless gift to yourself. One, no amount of money can buy.
And remember, each time you make one of these positive decisions, say to yourself, “I am worth it.” Because you are.
About Molly MacDonald
Diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2005, she was unable to start her new job as planned. Her family’s already tight budget was immediately overburdened with the addition of a monthly COBRA health insurance payments coupled with the loss of her income. As a result, she was determined to help others suffering from lost income as a result of their diagnosis and treatment. In 2006 she founded The Pink Fund, where she now serves as CEO working daily to provide help and hope to Survivors and their families. “By providing 90 days of non-medical financial assistance, making payments to the patient’s creditors for insurance, housing, transportation and utilities, we give help and hope.” Since its founding, The Pink Fund has made $845,504.45 in bill payments on behalf of 843 Survivors. For her work MacDonald has been the recipient of many local and national awards, most notably she has been named a Pink Power Mom, by Kids II and Bright Starts. She is a Purpose Prize Fellow, presented by Encore.org for social impact, and Money Magazine’s 2014 Michigan Money Hero. The Pink Fund was recently recognized as a top global cancer innovator in patient centric care by The LiveStrong Foundation for its work in helping to rebuild financial health; and was named by Time and Money, together with Charity Navigator as a one of five national breast cancer charities worthy of your donation where you can feel confident your dollars will be put to good use. A graduate from The University of Michigan in journalism, MacDonald’s past work experience includes reporting, marketing, public relations and sales. She is a mother to five adult children.