How chronic illness changed my attitude to money

I’ve always been a saver rather than a spender. As children it used to wind my brothers up something rotten. Faced with a tacky souvenir shop on holiday, I would pull out a purse full of saved-up pocket money and they would bitterly regret spending all theirs on sweets. I would walk away with with sticks of rock and over-priced plastic rubbish with my dear brothers scowling at me.

This compulsion to save followed me into adulthood. My mantra has always been that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Who knows when you might need to replace the car, fix the boiler or give up work?

When I was pregnant with Small, impending parenthood heightened this desire to reduce financial risks. If I’m honest, I probably became a bit too frugal. It’s good to use money wisely, but I realise now that for a long time, fear controlled how I saw money. I am pretty expert at worrying about things and I guess finances are a natural place to channel one’s desire to control the future.

Unexpected illness can cause a huge financial stress. I’m well aware of how fortunate I am that my illnesses have not had a major impact on our finances. This is not the case for everyone. Our family has a stable income and I live in the UK where I don’t have to worry about paying for healthcare and meds. This post is a personal account of something positive that has happened to me.

After being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, my view of money started to change. It’s a bizarre thing, but I became more relaxed about my finances. I have been pondering why this might have happened, and here’s what I cam up with:

  1. I realised the future is not in my control. My autoimmune conditions are caused by some freaky gene somewhere. There is nothing that I could have done to prevent my illnesses. While there are things I can do to live a healthy life, I can’t foresee or prevent complications or further things going wrong. I think this has given me a clearer perspective about the amount of control I have over life in general.
  2. I realised I only have one life. It sounds a bit morbid, but you become more aware of your own mortality when you get a serious diagnosis. You realise that you might not have as much time and ability as you once belived to do the things you want to do. I’ve picked up a touch of carpe diem, which can’t be a bad thing! We take the opportunity to go on little breaks with (and without!) the kids whenever we can and I’ve become more of a ‘yes-man’ when it comes to doing stuff that costs a bit!
  3. I started being more thankful. I started to appreciate the things I have, however big or small they are. Rather than focusing on building up to some ‘better future’, I noticed the wonders in my life right now. I’m enjoying living each moment and am much happier.
  4. I had a reality check. We are so well-off compared with most people in the world. It’s probably better to spend time worrying about those who genuinely have need, than possible needs that might happen in my future! I also realised that I tend to compare myself to others and fear ‘falling behind’. I think it’s human nature. One of my favourite quotes at the moment is “Comparison is the thief of joy” (Theodore Roosevelt) and I keep reciting it to myself.

I still catch myself worrying about the future or slipping into old patterns of thinking about money from time to time. But the difference is that I’m not driven by some ill-defined fear lurking in the future anymore.

Has chronic illness changed your view of money and finances? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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