With the holidays fast approaching, I sat down with one of our financial experts here at Children’s to discuss how parents of kids with cancer can balance all the costs in their lives.
Finances are often a challenge at any time of year. But particularly during the holidays, parents tend to worry about paying hospital bills and budgeting for gifts.
It is possible, though. You just have to plan, prioritize, and pay what you can. People understand that when your child is diagnosed with cancer, you’re facing huge hurdles—financially or otherwise.
Friends and family won’t expect your usual holiday tidings, and even financial institutions may be more understanding about timing of your payments.
Read on for holiday tips that may help you with budgeting and bills this season.
Q: What are some of the more common financial concerns you hear from parents of cancer patients during the holidays?
A: Financial issues are one of the most common overall issues families face. Any kind of childhood cancer diagnosis will put a burden on one or both of the child’s parents.
The parents are going to miss out on a chunk of work, and if they have to travel far to the hospital, they may have to take a leave of absence.
Large co-pays are another concern. Often, people choose plans with a higher co-pay or deductible because they generally are young and healthy, and don’t anticipate getting sick.
Mix those bills in with expectations for holiday gift giving, and you’ve got a recipe for a season of stress.
Q: What are some options parents have for financial support during the holidays?
A: There are wonderful programs that our social workers and financial counselors can connect parents with depending on the type of cancer their child has.
Some local nonprofit groups help families pay their bills, and national organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society also have funds available to help families when they need it.
Parents can sit down with social workers and financial counselors to look at income-based aid, such as Medicaid or medical support programs in the home. There are lots of resources out there, and people here in clinic are great for helping them get those resources.
Q: Why don’t some parents reach out for financial help, even though they need it?
A: For some people, it’s a hard thing to ask for financial aid because they don’t want to feel like they depend on other people.
If they can’t make their house or car payment because they’re trying to stay on top of medical bills, they feel like they’re not meeting their family’s needs. And they feel guilty that they can’t meet those needs on their own.
But almost every family out there needs some kind of help at some point—regardless of the resources they have. Cancer diagnoses hit families in a very strong way. Everybody needs a little help.
Q: What tips do you have for parents trying to prioritize which bills to pay and when, so that they have money for holiday gifts?
A: Those decisions come down to each individual family. Parents should sit down together (or with a hospital financial counselor or social worker), list out all of the bills they have, and set their expectations for what they want the holidays to look like this year.
Maybe your kids would understand a year without holiday gifts. Or perhaps you could challenge each other to homemade gift giving.
You could also draw names, and make this year a one-gift-per-person year, with each family member picking out one gift for whoever’s name they draw.
Parents should remember that just because they typically budget anywhere from $200 to $2,000 for holiday gifts doesn’t mean they have to do that this year. Do what you can, and be honest with the kids about it.
Q: Do you have any additional tips, specifically for holiday budgeting?
A: Sometimes, parents have to sit down and admit that there are things they have to give up—for now. Maybe that’s the annual holiday vacation or the new car you were talking about buying after the new year.
Lower your gift-giving budget, and be realistic about what you can afford. If your kids are young enough, they may not even realize a difference.
If they’re older, they may understand and happily ease the financial burden. Especially if one of the parents is taking leave from work, figuring out a budget is essential.
But it’s also essential to keep an open dialogue with your family, and set expectations together. Don’t shoulder everything on your own. Sharing and caring for one another is what family—and the holidays—are all about.