Reader Case Study: How A Cancer Diagnosis Changes Everything

We’re headed to Arkansas in this month’s Reader Case Study for a discussion with Emily and John, a young couple with a two-year-old and two dogs. Unfortunately, it’s a cancer diagnosis that prompted Emily to request a Case Study, but I’m optimistic that the Frugalwoods community can offer this young couple support, advice, and insight.

Case Studies are financial and life dilemmas that a reader of Frugalwoods sends to me requesting that Frugalwoods nation weigh in. Then, Frugalwoods nation (that’s you!), reads through their situation and provides advice, encouragement, insight, and feedback in the comments section. For an example, check out last month’s case study.

I provide updates from our Case Study subjects at the bottom of each Case Study several months after a Case is featured. You all have requested an easier way to track Case Study updates and I have heard your pleas :)! Here’s list of all the Case Studies that currently have an update provided at the end of the post (and a hint that if you’re a past Case Study participant who hasn’t sent me your update yet, send it on over–your fans want to hear from you!):

I probably don’t need to say the following because you all are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but, please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we endeavor to help one another, not to condemn.

With that I’ll let Emily, this month’s Case Study subject, take it from here!

Emily’s Story

Hello, Frugalwoods nation! My name is Emily, I’m 36 years old and I live in Arkansas with my 37-year-old husband, John, our two dogs, and our two-year-old son. We thought we had life figured out and were comfortable in cruise control until a health scare flipped our lives upside-down and made us question everything. We’d like to share our story to inspire others to pay off debt early in life, have an emergency plan, enjoy life, and… of course we also have some questions for you!

John & Emily’s Early Years

John and I met in 2005 in Chicago. He was in dental school and I was finishing up my undergraduate degree in business management. We spent our first few summers traveling around the U.S. and South America on a student budget: we camped, ate at grocery stores, and explored off the beaten path places.

We got married a few years later. My parents gifted us $10k that we could either put towards our wedding, or keep for another goal. Neither of us were into event planning–and John was living off his student loans—so we had a small, frugal wedding with close friends and family. It was perfect for us and we saved the money for a down payment for our first house.

When John graduated from dental school in 2008, he had $210,000 in student loan debt. I didn’t have any debt as my parents had generously paid for my education. Next up, we needed to decide where to put down roots. We’d always talked about moving to the mountains of Colorado, Washington, or Oregon. We did a lot of research on dental jobs and the cost of living in these areas and couldn’t come to a consensus on where to move. When a good opportunity opened up in Arkansas–where both of our families live–we jumped on it. John accepted a three-year contract with a signing bonus. Our plan was to spend those three years figuring out where we really wanted to live and pay off some of his dental school debt.

Their First Home

We bought our first home in Arkansas for a modest $150,000. We penny pinched and tightened our budget to pay off the $210,000 of student loan debt in almost exactly three years, just as we’d planned. While we thought Arkansas would be a brief way-station for us, ten years later, we’re still here. And we love it! We’ve met a lot of awesome friends and fallen in love with our town and the surrounding natural beauty. It’s truly a hidden gem in the Midwest. The low cost of living and access to nature check the boxes for what we want. Additionally, both of our families live near us, which is wonderful for us and for our young son!

Hobbies, Careers, and Their Second Home

In our free time, we enjoy endurance mountain and road biking, running, hiking, and boating. John is settled into his dental practice, bringing home $120,000 after taxes, and I work in sales and bring home $48,000. At my previous gig, I was able to get a free MBA through my employer. I love my current job as it’s very flexible and the pay and benefits are good.

A few years ago, we bought our dream house on lakefront property for $645,000. We paid a premium for the location, but we absolutely loved it.

The Health Crisis

In the fall of 2017, John was diagnosed with liver cancer. The news blindsided us. Everything had just started to fall into place with our lives and we were building our family. We were presented with a lot of unknowns from the doctors—treatment timeline, effectiveness, and outcome. We quickly transitioned into emergency mode and started planning for a very different type of future.

Due to some underlying conditions that John had prior to his cancer diagnosis, he would have eventually needed a liver transplant; however, because of the cancer, he may not be able to get a transplant. We don’t know if the cancer or the liver failure will end up being his biggest issue. We feel like our hands are tied at this point as his doctors haven’t been able to give us any concrete timelines.

The prognosis for this type of cancer, combined with his liver disease, isn’t good, but his doctors keep saying that medicine is changing and that due to the many variables in John’s case, it’s unknown what/when something will happen that might help him. Nobody knows if John has a year, 5 years, 10 years, or more. He just finished his treatment for the cancer, so now we’re in the mode of “wait and see.” At present, John is feeling pretty good and recovering from chemo and radiation treatment. We’re trying to live as normally as possible and don’t talk about it a lot, but it’s in both of our minds all the time and factors into our financial planning and decisions. Since the diagnosis, it’s been REALLY hard to plan/talk about the future because of the uncertainty. Plus, it’s not exactly a fun topic. However, realistically we all live with this uncertainty because we could be hit by a bus tomorrow! Somehow putting it in that perspective makes me feel better.

Due to John’s preexisting liver condition, we’ve never been able to get reasonably priced life insurance on him. We decided to save our money and focus on building our investments instead. We also value the bit of life insurance that we get from our employers as it isn’t biased against pre-existing conditions.

The Decision To Downsize

We were thankful that at the time of John’s diagnosis, we had saved up a $100k emergency fund–a mix of cash and investments, but we decided not to touch it and to instead sell our house. The decision to sell our “dream home” ended up being an easy one. Financially, it made complete sense and any emotional attachment we had to the home was dwarfed by the other emotions we were going though. In the end, we decided that it’s just a house and not worth any financial strain it might bring.

We wanted to sell our home ourselves in order to avoid paying realtor fees of $30K-$40k. We staged the house, took pictures, and posted it on Zillow’s Make Me Move. By the following weekend, we had two full-price offers. It happened so much faster than we had anticipated, but we plowed ahead and closed on the house just one month later. We cleared $350k on the sale and depositing that check felt pretty awesome.

We were able to turn around and pay $300k cash for our new (65-year-old) home, so now we’re mortgage free. (Yes, we did consider living in a pimped out Sprinter van and traveling the country or moving to Costa Rica, but that’s not practical with John’s cancer treatment schedule).

Questioning How We Use Our Time

John and I have always been very focused on working hard, making a lot of money, and saving a lot of money. For our whole lives we’ve followed the tried-and-true formula for success: getting the right education, climbing the ladder, and running the rat race. Financially, it all played out as promised. But then cancer happened, and this has caused us to look at life with new eyes and think about how we want to spend our time.

Although we’re now debt free (except for a 0% car loan, which we are choosing not to pay off early), we don’t know what the next few years hold for us. We’re trying to prepare financially for a number of different and unknown scenarios. We’re also focused on being optimistic and enjoying life. It’s a challenging balance.

Questioning How Much We Want/Need To Work

This summer, John will be cutting back his work hours to 27 hours (3 days) per week so that he has more time to enjoy life and relax. This will reduce our take home pay by $40,000 per year.

Being debt free has also given me the luxury to reconsider work and how it fits into my life, and I’m on the fence about what to do. I defiantly want to retain the security of my well-paying job with benefits, but I want to slow down. I work 40 hours a week, but would love to cut down to 32 hours and spend more time with our son.

I carry our healthcare benefits, and 32 hours is the minimum I can go down to and maintain coverage. This would result in approximately $16k less in take home pay from me. My work is pretty flexible right now, so that’s why I’m so on the fence about whether or not it’s worth it for me to cut back.

Where Emily and John Want To Be In 10 years:

Lifestyle and Career:

  • I used to have a plan for 10, 20, even 40 years into the future, but it all seems so unclear right now. Ideally, we would be continuing to do a lot of what we do now. John would be healthy and working just three days a week—spending his free time biking, boating, and golfing. I’d be at my same company, probably in a more senior role with more flexibility for remote working.
  • We could take long trips in the summer during which I could work remotely. Our son would be 12 and maybe we’d even have another child. I’d also like to be more involved with community organizations that I was previously involved with.
  • We might want to have another child, but that isn’t an immediate goal. We’ve decided to reassess in a year to see where things are with John’s health
  • We plan to stay here in Arkansas for the longterm and have no plans to relocate.

Finances:

  • We want to pay for our son’s college education and be able to help get him get started in life, like my parents did for us. We do plan on requiring that he has a job–as we both always did growing up—and pays for his own car or car insurance.
  • Other than saving for retirement and college, we don’t have any big financial goals in the future that are different from what we’re currently doing.

Emily and John’s Finances

Net Income

Item Amount Notes
John’s Income $10,000* After taxes and 401k max.
Emily’s Income $2,800 After taxes, 401k max, FSA childcare, HSA contributions, and health insurance.
Interest $100 We get 2.25% back on one of our accounts and 1.5% on another.
Monthly Subtotal: $12,900**  
Annual Total: $154,800***

*John’s income will reduce to $6,666 starting in June when John reduces his hours to 3 days a week

**Their monthly income will reduce to $9,566 starting in June when John reduces his hours to 3 days a week

***Their annual income will reduce to $114,800 starting in June when John reduces his hours to 3 days a week

Monthly Expenses

Item Amount Notes
Car payment $753.00 0% interest car payment; 3 years left until it is fully paid off.
Daycare $700.00 We pay $40/day and sometimes grandma watches him.
Medical $675.00 We reach our out of pocket max of $6,000 every year. This covers that plus additional expenses such as vitamins, probiotics, and over the counter items.
Vacations $600.00 We are prioritizing vacations right now.
Groceries $532.00 I try to bargain shop, but I think we just eat a lot of food.
Household Items $475.00 This includes home improvement, furniture, décor, kitchen things, cleaning supplies, lawn mower, ladder, hoses, fertilizer, toilet paper, dish soap, sandwich and trash bags, etc. We don’t need any more furniture or décor, and I think we’re set on equipment, so I hope to see this number go down.
Sports/Hobbies $433.00 Biking and sports gear, race fees, tires, parts, team clothing, special gloves, helmets, and other equipment.
Taxes on house $423.00 We pay this annually, but budget monthly
Utilities $215.00  Electricity and Gas
Work-related expenses $175.00 License renewal, CE courses, and staff gifts/lunches.
Dining Out $162.00 We try to limit dining out and feel comfortable with this dollar amount.
Gasoline for cars $155.00 Gas for our two cars. This is the average per month, so it includes longer trips.
Life Insurance $127.00 We have some life insurance through our employers, about $200,000 on John and $150,000 on me.

We have two additional policies that we pay for every month though other parties: $82/month for $100,000 of life insurance on John and another $45/month for AD&D on John–this wouldn’t cover anything related to cancer. The value is $300K (this policy also covers $150,000 on me–less because I’m not the head of household). I don’t have any additional policies on myself.

Fast Food $110.00 I’d like to reduce our fast food spending
Home Insurance $98.00 Through Progressive
Dogs $75.00 Vet visits and food for our two dogs
Clothing $69.00 We don’t buy clothes and shoes often, but this is the average per month, including boots and shoes.
Car Insurance $67.00 For both of our cars, though Progressive.
Boat $65.00 We own a boat and this is the cost for winterizing, maintaining, and gas (average monthly cost)
Child Expenses $60.00 Diapers, used clothing and toys, carseats, gear, misc items.
Cell phones $46.00 We have Straight Talk with unlimited data. Each of our phone plans is 45.95, but my work pays for mine.
Internet $45.00 A must.
Administrative $35.00 Fees for licenses, passports, checks, etc.
Entertainment $32.00 Concerts, movies, yoga classes, art classes, fun social events
Crafts $28.00 Supplies throughout the year (fabric, paint, pens)
Personal Care $25.00 Great Clips hair cuts for John, 3 cuts a year for me at the Salon School for $10, Misc makeup, lotions, etc. I rarely buy makeup.
Gifts $19.00 The monthly average of the whole year.
Netflix $10.50 We like to watch shows a few times a week.
Amazon Prime $8.25 I save money (and valuable time!) with Amazon. No more mindless browsing at Target! Plus the movies are great.
Monthly Total: $6,217.75  
Annual Total: $74,613.00

Monthly After-Tax Investments

Item Amount Notes
Roth (back door) $916 Lump sum contribution ($5,500 x 2) averaged per month
Vanguard Mutual Funds $900 Automatic monthly investments into Vanguard mutual funds
529 College Savings Plan $267 We save approximately $3,200 per year towards our son’s higher education (this is the maximum that the state offers in income tax deduction).
Monthly after-tax investments total: $2,083  
Annual after-tax investments total: $24,996

Amount Leftover Every Month

Item Amount Notes
Amount leftover every month after all expenses and after-tax investments $4,599.25 This is used for additional investments, home improvements, and discretionary spending.

Assets

Item Amount Notes
House $300,000 We are mortgage free!
401k (John) $231,500 John gets a $2,000 contribution from his employer per year
Mutual Funds (through Vanguard) $108,500 Brokerage account, 100% mutual funds
401k (Emily) $108,150 My employer doesn’t contribute
High yield savings account (through Goldman Sachs) $61,000 This is our emergency/saving account. 1.6% return; no fees.
Roth (John) $49,000 Max out every year.
Roth (Emily) $48,000 Max out every year.
Brokerage account (through Charles Schwab) $37,000 Brokerage account, mixture of individual stocks ($8 per trade, no fees).
Esop + Profit Sharing (Emily) $28,800 Instead of a 401k match, my company allocates about $6k/year between an ESPO and Profit sharing account.
High yield checking account $17,000 Checking/$15k of emergency money. We maintain at least $15k in this account due to a guaranteed 2.25% return on the first $15k.
529 college savings account $8,880 Our son’s higher education fund
Total Assets $997,830

 Cars

Car Valued at Notes
2017 Mazda CS6 $30,000 We owe $25,430 on this car. We decided to buy new because of the 0% interest rate.
2013 Toyota Forerunner $17,000 Paid off
Total: $47,000

Debts

Item Amount Notes
Owed on 2017 Mazda CS6 $25,430 Our car payment, which we are choosing to continue to make payments on because of the 0% interest

Emily’s Questions For You:

  1. Should I reduce my workload to 32 hours a week, or stay at 40 hours in order to stash away that extra $16k per year?
  2. We’re really focused on enjoying life right now, but trying to balance that with a saving/wealth-building mindset. Can we afford to maintain our current spending and work less? Or, should we be thinking about this differently?
  3. Can anyone who has gone through a cancer diagnosis let me know what else we should be thinking about?
  4. Should we be investing our money any differently?
  5. Should I loosen up about our money and stop agonizing over expenses because we’re doing well? Or should I try to save even more because of the unknowns?

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

I want to start off by thanking Emily for opening up her finances and life to us in this Case Study. It’s difficult to discuss money and it’s even more difficult to discuss challenging health issues and she has done both with grace and aplomb. I applaud Emily and John for being so open about their circumstances and for seeking out advice during what is surely a tumultuous time in their lives.

Emily and John have done a lot of things right and I want to congratulate them for their fiscally responsible decisions to:

  1. Pay off their debt
  2. Save up an emergency fund
  3. Contribute to their retirement accounts
  4. Invest in the stock market

Very well done on all of these fronts! These four steps are the first four steps that almost everyone should take in an effort to improve their financial situation.

I also want to highlight John and Emily’s prudent decision to sell their $645K home and purchase a much less expensive home to live in–mortgage free!!! Emily really hit the nail on the head when she said: “In the end, we decided that it’s just a house and not worth any financial strain it might bring.” Such great insight and such a great decision. They’re now mortgage free and thus able to direct their money into their savings. This excellent decision has provided them with quite a few more options than they might otherwise have at this stage in their lives.

Work Life Balance

I am so glad that Emily and John have made the decision to prioritize quality of life and to look for ways to spend more time together as a family and less time working. This is the perfect illustration of my advice to always save more money than you think you’ll need because you never know what’s going to happen in life. Since John and Emily had the ability to save over the years–after paying off their debt in spectacular fashion–they’ve given themselves flexibility in how they think about their time and their work schedules. By earning good salaries and being mindful about how they use their money, John and Emily are demonstrating the freedom you can create for yourself when you’re not in debt and not living paycheck to paycheck. While no one wants a cancer diagnosis to be the thing that brings them to this realization, John and Emily have put themselves in a good position to take advantage of working less at this stage of their lives. If you ever needed an example of why it’s imperative to whip your finances into shape ASAP, please take John and Emily’s story to heart.

Ok, let’s break down the reduction in hours and pay that John and Emily are considering. John is already on track to reduce his hours to 27 hours per week (woohoo!) and Emily is pondering reducing her work hours to 32 hours per week, which would allow her to retain the family’s healthcare benefits, but would give her more time at home. Here’s what those reductions would look like in terms of their income:

After-tax Net Income Current Monthly Income Monthly Income with JOHN ONLY Reduced Hours Monthly Income with John AND Emily Reduced Hours
John’s Income $10,000 $6,666 $6,666
Emily’s Income $2,800 $2,800 $1,333
Interest (cash back) $100 $100 $100
Monthly Total: $12,900 $9,566 $8,099
Annual Total: $154,800 $114,792 $97,188

Of course the other side of this equation is their spending. At present, John and Emily spend $6,217.75 per month on expenses and $2,083 per month on after-tax investments (way to go on investing!!). This is a grand total of $8,300.75 every month (or, $99,609 per year). According to the above chart, they could easily maintain this level of spending and investing with John reducing his hours, but would be overspending by $201.75 every month if Emily also reduced her hours. However, I still think it’s very possible for Emily to reduce her hours if the family can commit to reducing some of their expenses.

Emily reducing her work schedule in order to spend more time with her family is ultimately a personal choice that she alone can make. This is really a question of money vs. time: Would she rather spend more and work more or spend less and work less?

In order to help Emily and John figure out how they might make a reduction in her hours tenable, let’s take a look at their expenses.

Expenses

John and Emily are absolute pros at tracking their expenses. This is one of the most thorough, thoughtful and complete rundowns of spending that I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of people’s expenses over the years!!). Emily told me that she’s been judiciously tracking their spending for several years and has a great idea of exactly what they spend. You’ll note that she has accounted for one-off large expenses that we all incur, such as a lawnmower, along with the more standard groceries and utilities bill expenses.

Looking at just one month of spending DOES NOT give you the full picture of your true annual spending since we buy different things every month. Just take a look at my wild and crazy April spending for an example! The only way to truly know what you spend in a year is to track every single month for many years. This is why I use and recommend Personal Capital for the task of tracking expenses–I find it a lot easier to automate and track through their website than writing it all down myself. However you do it, financial management starts with knowing what you spend.

All that to say, HUGE CONGRATS to Emily for having a thorough handle on what her family spends every month. Now, let’s see if we can identify some areas for savings in order to allow Emily to reduce her work hours.

In every single Case Study, I like to point out that what you choose to save or not save is a very personal decision. Cutting every last expense is NOT the right answer for everyone and I am NOT an advocate for making yourself miserable in the process of achieving financial stability. I AM an advocate for values-based, goal-oriented spending. I think it’s important to assess whether all of your expenses bring you fulfillment and a good return on your investment.

I think it’s also important to question if your rate of savings will help you to achieve your long-term goals. But what you spend on? That’s a very personal choice and one that you have to make for yourself. My job is to point out areas where you might be able to save, but only you can decide if that level of savings is right for you. If you’re struggling with where to save more and how to map out a longterm financial plan, I encourage you to take my free 31-day Uber Frugal Month Challenge.

If Emily decides that she wants to reduce her work hours, she will need to cut back the family’s spending by at least $201.75 in order to break even every month (assuming she wants to maintain her current level of after-tax investments, which I advise doing).

Here are some areas where John and Emily could consider reducing their spending:

  • Unfortunately, their largest monthly expense–their $700 car payment–isn’t easy to reduce or eliminate. While I’m glad they have a 0% interest rate, this is why I advocate for buying used cars. It isn’t just the interest rate that gets you with a new car, it’s also the incredible mark-up and resulting depreciation of a new car. I have several posts on why buying used is wise for anyone currently considering buying a car. However, this is already done for John and Emily and I wholeheartedly agree with their decision not to pay this loan off early. Since the interest rate is 0%, there’s no financial reason to pay it off early.
  • Their daycare bill is extremely reasonable and it’s wonderful that grandma helps out in that regard!
  • At $600, their vacation line item is pretty expensive, but I also completely understand that they are prioritizing vacations right now. I wonder if they’ve looked into travel hacking? Since John and Emily are so organized and responsible with their money, they might find great benefit in using credit cards to earn travel points. If they’re interested in getting into travel hacking, I recommend the free Travel Miles 101 course and using this site to search for a card that’ll best fit their needs. And for travel rewards cards specifically, check out this list curated by my friend Brad (from Travel Miles 101). I respect Brad’s work in the travel rewards space and I trust his advice on which cards will reap the best benefits.
  • $532 for groceries for three people isn’t shabby at all, but when you add in their other two food categories–dining out at $162 and fast food at $110–that’s a whopping $804 on food. Emily noted that they’re happy with their dining out budget, but would like to reduce the fast food category. That sounds like a great idea and a good place to start. There’s nothing wrong with spending this much on food, but, if Emily is sincere in her desire to work less, this is one of the easier areas to reduce. Here are a few posts for inspiration:
  • At $475, household items is another area that seems ripe for reduction. Emily mentioned that she hopes this number will go down soon, so it sounds like she already has her eye on it. Might be another easy area to shave off some $$$!
  • $433 for sports & hobbies seems like a lot to spend per month (that’s $5,196 per year!), but, I am a major proponent of values-based spending and if this is something that brings John and Emily joy, then it’s worth it. I do wonder if there might be any opportunities to barter and trade for any of these items instead of paying for them?
  • For cell phones, $46 isn’t terrible, but there are several low cost providers that are cheaper. I recommend John check out Ting, Republic Wireless and Boom Mobile to see if he can get a better deal. I pay $19.99/month for Boom, and the other two are often even cheaper (I have Boom because it’s the only one that gets service out here in rural Vermont). This could be an easy way to save every month!

In general, since Emily has a very specific goal here–to work fewer hours–and a very specific dollar amount by which they’d need to reduce their spending in order to break even ($201.75), I don’t think she’ll have any problem identifying areas where they can make up this difference by saving more.

Investments

Emily asked about their investments and, in general, I think they’re doing a terrific job. Once again, having an emergency fund, traditional retirement accounts, and a brokerage account is the perfect trifecta of money management for most people. Well done, John and Emily!!

One thing that jumps out at me is that John and Emily have two different brokerage accounts (one at Vanguard and one at Schwab) and both a checking and a savings account. Since I’m a fan of simplicity, I’d combine these accounts from four down to two. In general, I recommend investing in low-fee index funds and Vanguard is an excellent brokerage to use for this. At their level of assets, I recommend VTSAX, which is Vanguard’s low-fee total market index fund. Index funds mean that you’re invested across the entire stock market and low-fee means you don’t pay a ton in fees, because you manage your account yourself.

I would close the Schwab account because I’m not a fan of holding individual stocks and would rather see all of their money in index funds, since this is the most diversified way to invest. For more on this approach, I highly highly highly recommend the book, The Simple Path To Wealth.

Then, as far as I can tell, the $61K and $17K cash accounts could be combined. Since their checking account is high-yield, I see no reason to have two separate accounts here, but I might be missing something. Additionally, I want to note that $78,000 is a HUGE amount of money to have liquid (and not invested). However, I completely understand why John and Emily have such a large amount of their money liquid. They have a great deal of uncertainty in their future and having cash on hand is a good idea when you’re facing health uncertainties like they are, or when you’re planning on putting a downpayment on a house, or buying a car, or any other situation that might require a massive influx of cash. So while I think it’s fine for John and Emily at present, it is something for them to keep an eye on since, in the future, they may wish to allocate more of this money into their investments as opposed to keeping it liquid. In general, I wouldn’t keep this much money liquid unless I had a specific reason to do so for the simple fact that they’re missing out on potential market gains if the money was invested.

Life Insurance

Another topic I want to spend some time on here is life insurance–more for the edification of anyone reading this and less for John and Emily. Since John and Emily are unfortunately grappling with John’s cancer, I want to point out that this is a reason to carry life insurance. There are endless unknowns in life and life insurance is a way of buffering against some of these calamities. No one likes to think about their mortality in such granular terms, but having life insurance is a fairly easy step you can take to ensure that your family–particularly if you have dependents–is taken care of should you pass away unexpectedly.

How much life insurance do you need? Most people should carry enough life insurance that, if they passed away, their partner and family would be able to maintain their existing lifestyle indefinitely. For single people without dependents, life insurance is usually unnecessary (unless you have any other family members you are financially responsible for). Emily noted that they’d been unable to get robust life insurance on John due to his pre-existing liver condition, but that they do have some insurance.

However, since they don’t have enough life insurance to replace John’s salary for the longterm, I encourage Emily to consider how she might either adjust the family’s spending or increase her income (or both) to provide for herself and her son should John pass away. Emily’s current income is $2,800/month, but the family’s spending is $6,217.75 per month (plus the $2,083 per month in after-tax investments). Since they are mortgage-free, Emily has a lot of flexibility in examining their spending and we outlined a few ideas for reduction above. It’s also true that Emily has a fantastic safety net–$78K in cash and $145,500 in investments–but she won’t want to draw down all of this to cover living expenses. And, while it’s a robust net worth, it’s not enough to provide for the family for the longterm. Thus, while I agree with Emily and John’s decision to reduce their working hours and focus on enjoying life together as a family, they can make this a much more financially viable option by reducing their spending as well.

What I want to point out here is that life insurance (and emergency funds and investments) are not just for people with cancer. They’re not just for people facing a known obstacle or health crisis; they are for everyone because you absolutely never know what’s going to happen in life.

If you don’t have life insurance and are wondering if you should get some, there’s a website called PolicyGenius that offers a free online insurance calculator and policy comparison tool. What I like about PolicyGenius is that it has you take a quiz that asks specific questions about your income and your spending as well as other details about your life. And then, unlike most life insurance calculators on the internet, PolicyGenius doesn’t require you to input any personal contact information in order to view the results of your insurance needs quiz. This means they’re not going to inundate you with tons of spam trying to sell you insurance you don’t need.

Most other online calculators require you to input your email address because they want to sell it to a bunch of brokers who will then hassle you mercilessly for time and all eternity. Instead, PolicyGenius utilizes an algorithm to match your situation to specific insurers who will insure you, and it clearly displays how much this coverage will cost. You’re not locked into buying life insurance by using PolicyGenius; rather, they give you an idea of what life insurance would cost for you from a bunch of different companies. It’s a way of learning what you need and then comparing costs between different insurers. All in all, it’s a pretty low-stakes, easy way to assess your life insurance needs. (Full disclosure: we receive a small amount of money if you end up buying insurance through PolicyGenius, but I’m only telling you about them because their service is free and I think they do a good job).

Summary:

In closing, John and Emily are doing great and I recommend they do the following:

  1. Decide if Emily would rather work less and spend less or work more and spend more (there’s no right answer here, it’s all about what Emily values most at this point in her life).
  2. If Emily wants to reduce her work hours, I advise she identify where they’ll be saving that additional money from every month BEFORE she drops down in hours, so that they’re not blindsided by overspending in their first month of lowered income.
  3. Since Emily’s salary won’t cover all of their living expenses should John pass away, she should be thinking about how she plans to cover these expenses on her salary alone. Increasing income and/or reducing expenses will be the answer.
  4. Enjoy life! I love, love, love John and Emily’s focus on positivity, optimism, and time together. I encourage them to work through items #1-3 and then enjoy life with their son and dogs!

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Emily? She and I will both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask any clarifying questions!

Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Email me (mrs@frugalwoods.com) your brief story and we’ll talk.

P.S. I wrote a book, which published March 6th! If you’ve already read the book, I would really appreciate it if you’d consider leaving a review on Amazon! Many thanks for your support.

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116 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Props to PolicyGenius. I just went through their “how much life insurance do I need” calculator and they came back saying I didn’t need any (which I think is correct since I have a positive net worth and no wife or kids). A lot of places would be so eager to take your money that they’d try to sell you something anyway. This is the sort of thing that would make me want to return to PolicyGenius when my situation changes and I need life insurance. I can see why Frugalwoods partnered with them.

  2. Isabella says:

    Emily, I’m very sorry that you and your family are facing this health crisis. We make all the plans , and then we are blindsided by life. Seventeen years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Eighteen months ago, it returned and treatments and surgeries have been much more rigorous. Fortunately for my husband and me, our four children are grown, college educated and on their own.

    I wish I had some concrete advice to give you. I have heard many stories of survival and hardship in my days in the cancer center. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it has been my personal faith in Jesus that carries me along. I know that my life is in His hands and have been commited to this since I was 19 years old. The things of this world are so fleeting. What matters the most is people and where we are going when we depart our time on this earth.

    I am glad to see you are focusing on enjoying life to the fullest. None of us has a guarantee of any kind! But God can move in wondrous ways. The following is the verse I have claimed during my cancer journey. “For He will give His angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a rock.” Psalm 91: 11-12

    I think we all fall into the trap of following the things of this world, forgetting about the One who created it all, the One who gives us the very breath we breathe. I wiil pray that health and peace will come your way.

    • Emily B. says:

      Thank you Isabella, and my heart goes out to you as you navigate your own treatment. John and I have both commented on how much this experience has made us look at live through a new lens and enjoy every moment. It sounds so cliche, but this experience is really not one anyone can comprehend until you are in the thick of it.

      Thank you for sharing your perspective on how faith can lift you up. So true.

    • Ilene says:

      Thank you for you witness, Isabella. Your words touched my heart. I share your faith in Jesus and pray for many more productive years for you and Emily’s John. I remember the morning I first felt the lump in my abdomen….I almost wrecked the car on my way to work…but here I am healthy 25 years later! Nurture hope!!

  3. Danielle says:

    I don’t really have any additional advice, but I just want to thank you for sharing. You’ve reminded me of my ‘why’. I don’t have any specific goals right now, but you’re renewed my focus on financial independence – if nothing else so that I have the flexibility to change my life if needed unexpectedly!

  4. Caroline says:

    First of all, my sincerest wishes of nothing but the most miraculously good and unexpectedly fantastic outcome for your husband in what must be an extremely scary and painful situation.

    I didn’t even read everything, but having lived through a parent terribly sick and eventually dying (entirely different ailment and not even remotely the same as what John is facing), I would say, take the cut in hours. There may come a day when you have no choice but to build those hours up again, and since it’s a job you love and are good at, that will be great, but for now, with only one child, and a husband who wants to enjoy his life and not look too hard into the future, were it me, I’d take those eight free hours a week as an option not to be missed. Health coverage is clearly crucial and not to be trifled with, but if you can make that reduction and keep everything equal, I would do that. You will never, ever regret it, even if and when John recovers and all is fine and dandy.

    This is the time to live ”now” and because you have been so sensible and careful in really making debt-reduction and frugal living a reality, you can do this. Do it. Really. With good meds and excellent care, your little family could have many happy years together, but liver cancer is just… not a great diagnosis, so now is the time to take the one thing that money cannot get you, and that is hours and free time together, just pottering or travelling or going for hikes.

    In 2 years reassess. Maybe then you’ll want to ramp up the hours again, maybe there will be another little baby en route to keep you on your toes!

    My very best wishes to you as you navigate a part of life no one ever wants to deal with.

    • Emily B. says:

      Thank you Caroline. Your words of wisdom are inspiring me to commit to reducing my hours to enjoy the “now” even more. I often think of the quote, “On their deathbed, nobody every looked back and wished they had spent more time in the office.” I’m sure I will never regret it!

      • Anne says:

        Please make sure (and get in writing) that your employer will let you increase your hours again when you want to. If there comes a time that you need the extra money that those 8 hours would bring, you don’t want to be in a position of them saying it no longer works for them.

  5. Eileen says:

    All my best to John and Emily. You are doing great and it’s impressive to see you reaching out for a review of your financial health. I agree that your attention to “true expenses” makes your case study so complete. You are doing great!

    (I also just used Policy Genius and it, too, said I don’t need life insurance at the moment….we’re newly empty nesters. We do have life insurance, so it will be something for us to consider.)

  6. Kim says:

    Huge kudos to John and Emily for everything they’ve done for financial stability! Amazingly great job. I was 45 when my 48 yr old husband passed away from leukemia. He was an optometrist and I a nurse. We were not in as great a shape financially as John and Emily. Thankfully we had a very good life insurance policy on my husband before he was diagnosed. Without it, I would’ve lost everything. My salary alone wouldn’t have paid our mortgage, let alone any other bills. Emily, I’d say go for the 32 hr work week so that you can spend time with John and your son. Time is precious. Reduce your spending as much as you can to make it work. Take lots of photos and videos. Please young people in your 20s/30s with families, get life insurance! Don’t forget estate planning – make a will, Living Will, and Health Care Power of Attorney. Nobody likes to think about these things but they’re so very necessary. At the very least discuss your wishes with your loved ones. I second Mrs. FW’s recommendations on combining the checking accounts and also the brokerage accounts. Get some admiral shares in VTSAX. I’m cheering you on, John and Emily, and hoping you have a long, happy future together.

    • Emily B. says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Kim, and especially highlighting estate planning. We need to do this…and everyone should, because you never know what will happen. It feels so morbid to do it when there is actually a health crisis going on, so I recommend everyone do it before it gets to this point!

  7. Thank you for sharing your story, Emily! You two seem to have been on the right track both in terms of your career and dealing with an unexpected health event. Selling the lakefront house, I agree, was the right decision. The house was on the more expensive end. Given the fact that you and John have to deal with other more urgent things in life, it’s great that you downsized and now are mortgage-free.

    I think that reducing your work time by 16 hours is a good idea. You will have more time to take care of John and create more memories for the family, especially during this time. However, reducing the hours should go together with reducing expenses such as vacation, clothing, gifts, crafts, and entertainment. I know that you and John prioritize traveling and fun time with family. But there are a lot of ways to do those things for free or on the cheap. After, you don’t want to keep working to work for high expenses and keep wondering if you should spend more time with family instead.

    I hope you two will get over this challenge in life soon. It’s a bump in the road, but I’m sure tomorrow will be a new day 🙂

  8. Hello Emily! My heart goes out to you regarding the sudden shift in perspective and plans that you have had in regard to the recent diagnosis. My family also experienced something similar recently, though it was not life-threatening. Scary and game-changing, all the same.

    Kudos on selling the house, which gives you far more lifestyle flexibility at this point. In terms of reducing expenses slightly to enable both you and John to reduce your hours, the combined food budget seems like a good candidate for savings. Our family of three (1yo son) is able to eat organic and non-GMO on a grocery budget of $320/mo. I would consider cutting out that fast food! Sports/Equipment and household supplies also seems quite high.

    Will your $700/month in childcare costs be reduced if one or both of you reduce your hours? If you were to stagger one or more of your combined days off each week, you could potentially eliminate this expense entirely, a savings of $8,400/year.

    In terms of your life insurance situation, I think you’re actually in a better position than you may believe. One of the lesser-known and under-appreciated elements of Social Security is Widow’s and Survivor’s benefits available upon the death of a spouse. Typical Widow benefits are only collectible after reaching age 60, but if you have children in the home you become eligible for Widow, child-in-care benefits immediately, until you have no children in the home under the age of 16. In addition, you will receive a per-child Survivor’s benefit for each child in the home under the age of 18.

    Both of these benefits are calculated at 50% of your husband’s estimated SS benefit based on his earnings record, for a total of 100% combined. You can find his current benefit amount by creating an account at SS.gov. I highly encourage you to do so, as you may find that this will drastically change your life insurance situation. Once my wife and I had our first, my life insurance policy became completely redundant since SS benefits alone coupled with our savings meant we were completely self-insured.

    Last but not least, I would advise exploring the possibility of pursuing an investment strategy known as the Mega-Backdoor Roth, first made popular by the Mad Fientist. This would potentially enable you and your husband to contribute tens of thousands of dollars per year to your Roth IRA accounts using after-tax contributions. Good luck and best wishes!

    • Emily B. says:

      Thank you for the idea about reducing childcare costs and the information about the SS Widow’s and Survivor’s benefits. I read up on the SS benefit, and it’s so great to know that exists! Any bit helps, and this sounds like it would a great benefit to supplement my income should we need it. Thank you so much!

      We will also look into the mega-backdoor roth. I’m not familiar with that!

  9. Mrs P says:

    Dear Emily and John, thank you so much for sharing your story, you have been so brave and I am sorry to hear of John’s cancer diagnosis. I should also say that your finances are seriously impressive, paying off all that student debt in just 3 years is brilliant!

    That being said, I lost my mother to cancer when my brother and I were young. The single biggest stressor since she passed away has been money and I commend you for thinking about and looking at this now. Like John, my mum was the main earner in the family and this put a lot of pressure on my dad afterwards. Even if John were to remain healthy for many years, as Mrs Frugalwoods advises, no one ever regretted having extra money saved up and I would urge you to look through your finances again and consider where you could save further each money and what you really value in your lives. One important consideration that I would urge you to make is to consider how you might feel if anything did happen to John and whether you might need to take some time out, perhaps a sabbatical, from your job. One of the most important gifts you could give yourself and your son would be some time and space without having the pressure of a job added on top. I don’t know if you have factored this into your emergency fund (which is already very healthy) but it is just something to consider.

    I would also say that I think reducing your working house by 16 hours a week is a good idea. Every day that your family get to spend together is precious and with John already reducing his working hours you would have so much more time together for adventures. Plus, your son will be at school soon and so now is a good time to make the most of the flexibility that you have a family and enjoy life.

    I wish you all the best and trust that you will see yourselves through this challenge and your story has been wonderfully inspiring.

  10. Thanks to Emily for reaching out and sharing during what must be a turbulent time for your family.

    Two initial responses strike me: 1) I’m sorry to hear about John’s health issues, but you both seem to be doing all the right things to make sure that you live your life to the fullest; 2) Wow, it’s impressive that you two paid off a $210,000 student loan and already have almost $1M in total assets, in your mid 30s! Again, you seem to be doing all the right things.

    I agree with other reader suggestions that you might want to take that extra time to spend even more time enjoying being with your family. I also hear you though when you say that you find your work schedule “pretty flexible right now,” and thus the reason why you are on the fence at the moment. That being the case, I would second Liz’s suggestion and make sure that you identify your additional savings (the $201.75) before cutting back on your schedule.

    In fact, I would suggest that you try at least 1-2 months of a new lower budget that would save the extra money, and then you can decide to reduce your hours to 32 if you find that you are comfortable with that budget. In the meantime, if the work gets less “flexible,” then you now have the wiggle room to cut back. Or, if you find that John’s own reduced hours make it easier for all of you to have more leisure time together, etc., then you will have lots of options with a lower monthly spend.

    Best of luck with John’s treatments. Our parents have had a series of health issues (including several different kinds of cancers), and that does make you rethink your priorities! Thanks again for sharing.

    • Candace says:

      I second the idea of trialing the new budget. Although our circumstances were not nearly as stressful as yours, when my husband was thinking of quitting his payroll job to work on the farm full time it made my heart flutter a bit just thinking about it. Taking a couple of months living as if that income was gone made taking the leap much easier.

  11. Christine says:

    Hi Emily and John,

    My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer when I was 18 years old (I’m currently 30). While my father provided health insurance and $1,000/mo for rent, I was her primary caregiver for the 9 years that she lived with cancer. I can tell you from experience that selling your house was ABSOLUTELY the right thing to do. Houses just suck money when you have more important things to worry about.

    From my experience, I would encourage you guys to plan for the most financially difficult outcome. You stated that you don’t know John’s long term prognosis. Since John is the primary breadwinner, and your lifestyle is currently dependent on his income, I would suggest that you consider how you would change things if John couldn’t work AT ALL. My mother was able to work for 3 years after her diagnosis, but she lived for another 6 years after that. To put a finer point on it, people don’t usually work up to the day they die. Cancer is terrible. It requires constant readjusting to the new normal. If you think that John’s condition may be terminal, you should consider how you will financially survive on just Emily’s income. It’s great that you guys have significant assets. You don’t need to start living on Emily’s income now, but I think it’s important to start considering the changes that you would make should that eventuality come to pass. This may mean making your investments more conservative because you might need to tap into them in 5 years, rather than 30 years. It may also mean decreasing contributions to retirement funds in favor of contributing more to brokerage which is more liquid – allowing you to access it more easily.

    If John does become unable to work, you can apply for Social Security Disability and that review process can be expedited if you have an advanced cancer diagnosis (e.g. Stage 4). This is a very important benefit as being disabled can allow you to access John’s retirement funds without penalty. Also, note that if your income decreases, you may be able to deduct medical expenses on your taxes (I think the expenses need to be more than a couple percent of your income) – so keep your receipts.

    Finally, if you haven’t done so already, it is absolutely imperative that you get a will, financial power of attorney and medical power of attorney paperwork. This paperwork will make it clear what should happen (financially and medically) if John becomes incapacitated.

    I know that it is very difficult to talk about the worst possible outcome. However, if you plan for the worst, and things turn out better (e.g. John gets his transplant), then all is well. However, if you live in denial, then you will find yourself blindsided by the huge costs of cancer care. It’s not a single conversation – it’s too painful to happen all at once. Living with cancer is all about adjusting your worldview.

    Finally, I totally support your travel plans. It’s important to do things while you can, especially when facing an unknown prognosis. For my mom, this involved traveling to Europe with me. Yes, it was a frivolous expense, but it made happy memories. She was so in love with life. She also bought me a car. She basically did everything that she could to make sure that I would be OK after she died.

    All this being said, I don’t think Emily should cut down her hours. I think it’s important for her to have a stable income and health insurance, since John’s health is now a major variable.

    Good luck on this journey! Cancer is not fair, but life is still beautiful.

  12. Sara says:

    I pray for you too. And for you, Isabella.

  13. Colorado FI / Survivor says:

    Here are my thoughts:
    So sorry that you are going through this. I am a cancer survivor and know the uncertainty and turmoil it causes in a young couple’s life (I was 28 – now a 22-year survivor and I hope the same will be true for John).
    You are doing GREAT, making solid decisions financially – you’re way ahead of the curve. And at a time like this, it’s a huge advantage.
    Go part-time (32 hours) if you can. No good employer will ever hold it against you (and yours looks good – the ESOP can grow into a wonderful asset). You have done so much right financially, and you will never look back and regret the additional time as a family.
    Consider banking sperm, which might decrease the urgency you feel to make a decision regarding having another child together. You could have an agreement about when and whether it is used/destroyed.
    Is anyone in your family current or ex-military? USAA might provide an affordable life insurance policy. Worth looking into – they have been great for our family. And don’t neglect insuring yourself as well as your husband!
    Access to your savings will be key over the next several years for you. Do everything possible to increase the balance in your Roth accounts and cash savings.
    Use the tools at My Social Security.gov to get a feeling for survivor’s benefits. This will help you with some worst-case planning.
    You might get some comfort from sitting down with an experienced independent financial planner who can be there for you in the future. In the middle of a crisis (or in the aftermath, which for us was the hardest time) it can be difficult to make decisions. Having someone you trust available to you would likely be worth the relatively small cost.
    Best wishes to you both.

  14. Wow, you two are so so so brave after going through something so scary. I think downsizing was a really good idea. Being mortgage free is a wonderful stabilizer.

    This really turned my head: “We penny pinched and tightened our budget to pay off the $210,000 of student loan debt in almost exactly three years.” That’s amazing!!! Which brings me to… you’re overall net worth on the sheet signals you guys are doing well and I don’t necessarily see a reason to trim. Whatever recommendation there is you could save $50-$500 a month if you implement them. It’s not that much in the long run, you should trim, but it’s not high on the list and not the end of the world to not.

    At a delicate time I would basically do what your already doing which is to enjoy more time with each other and cutting back on work hours to reduce stress.

  15. Susan says:

    If you work only 4 days a week you would probably save $160 a month in daycare if you keep your son home that day. Add in car gas and possibly fast food for those 4 days and it seems like you would easily come up with $200 a month.

    Although I would sell the car and buy something for less than $25,000 to stop the monthly payments – even if they are 0%.

    • kait says:

      I agree with the above advice of getting rid of a car payment. If worst case scenario happened would you alone be able to handle the car payment? I would suggest owning a vehicle outright at this time in your life. As someone who had to make hard decisions because of my father’s cancer, I would suggest cutting your hours and spending as much time as possible with your family. Travel, hike, bike, do what makes you happy even if that involves spending money that you initially have in savings. You can always make more money, but you cant make more time. Best wishes to your family.

  16. Iris says:

    After surgery, and short and long-term disability, when I was then undergoing chemo, I was fortunate to be working for a company that had a policy that said if you could work 60-80% of your time (don’t recall the exact numbers, it was 14 years ago!) you got accommodation and full pay. Actually, I was salaried and working more than 40 hours per week anyway, and a great deal of what I did could be done remotely. I don’t think I ever worked less than 40 during chemo either, working full time with remote work 2 days per week, every other week. I was very lucky, both with the employer and the outcome. (Note that they then went through a merger during this period and were going to terminate me along with many others in my group, and I told them that their policy was now to my detriment – if I were out on disability they couldn’t fire me. To their credit, they then put me on disability.)

    Financials in such cases and in general and without being ghoulish – Be sure that beneficiaries are designated on single-owner accounts (like IRAs), and that whatever can be joint is joint. I dislike singly-held accounts for anything,, there is always the hit-by-a-truck scenario. Cars titled jointly in most states pass to a surviving spouse without tax or difficulty, as do houses. Set up financial and health care powers of attorney – never a bad idea. And of course you should have wills, designating guardianship in case something should happen to you both.

    I know Frugalwoods suggests buying used cars. We’ve bought both new and used over the years. We’re just retiring a 2000 Accord with 270,000 miles on it we bought new for cash, which I drove to work for many years, and our daughter drove in high school and college and at her first job. I also kept a Chevy my parents bought new (for cash) for me when I started college and was living at home – that one I kept for 19 years. We’ve been very lucky with the used ones as well, though they’ve been used for situations where long-distance driving was not involved. You need to consider your own situation.

    Anyway, I also know what it is like to work part-time for a position where you were working full time. It is never as part-time as it is supposed to be, and it is especially bad when you’re working part-days, as hubby and I both tried to do when our daughter was an infant. Emily should consider working 4 10-hour days if that is possible and permissible, especially if hubby and grandparents can pick up some of the daycare coverage. That would keep her income at the same level, but she’d still have one less workday per week. Depending on John’s health and well-being, he might consider working 3 days one week and 4 the next, to increase his income a bit. If his health permits him to work successive days and bunch the days off, that could yield some great long weekends.

    Keep up with the 529 plan. I think you should re-check the deduction though – https://www.arkansas529.org/home/features–benefits/tax-benefits.html – $10,000 per couple if you can do it, with overage tax benefit carryover if you can do it. If grandparents are willing and able, they can get a deduction as well if they’re in-state (and it seems at least one set is), and Arkansas has provisions for contributions to other states’ 529s as well, though I believe our state (Ohio) does not. Other grandparents, if willing and able, should check their own states’ rules. A 529 in another state, with John and Emily’s child as beneficiary, is another option. Remember that the earlier it goes in, the longer it grows. Tell grandparents this is the gift you want for birthdays and so on. Also, the account can be shifted to another beneficiary, should they have another child.

    Good luck to John on his health issues. My oncologist said that of course you look at statistics, but don’t fret over them too much. You only need to snag one good outcome.

  17. Melissa (LCSW) says:

    A few thoughts from a social worker who’s specialty is elders/ end of life care:
    1) I’d have some in depth conversations about what you’d like the next year to look like. If your husband does indeed have a year, I think its important to get a handle on what you want that year to look like. I’d also have in depth conversations about his end of life wishes, your tolerance for palliative care or hospice care if or when it gets to that point, and when a stop point will be for the family. These are difficult but IMPORTANT conversations to have. I highly recommend reading When Breath Becomes Air and Being Mortal. You can get them at the library and they’re easily accessible. That’s not to say he doesn’t have 10 or even 20 years left, but its important to talk about goals of care at every stage of illness. Goals of care now might be very different than they would be down the road. These goals will drive decisions you make about money, time together, and care.
    2) My feeling from your narrative is that both of you are reducing your working hours to spend more time together. I understand other readers have suggested some options for reducing spending which would yield more time away from the office, but not necessarily more time together. I’d have some in depth conversations about your goals in this area as well. Does your husband want to spend alone time with your child? Or would he rather spend this time as a family? Or both?
    3) I see some places where you could reduce some money (fast food is probably a good start….) but I wouldn’t slash everything for the sake of saving. If you and your husband enjoy running road races, run them and don’t worry about the entry fees. I’d prioritize time together more than anything else. You certainly can reduce on expensive outings versus hikes in local conservation land and BBQ’s with family, but spend that time. Just remind yourself that time does not have to equal money… But again, spend within your values. If he wants a fancy steakhouse then go. Not every week, but go. Make that memory. At least once.
    4) How flexible is work? If you reduce to 32 hours now, could you jump back up to 40 hours at another point? Could you take some work from home time? The health insurance is key, so I wouldn’t quit completely. Also, if you are widowed at some point, you’ll need that income to help support your child.
    5) Given John’s illness is he eligible for Medicare or Medicaid? Depending on MANY factors, including state, disease, progression, assets, etc., he may be eligible for help. This would mean that Medicare or Medicaid would be a secondary insurance to your company sponsored plan. This could reduce your out of pocket medical expenses tremendously. If your liver center/ cancer center has a social worker, I’d see him or her to discuss this possibility. It may be a non-starter, but it may be a life saver. Especially if you decide later on to take FMLA to care for your husband at some point. Its worth a conversation.
    6) Finally, I’d look to join a support group for you and for your husband. You’re up against something that is very difficult. Your facing decisions, odds, trying to see into the future 20 years when there may only be one, and vice versa. Usually medical social workers can refer you to support groups where you can talk about what you’re going through. They’re usually sponsored by hospitals or other non-profits and are free (or request deminimus donations). There are other people in your position. Seek their company. It will make a difference.

    Good luck and I wish you the best.

    • Emily B. says:

      Melissa, These are great insights and tips. I think understanding how he wants to spend his time will be quite valuable for me. I’m sure family is some of it, but I know alone/hobby time is important too with how busy he has been with his job. I will look into Medicare and Medicaid and the books you recommended as well. Thank you!

    • Judy Welles says:

      God bless the clinical social workers! This is such sound advice, Melissa (and Emily). Very difficult to look these issues straight in the face, but so important. I speak as a minister (now retired) who walked with people through these kinds of crises. Emily, if there’s a way you can get a social worker or case manager, I encourage you to do that.

      Another quick, non-financial suggestion: start a blog on Caring Bridge. When I had a cancer diagnosis and chemo a year ago, I was stunned at the people who came out of the woodwork to wish me well, etc. etc. As in, stunned that people I had nearly forgotten about hadn’t forgotten about me, and were sending me all kinds of love and support. Having a strong support system is important in anyone’s life; it’s too bad it usually takes a serious health crisis to make that visible.

    • Sophia says:

      Melissa, your advice is gold. All I can add is to underline the need for support for the caretaker, Emily.

  18. June W Lovell says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Emily, and thank frugalwoods.com for making it possible. My husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness very soon after he retired (we’re Calif cops and we retire early), at age 52. I needed 4 more years to achieve my 20 and he was able to work at his beloved retirement job: flight instructor at a small airport. Because I was civil service I had lots of vacation time and we took it! I also had benefits, health and insurance. I retired at 20 years and Dick died a year later. I wish I had been able to stay 5 more years but I really don’t regret my choice. Our children were grown, of course. I think it’s important for you to be financially secure but you folks also need to enjoy life and each other.

  19. Megan says:

    I’m seconding everyone who is thanking you for sharing with us, and wishing that your husband’s health improves. In terms of taking time off, while I haven’t faced the challenge of a spouse’s serious illness, I have lost a family member to cancer. Finances were definitely a huge concern, but after that, I think the biggest factor in grief was the time lost with him. Your finances are very strong. If you can swing the lower hours, do it. Regardless of how your husband’s health changes, you’ll be better off for having taken the time to be there for him, your child, and yourself. It’s impossible to calculate how much stress being the caregiver can be, and any way you can grab to reduce that stress will be helpful. And you won’t look back later and think, “Why didn’t I. . .?” There’s also a payoff with your finances – it’ll become easier to make money-saving changes to your lifestyle when you have time the to do it (cook more meals at home, source cheaper stuff, plan for cheaper vacations, etc.). Good luck to all of you – you’ve got the tools to weather this, regardless of the outcome, and we’re all cheering you on.

  20. Matt says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about the diagnosis – I can only imagine what it’s like to go through that. Also, major props on your approach to finances so far.

    If I may get on a soap box for a second: the human element aside, Emily’s and John’s case really highlights how EVERYONE in our country needs to have affordable, good-quality insurance. The fact that their responsibility is “only” $6,000, which it seems they’re able to pay without too much hardship, helps relieve some anxiety so they can focus on beating the disease. I shudder to think what happens when people without health insurance are diagnosed with a serious disease like this, especially at a relatively young age. Imagine being very sick AND bankrupt… 🙁

    • RG says:

      I’d add, as a US-UK dual national, that this also highlights the value of a single-payer system. Even $6000 is a lot to many people. I am so grateful to the NHS and the security of knowing that medical care is there for me, my partner and my child, regardless of our financial or employment situations. Having grown up poor, I cannot stress what a relief this security provides.

  21. Emily says:

    I’m responding for the first time, because I have some perspective to share (sadly). My husband was diagnosed with cancer when I was pregnant and died when our daughter was 2 months old. With that in mind, I have a couple concrete points to make that haven’t been made elsewhere. First, my biggest regret is not having another child. If having another child is something you want to do, don’t delay. Second, if John dies your son will get social security benefits (that you, Emily, will be able to use for his living expenses, ie he is expected to “pay” for his housing, food, etc). It’d be worth educating yourself about how much this would be, how it would change if you had another child (that child would get the same monthly amount) and how it would change if you stopped working / your income dropped. I’d also like to point out that in the event that John dies, you’ll almost certainly need/want to take several months off of work, and it might be worth understanding in advance your employer’s policy on this and how it could effect things like health insurance. Also, ensure that all assets are in both of your names, and the title to your house and car both have the “with survivorship” (or something) box ticked—it will save you a ton of hassle if things do go poorly. Good luck, and sorry for the downer reply.

    • Emily B. says:

      Emily,

      Thank you so much for your frank response and insights. I’m so sorry that you had to go through that with such a young child. I would love to have another baby. I’m so concerned about how I would handle it if I ended up on my own. Everyone keeps saying that I wouldn’t regret it, and I’m sure that’s true. It’s one more big thing I’m grappling with. John isn’t too keen on it because of the unknowns and how much work kids are. He’s been tired a lot and childcare is a lot of work. I don’t know what we’ll do yet.

      • Emily says:

        Emily, those concerns are totally valid. Having another kid is a super personal decison, and one I don’t think is/should be primarily financial. However, it is true that with two kids you would get double SS benefits if John does die—and it would probably be enough to make it a lot easier to get by on your own than if you didn’t get anything (for context, my daughter gets $800/month, and my husband was never a even remotely high earner—I think his top earning year was like $40,000). But as a single parent you can’t be in two places at once—if one kid gets sick in the middle of the night, you have to drag the other to the hospital, too. Anyway, good luck and hopefully it is all academic for you anyway. Also, there’s a lot of good advice, re reviewing beneficiaries and titles, etc.

  22. Lauren says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I would like to echo what others have said about taking the reduction in work hours. I don’t think you will regret no matter how things turn out. Mrs. Frugalwoods gave great advice about how to reduce to make that viable, and the good news is it seems that you wouldn’t have to do anything too drastic. I am sorry for what your family is going through, and I am sending positive vibes and well wishes from afar!

  23. I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your experience. It sounds like you have put yourselves in a fantastic financial position, meaning that you now have the ability to meet this health challenge head on and focus on each other instead of having to obsess about how the bills are paid. Personally, I agree with what others have said about going part time, especially since your employer does sound flexible and supportive.

    I wish your family all the best. <3

  24. Whitney says:

    Their child would be eligible for survivor’s benefits through Social Security until he turned 18 if John were to pass away so that could replace some of the lost income. They should check with the Social Security website to see how much those benefits would be.

  25. I don’t have a lot of financial advice in this sense; I think Mrs. Frugalwood’s suggestions are on point.

    I’m sorry to hear about John’s cancer and am sending you all positive vibes!

    I had a big health scare last November; I had a golfball-sized mass in my thyroid (I named it Thelma). I’m very grateful it turned out benign, but it makes you evaluate your life. If anything, it’s taught me to prioritize time, time, time. Even as we have financial goals, those goals support us getting more of our time back, because we can’t buy that.

  26. Margie says:

    Both of my parents spent their careers working for Social Security, so they have counseled a lot of families over the years who have experienced tremendous loss. Survivors benefits would be something to consider too, as you look at the change in job hours. I don’t know all the details, but the income you made over the prior years impacts the benefit amount.

    https://www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/

    Also, I feel like you should have made a mention of the responsibility that parents have for estate planning. Know your state’s rules. Make sure that your car registrations and home owner documentation is all under both names. Think about any credit cards that are in his name and you are only an approved user. Make sure your utilities are joint. Make sure your banking is joint. Find a good lawyer ahead of time and make sure your wills include all future children that result from the marriage.

    • Margie says:

      Hit post before adding, thanks for sharing your story. My husband (John) lost his dad (John) when he was three. Our son (John) is the third generation, so I noticed the shared name while reading. Making memories while traveling is a great thing. I hope he has the strength and energy to continue to go.

  27. Karen Eldridge says:

    Lots of constructive advice for a difficult situation. But I am surprised that Mrs. Frugalwoods didn’t suggest rethinking the 529 contribution. While I value education and their commitment to trying to provide for their child’s college education the way their parents provided for theirs, I think their changed circumstances — illness and cutting back work time now to prioritize family time — naturally leads to reconsidering this particular expenditure. There are a number of other ways to fund a child’s education, which may be $ or $$$, when the time comes. I think if I was in their shoes, I would choose to reduce or forego this expense for the time being. Once they get used to the current changes in their lives — reduced work and reduced income –they could revisit this decision.

    • MK says:

      Not sure that I agree. They are high income earners (at least to me!) and it sounds like they are contributing up to the tax deductible limit in their state (wish my state had this). These contributions may be lowering what they pay in taxes.

  28. Judy says:

    My heart goes out to both of you in this extremely difficult time. I’m not going to talk about where you can cut expenses as at this time it is something you both need to decide. I am, however, going to talk about a potential grim future. This is something I have gone through as a child with a widowed mother and had friends and family members who have suffered through this scenario. I was bound and determined this wouldn’t happen to me after a divorce, and worked my butt off with two young children to support us and prepare for our futures.

    I have to disagree with everyone else (including Mrs. F – sorry Liz) with regards to your work. I recommend that you seriously consider all the ramifications of reducing your work hours. If worse comes to worse by reducing your work hours it may dump a glass ceiling on possible future promotions.

    In this hopefully not needed situation this is a very difficult problem for women. Not so much for men, but then that’s true for many things as you get older. If that happens, the attitude of your employer may (or will) be something like “We did a lot by giving her time off earlier, now we need someone who is dedicated to the job”. It is hard for women as we get older to avoid this no matter how hard we work.

    Also consider how you are going to live on your current salary. You may also run into the “She needs her job and at her age she will never find another job at this salary so we don’t need to give her a raise or promotion”. This, of course, will be subliminal and never spoken, but believe me it’s there.

    You will need a promotion in order to help out with college and this or a series of part time extra jobs may be your only option. Been there, done that. It’s not fun.

    I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but to raise questions you both should consider. You are at the age now where you have a potential opportunity to advance, and then possibly jump to an even higher job elsewhere, but it may not be possible if you reduce your hours or have to take off for care giving.

    I suggest you increase your life insurance while the getting is good. Insurance is for the benefit of anyone dependent on your salary, such as your child.

    Under the circumstances can you finagle a change in your insurance status at work to “head of household”? This would help some, but you should probably also have another appropriate policy.

    Don’t rely too heavily on Social Security Disability. Their usual procedure is to deny, deny, deny. Then you have to appeal, and if they turn it down, you appeal again. It can take not months but years to get to the end of this mess and you won’t know until the end (and lawyer’s fees in the meantime) what the end result will be. You shouldn’t have too much trouble getting the child benefit, but in your husband’s case it may be a major problem. Check with your lawyer about the medicare suggestion. Usually there is a limit to your finances involved unless you place your house and who knows what all in a trust or something. You definitely need some serious “before you need it” advice. I seem to recall all these things have to be done two or three years before you need it. Under the current political situation it is my understanding that the folks a Social Security who handle these issues are seriously understaffed. I suggest that you check into all this now.

    My prayers to with you with all the positive things you have planned. Sorry for the scary stuff but I felt I had to bring it up for you to consider in your planning.

    • Jane says:

      Respectfully I disagree with your opinion on SSD. My husband has had recent experience of the streamlined and speedy processing of his application after his stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Our local SS office couldn’t have been more helpful, within a day of completing the online application process he was contacted by a very sympathetic SS employee and given every assistance. It took just under 3 weeks to be approved and payments were backdated.
      Also, regarding Emily reducing her hours – spending 4 days a week at work will give the family more time together/time for Emily to recharge (as spouse and mom you need to keep yourself healthy and not feel guilty about taking time for self-care). And if it becomes necessary in the future for Emily to take an unpaid leave of absence from work there should be COBRA from John’s employer for 18 months, followed by an automatic extension for the family of a person on SSD of a further 11 months, with Medicare for the disabled person being available after those 29 months. There are alternatives to working for medical benefits!
      You are really well set up financially, now it’s time to do what you need to enjoy your lives.

  29. Statdust says:

    Time is a precious resource. The time we have on earth is finite. Our ability to earn money however, is infinite. Do 32 hours a week so you can spend time with your family, you will never regret that time. You are smart and will find ways to increase your income later if needed.
    I think it makes sense to keep the savings account because the high interest rate on the checking is guaranteed only up to $15,000.
    Best of luck to you both.

  30. Jana says:

    You guys have done really well for yourselves! It’s terrific you buckled down on that student loan debt and took it off your plates. Well done! I’m so sorry to hear about the cancer diagnosis and wish your family good health for the future. You’re right, any of us could be hit by a bus tomorrow, life is uncertain, so prioritize vacations! I don’t really have any advice, because you’re doing awesome and I am so impressed. I just wanted to say thank for sharing and I am rooting for you! Okay maybe a wee bit of advice… lay off the fast food, you don’t need it. Cheers!

  31. Anastasia ORourke says:

    My first reaction to your story – apart from bringing back some memories – was “Don’t cut back at work now”. It could leave you vulnerable and you could easily fill those 8 hours with non-high value time. Make time up elsewhere by prioritizing family time over everything else. I really recommend Laura Vanderkam’s books on time, they can help you figure this part out. I also found that work helped take my mind off some troubles, so it can be a positive in that sense. Finally, later – if it comes to that and I really hope it doesn’t – you may need to take an extended break so save up your leave and good will. If you do cut back on work hours now – make sure you spend the extra time doing what you hope to do. Sincerest best of luck to you all.

    • Emily B. says:

      These are all very good points that I will consider. I enjoy my job and it has been a good outlet to shift my focus and return a sense of normalcy. I’m glad that you pointed out the risk of filling freetime with non-value time. I will weigh these considerations carefully.

  32. Bonnie says:

    Emily, I echo the above comments about admiring what you two have accomplished so far and wish only the best for you. I am an RN who has worked in both oncology and oncology research. Consider asking whether or not your husband is a candidate for any clinical trials. People mistakenly believe their doctor will know about clinical trials and offer them if they are available but in reality most doctors DON’T know of available drug or procedure studies. They might if they are actively involved in research or affiliated with a large medical institution but I’d ask anyway.

    Here is the website from the National Institute of Health that lists available trials. https://clinicaltrials.gov There are specific criteria for qualifying for a study and you likely won’t be able to tell if he qualifies just from reading the description. You can contact the study coordinator though or ask your husband’s physician to follow-up. It might be a long shot but worth thinking about. Good luck!

  33. Angela says:

    This is probably the best reader case study I’ve seen because devastating medical situations (cancer, massive strokes, ALS, etc) happen more often than people realize. We all know the importance of life insurance, but you never see blog posts telling readers what to do in a situation like this. I’d like to thank Emily and John for sharing their story. In an almost 30 year nursing career, I’ve seen so many families unprepared for the implications of a medical crisis. John and Emily have done an amazing job with their finances and shouldn’t feel guilty for taking time off to enjoy time as a family! One thing I haven’t seen suggested yet is the possibility of Emily cutting her hours back temporarily (ie: for the Summer). I’d like to repeat something that other people have mentioned – there needs to be a plan in place in case John becomes too sick to work. Hopefully everyone reading this post will start thinking about what they would do in a situation like this. Emily and John- I wish you the best! I hope to see an update that John beat this! You sound like an amazing couple and we’re all rooting for you!

  34. Klynn says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry about the cancer diagnosis. I was diagnosed with cancer several years ago in my early 30’s and know the tolls treatment takes on the whole family. There has been a lot of good advice given already to you. The only thing I would strongly echo is the need to have candid conversations with John about what are the most important things to your family in the next 3 month, 6 months, and next year, etc. In a year from now what do you think you might regret not prioritizing and or will regret having given TOO much time to. Give yourself the freedom to just live within each day and not feel like you have to focus on having the future figured out. Cancer changes everything and cancer itself can take rapid turns. Although I think reducing your work hours is great so that you can have more family time I would probe carefully into what impact this might have on your future career–only because of the significant probability you will be the sole wage earner at some point. Unfortunately not all employers are flexible (or able to be flexible) about medical crises and family needs. I would make sure that dropping hours at this point will not negatively impact your future career with your employer–but only so that you know what to expect and not be surprised by this.

  35. Katie says:

    This is interesting to me, as I helped clients in a similar situation through it a few years ago. The husband passed away about 2 years after a serious cancer diagnose. So reading this there are a ton of things that came to mind:
    1. If Emily worked less, would this naturally reduce some of the spending? I’m looking at line items like daycare, fast food, and house hold expenses, with more time off I think these may decrease fairly effortlessly.
    2. One thing we did for the client I mentioned was check and double check the titling and beneficiaries on everything. If you haven’t done this yet, definitely start now. On investments, it may make sense to title everything in John’s name and add TOD to Emily, this way Emily gets a step up in basis if John were to pass and saves some taxes in the future. Also, you may want to put all debt in John’s name because you may not have to pay it if something happens to him. If you haven’t done so, definitely seek out a good estate planning attorney to get things titled properly and plans in place in case something happens to John or both of you.
    3. Emily should also consider additional Life Insurance for herself. If something happens to both of them, they don’t want to burden someone else with the finances of raising their son and paying for his college. They have significant assets, but they will want to consider what they would want his life to look like in how much they should have in coverage.
    4. I may be biased, but I think a fee-only, fiduciary financial planner could help answer all your questions right now. They could show you what cutting back on work would look like for your other financial goals and give you some idea of what things could look like if John passes.

    You seem to have done a lot of great work on your finances up to now, so I don’t think any of the choices you are considering are going to ruin you financially. Enjoy your life now.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you for this, Katie–what great advice! I’m chiming in because you said the magic words of “fee-only, fiduciary financial planner.” If John and Emily (or anyone for that matter) want to visit a financial planner, they should make sure it is someone who is a fiduciary.

  36. Mable says:

    Emily, you will get lots of great advice on finances so I am going to talk about the illness aspect and can do so from personal experience. Six months after we married, my husband got cancer. At the time, they put his chances of survival at close to zero but suddenly a new drug hit the market and it changed the survival rate for his kind of cancer from 5% to 95%. (I tell you this to reinforce what the docs have told you about new treatments coming on the market all the time…) It took us several years but we paid off our student loans and the $100,000 in costs the insurance didn’t cover during the illness. (I was a six figure earner all along and once he had recovered, my husband also eventually returned to earning six figures—had it not been for our graduate degrees, I am not sure we could have survived. I frankly have no idea what the average paid person does to cope with the expenses involved in a serious and long term illness…) For the next five or so years we worked like crazy and saved like crazy. We paid off our mortgage and once we had a cash cushion, we both quit working and travelled for a year. We figured that the chance of a recurrence was high and we wanted to spend as much time together, making memories and glorying in being alive, while we could. After that year, we worked but never again at high pressure jobs or for 40 hours a week; as result, our home and belongings were very modest, although we still travelled every year0. Our families thought we were crazy but now, 30 years later I have not regretted it. As it turned out, waiting to travel until retirement would have been a disastrous decision because, while my husband’s cancer never reoccurred, I ended up getting cancer some years later. I survived but am now in a wheelchair and have a colostomy bag, so our travel is limited to places like London, which is somewhat handicap friendly. Had we waited to go to Mongolia, Russia, Hong Kong and other more remote places, we would have missed them completely.

    You can buy everything but time so if you are able to scale back your work hours and just spend time together, I urge you consider that. Yes, your lifestyle may be more limited because of reduced earnings, but if he or you gets sick again, when you are sitting by his bedside, you will weep for the time you did not spend with each other, not the furniture or home with a view you did not buy.

    One other thing I learned was that things never return to normal after a catastrophic illness, physically. Both of us suffer from the effects of chemo (even 30 years later my husband has residual affects) and this has meant buying things to accommodate those new pains or limitations—like expensive mattresses to make it easier to sleep with deep bone aches, widening doorways for a wheelchair, redesigning the bathroom for a roll-in shower, buying special footwear for feet that are numb and painful from the chemo effects. So keep those possible increased expenses in mind when planning.

  37. Matt says:

    For cellphones, in the past I’ve recommended ting.com to friends, but I’ve since found a cheaper Ting alternative, especially if you use more data: tello.com. It is a Sprint reseller, so check Sprint’s coverage in your area first (along with compatibility with your phone), but a plan with 100 talk minutes/unlimited text/1 GB LTE data is only $10/month. Upgrading to unlimited talk & text with 3 GB data is $24/month. There are many more combinations to fit your specific needs on their website. No contract necessary, and if you go over the data limit in a month, they won’t cut you off (but greatly reduce your data speed).

  38. Wow! Good questions, I can sink my teeth into them as we, too, had to deal with a cancer diagnosis ten years ago! Survivor, yay! I had two teenagers, two future college educations and luckily, a husband with a pension (and pensions and big 401k myself) but same issues. As a Survivor, I would suggest that grabbing this time together, for both of you and your child is a GREAT IDEA. A simple reduction of expenses and you are there. You will probably not get this time together again, things happen. But make sure that when you both want to go back to full time, there is no problem. Also check into paid and unpaid Family Leave and see if either or both of you are entitled to any, very important. I presume he has disability benefits through his employment?

    Because of uncertainties, work on “the next little bit of time”, say in annual allotments. For the next year, reduce your hours and enjoy more of life and family. Then next year review situation. A ten year plan is useless, I agree. Then I would sketch out maybe 3 or 4 financial plans, each beginning with What If? What if your husband dies next year? What if you are a widow in three years or five years? What if he is permanently disabled. In order to complete these plans, you will need to review life insurance, disability insurance and Social Security which is a type of insurance. You have various benefits from SS as a widow and mother of young child. After you complete your plans, I think you will find that you are ok for the short run and ok for the long run. It is very important that Every Woman figures out how she might survive on her own at age 30,40,50, 60, etc. Your numbers seem strong to me, I don’t think you need more life insurance. Your business skills seem to guarantee you a good salary for the rest of your life, a strong retirement and you can use the SS money (maybe $1100 monthly?) to pay for childcare, housekeeping etc. Child care costs go away but other teenage costs and expenses and then College expenses crop up. Your plan is to HELP pay for college, but concentrate on your retirement first (nobody gives you loans for retirement).

    This is YOUR time…the year after I became cancer-free, I planned a trip of a lifetime to Ireland…wonderful 17 days and I will never forget it! Expensive but worth it and I didn’t know how to do it better. Let’s say it was $14,000 for luxury…we now go to Ireland every year for a MONTH in June for about $5,000 including flights because I did the research, learned the travel hacks, collected points and miles, got freebies, learned about Timeshare getaways (honestly $250 for A TWO BEDROOM cottage for a week near a Lake in Tipperary!) and made Irish friends who rent out their apartments or cottages weekly and monthly. Getting away and getting my serenity back was at the top of my list.

    After you review your plans, I think you might find that you are fine if you cut back your expenses a bit…you will be fine on your own, too and we are all on our own at some point. Good for you for buying a house free and clear, we did too at the time of our retirement. Btw…ADD insurance is usually rather a waste of money…both of you probably have disability insurance, which is what you both really need, through work. You also will need Wills, Trust, Power of Attorneys and a Guardianship agreement. I’m sure you know all about that.

    Good luck to you both and I can’t wait to hear your updates!!

  39. Donna says:

    My comment relates to the cancer diagnosis & treatment only. I’m so sorry you are going through this. I would highly suggest some google searches on Dr. McDougall, Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Campbell, and Dr. Greger, and the books The China Study and How Not to Die.. There is evidence to suggest that a plant based diet can slow the progression of cancer. I stumbled across the information at a Plant Based Living Group at my local hospital while dealing with thyroid tumors three years ago. I can’t say enough about how blessed I feel to have found this information.

  40. Cindy in the South says:

    I am happy your house is paid for, and you could sell that house, and buy a condo for just you and the child is something awful happened to your husband. That would afford you the ability to live on your income, since your life insurance on him is minimal (I understand that you cannot purchase more). At the moment, he is healthy, you are healthy, and I say you enjoy life, with perhaps a little adjustment like Ms. Frugalwoods suggested. . One of my sons has has major liver issues, and is at a huge risk of developing liver cancer, so your husband sounds just like him. My kid likes all the outdoor activities too. I wish y’all the best.

  41. Kamille says:

    Emily – I have one important message – travel to the best place for medical care. My husband nearly died when we were young; doctors at UChicago and Northwestern could not figure out what was going on with him. We ended up at Mayo in Rochester and it was a game changer. His life is not 100 percent perfect but he is here for the long term now. For cancer, I would head to MD Anderson and then research the individual hospitals under US News rankings to also see liver specialists. I would also go to Mayo because they actually communicate across departments like no where else I have seen. Your story grabbed me and I share this with you out of a sense of hope for you both. I was shocked at how much better medical treatment can be even as between the #1 and #5 best hospitals. Good luck!

    • Caitlyn says:

      I think this is a really important point (although maybe you’re already doing it!). Cancer is always changing and going to a top-tier cancer specialist (i.e., MD Anderson, Dana Farber, MS Kettering in NYC) could open up your world to newer/experimental treatment options for you to think about. My best friend out of nowhere had both parents go from being perfectly healthy to having cancer diagnoses last year, and they would have had very different outcomes had they not traveled to go to the big specialists nearest to their home.

  42. Luisa says:

    Wow…I felt almost like I was reading my own story today! I’m a few years older but in virtually the same position financially and my husband does not have liver cancer but has a rare, fatal disease that originated in his liver, and we also do not know if we have 1 year, 5 years, 10 years… I will echo what many people here are saying and put in my vote for reducing work hours for one or both of you. I switched jobs this year specifically for this reason: to have a shorter work week and more time to spend with my husband while we have time. My husband is currently working his same schedule because he’s able to for now, and maintaining a sense of normalcy helps him stay positive (but he already had a more relaxed schedule than I did). A few thoughts: something that has helped us is coming up with a concrete plan about exactly what expenses I will cut out if and when I need to. I notice you were able to pay off a huge amount of student loan debt in a short amount of time–congratulations! In addition to setting you up for future freedom, that helped you develop budgeting and belt-tightening skills. So I’m confident you could apply those skills if you need to in the future. But having a concrete plan could really help, because at the time you might need to implement such a plan, you might not be in a frame of mind to create one just then. Another thought in response to the idea above about staggering your days as to reduce your childcare expenses…I would actually advise against that, if possible. The idea behind reducing your work schedule is to spend more time together, and if you’re staggering days off, that defeats the purpose. If you need to do so out of financial necessity, that’s another matter. I’ll conclude with this: you guys have worked really hard to get to where you are financially. For my husband and me, the biggest benefit of financial security has been that it has given us a sense of peace during this very difficult situation. Trust your heart and your gut in this situation, because you’re able to financially.

    • Emily B. says:

      Thanks for sharing your story Luisa, and I’m so sorry to hear that you are going through such a challenging time. Working help maintain a nice sense of normalcy. If the worst case scenario occurred, we would be able to cut back our spending quite a bit, but having a concrete plan will bring me peace of mind. Thanks for your insights!

  43. Laura says:

    My prayers are with you and your family. It sounds like you guys are already on the right track and you’ve received some great advice so far. As a runner, one recommendation for reducing your racing fees is to volunteer at some races you’re not running/biking and that can often gain you a free entry to another race the company is putting on. Good luck and God bless!

  44. Tracy says:

    You have received excellent and very important advice. I have lost 2 friends to cancer in the last 3 months. Now I’m helping their survivors with issues that could have been avoided had they had a will with specificity-my son receives all of my tools, motorcycles, etc., and the beneficiaries updated on ALL paperwork. An ex-wife will receive my friend’s pension, not his current wife because he didn’t update it.

    If, and I will pray John lives a long and happy life, things take a negative turn, a conversation with and written instructions to his family and relevant close friends about his wishes is paramount. Grief affects everyone differently. The last thing you would need to deal with is someone acting contrary to what you believe he would want.

    Please make sure you have disability insurance on you as well. Things happen, and you may need to replace your income and health insurance if John needs time off for treatment. Really hoping none of this advice is needed!

  45. Jess says:

    I just wanted to say I strongly concur with the large spending on vacations now. I would also highly recommend you cut back to 32 hours. Four years ago my mom was diagnosed with an incurable bone cancer, and my family was faced with some of the same questions as you. I reduced my hours at work and eventually quit my job so I could take my mom to all of her treatments for these last few years. My family also took several vacations, and I have not regretted my decisions yet. Hang in there and stay positive!!

  46. Ness says:

    If it was me, I’d reduce work, reduce expenses, buy a cheaper car and spend time with family, for as long as possible. But, up to you.

  47. Dr. Sam says:

    First, wishing you all strength for this journey. Second, I’m a Palliative Care Physician—most people don’t know that this website is open to the public and you can sign up for free. It may help you better figure out a long term prognosis. https://www.nccn.org.

    And studies show that Oncologists tend to over estimate by a factor of 3 when they give their prognosis (i.e. if they say 9 months, it’s really 3 months. Docs shouldn’t be giving exact numbers out, but that’s another discussion entirely).

    Also, as I often say, hope for the best but prepare for the worst. It sounds awful, but your husband may want to consider writing “Life/love letters” to your child at certain life milestones: graduating high school, getting married, college advice, etc. that can be given at those life stages should he not be around.

    Wishing you the best!

    • Donna says:

      The ‘love letters’ are so important, and many people put off writing them until it is too late. My sister and my best friend thought they had much more time, but died of cancer before they had time to write even one letter. I wish I’d pushed them harder to get them done because their children would treasure them now. There are very few good things about dying of cancer, but having the knowledge that you’re terminally ill can truly be a blessing,

    • Emily B. says:

      The love/life letters are a really good idea for our child’s life milestones. Thank you!

    • Melissa says:

      And thanks for the work you do Dr. Sam! I am a huge proponent of the palliative care model for my clients. (I’m a social worker in a program for frail elders, and I specialized in end of life/ aging in my MSW program.) Working with hospice EARLY rather than later can be a gift! It will supply extra support to Emily and her family, not just medical/ personal care, but also social, emotional, and spiritual support. Most of the hospice social workers in my are (Greater Boston), actually have quite a bit of counseling/ therapeutic experience, as well as experience guiding patients through the social aspects of the illnesses.

      Early hospice can mean better pain management, and a better quality of life at the end. Again- more information, even if not immediately used, is better.

  48. Stephanie says:

    Read the book Raising an Emotionally Heathy Child When a Parent is Sick by Dr. Paula K Rauch. It helped us a lot and dealt with issues we hadn’t even thought of yet. I’m dealing with a lousy diagnosis as well- we are focusing on the near future and planning to do as much as we can now. For example we are taking two international trips this summer instead of spreading it out because we have no idea what 2019 will be like. It sounds silly but simple things like a robust emergency childcare network and a bin of clothes and shoes the next size up can bring peace of mind. At one point l was I the hospital and the kids outgrew everything they owned and the grandparents were able to just take out the bin of new stuff.

    • Stephanie says:

      Seriously, we had 43 people on the preschool pick up list and they all knew where the car keys were located ( l could no longer drive and the staff all knew my vehicle, plus the carseats were already installed). My car was fully paid for so we kept it just in case. I think 30 different people picked the kids up- l do know the preschool blinked a few times at the sheer number of names.

    • Emily B. says:

      Stephanie,

      Thanks for sharing your story. I’m so sorry to hear that you are going though a similarly crappy situation. I like your tips. Managing childcare on top of all of the trips to the hospital and trying to work full time has been so so so stressful. This is a great tip and I will definitely put together a back up list for daycare pickup and evening support! Wishing you the best.

  49. Judy (aka Soggysuzzi) says:

    As usual I left something out of my previous post. Comes from not thinking things all the way thru before posting I guess.

    Diet: I have read in several places that it has been determined that 30 to 35% of cancers are food related. I have no idea how true this is, but it seems to be worth considering. You might want to consider an all organic and non-gmo diet for your husband if you are not already doing this. Some foods are known to place a larger strain on the liver and some seem to help (I suspect fast foods fall in the “strain” category).

    A consultation with a Registered Nutitionalist (spelling?) who is a specialist in disease challenged individuals is something you may want to consider. I suggest you research Phosphatidyl Choline as a nutrient if you choose to talk to a professional. Apparently it is the predominant phospholipid in both the brain and the liver and apparently recognized by the FDA essential for production of brain and liver cells as a protection for those cells. I take this as a supplement as a preventative, but I am no way qualified to suggest anything other than it may be something you may want to check out with a professional.

    • Emily B. says:

      Thanks, Judy. I’ll look into it further. We’ve always eaten very healthy and mostly vegetarian. Our “fast food” category isn’t actually burgers and fries, but any meals we have to buy because we didn’t plan ahead 🙂 It’s certainly a good idea to look at what foods will be least stressful on the liver. Thanks!

  50. Melissa says:

    I am so very sorry you’re going through a medical crisis with your husband. Thank you for sharing your story. Your family is (and will continue to be) in my prayers. You’ve received excellent advice and I hope this helps in some way:

    Three years ago, my husband was in a car accident that left him in a coma and eventually, with challenges from a traumatic brain injury. He was 45 and the sole supporter of our family as I home-schooled. He’s been unable to work since. While we’d prepared for an untimely death through life insurance policies, this was a scenario we hadn’t foreseen.

    Because there is so much stress when a family is in crisis, minimizing financial burdens is very helpful. Here’s what we did that helped:

    1) We had power of attorney, health care proxies etc. in place.

    2) Most of our accounts were joint and I had access to our money.

    3) We had a decent amount of money in savings that carried me through the first several months after his injury and covered out-of-pocket medical expenses.

    4) We had excellent insurance coverage for the most part: our auto insurance and my husband’s accidental death and disability coverage provided significant payouts.

    5) I had an attorney to help me with the paperwork and to apply for social security benefits. It gave me peace of mind and she took one major thing off my plate. An attorney will also help you address legal angles you may not have considered.

    6) Because we were in a decent financial situation, I’ve been able to take care of my husband through his recovery. In addition, the amount of time devoted to doctor’s appointments etc. can’t be underestimated.

    7) We had no debt.

    What I would have done differently:

    1) Had access to all usernames/passwords. There were accounts I had difficulty accessing because of this.

    2) Had all of our documents in one central location and organized. They were all over the place!

    3) Made sure my husband had long-term disability coverage. He was in a start-up and they weren’t offering it at the time but there may have been other alternatives.

    Emily, whether to cut back your hours or not is a highly personal decision and one that only you can answer. What will help you process your own emotions and manage your fears better? It’s a matter of eight hours so do what is best for you. The healthier you are emotionally, the better off your entire family will be. Therapy can be extremely beneficial in these difficult situations and is worth the expense.

    I would also recommend thinking about added expenses in the future ~ having to hire someone for lawn care, for example.

    Our medical crisis taught us there was very little we really needed, that happiness is found in the every day, mundane events of life. Life is precious and time together is invaluable.

    I wish you all the best! I hope you’ll find comfort in knowing many people are thinking of you and your family.

    • Emily B. says:

      Hi Melissa, thanks for sharing your insight from your personal experience. These are all great tips, especially getting access to all accounts via username/password. I agree with your statement that a medical crisis has taught us that “things” don’t make you happy. As we downsized our house and got rid of a bunch of stuff, we’ve found that to be so true. There is a lot to be said for simplifying. I’m glad that you and your family were able to navigate your difficult time!

  51. Cindy says:

    As a dentist myself-it is very hard to predict how much one will make after cutting their hours. I cut back my hours years ago when I had kids and I made about the same amount. So my advice is both of you cut your hours and enjoy time together with your child making memories… I think your childcare expenses would be less if you worked a day less a week, and you could find ways to cut back on the food/hobbies spending. Otherwise you guys have done a great job saving money. Now concentrate on John getting well and staying well. Eat home more, take walks together, simplify. I think you’ve already got rid of the biggest money worry of all-a mortgage! Try it out, and you may be surprised your expenses may go down when you’re both not so over worked and stressed out. You can always add hours back to your work schedules if you need to financially. Good luck and I hope John makes a full recovery!

    • Emily B. says:

      Thanks, Cindy. Yes, predicting how a reduction in his time will impact his income hasn’t been very clear. We’re hoping he’ll just be able to focus on bigger cases more. Thanks for the insight from your experience of cutting your hours!

  52. Mr Shirts says:

    I’m going to chime in here, my wife and I are the same age as the case study and 18 month into a life altering medical condition comparable to cancer with a lot of unknowns.

    I’m going to buck the trend, $700,000 plus a free and clear house, I’d recommend Emily stop working immediately (if desired) and John move to relief work where he picks up shifts as needed. Spend time with the kids, travel more, spend time with the family. They are so fortunate to NOT have money to worry about and be close to a family support structure. In their 30s/40s, jobs are replaceable, time is not. A relief dentist can earn $500/day and they never need to put another dollar into investments if they don’t want to.

    I’d also sell the 2017 immediately and go down to 1 car or replace it with a 10-15 yr old civic/fit/prius.

  53. Gwen says:

    Not sure if I will be relevant here but my heart goes to you so I mainly wanted to add my voice to give you support, even if it is not much.
    I wish you all the best and being positive and enjoying life is the best you may do now, with all these uncertainties hovering by.
    I was also thinking that maybe, just maybe, you may consider selling the new car and buying another used one cash, less expensive, seing as you have been so brave about selling the house. Of course, if this car means something to you, just forget I even suggested it, but with the reduced hours coming, that may be the solution to reducing expenses without changing much in your lives.
    You are being so brave, I send you lots of smiles and some of that spanish sun that warms deeply within.

    • Emily B. says:

      Thanks Gwen, I’ve brought up selling the car a few times, but John wants to keep it for now. I’ll revisit this topic with him because I agree it would be a financially prudent thing to do. Thanks for the positive vibes.

  54. Mei says:

    I’m sorry your family’s in this situation! You’ve received a lot of advice so I’ll just share a few thoughts I haven’t read. I’m the financial steward of the house and also the one with cancer. We are financially set up as we both have disability insurance. I do not have a personal life policy which I regret (I foolishly figured as the lower earner I didn’t need it but we are nowhere near financially independent) I have not been able to work full time during my treatments and I echo others have said about cancer being a chronic disease where things may wind down and you are unable to work.
    There are plenty of oop costs like buying better food, getting massages or acupuncture for chemotherapy induced pain, numbness, seeing a personal trainer for deconditioning after treatments, wigs for hair loss. Plan for these non insurance related expenses to come. Cut expenses and cut 529. I think if Emily becomes a solo earner in the future their child maybe eligible for financial aid so that is not what I would prioritize for now.
    Also I believe lance Armstrong foundation will provide sperm banking for those with cancer for free with affiliated sperm banks. And may assist with Ivf. Something to look into just in case.
    I bought my husband a personal life policy and increased his disability policy after my diagnosis in case he ever becomes a solo dad (we also have a special needs kid so I definitely wanted us to be financially set up for our kid)
    I would definitely choose to spend more time together as a family. Just be prepared to cut expenses.
    I wrote a document listing the priority of accounts to draw down from in case we had no income (our accounts are more complex then what Emily listed) as I anticipate my husband would take time to grieve and settle things before he could return to work (and he would get unpaid fmla 3 months during that bereavement)

  55. Donna says:

    I find myself in a similar situation with a cancer diagnosis when I was 40. I was a single mother at the time and my children were 3 and 6. It was devastating to deal with. I was shocked that there was seemingly so little information/advice available about handling finanaces. Many people don’t like to talk about money and when you add that to cancer – we’ll, it’s like a vacuum of silence. I applaud you for this case study! For me, I ended up getting married, retiring from my career, and dramatically changing our lives so I could spend all my time with family and friends. It was a very difficult time with many financial struggles, but the right decision for me and my family. All the best to you, John and Emily.

    • Emily B. says:

      Thanks, Donna. I’m glad that your situation improved. I agree that there don’t seem to be good resources available unless one digs for them. Time with friends and family is so valuable. Thanks for sharing.

  56. Rachel says:

    Re: the cell phone thing. I don’t know where this family is at in Arkansas, but I’m also in Arkansas. I tried Republic wireless for about 3 weeks. My phone was very nearly a worthless brick. It made me think these discount plans are not so good in rural states. It scared me to the point I literally ran back to Verizon and haven’t tried another carrier since. I know a friend who has Google’s Project FI, apparently that works okay here, but the startup cost of the phones threw me off of that one. Anywho, YMMV with cut-rate carriers in rural states.

  57. Steve says:

    I just have to say a good job to the both of you for prioritizing savings and debt payoff. I hope that everything works out and your husband is here for many more years to come. Everything else can be arranged later, but I also suggest that spending more time together now is important. You’ll never regret it.

  58. Karen says:

    My husband had cancer for about 2 1/2 years before he passed away, leaving me and my then 4 year old daughter. That was 3 years ago. You’ve both done an amazing job saving and are in a better place then we were (though we had enough savings and good insurance that money was never an issue).

    One thing I’ll add is to be mindful of emotional spending. You know the diagnosis and treatments take an emotional toll on you and your husband and it could be tempting to deal with either good or bad news by spending money – not just on things but experiences. It can add up, even the little things, and are easy to rationalize. I have no regrets about the two trips my daughter and I made to Disney, but there were a lot of random Amazon purchases too, especially veggie focused cookbooks. In the moment I rationalized it as investing in cooking healthier, but even though I like to cook it was just more then I needed. At least for me, this type of spending was hard to budget for, but with a healthy savings it was easier to deal with. I just wanted to mention this since your husband wants to spend some of his free time boating and golfing and it can be easy to justify spending lots of money on either of these activities.

    Best of luck to your family! Hopefully you never need to deal with it, but I found applying for SS survivor benefits for my daughter to be one of the easier things to do. Combined with my income we are at about 75% of our household income before my husband got sick. Though I earn too much to qualify for survivor benefits as a widow, it’s also nice to know it’s an option for a few more years in case somethings happens to my job.

    • Emily B. says:

      Hi Karen, I’m sorry to hear that you and your family went through a similar situation, and that’s great that you are financially stable. I’m just learning about the SS survivor benefits and that is really nice to know about. Good points about emotional spending too. It’s easy to justify ‘living it up’ right now, but we have to be prepared for the future.

  59. Hi Emily!
    I don’t have any special insight, and your finances are looking great. I’m writing to extend a digital hug- your story is really touching. Pancreatic cancer runs in my husband’s family, he is now screening yearly, and is cancer free, but it’s definitely something we’re thinking about. Best of luck!

    • Emily B. says:

      Best of luck to you too, and I hope his scans remain clear. It’s not fun to have that looming over your head, but does make you prepare and prioritize.

  60. swaayze says:

    1. Drop the AD&D coverage. Very costly and a very low probability of payout.

    2. I disagree on the new car. Get rid of it! 0% is great, but you’re (still) paying a significant cost in depreciation the first few years. If you can get $30k and owe only $26k iirc, you can get a decent vehicle for the profit or add a few thousand from your taxable funds and upgrade to a little nicer one. In the process you save big $ on the payment as well as insurance.

    I agree with most. Drop the hours and enjoy the extra day off every week with the family! Even sans cancer (hopefully very soon!) it’s worth it with a young child (and as mentioned maybe some extra childcare savings there too). Y’all are in great shape and you can probably go back to 40 later if you decide you need to do so.

    Good Luck and God Bless!

  61. Crew Dog says:

    Best of luck, John & Emily! Emily, here is a blog you may find helpful: http://myhusbandstumor.com

  62. Chris says:

    Cancer is such a bitch. I would plan for the worst possible outcome, that John is invalid and unable to work, reared cost for treatment (including potential housing and travel to out-of-area providers). Perhaps try to reduce junk food, and sell the new car. I believe for now Emily should not reduce hours – first, this will make her professional situation less stable and it is not clear if she can later number of work hours; second, any further decrease would result in loss of health insurance; third, in an environment where most everybody works 40 h, those with 32 hours often end up working just as long and getting paid less.
    Lastly, a non financial thought, just in case, NIH has many clinical studies, might be worth checking out.

    • Emily B. says:

      Thanks, Chris. I second your point on the risk of getting paid for 32 hours, but ending up working 40. This is one of my biggest hesitations to cutting back. Based on a lot of the comments about the cons of cutting back, I’m reconsidering it. Also considering selling the car.

      • Mary in Maryland says:

        During my big personal crisis, going to work every day and pretending that life was halfway normal was a sanity-saver. But it might not be for you. If you do cut back, work fewer days rather than just fewer hours. I had a co-worker who was going to cut back to working only mornings, but wound up staying until the paperwork was done and coming in for all the group meetings. Make sure you’re not just working for less pay. My husband’s university department wanted him to work half time for the year after he retired because of multiple simultaneous maternity leaves. Upon close questioning (by me) it turned out that he’d be teaching the same three classes, mentoring the same dissertation advisees as well as those of the faculty on leave, and serving on the same committees. I said I’d be cranky if he worked full-time and got paid for half-time. So he worked full-time until he was 68.

  63. Laurie m Villotta says:

    One thing that has not been mentioned is any illness is a money gobbler. Even though you are in a good financial position cancer can take that all away and you would be bankrupt. If he does need a liver transplant that is a whole other issue regarding health insurance. Being a 3 time cancer survivor and oncology nurse for many years I have seen it all. Because I an a single mom by choice I do not make much and have nowhere the money saved in this scenario. You are in the minority that you have as much as you do. And being so young you have many more years to live. I guess my feeling is that I would cut everything I could. a $700 car payment is my mortgage every month. Get rid of the car and but something used. My hope is that John does well, but the diagnosis along with previous issues causes me to not sleep at night. I would also like to add about what the social worker said. Talk about wishes now. If his cancer was to come back it often times is a very quick decline. Get all the wills and estate planning done now while he is of sound mind. Do not wait. Life live to the fullest like you might not have tomorrow.

    • Emily B. says:

      Thanks Laurie. I’m going to get starting on the wills and estate planning this week. I guess I’ve been putting it off because I don’t want to admit that this could turn bad quickly, but I’d be kicking myself in hindsight if I didn’t fully prepare. Best of luck to you.

  64. Debbie says:

    So many great ideas and suggestions… Emily, I lost a husband to cancer after we were only together two years total (cancer when dating, remission, engagement, then return of the cancer before marriage). My advice is to truly prioritize self-care. It is difficult when the one you love is sick; the reality is, everyone else will be supporting him and having compassion for him (as should be) while you will be on the sidelines with real needs, too. While I also value time, only reduce your hours if they are what you need most. Work if that will help you psychologically – obviously money-wise you are fine. In retrospect, because I had started a new job the year before we married and could not take much time off, I see that work was a blessing – it made life more normal for the both of us. As my husbands’ health worsened, going to work gave me space to be me. Since he died 8 years ago, I have recently remarried and today we are going to a lawyer to start the making of wills, health care proxies, power of attorney processes along with adding me to the deed. I had not thought about getting our utilities in both names – great idea! My experience is, like others here, it is very frustrating to be dealing with the aftermath of the estate when all things are not in place. My final recommendation – do only the things you enjoy, as a couple, as a family, and as an individual. Fill your life with as much happiness as possible. We all should be doing that because being human is terminal! Sending you positive energy and courage.

    • Emily B. says:

      “Being human is terminal.” That’s a great quote and sentiment on why we should all be prepared for the unexpected…because it should be expected. Your comments about work are great insight and I’m glad that you voiced them. Work has been the one steady thing in my life for the past 7 months and has maintained one sense of normalcy for me. I will consider that. I also need to take more immediate action on our wills, etc. Thanks for sharing your story.

  65. Elise says:

    Hi Emily,

    Thanks for being so open, I’m sorry you’re going through such a difficult time.

    Trying to put myself in your shoes, I would want to cut my hours, and a lot of good arguments that have been made about that. But if you’re not sure could you reduce your hours on a trial basis for a few months and see how that works out for you? Maybe you’ll decide that having more income provides additional security (given all the uncertainties) that makes you feel more comfortable and the extra hours aren’t that much of a burden.

    Either way, if you decide to cut your hours, it might be nice to do it a few paychecks after John drops his hours, so you can experience a more gradual drop in income.

  66. Kez says:

    I’d really like to second the importance of seeking high quality medical care. I grew up in Arkansas and now work as a life sciences consultant. I’m aware of several examples of friends with cancer in Arkansas who thought they were receiving excellent care but in fact were receiving treatment 10 years out of date. There is a lot of active development of new drug treatments for liver cancer going on currently (with several FDA approvals expected in the next few months plus ongoing clinical trials), but I would not be surprised is even the best oncologists in Arkansas are not up to date on the options. While I usually think it’s charming that Arkansas is a decade behind (I joke with friends a decade older than me that I remember the 80’s really well because they lasted at least until 1996 in Arkansas), cancer care is not a place to be ten years behind!

  67. Ana says:

    Hi Emily,
    I’m a spanish student with no idea of how to help you to reach your finalcial goals. But many of my relatives had suffer cancer and I know a bit of it. First, everytime a medical problem appears, shut your bad thoughs. Just wait until a doctor tells you what happens. Positiveness will help you both. Secondly, let yourself don’t worry about future. Every moment you are living know (in this situation) will make you feel in a higher emotional rank, like being crying of happiness or really angry. Don’t care, just let go. If you need more support, talk to free onlines webs tthat give support.
    I couldn’t name any because I know spanish’s ones.
    Good luck!!

  68. Emily, YOU ARE MY SPIRIT ANIMAL. I am also going through a cancer diagnosis. I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods in that you guys are in total control of your financial life, KUDOS. Also, as someone with cancer myself AND kids who is also frugal, I have to say this.

    WORK LESS. SPEND MORE TIME WITH YOUR FAMILY, NOW. This is not a debate, nor should it be. You guys have worked hard to get your finances in order, and your No. 1 priority is your health and making the most of the time you have with your husband. Nothing else (literally) should be on your radar. Keep working only as much as you have to right now. Maximize your family time. You will never ever regret that. Money and work can come later, and your prior frugality has earned you the right to relax and enjoy life right now.

    Peace Out. (I have cancer and am having major cancer surgery in 6 days. Just posted about it on my own blog, cheapyuppie.mom

  69. Congrats on being relatively debt free and downsizing. I imagine some loss was felt at first. I think Frugalwoods is right on giving more thought on how Emily will cover the expenses in the event of a passing. I think this is what most couples should think about if expenses are heavily dependent on one person’s salary.

  70. Jane says:

    Just wanted to add a shoutout for Mint Mobile, another low cost sim only cellphone plan. Our first 6 months were half price at just over $10 per month, and after that it’s $24 per month., paid in 6 month blocks, for u/l minutes and texts and 5G LTE data. Their 2G plan is slightly cheaper. Service is through TMobile and we have found coverage to be good, calls to Mexico and Canada are included and overseas roaming charges are very reasonable.

  71. Lauren S. says:

    No advice that anyone hasn’t already said. Praying for you and your family – for peace, for joy, for good laughs, sweet memories and longevity.

  72. Crystal G. says:

    Just wanted to give a vote for reducing work hours in order to spend more time together. You never know what the future may hold, especially when navigating life with a serious medical issue. My family is going through something similar at the moment; my heart goes out to you guys and I hope that you get LOTS of special time together for many years. Just another note to share about Policy Genius – it’s not great at predicting costs if you have mental health issues. Although I was eventually able to purchase coverage through Prudential (via Policy Genius), the price was nearly 10x what Policy Genius originally quoted me. Sadly, the insurance companies are hesitant to offer coverage to those living with mental illness, and will charge a pretty penny to provide coverage. That being said, my wife and I have young twins, so it still makes sense for me to carry coverage. Wanted to share that tidbit in case it is helpful to anyone.

  73. Tony the Pharmacist says:

    I’m a Pharmacist and wanted to provide my perspective from a healthcare point of view, as well as provide some resources. My mother-in-law was recently diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer (she just started chemo and radiation a week ago at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale; they have an incredible facility and their staff not only communicates extremely well with each other, but they’ve taken the best care of her). This is all to say, please get a second opinion at a top notch cancer clinic that has the resources to potentially get John into a clinical trial….MD Anderson in Houston (best cancer center in the US) or Mayo Clinic at Rochester (closest to you and top notch). As for resources, my mother in law started the ketogenic diet 1 month prior to her chemo and radiation. The ketogenic diet, as well as extended and intermittent fasting, have been studied in not only preventing cancer, but also treating cancer…and also potentiating the effects of chemo and radiation. There’s also studies that show fasting (only drinking water) for 48 to 72 hours before chemo will lessen the side effects of chemo and “chemo brain” (my mother in law also did this before chemo…and so far no side effects thankfully). Please checkout the caveman doctor’s blog (I’m in no way affiliated with him…just came across him doing my own research for my mother-in-law and her recent cancer diagnosis), he’s an MIT grad who’s currently a radiologist oncologist who provides great information on the ketogenic diet and cancer. (http://colinchamp.com/the-ketogenic-diet-and-cancer-they-myths-and-where-we-stand-in-2018/) His blog is evidence-based driven (and he cites all the studies he’s quoting…yay for evidence-based medicine!) and provides a ton of resources for keto and cancer. He also has a book called “Misguided Medicine” that provides very valuable info (I bought this book and “Keto for Cancer: Ketogenic Metabolic Therapy as a Targeted Nutritional Strategy” for my mother in law…she found both of them very informative). Please do your own research on the ketogenic diet and fasting as an adjunct to chemo. I wish you all the best!

  74. Angela says:

    Praying for you and your family! Kick cancer’s butt!

  75. Bridget says:

    Gosh, what a journey you have been on. I admire you so much. You have both worked incredibly hard to be in the financial position that you are in. I am blown away by your commitment and hard work with your finances and your strength and optimism re the health issues that you are facing. My husband was diagnosed with brain cancer, (he’s alive and doing really well!) and it totally shattered our world and changed all of our priorities. Still has and it was over 5 years ago (though as you know once you receive a cancer diagnosis, it always hangs over your head, literally). So whilst my husband has now gone back to full time work, I am now at home majority of the time. We have decided that both of us will not be in full time work at the same time. Time is too important and in a year or 2, I will swap and my husband will drastically drop his hours. I think you easily could live off 32 hours pay. Go for it. Enjoy mountain bking and hiking with your family. Big hugs.

  76. Mazz says:

    In my reply to Emily (although my situation is incredibly different) I should say that my response is based heavily on my emotional response to your story). You are much better off financially than I could even imagine. I know very few people who are as well set up as your family.

    I live very far from my family, as I can only be “middle-class” by working overseas. Although I would not give up insurance in modern day America (I get emergency only, when I visit the US) I know that every moment I get with my loved ones builds precious memories for everyone. This will matter so much to you and, particularly, your children, some day. This will be true even if, as all of us who read your story hope, both of you live well into retirement.

    As someone with expensive hobbies (I have too many, yet not enough art supplies and I love knitting with lovely-ahem, expensive-yarns, among other things), I think you could find ways to cut some expenses. I have taken up different hobbies by circumstance, and planned those I love carefully as well. This may not be appropriate…but as someone who hates to cook, I think I would learn to love doing it as a couple together, if our hours dropped.

    Were I in your shoes, I think, time being my precious resource, I would find ways to maximize time together. I would certainly cut my hours and be with my family. You will, I hope, soon discover that John is recovering and expected to live well for many years to come. However, until you hear this, live every day and moment to the fullest, while still planning for the future. If you have the best of all possible outcomes, then your family will quickly resume your goals. If not, I do not think you will regret using your most precious resource while you have it. As someone who dearly wishes to have had more time with a parent, I do not think your children will ever begrudge you either.

    I hope that you have much more time together. Despite your struggles, I am glad to read that you can maitain healthcare through this and that you will have much more than many no matter what. I hope to read that you are botb enjoying an early retirement in some years to come.

    On another note: Policygenius didn’t even ask if I am married or have children….just assumed I need a half million dollar policy. Weird. Does not work if you have any history of illness.

  77. Luisa says:

    I feel for you and your family. I am a multi-cancer survivor who has finally reached the age of 62 so hopefully my perspectives will be helpful.

    1. Monitor clinical trial websites and see if there is anything relevant you might want to sign up for. Unless you are seeing a liver cancer specialist your docs might not be aware of all that is going on. Most of the time when physicians are saying treatments/therapies are improving they are addressing proven methods that have become “standard of care” (remember this term you will hear it often). Clinical trials are usually 3-5 yrs in advance of that.

    2. You won’t get back tomorrow what you have today so make the most of it. Plan time together that creates wonderful memories and do it in a structured thought out way- keep a list. Plan them in advance. Try to prioritize the more strenuous and far flung ones earlier- the younger and less recurrences/treatments you have had the more energy you will have, so use it while you have it.

    3. Both of you keep journals so that your thoughts and experiences can be shared in the future whether you are around or not and if around can provide insight when you look back. Write your child and spouse letters in advance for their birthdays and special holidays about what you wish for them and some memories that you’d like to share.

    4. Find support for all of you and beyond just immediate family and close friends. Look for support groups that focus on spouses, children and families. You may get to the point where you are concerned about leaning too much on those close to you and also want experienced perspectives. Hospitals, oncologists, and internet searches may help identify those locally. Make sure your son’s school knows what’s going on so they can be more watchful for signs of depression and stress.

    5. Make sure you maintain good diet and have avenues to release stress. Yoga and meditation are good ones. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” and never go to bed angry.

    6. If your son has not been made aware talk to him as soon as you think he can understand. The worst way for him to learn is through the grapevine or someone let’s slip something that he’s being protected from. Keep it as simple as he is able to grasp and leave the door open for anytime he has more questions or wants to talk about it.

    The unfortunate thing about disease is that it’s not just an issue for the couple and their finances but for everyone in the entire family.

    Good luck to you all.

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