Author Topic: Cancer Survivor -- is FI possible?  (Read 1569 times)

emilyjaneem88

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Cancer Survivor -- is FI possible?
« on: December 10, 2023, 05:15:54 AM »
Life Situation: I'm 35 and live in North Carolina with my husband; we don't have any children and don't plan to have children, but we do have a dog. My husband is a high-earner and makes approximately $125,000 gross salary annually, though he is not interested in FI. He pays for the mortgage, utilities, Internet, home/car insurance, and streaming services/eating out. I'm a former elementary school teacher and currently work as a medical social worker. 

Gross Salary/Wages: $51,000 -- I recently graduated with my Master of Social Work and am on track to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in another year or so, so I should see a salary increase at that time (likely to $60-65,000).
=$51,000
 
Individual amounts of each Pre-tax deductions: I contribute 4 percent to my 403(b) and get a 4 percent match; this is the maximum employer match. Since I just started working as a medical social worker toward the beginning of 2023, I have about $2,000 in in my 403(b). I was also able to contribute the maximum amount of $6,500 this year to my Roth IRA. I taught elementary school for five years, so I have a very small amount of money stashed away in a state pension. It's not robust since I only taught long enough for it to be vested, so my guess is it'd give me maybe a couple hundred bucks a month at retirement, if that.
=$8,500

Other Ordinary Income: When I was teaching, I created and sold lesson plans online and am still earning some passive income on these to the amount of about $2,500 per year.
=$2,500 

Adjusted Gross Income: $45,000
=$45,000

Taxes: Approximately $10,000
=$10,000

Current expenses:
Cell Phone: $43.41
Housekeeping: $165
Lawncare: $179
Food/Grocery: $500
Medical/Dental/Vision/Critical Illness Insurance: Approximately $200
Gas: $200
Dog Food/Medicine/Vet: $100
Supervision (required prior to social work licensure): $160
*A note on housekeeping/lawncare -- due to physically being unable to do this labor, I do have to outsource it.
=$1,547.41 monthly ($18,568.92 annually)

Expected ER expenses: $2,204.80 annually -- this is the cost of my Medicare Part B premium/deductible. I was diagnosed with leukemia when I was 27 and after a few years of aggressive treatment, have been in remission for seven years. The treatment caused long-term joint and lung damage so I've had both hips replaced and my left shoulder replaced. I have to have my right shoulder and left knee replaced next. I also may have to have a double-lung transplant at some point in the future, but am currently stable with stage IV lung disease. Needless to say, I reach my out-of-pocket maximum every year. Thankfully, since I was on Social Security Disability while I was going through treatment, I became eligible for Medicare and will be eligible to have it for the next eight years, which will keep my medical costs relatively low. After eight years, however, I will likely be paying my employer plan's out-of-pocket maximum annually, approximately $7,500.
=$2,204.80

Assets:
Paid-for car valued at $2,500
Brokerage account of utility stocks worth $14,000
Roth IRA with gold/S&P 500 stocks worth $7,500
=$24,000

Liabilities: $3,000 in student loans; however, I am currently trying to get these last remaining loans forgiven, as I was a teacher for five years and should qualify for teacher loan forgiveness. I started with $64,000 in student loan debt for my teaching degree and Master in Social Work.

Specific Question(s): I'm just wondering if FI is possible -- I guess I've been feeling down lately because I felt like it took so long to pay off student loans through my salary, odd jobs, and scrimping/saving. Then I got sick and wasn't able to work for awhile. I know I'm in a pretty good place now, but feel late at 35, and also feel like my body is constantly working against me. It's been exhausting. Is FI possible despite the reality of knowing I'll have high medical bills for the rest of my life? Thanks, all -- I really appreciate any and all input.

Take good care,

Emily
« Last Edit: December 10, 2023, 06:24:28 AM by emilyjanelafontaine »

Metalcat

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Re: Cancer Survivor -- is FI possible?
« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2023, 06:31:45 AM »
It's important to frame what FIRE is and what it isn't.

FIRE isn't retiring by a specific young age, it's about being able to retire earlier than you would have if you engaged in wasteful spending.

I have a similar situation to you, but with meaningful differences. I graduated with massive student debt in my early 30s, paid it off by my late 30s, then health issues destroyed my ability to work and I retired after 11 years of university and only 6-7 years of working, mostly just to pay off school. Unlike you, I was the primary bread winner in my household, so losing my income was massive. However, my spouse makes a solid income, so we're fine.

My body is pretty fucked and I'll never ever be able to work full time at anything ever again, nor any job that requires me to stand, walk, or sit for any length of time. Oh, and I can't type on a computer for very long, lol. So my options are incredibly limited.

I don't see it as my body betraying me though. I'm not entitled to a body that works, I have the body I do and it's not it's job to work the way I want it to, it's my job to take care of it as best I can and help it work as well as it possibly can. Truly accepting my body's adaptive capacity has been a HUGE part of processing the loss of function that I've had.

So what about FI?

Well, the way to get to FI is to spend incredibly carefully. It's to truly understand the balance between what spending benefits your quality of life vs the benefit of saving. It's not about setting a specific savings goal and reaching it, it's about looking at the big picture of work vs spending vs savings and setting yourself up for the most optimal balance.

Instead of conceptualizing my FI plans as being "destroyed" I conceptualized my FI efforts as the thing that saved me when my health collapsed. Because we were already frugal, because we already prioritized eliminating debt, because we already learned how to live on the lower of our two incomes while having a wonderful quality of life, our lifestyle was essentially not impacted at all by me losing my career.

I'm grateful every damn day that we didn't inflate our lifestyle to better match our income, that we already knew how to save a ton on groceries, already had a small, used, paid off car, already downsized to a smaller home, DH already biked to work, we already learned towards free/cheap hobbies and activities.

Keep your eye focused on living your best life through smart, frugal lifestyle choices and you will live your best life NOW and reach FI a lot faster than if you didn't optimize your spending.

Having cancer or any other serious health issue can teach you how important it is NOT to live for the future. If you focus on FIRE as this future fantasy, you will neglect the present. Focus on living a present that both fulfills you AND sets up the best options for the future.

As I've learned, aiming for FI isn't about getting a future you want, it's about opening up as many options as possible. With our spending decisions, I expected to be solidly FI by my mid 40s. Instead I've retrained and am going back to work part time in my 40s. But our frugality made that possible, it kept the door to going back to school open for me because I could readily afford the tuition and the time off to do it.

The goal isn't to reach a specific savings number. The goal is to figure out how to live a really satisfying life that provides you with everything you need to be optimally healthy and happy now AND allows you to save for an optimally healthy and happy future.

Only you and your spouse can work out which trade offs work best for you and how to accomplish that balance.

On the mental health front, you won't be able to do any of this until you properly process and mourn what you've been through. None of the above is saying that you shouldn't feel absolutely fucking terrible about what you've been through, disappointed, angry, self-pitying, frustrated, ect.

You can't get rid of those feelings, you have to process them and move through them. You have to properly mourn whatever sense of comfort and safety you used to have in your own body. You have to respect the emotional toll of what you've been through and the fact that it doesn't go away just because you are through the worst of the medical part.

Managing your mental health is probably the largest component of figuring out your happiest and healthiest life.

You've been through A LOT. It's going to take a lot to process that and move forward your strongest and healthiest self. Don't underestimate the process.

emilyjaneem88

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Re: Cancer Survivor -- is FI possible?
« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2023, 07:27:31 AM »
Wow -- really appreciate this perspective. I think you hit the nail on the head here when describing FI: "It's to truly understand the balance between what spending benefits your quality of life vs the benefit of saving. It's not about setting a specific savings goal and reaching it, it's about looking at the big picture of work vs spending vs savings and setting yourself up for the most optimal balance." This seems to be what I've found to be the most challenging since going back to work. I could have stayed on disability but wanted to work for more stability, but I've really felt that lack of balance. I use all my PTO on doctor appointments/hospital stays and by the time the weekend comes around, it's hard to do anything except recharge on the couch. I hate thinking that I may not be alive to enjoy retirement. Then again, maybe I will, though if I stop working, essentially most of my income will go to medical bills. I think I'm needing to spend time thinking about what balance looks like for me.

Thanks so much for your post, it was what I needed.

Dicey

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Re: Cancer Survivor -- is FI possible?
« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2023, 11:05:06 AM »
I almost feel guilty adding to Metalcat's typically exquisite response, but I'll wade in anyway.

I had a rare cancer, with a propensity to recur, in my very early twenties. It lit a fire under me to retire early. My inspiration was my dad, who retired at 50. He was an Air Traffic Controller, and basically had to retire before the strike. He had enough years of service to qualify for a full pension, so that's just what he did. It wasn't really a burning goal for him.

There was no such thing as a FIRE movement back then, so I just had to figure it out myself. Yes, I totally felt like an outlier/weirdo for years and years. On top of that, ACA was way in the future, so getting affordable private medical care was out of the question. (See:  Propensity to Reccur)

Early on, I made the decision to live for the moment AND plan for the future I wanted. I went to the weddings, I kissed the new babies. I was the doting auntie. I set a goal to see all fifty states, then all seven continents, plus a bunch of other goals.  I haven't reached 100% of those landmarks, but I learned to do them frugally, before CC hacking was as big as it is now. It may have delayed my retirement a bit, but living in the moment was it's own reward, and totally worth it.

I hit FI and RE when I was 54. I had breast cancer earlier this year (plus some skin cancers in between, but comparatively minor), right after I turned 65. It wasn't even a blip on my financial radar. I am so grateful to past Dicey for having the courage to stick to the road less ttaveled forge my own path.

You absolutely can do this!

Metalcat

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Re: Cancer Survivor -- is FI possible?
« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2023, 05:14:41 PM »
Wow -- really appreciate this perspective. I think you hit the nail on the head here when describing FI: "It's to truly understand the balance between what spending benefits your quality of life vs the benefit of saving. It's not about setting a specific savings goal and reaching it, it's about looking at the big picture of work vs spending vs savings and setting yourself up for the most optimal balance." This seems to be what I've found to be the most challenging since going back to work. I could have stayed on disability but wanted to work for more stability, but I've really felt that lack of balance. I use all my PTO on doctor appointments/hospital stays and by the time the weekend comes around, it's hard to do anything except recharge on the couch. I hate thinking that I may not be alive to enjoy retirement. Then again, maybe I will, though if I stop working, essentially most of my income will go to medical bills. I think I'm needing to spend time thinking about what balance looks like for me.

Thanks so much for your post, it was what I needed.

Remember also that what is best for you right now could change.

At your age I retired and have been off of work for nearly 4 years. I could have forced myself back to some kind of work, and actually tried and bailed because it was damaging me too much.

I've invested in an enormous amount of self care and healing in that time, and I will be 42 when I start work again. However, I planned carefully, I looked at my skills and capacity, I looked at career options for a full 2 years, extensively before deciding to retrain in a career that won't physically tax me and give me plenty of free time for self care.

Perhaps not working at all right now and just focusing on letting your body and mind recover and build strength might be what's best. Perhaps looking carefully at your career options and seeing if there's a more flexible, part time career that you could upskill to.

The path to ultimate retirement doesn't need to be a straight line of constantly saving more and more money. Right now, your best investment might be in repairing and building your own capacity and skills.

Had I gone back to work within a year of retiring, I would have been in shit shape. Now, several years of retirement later and I'm champing at the god damn bit to get back to work because I have a whole new, exciting career I'm embarking on.

Don't fall for the trap that you only have two options: your existing full time job or not working at all. That's simply not your reality AT ALL.

Your reality is that whatever you are currently doing doesn't sound optimal.

Okay fine. But there is an enormous, vast world of options out there between your current career and not working at all, ever again.

Again, the focus is on figuring out what your optimal balance is, and that means figuring out the optimal balance of how much of your precious energy you divert towards earning.

No fucking way I'll ever work more than 3 days a week. In fact, 2 days a week would probably be better for me. I know what I need in terms of flexible time to best maintain my self care needs. I have to do PT at least 3 times a week, I have to lift weights at least twice a week, I have to bulk cook at least once a week, which takes an entire day, and I need A LOT of rest.

Money is just a placeholder for time and energy, you exchange some of your time and energy for money, which you then can exchange for the products of other people's time and energy. That's it.

So you have to conceptualize your own time and energy as highly valued resources that can't be spent foolishly the same way money can't be spent foolishly.

That's what the concept of "balance" really means, it means figuring out the right exchanges of time and energy for optimal quality of life.

At a certain point, your time and energy each week becomes much more valuable than the income you can make from trading it away. The more trauma your body experiences, the more expensive your time and energy become, so you need to assess these values accurately and carefully, otherwise you will perpetually make low-value trade offs.

emilyjaneem88

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Re: Cancer Survivor -- is FI possible?
« Reply #5 on: December 11, 2023, 04:02:18 AM »
Early on, I made the decision to live for the moment AND plan for the future I wanted. I went to the weddings, I kissed the new babies. I was the doting auntie. I set a goal to see all fifty states, then all seven continents, plus a bunch of other goals.  I haven't reached 100% of those landmarks, but I learned to do them frugally, before CC hacking was as big as it is now. It may have delayed my retirement a bit, but living in the moment was it's own reward, and totally worth it.

I hit FI and RE when I was 54. I had breast cancer earlier this year (plus some skin cancers in between, but comparatively minor), right after I turned 65. It wasn't even a blip on my financial radar. I am so grateful to past Dicey for having the courage to stick to the road less ttaveled forge my own path.

You absolutely can do this!

Congratulations on surviving cancer AND retiring early! May I ask how you were able to do it/find balance?

Dicey

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Re: Cancer Survivor -- is FI possible?
« Reply #6 on: December 11, 2023, 07:57:49 AM »
Early on, I made the decision to live for the moment AND plan for the future I wanted. I went to the weddings, I kissed the new babies. I was the doting auntie. I set a goal to see all fifty states, then all seven continents, plus a bunch of other goals.  I haven't reached 100% of those landmarks, but I learned to do them frugally, before CC hacking was as big as it is now. It may have delayed my retirement a bit, but living in the moment was it's own reward, and totally worth it.

I hit FI and RE when I was 54. I had breast cancer earlier this year (plus some skin cancers in between, but comparatively minor), right after I turned 65. It wasn't even a blip on my financial radar. I am so grateful to past Dicey for having the courage to stick to the road less ttaveled forge my own path.

You absolutely can do this!

Congratulations on surviving cancer AND retiring early! May I ask how you were able to do it/find balance?
Determination. Cancer is a pretty powerful motivator.

I was well on my way before MMM existed, but participating in this forum was a huge lift. Finding like-minded people was so inspirational.