How to Manage Finances During Cancer Treatment

by Rick Fingerman, CFP 

Financial worries can be hard enough when you’re healthy, but dealing with finances during cancer treatment is especially difficult. During treatment, your or your family’s income may drop and your expenses will likely increase.

I have overseen the Dana-Farber Pro Bono Financial Coaching Program since 2008 and many of the issues patients face can be helped if a financial plan is in place.

The first step is creating a central folder for all of your financial documents. This will keep you organized and alleviate the stress that comes with looking for important papers. This can be done with an old-fashioned accordion folder or on your computer. Use what works best for you.

Dana-Farber Cancer InstituteHere are some other important steps to follow:

Create A Monthly Budget

Your first task should be to know what your monthly expenses will be while in treatment. Don’t worry if you don’t know this yet — as a practicing Certified Financial Planner™ for over 25 years, I have found the vast majority of patients do not know the answer to this.

To help keep track of expenses, you can try this interactive monthly budget form that you can type right into or print off. The main reason for this budget is to see how much money is coming in (inflows) and where you are spending that money (outflows). You can then see if there are ways to reduce outflows by finding cheaper alternatives for things like prescriptions, travel costs, or parking.

Understand Your Work and Government Benefits

If you are still working, it’s a good idea to sit down with your human resources department to get information on the following:

  • Short- and long-term disability
  • Continuing health insurance if your employer has been providing this
  • Rules on borrowing from your retirement plan
  • Accrued vacation time

It’s also a good idea to locate:

  • A recent Social Security statement which will estimate the monthly amount you will get from Social Security if you qualify for disability. You can also log on the Social Security website and create an account. It only takes a few minutes and will give you a more accurate picture of what you would receive.


Determine Your Net Worth

The final step is to create a list of assets and liabilities. Assets include things like equity in your home, savings accounts and investments. Liabilities include credit card and other debt, as well as mortgages. This form can help you organize these details and will give you an overview of what your own vs. what you owe. This can be critical when you need money because certain categories are better than others to pull money from. For example, it may be better to pull money from a checking account rather than your IRA, due to taxes and possible penalties.

This all may seem overwhelming, especially for those with the extra burden of an illness, but the good news is that help is available and you don’t have to go it alone. If you are a patient or caregiver, reach out to your hospital or a social worker about meeting with a financial counselor or planner. They may have resources to point you in the right direction. The Financial Planning Association website also offers a search where you can find a Certified Financial Planner™ close to you. Keep in mind these Planners may not always specialize in cancer care, and may not offer pro bono help.

At Dana-Farber, patients that meet certain income guidelines can be matched with a Certified Financial Planner™ that has been trained in this area. Those interested in this program can reach out to their social worker for more information.

Rick Fingerman, CFP® is a managing partner of Financial Planning Solutions, LLC and liaison between Dana-Farber and the Financial Planning Association of Massachusetts, offering free financial coaching to qualifying patients. Nearly 400 Dana-Farber families have been helped since its inception.

This blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be considered investment, tax, or legal advice. Rick Fingerman, CFP® only renders personalized advice to clients of Financial Planning Solutions, LLC or patients of Dana-Farber that have signed a pro bono financial coaching agreement.

Rick can be reached at 617-630-4978 or