What I Learned From Tracking Every Penny I Spent for 365 Days - How to Financially Survive A Cancer Diagnosis


Being diagnosed with cancer is expensive.  Plus it’s an expense that comes out of nowhere.  Now we are fortunate in Canada to live within a publicly funded health care system – meaning that, for the most part, treatment, doctor visits, or scans, do not directly cost you anything.  This is massively helpful.  But what people don’t realize is that all the other expenses (e.g. time away from work, medications, support appointments) really adds up.

When I was diagnosed, at the age of 30, my husband and I had both just finished a doctorate (e.g. not a cheap), just purchased a home (e.g. not a cheap), and just got married (e.g. not cheap).  We are at that age when you do all of those monumental and exciting things in life.  But to have a cancer diagnosis immediately following is extremely difficult to financially manage.  On top of these new expenses, I also needed to manage on zero income to a reduced wage.   So how do you deal with the financial burden on top of everything else?

So here’s what I did.  For 365 days, I tracked every penny that went out or came in.  I needed to get a grasp on where the money was going and how it was being spent so I divided my spending up into categories and began tracking each and every penny.  What did I find out?  Read on.

(1)  Automation is key

Between feeling unwell and being intermittently admitted to the hospital, it’s easy to forget about a bill payment that is due.  Late payments are a complete waste of money.  Set up automated bill payments so you don’t have to remember.  You can still have you monthly bill delivered for budgeting and review but the act of paying the bill itself, is taken care of. One more thing off your ‘To Do’ list - freeing up energy for what’s most important.  


(2)  Set Targets

After a few months of tracking your expenses, you will have a pretty accurate picture of where you money is going.  Now is the time to set some goals.  Not really using your cable T.V.?  Cancel it.  Spending too much on groceries?  Look at how you can cut costs while keeping the nutrition.  

There may be items that you are spending a chunk of money on but are adding real value to your life.  For these items, the cost may be justified if you are deriving a lot of joy relative to the expense.  Let me give you an example.  I really enjoy going to coffee shops or having a good cup of coffee.  As a result, I dedicate a portion of my expenses to coffee.  While many (many!) financial articles will say that you should be mindful of your coffee expenditures because they add up, I feel like this is a good use of my money as I do love this aspect of my life (or maybe I am sounding like a true caffeine addict right now?  Either way, I’m happy).


(3)   Seeking Financial Reprieve 

If your income is cut, it is more than likely you are not going to be able to keep up with your expenses.  There are a couple different strategies to cut your bottom line.  If you are paying off student loans (like I was/still am), you can have your minimum monthly payments reassessed (and even reduced to zero) in response to your reduced income.  

There are also lots of charities who seek to support people undergoing treatment for cancer.  If you are a young woman (ages 16-50 years), diagnosed with cancer, and residing in Saskatchewan, you can apply to the Pink Wig Foundation.  Grants up to $10,000 are available to help cover living expenses.  That kind of help goes a long way.  

More information here:  www.pinkwig.ca/help     

There are lots of options to financially survive a cancer diagnosis.  Knowing where your money is going and coming is key. Once you have the knowledge you can take action to control your finances.