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BellaOnline's Disabilities Editor

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Budgeting on Limited Income

Guest Author - Monica J. Foster

Deciding how to budget when you have a disability is a personal matter, but it's important that you do as much as possible to understand all financial options.

For those of you with significant disabilities that may limit job options, it takes more financial creativity. I encourage you to seek government or community programs, discounts and incentives that you qualify for and any part-time, home opportunities you can. It is crucial that you take control to manage what money you have coming in.

For people with disabilities, a large part of the population, unfortunately, lives on some form of government program and finding gainful employment can be difficult.

Here are budgeting tips for families impacted by disability who live on a fixed income:

. Develop skills and talents to increase income
. Take advantage of incentives, discounts and programs available to people with disabilities
. Cover basic necessities first, such as food, clothing, shelter, uncovered medical expenses and affordable transportation before you do anything else
. Stop playing the lottery and wasting valuable money on chance games
. Avoid payday loan companies, rent-to-own companies and local loan sharks; you want discounts not exorbitant finance fees
. Stay away from get-rich-quick scams

Facing a disability can cause undue stress on a family. It can also refocus whatís most important to your family. Many of us donít see the need for a budget until we come under a health or financial crisis, but itís important to budget no matter what your disability or financial situation is. With a sudden disability onset, you will have to cut back working hours or stop working at all. Itís important to strategize before this happens. Itís also important to plan around breakdown of adaptive equipment, emergency medical needs, etc.

Even if you already have a long-term disability insurance plan in place, there are benefits to applying for SSDI immediately. Youíll receive regular monthly income, medical benefits through Medicare (after 24 months of entitlement to SSDI) and prescription coverage. More information can be found through the Social Security Administration (SSA) and your local disability services agencies.

Consistently lower expenses. Stretch funds while you wait for any benefits to come through. Get an immediate handle on debt. Start tracking every penny you spend and look at what youíre spending. Youíll be able to pinpoint areas for savings. If your medication is too expensive, ask your physician for samples, switch to generic, or ask your pharmacist for special programsóanything to reduce this expense. Ask about free services that may be available for low-income families. Clip coupons and join free discount programs.

The peace of mind from being financially independent will be worth it! According to consumer credit counseling services, housing makes up generally 20-30% of your budget. Utilities make up around 4-7%. Food can range 15-20% of your funds. Transportation varies, particularly for people with disabilities using accessible transportation means beyond a personal vehicle, but generally the percentage range is 6-20%. Medical expenses, should fall into 2-8% of your budget, but may be significantly more if you have quite a few health issues and see a lot of specialists. Your clothing budget should be 2-4% and any savings or investments you may have should fall within 5-10% depending on what you are allowed to save within the financial program you qualify for.

If every individual with a disabilityís budget example is different, then how do you know how best to craft a budget for yourself? Think about some basic recommendations.
Save or invest at least 5%. Debt payments shouldn't exceed 15%. Mortgage companies generally want house payment to be no more than 25% of your overall income. Housing or rent costs should be kept within your means. Increase or double up payments when you can, which I realize may be a rare. It was only this month that my husband and I were able to double up a car payment, but we did it and will again when we can.

All budgets should be specific to your needs and goals. There is no set amount that works for everyone. Make sure that you set realistic amounts and be open to wiggle the numbers as different situations arise. It's unrealistic to take on another loan that would cut your food expenses in half when you're already struggling to stay within your budget. Designate savings used for goals and emergencies as you would a bill. If you wait to save what's left over at the end, there often isnít anything left.

Involve your spouse and immediate family members. My husband and I have open, honest budget discussions. Since I started doing this, even when we were dating, we understand financial priorities and the concept of money much better. Keep track of everything. Keep a log book. It doesnít have to be fancy. A notebook or a simple Excel spreadsheet on the computer is fine. I hate this part and I feel obsessive. But, if you don't track, you won't know exactly where your money goes. How you track depends on you. List expenses in categories such as food, recreation and gas. We total them weekly (some prefer daily) to see where we are. I've discovered if we compare budgeting to certain chores (weekly) instead of spring cleaning (yearly), we have more success.

Stop impulse buying. Sound hard? I have a confession. I impulse shop, too. I often impulse shop when I feel ugly (which usually coincides with PMS). After analyzing this tendency, I've brainstormed ways to feel prettier instead of shopping. Treating myself to a good book and soft music satisfies my need to feel pampered and pretty without spending money. Track expenses for at least three months. Youíll easily see weak spots.

Budgeting requires commitment and creativity. A successful budget doesn't happen without hard work, but it can be doneóeven with a disability!



Content copyright © 2009 by Monica J. Foster. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Monica J. Foster. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Monica J. Foster for details.
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