I’m afraid of getting sick. Not in the sense that I’m actually afraid of germs. Goodness knows how many germs pass through my fingers (literally) on any given school day. Normally, the concept of illness lurks in the back of my mind and then lurches to the forefront when a student gets sick (literally). I’m afraid of getting sick in the sense that I don’t know how well we can afford it, especially in the future. Let me explain.
This weekend, I watched my dad spend $12 for a bottle of concentrated cherry juice. Amidst a bad flare up with his arthritis, he couldn’t get into his doctor right away and found himself resorting to home remedies, old wives’ tales, and whatever my Google searches yielded. When we called the store to see if they carried that particular juice, they confirmed that they did and cautioned us that it was not your typical juice in terms of price. At that point, no one cared. But then, I really, really did.
For the past few months, I’ve watched my parents prepare to retire. There are far too many variables to pin down an actual date, but it’s safe to say that they both want to retire sooner rather than later. As they sort through their finances and plan their future together, I can’t help but smile. I am so happy for them. And I’m kind of jealous. It made me think that maybe I needed to give the concept of FIRE another long look.
But then the cherry juice incident happened. I’ve tried to get my parents in on the FIRE movement — especially since my mom lived it in her 40s — but they’re just not budging. I gave them the cold, hard facts about the 4% rule, but they’re not sold. And now I don’t know if I am either. I understand* the concepts of insurance, Obamacare subsidies, HSAs, FSAs, medical and dental tourism as means of covering medical necessities and emergencies now and in retirement. But how in the world do you afford $12 bottles of cherry juice on a regular basis without batting an eye?
To give you some perspective, $12 is 6% of our grocery budget or 4% of our general spending budget for the month. That’s a lot of money for one item! My thyroid medicine costs less and that’s for a three-month supply. Now, I know I could and probably should push the cherry juice out of my mind when it comes to considering my own retirement — whether that retirement happens in my 40s or much later. It’s unlikely that I’d find myself in that exact situation. There are prescriptions, alternative treatments, preventative care, and other miscellany that could all take the place of cherry juice.
But who is to say there won’t be other expenses? And what do you do when these added expenses aren’t covered by insurance? When you’re living off your investments in retirement, how do you swing that? If I travel too far down this line of questioning, I can transition from trepidation to full-blown panic fairly quickly. If something as simple as a homeopathic treatment has me all off kilter, imagine how I’d react to a major illness.
I don’t have answers, only lots of questions. I wonder how often people consider the nuances of illness. As a generally healthy person who has a chronic condition that is well managed, I can peer into both worlds. Most days, I feel totally healthy and feeling unwell is entirely unexpected. But on some occasions, it’s not. What’s more is that the expense of illness isn’t new to me. I’ve watched people get tragically sidelined by medical bills. I’ve dealt with a fair share of them. But for some reason, it’s this $12 cherry juice that I can’t shake. On one hand, it’s just a bottle of juice. But it’s also so much more.
So Tell Me…Am I being overly cautious? Has anything ever unsettled you like this? How does illness influence your perspective on money or FIRE?