Becoming Financially Savvy

Becoming Savvy
Learning how to manage personal finances as you navigate living with HIV/AIDS
by Alacias Enger

Growing up, most of my friends didn’t really have to think about money. They weren’t exactly rich, but there really weren’t any serious financial restrictions on their lives. They were able to get jobs at the age of fourteen as long as they had working papers. They didn’t have to be concerned about how much money they might earn because it really didn’t impact anyone else. That most certainly wasn’t the case with me. I was born of a teenage mother and father who worked low wage jobs to support me and my younger sister. This was further complicated by my sister’s diagnosis as an infant: cerebral palsy. Just like that, my family was launched face first into a world filled with prescriptions, therapies, Medicaid, Social Security Disability, and a thousand other difficult-to-navigate resources.

So many kind and well-meaning people helped us along the way, but had it not been for my mother’s savvy, her incredible gift for decoding legal and financial jargon, for navigating the seemingly impossible to find hoops and then elegantly floating through them, my family wouldn’t likely have fared so well financially speaking.

What many people don’t understand is that when you have a severe medical condition in your family, you are absolutely required to be savvier than the average individual where money is concerned. If your household income inches up just a bit too far, you might suddenly find that you “make too much” to qualify for some of the resources on which your family depends. My mother became a master at puppeteering our financial world, and I was fortunate enough to become her pupil. She taught me how to navigate financial resources beyond that which my sister needed directly. She learned about taking advantage of educational benefits at work, and earned her degree at a tremendous discount. Shortly thereafter, she taught me how to get my residency changed so I could go to school out-of-state at an in-state price. My family learned how to maneuver complex financial systems out of necessity.

Since I was only five when my sister was diagnosed, I grew up learning to be savvy with my cents by carefully watching my mother. When I turned eighteen and relocated to Oregon to attend the university I had selected, I began working in the banking industry, where I went on to spend nearly a decade of my adult life. At the time, I was largely unaware of the gift I had been given with such an employment opportunity. At a relatively young age, I was being educated on topics such as credit, savings products and strategies, auto loans, credit cards, credit clean-up, retirement accounts, FDIC and NCUA Insurance, mortgages, avoiding fees, and many others. I went on to study income tax preparation and became licensed in the state of Oregon, where I also held membership with the Oregon Association of Tax Consultants until 2013 when I relocated to New York City. In 2015, I began writing in the personal finance arena by starting the blog “Sense with Cents,” following it about a year later with the travel blog “Travel Cents,” which focuses on balancing spending choices to maximize a vacation budget.

Now I have turned my attention to helping people living with HIV/AIDS manage their money.

People living with HIV/AIDS have a unique set of financial circumstances. While a myriad of resources have been made available over the years, each one contains its own eligibility criteria that can restrict the finances of those dependent on them. Moreover, even for those with private insurance plans paid by an employer, there are further expenses related to deductibles and co-payments vying for your hard-earned dollars. No doubt these things can feel overwhelming, and make financial freedom seem out of reach, but I’m here to assure you that just isn’t the case. Even within the financial constraints that come with having HIV/AIDS-related expenses, there are still opportunities at hand.

We’re all trying to lead our best financial lives. Helping people get there is the ultimate goal of this column. I am here to provide the education that will empower each of you to understand the choices that are out there, and the courage to take another step forward to leading your best financial life. Over the next several months, we’ll explore topics such as paying off credit card debt, the benefits of various retirement account options, student loan debt, emergency savings, and credit. Specific topic requests are encouraged, too!

Alacias Enger is a performing artist, writer, and educator. She lives with her partner in New York City, and is the founder of the blogs “Sense with Cents” and “Travel Cents.” Follow her on Twitter @sense_w_cents. If you have a personal finance question you would like answered in the column, please send an email: [email protected].