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Extraordinary Life On An Ordinary Income Pt. 8 Lack of Access, Financial Insecurity, & Mental Health

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I missed the March theme of Mental Health. To say I have been adjusting lately is an understatement. Add on top, having a huge surprise dropped on me and battling with depression has put me on hiatus to say the least.

Big Changes Abound

A big move to a new state. I’ve never lived outside of Ohio in my entire life. Add in quitting my job to make that move and going full-time freelance. A recipe for adversity for sure. Moving, job transition, surprise stressors ,and spiraling depression have taken a toll. Add in a few surprise emergencies and disasters and my mental health is not where I need it to be.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health

I’m open about battling depression during this adjustment. Financial insecurity can take it’s toll on anyone. Add in almost 4 times the normal rate of inflation. Those struggling to make ends meet not only struggle with financial insecurity but could be battling mental health issues as well.

Battling The Disability Complex (In The US)

I’ve experienced, as well as heard, so many issues with the disability application process. My ex-wife was battling the process for the entire 5 years we were together. My current partner has been battling for over 2 years now. A friend of ours also battled, and won, after 5 years.

I wrote a tweet about how I wish I had better resources for those fighting the disability process. Unfortunately, I got some stressful feedback. Some say it can take even up to 10 years to win the disability battle.

Battling the disability appeals process can take over 10 years

Imagine fighting the process for disability. Being out of work for 10 years. Trying to battle for much needed income that may not even cover total expenses. Battling rising inflation. Battling personal finance “experts” telling you to just move, make more money, or get a better job. While battling chronic pain and mental health issues.

Many of these personal finance “experts” don’t understand the link between mental health and chronic pain. Or that chronic pain disproportionately affects women. When women statistically make less money than men. Imagine being a single mother, battling disability & mental health issues, while caring for your children. Telling them to just make more, or get a 2nd job is pure disrespect.

Luckily a new resource has emerged. Check out this podcast for those fighting the disability battle, or know someone who is. The SSI/SSDI application process can be a pain in the ass to navigate. This episode will give you a guide to navigating the difficult process.

As mentioned earlier, there is a link between mental health and chronic pain. Not every disability is chronic pain-related. Chronic pain is the disability I am most familiar with, outside of my anxiety and mental health issues. Now let’s talk about the lack of access for finding affordable therapy.

Finding Affordable Therapy

With the rise in telehealth, therapy is becoming more affordable. However, it’s still an uphill battle for some. When you are worried about keeping your lights on and family fed. Therapy can seem like a luxury to most.

I’m going to start therapy soon. Fortunately, I have two options. One, my partner asked me to come to therapy with her. The other is that someone gifted me a few months of individual therapy. They also suggested a cheaper monthly option via video calling and regular phone services. It can still be a detrimental cost to some. I’m still stressed about being able to pay all my other expenses as well.

What About Health Insurance? Does It Cover Therapy?

I hate to admit it, but as I write this I don’t have health insurance. The cheapest I can find is over $400 per month (with dental). Along with unknown income as full-time freelancer, I am having trouble estimating my yearly income. So when people ask why I don’t see about social programs, I’m not even sure how to ask. How do I estimate my first year of income when I have no idea how?

What are the repercussions if I estimate way too low? What if I estimate too high? This is a whole new world I have to navigate. On top of learning about a whole new world of where I now live. Where I call home. Most Americans don’t understand our health insurance system. Unfortunately, I am also one of most Americans.

How can I get answers? How does someone get answers to questions that don’t know to ask? Why is the US healthcare system such a minefield to navigate? Why can’t we do better?

Battling Financial Insecurity

The battles with my mental health and financial insecurity are coming out. I got into a flame war (online “fight”) with someone on Twitter. Unfortunately, I was taking external stress and assuming I knew someone’s story. I just get passionately heated about some things. Sometimes people like to condescend those who are on a low-income without acknowledging the potential lack of access to many resources.

Poor Is A Choice?

There are so many that believe being poor is a sign of bad decision-making. Not recognizing the systemic issues abound. Believing that others should suffer hardships because they did. The belief that hardship builds character. I believe in actually helping people with their finances. Shaming doesn’t work. The most help someone needs, at times, is just some extra money.

Sometimes those with an abundance of access and/or higher earners suggest things not available to others. Just ride a bicycle, take public transport, just move states, or some other actionable tip isn’t always applicable to those with a low income. Often, they forget that they have access to resources others don’t. Or they don’t realize it.

I wasn’t financially insecure back in Ohio. Working my 9-5 my healthcare was taken care of at a discount. I had taxes and retirement savings automatically deducted. Access to cheap rent, quality food, competitive pricing, and walkability. I had the power of choice. Perhaps even sometimes too much.

Rural Area = Lack of Access = Higher Costs?

There seems to be a lack of talk in the financial independence community about the accessibility of basic needs. We talk about the high cost of living (HCOL), medium cost of living (MCOL), and low cost of living (LCOL) but we don’t tend to talk about the access these areas tend to have. Even in a LCOL, the differences in access feel like entirely different worlds to me.

High Cost of Living High AccessHigh Cost of Living Low Access
Medium Cost of Living High AccessMedium Cost of Living Low Access
Low Cost of Living High AccessLow Cost of Living Low Access
Access Can Vary in Each Cost of Living Type

Utilities, Groceries, Gas Stations. The lack of resources (maybe not lack, but just less) available compared to an urban area is still an adjustment for me and my wallet. Navigating a new area and adjusting the budget has come with a new set of stressors and learning new behaviors.

It’s not just the basics that are lacking. Healthcare is severely lacking as well. My partner sees many specialists where we have to travel over 2 hours at times to see different specialists.

Due to lack of access, it takes planning on appointment days. When we travel 2 hours away we have to make the most of it. With high gas and grocery prices, planning on a budget it crucial.

Eggs, Bread, & Milk Are Too Damn Expensive

Inflation has hit the groceries stores. I noticed it just before I made the move out of Ohio. I kept track of where I could find things the cheapest. While tracking prices at different stores, I noticed my usual items getting more expensive. My meal plan was pretty consistent every week. That’s how I had my grocery budget to a minimum.

Living with my partner, we’ve felt the financial hit of inflation. We’ve had to sit down and meal plan. Since we both have dietary issues, finding unprocessed foods at a competitive price is difficult.

Now I have about 2 choices in local grocery stores. Both stores carry way too many processed foods. Both stores carry low quality and limited produce. Organic sections are almost non-existent.

To save on gas and time we plan to hit warehouse stores and health stores on appointment days. However, this burns our energy out quickly. After hours of appointments, we grocery shop and still travel over 4 hours out of the day. It’s not only financially intensive but time intensive.

Bearing The Brunt Of New (To Me) Costs

Utilities are at the mercy of a few select conglomerates. There’s two choices for internet. Most of us know about the cable game. The hidden fees and taxes. The cheapest internet here is $75. Compared to the low income option of $18 a month I was paying. Water, sewer, trash are new expenses to me. These were covered in my last residence

Yes. I was privileged. My parents had me under their car insurance. It was convenient for them and had automatic payments set up. It helped the agent because he was a friend of my father. My father is big on helping others out since he is financially secure. Because of my father’s health decline, and my mother’s misunderstanding and financial insecurity, add another bill.

You may be saying I’m an adult and I should pay my own insurance. Yes that’s fair. But same company, almost exact same coverage. Only difference is I pay monthly and my parents paid the 6 months in advance. The monthly cost for my car went up almost $53. That’s another $153 bill.

Financial Insecurity & Back To Mental Health

With freelancing and setting aside taxes, for every bill I need an estimated 30% more than the cost of that bill. Add in variable income, that I’m not accustomed to, is added stressed. Not having consistent income each week is anxiety inducing. It’s easy to feel behind, when I feel like I was already ahead working my old 9-5 and being able to cover all my bills and retirement savings.

I’ve struggled like an imposter through all this. Back to the flame war, I was offered a free budget template. This person thought my issue was just a budget problem. Not an income problem. I’m a happy You Need A Budget (YNAB) user.

What good is a budget if your income can’t exceed your bills? I know I took on some debts I’m responsible for. I acknowledge personal responsibility for my private student loans and my car payment. But I still believe we need better access to disability income, healthcare, and mental healthcare.

Wrapping It Up

Lack of access comes with unique challenges. Those with a lack of access and have a low income have to be expert budgeters with time and money. Have to prep and plan meals, trips, and daily life. Sometimes have to battle chronic pain, disabilities, and mental health issues.

I’ve been battling mental health and financial insecurity issues. I don’t have good, actionable tips to help you with them. There are a few options, but we need better ones. I wish there were better resources to help. My best advice is to plan as much and as well as you can. Take care of yourself, and add self-care into your routines. Become an expert and optimizer. Fight for a better system. Seek the resources available to you.

Check out other posts in this series: An Extraordinary Life On An Ordinary Income