How to Adjust Your Budget When You’re Injured at Work

Quick Answer

Getting hurt at work can affect your income and expenses, so tweaking your budget to reflect this can help prepare you for the financial aspects of your physical recovery and free you to focus on healing.

Seated African American woman in deep thought while calculating budget.

Getting hurt at work can jeopardize your income, but knowing how to adjust your budget can help you get through a tough financial time.

If you haven't already, report the injury to your employer; taking care of this right away can mean getting assistance sooner, which will help with budgeting.

Take a Second Look at Your Budget

Moving forward, you may have additional expenses involved in recovering from or adjusting to your injury or or condition. And depending on your employer and/or insurance company, you may have less money to work with, at least temporarily.

That can lead to financial problems that can add to the stress from your injury.

Here are some questions that can be useful in coming up with a plan:

How Long Am I Likely to Be Out of Work?

Health care professionals may be able to help you estimate how long your injury is likely to impact your work. Ask if you'll be able to work part time and increase your schedule incrementally as you heal. Or if your injury is likely to change your career trajectory, in which case you may be looking at retraining for a different line of work or looking for a side hustle.

How Will Medical Costs Factor in?

Familiarize yourself with what health insurance is likely to pay. And if you have disability insurance, learn about how that works and what documentation is likely to be required if you apply for disability.

Should I Pay for Medical Bills With My Credit Cards?

Think hard before putting medical bills on credit cards. Medical bills have special protections when it comes to credit reporting. In addition, you may be able to negotiate lower medical bills, but not if you have already paid them.

What Resources Do I Have?

If you have an emergency fund, this is the sort of situation you've saved for; don't be afraid to use it. If you don't have one, don't beat yourself up. Kicking yourself when you're down won't help.

If you have—or can get—a credit card that has a 0% introductory rate, that may help you get through a rough patch, but be sure you have a plan to pay it back before the intro period ends.

Look for Ways to Get Assistance

It's essential to report the injury to your employer. Workers compensation laws vary from state to state. Gather the information you need, find a workers' compensation attorney and file a claim promptly if you believe you are eligible for compensation.

If you have disability insurance, that could also be a factor in figuring out what your income is likely to be going forward.

Also check out possible grants and other assistance programs, both government and private. You can search online for your occupation plus "injury assistance" or similar. There may also be assistance for your specific type of illness or injury.

Put Your Plan Into Action

You won't immediately know everything about how long your injury will affect your life, or how much your income will be affected, but you can use the power you have by reducing expenses as much as you reasonably can while you are in a waiting mode.

If you have an emergency fund, cutting expenses can help make it last. If you don't, minimizing expenses can help you learn to live on less, so that you'll be better prepared to get by on a lower monthly income, if that's what eventually happens. (And if it doesn't, the savings can help seed an emergency fund.)

Don't be afraid to tweak your budget as circumstances change. You may need more—or less—childcare or other assistance, and the amount you spend on transportation and clothing might also change. Budgets are there as a guideline to serve you, not the other way around.

Do keep up with when you have filed claims, applied for assistance, emailed or called (and make notes of who you talked with and what you were told) and check medical bills carefully for errors. Good records can speed things up if there are questions.

Pay attention to your credit, and know which of your cards carry the lowest interest rates if you should need to carry a balance. It's also smart to know how medical bills can affect your credit.

The Bottom Line

An injury can upend your financial plans, but responding quickly can help reduce the impact and reduce stress, freeing you to focus on healing.

Once you deal with the administrative tasks, take a look at your budget and make tweaks as needed to reflect any differences in income and expenses. You may also want to check to see what assistance is available and fill out applications.

Ideally, an emergency fund can serve as a safety net. But if yours is not yet up to the task, a good credit score can help you qualify for credit cards with a 0% introductory interest rate, or for personal loans. You can check out possibilities with Experian CreditMatch™, which can help you find credit cards that are likely to be a good fit for your credit standing.