How To Save Money When You’re Chronically Ill

The financial impacts of chronic illness can be devastating – from lost work time to medical debt to supplemental therapy costs.

Here’s how I’ve managed to afford therapies that aren’t covered by insurance and other health habits.

Live Frugally By Budgeting

When I came to terms with the fact that I was chronically ill, I had graduated college and was working to save up for a down payment on a house. I wasn’t carefully budgeting yet because I never had an issue living within my means.

My spending philosophy before I recognized that I was chronically ill was to just spend as little as possible so I could save as much as possible.

I only had a general idea of how much money I was spending in various categories.

However, I noticed I continued to dip into my savings to see various doctors and run various tests – some covered and some not covered by insurance.

It was time for me to at least start tracking what I was spending. I downloaded a free budgeting app to record how I spent money.

Groceries, fuel, household goods, giving, phone, internet, insurance, government charges, memberships, laundry, etc. I tracked it all.

I realized that I generally lived frugally but I had odd bursts where I’d splurge.

I’d go on clothing splurges 2-3 times a year. I’d splurge before Christmas on gifts.

And now it felt like I was splurging on my health even though it wasn’t really a splurge.

Spending money on my health was now a high priority.

How To Cut Your Spending

After tracking my purchases for a few months, I discerned where to cut my spending.

An easy decision was to cut my internet. I was in grad school at the time and was within walking distance of campus. I had a job where I got paid to do homework for over half the time so I did my homework that required an internet connection there and my other work in my apartment. My roommate was on board with the money saving plan as well.

I did keep a hot spot on my cell phone plan in case I needed to connect quickly which worked well.

I evaluated where I could implement spending freezes. These were mostly household goods I could forego.

  • Nail polish – Painting my nails was an artistic form of self care for me during these hard times but I decided I would try to use up everything I had before buying any new colors. A couple years later I recognized that painting my nails gave me headaches so I later tried some natural brands without success.
  • Candles & perfumes – I paused on buying candles and scented products. My laundry detergent was enough to smell good. I ended up experimenting with essential oils shortly afterwards anyways.
  • Kitchen gadgets – Even though I was just building my kitchen it was helpful to have a bright line that I wouldn’t buy any for the time being.
  • Organizational items – I like lidless bins and baskets for organizing my stuff but I decided to pause buying these. I shouldn’t be buying much more anyway so I shouldn’t have more to organize.
  • Paper products – I began reaching for cloth towels to wipe up messes before using paper towel. If I used a paper towel, I’d rinse it and hang it across the sink to dry and be used again.

I decided to start a freeze on buying clothes. I knew I could keep wearing what I had and it would take me a few years to wear them out. Ironically I ended up donating a lot of clothes that year that I no longer wanted or needed… but that’s a different blog post.

Buying one pair of sandals was enough to get me through the summer. I don’t know why I typically bought 3-4 pairs anyway.

I was really torn about giving up some of my generosity that went above and beyond my regular giving to my church. In a quiet moment, I felt a voice whisper inside of me to stop giving.

I didn’t want to believe it.

So I didn’t cancel. Less than a month later, I lost my wallet. Where could it be? I waited over a week before trying to cancel my credit cards because I was getting anxious. This was before there were apps to track your purchases easily.

I finally called in and cancelled. They would send me new cards with new numbers in the next week or so.

I began thinking about all the stuff I had set up on auto pay that I’d have to reset and remembered my extra giving organizations. I guess I took it as a sign to not update the cards with them.

I received some phone calls from those organizations in the following weeks and gently informed them that I was having some financial troubles and wouldn’t be able to give for the foreseeable future.

They were nice about it.

More than anything, it hurt my pride to give up these extra donations, but losing my wallet helped me come to terms with the fact that I didn’t have the money for that level of generosity in this season.

And I found my wallet the day after I had called my credit card company… It was in my nail polish bin that I had taken to a friend’s house and mindlessly tossed in.

Even though I considered myself pretty frugal, it was helpful to find these areas where I could cut my spending for the next season.

How To Stop Spending Money

I ended up doing an audit of sorts of other habits to help me spend less money in other areas.

At the time it was more because of fatigue but I began showering every other day instead of daily and it was nice to see some costs on personal care products go down. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve spaced that out even more since my oil production has slowed down.

Question why you typically buy certain things. I realized I never used hand lotion but had multiple bottles. Since taking fish oils my skin has been moisturized from the inside out. My heels stopped cracking in the winter too!

Commit To Using Up What You Have

I realized that in my own anxiety, I had a lot of stock piles of random supplies. I would buy when items went on sale but I bought too far ahead on multiple items.

When I hit my first budget crisis due to health expenses, I decided to use up everything I had until I only had 1 backup left before I bought something else.

I don’t know why I had 6 face washes. (And sadly, I ended up donating 5 of those face washes because I realized the fragrance in them was bothering me.)

The only exception to this is if you have been placed on a special diet by your doctor, do not feel guilty about the sunk cost of all of those non perishables in your pantry that you’ll never consume. Donate them for others to enjoy and go ahead with the protocol.

Set Boundaries On How Much You’ll Use

I questioned ways I could decrease my disposables.

I put my paper towel in a cupboard so I’d reach for cloth towels first to wipe things up.

I began using scant measurements of various household goods like detergent for laundry and the dishwasher without consequence.

I began watering down some of my soap dispensers and still got my hands clean. I found other products to dilute like vinegar for cleaning.

Check Your Autopay & Subscriptions

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended up with extra expenses because I forgot to cancel a subscription or had hidden fees.

Scour your credit card and bank statements for anything that looks unfamiliar. You may find something you forgot about and no longer need.

Also double check any subscription services and either cancel or space out the subscription to wait until you need it again.

Rent or Borrow When Possible

The first time I hosted Christmas for my in laws I felt a lot of pressure to make everything perfect. However, I didn’t have money to splurge on an elaborate holiday dinner.

Because we weren’t celebrating on Christmas Day, I was able to ask some of my extended family to borrow everything I needed but the food itself.

Tables, Christmas plates, tablecloths, serving dishes. All the works.

Someone even gave me the other half of last year’s Christmas napkins.

Our little apartment looked beautiful and it felt special to have all the fancy trimmings without having to spend the money.

When I’ve hosted other parties, I’ve been able to borrow items. I threw a baby sprinkle for a friend and only used decorations from the women’s ministry department at my church. I added candy sprinkles I knew were hiding in the back of my mom’s cupboard that were stale. They had been there since my childhood.

In some cases, it’s valuable to rent an item instead of buying it. I’ve seen people rent gardening or power tools for a day or 2 instead of buying the whole thing.

Make And Share Wish Lists

I’m intentional about making it easy for loved ones to find what I wanted since I wasn’t buying these luxuries for myself. The easiest way to do this at the time was making an Amazon wish list that I updated and shared each Thanksgiving and a month before my birthday.

And now I ask my friends for their wish lists for them and their kids… I’ve even pulled up people’s wedding registries a year or two after their weddings to find easy gift ideas.

No one wants useless junk.

How To Save Money On Medical Expenses

I wanted solutions to my health problems so I had to hunt them down, even if it meant going out of network. Here’s how I saved money on my health while still finding answers.

Tips To Save Money On Medical Expenses

Shop Around Before Committing To A Specialist Or Procedure

Ask how much the initial patient appointment costs (because most insurances don’t cover this) and how much follow up appointments are. Do the math on how often you’ll likely be going in over the next year. On this phone call I also do the next point.

Ask For A Cash Discount

I’ve asked multiple doctors if there is a discount if I pay in cash right away. Sometimes the office assistant looks at me like I’m crazy but other times I’ve been greeted with a warm smile and a yes. I still get a receipt at the end of the year and send it into my insurance because it will go towards my deductible and I’ve received some reimbursements.

Ask For Package Deals

If there is a specialist you’ll be seeing multiple times for a therapy, ask if they have packages. This applies to specialists like physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists and more. I even got a package deal on hyperbaric oxygen that saved me about $1,000 over the course of a year.

Ask Your Employer About HSAs And FSAs

This is a way to get a portion of your income tax free and it can be used towards alternative therapies. In my experience you could only sign up each November for the following year or when you start employment. Just be sure to correctly gauge how much you’ll get and if your state allows carry over or not.

Ask Your Employer About Health Memberships

In order to save money on your health costs long term, many employers (or your spouse’s) will pay 50% of a fitness membership.

I’ve seen physical therapists and chiropractic offices offer little gym memberships for patients for less money than a regular gym membership to use their equipment.

Try Renting Or Borrowing Items Before You Purchase Them

If your doctor recommends a type of therapy, ask if they have one you can rent or borrow or know of someone else who does. I ended up paying $250 to borrow red light therapy pads for a week from my Physician’s Assistant. I cancelled all my plans for the week other than work or school to use it around the clock. I saw no difference. I’m glad I didn’t drop $1,000+ on it.

Find Free Ways To Use Health Equipment

I had a chiropractor who recommended using a vibration plate to strengthen my stabilizer muscles while I was in too much pain to work out regularly. He charged $1/minute. I decided to explore and the fitness center at my university had a vibration plate for student athletes to use. It wasn’t supervised so I started using it. Ask forgiveness, not permission. 😉

I’ve seen other folks get access to saunas through their work at a university, fitness center, or hotel.

If you have family nearby, send out a text asking if anyone has what you need like a dusty exercise bike that they don’t use in their basement.

Buy Successful Therapies For At Home Use

Years later, to my surprise, I found out that I could buy a vibration plate for only $120. I immediately bought it and saw results at home.

How To Save Money On Supplements And Medications

Supplements have been an invaluable part of my healing journey, especially when I was on a strict diet and had nutritional deficiencies.

Ask Doctors For Samples Before You Buy A Whole Bottle

I’ve only had 2 practitioners do this but it was helpful to see if it made a difference for me or not. My dermatologist gets free samples from his pharmaceutical reps that he’s happy to let me try.

Buy in bulk

After trying something, I always buy the biggest bottle when possible.

Stock Up During Sales

I figured out the seasonal sales and would buy 3-4 months worth of products I knew I would be on for a while.

Ask How Long To Expect To Be An A Product

Be suspicious if a doctor says you’ll be on something the rest of your life other than key nutrients like magnesium or vitamin d which most people struggle to get from whole foods. Frequently bring up at follow up appointments ideas about what supplements to cut.

Shop Around For Supplement Prices

Just because a doctor recommends a product to you doesn’t mean you must buy it from them. Look up the price online, at your local health food store, and at other local practitioners. Find the best deal.

I would still buy the brand they recommend. Not all supplement brands are third party tested.

Consider shelf stability as well. I wouldn’t buy a probiotic from Amazon where I don’t know if it’s been kept at temperature during shipping.

Find A Wholesale Retailer And Ask For Discounts

Some doctors will give discounts or free services to certain populations. My husband’s family growing up received chiropractic adjustments for free because his dad was a pastor. I’ve seen others give discounts to veterans. When I worked at a private school for a few years, I received a teacher discount at many stores. If you’re a student, ask for student discounts.

I ended up finding a friend who was a rep for a high quality supplement brand and she gives me supplements at cost because I’m a pastor and you’ll bet I do my best to refer others to her services.

Rotate Certain Supplements

When money is tight, you may need certain nutrients but if you can’t afford to take something every day, every other day is better than nothing at all. I’ve had friends take probiotics and fish oils every other day to help quell inflammation.

Some people rotate seasonally vitamin d only in the winter or take certain minerals in winter months while they eat less fresh produce.

Find Food Sources For Nutrients

Even though you may need a therapeutic dose of a nutrient to help your body rebalance, my goal has always been to get most of my nutrients from food. Be sure to ask your doctor what foods you can increase your intake of to wean off the supplements because eating is cheaper than supplementing.

Invest In Your Long Term Health

Even though it’s important to save money to focus on your health, it’s important to not cut corners in certain areas.

Eat Organic and Non GMO

For example, when I prioritized eating organic, I noticed an immediate improvement in my digestion.

I encourage you not only from a selfish standpoint, but an ethical one as well to eat organic and non GMO. (Post coming soon on that!)

Non Toxic Products

Invest in nontoxic products that won’t flare up your symptoms. I’ve heard countless stories of dermatitis and other skin problems going away simply when people removed toxic chemicals from their personal care products and household goods.

Create Your Own Cleaners And Products

If you are able, you can mix and create some yourself but if you don’t have the energy, then invest in high quality products.

Saving Money On Your Health

I hope these tips will help you start to evaluate your spending and find places in your budget to save money.

What did I miss? How else do you save money while dealing with chronic illness?

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