When blogger Melanie Lockert of Dear Debt was paying off her student loans, she practiced extreme frugality—sometimes to the detriment of her health. Here’s how she learned where not to cut back.
During my debt repayment, I was on a constant quest to save money. “Frugal” became my middle name and I never wanted to pay full price for anything. If I could go without something, I would. But over the past few years, I realized that frugality doesn’t always work out. Sometimes you end up paying more in the long run by trying to cut corners. I’ve had a handful of experiences when frugality failed and cost me more in the long run.
Going Without Health Insurance
Before the Affordable Care Act was put in place, I found myself underemployed, scraping by with various gigs. Without a full-time job, I didn’t have health insurance and the cost to get it out-of-pocket would have been a couple hundred dollars per month. Being a healthy 27-year-old at the time, I decided to go without health insurance and put that money towards debt repayment.
For the first year, I lived in fear anytime I thought I might be getting sick. Aside from my fears, though, I avoided any major incidents or doctor visits, until one fateful night when I had sudden and severe food poisoning. My concerned boyfriend called an ambulance.
I went to the emergency room, where they gave me fluids and medication to combat the nasty bug. I couldn’t help but think about the potential bill, even while ill in the hospital.
After healing, I knew I’d have to face the damage. Weeks later, the bills started rolling in: The four-hour hospital bill cost $1,600, and the ambulance cost another $1,000. Suddenly, I was cursing myself for not having health insurance.
Luckily, I was able to get the hospital bill covered as I was considered low-income at the time (after providing an insane amount of details regarding my financial life), but had no such luck with the ambulance. My emergency fund dropped by $1,000 for what I now call the most expensive car ride of my life.
Trying to save money on my health ultimately failed. Not only did I end up in the hospital, but I lived in fear most days that I’d get sick or trip and fall while having no medical or financial safety net.
Wearing Contacts for Too Long
Another brilliant idea I had during debt repayment was to wear my monthly contacts just a tad longer than a month, so I wouldn’t have to buy them as often. My plan seemed to be working just fine for a few months until one day I woke up and one of my eyes was bright red.
I was concerned, but thought it would go away in a few days. It didn’t. I didn’t have any vision insurance, but my eye was not getting better, so I made an eye appointment.
Turns out, I had worn my contacts too long (to which I played dumb at the doctor’s), which made them dry, effectively scratching my eye. The solution? Get eye drops and wear glasses. The problem? I didn’t have any glasses, as I was only wearing contacts for years. My old glasses had an expired prescription that no longer worked, so I had to get new glasses as well.
My eye appointment suddenly got a lot more expensive. In total, I spent nearly $500 on the exam, eye drops, and new glasses.
Knowing When a Deal Turns Into a Scam
My teeth are one of my proudest attributes—my parents spent a lot of money on buying me braces, and I spent three agonizing (and awkward) years as a teenager being called brace-face. Now that phase is over, and I can rock my confident smile. But I’ve gone without dental insurance for years.
There’s no way I would let myself go without a dental cleaning, so over the years, I’ve purchased cleanings from various coupon sites. I never had a cavity and my teeth were in great shape, so there were never any issues.
A few months ago, I found another deal for a dental cleaning for $29. Score! I eagerly purchased it and made an appointment.
During the preliminary exam, the dentist had some bad news for me. He not only said that I had a cavity, but that I had early gum disease and that he couldn’t clean my teeth because they required a deep cleaning. What?!? Within a year, my seemingly perfect teeth became a costly nightmare. The out-of-pocket cost for all of this? $800. I left in tears, wondering what happened.
Once I cooled down, though, I decided to get a second opinion and go to my childhood dentist that I went to for 25 years. The verdict: Cavity? No. Gum disease? No. Deep cleaning? My dental hygienist laughed and said, “All of our cleanings are deep cleanings.”
As it turns out, my super-cheap deal was a prime opportunity to upsell me for problems I didn’t actually have. When I got a second opinion with someone I trusted, the issues were largely false and inflated.
I learned an important lesson that day: Not all deal sites have legitimate offers and if people are trying to upsell you, get a second opinion or risk overpaying.
Many of my frugality fails relate to my health. I always relied on the excuse that I was young and healthy so I could cut costs in certain areas, but in most cases, it backfired and I ended up paying more in the long run.
However, it’s not just health where being frugal can really backfire. Do your research with products, services, food, and more, and learn the instances where going for the lowest cost can come at the highest price.
Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and passionate debt fighter who writes at DearDebt.com. She recently climbed out of $81,000 in student loan debt and is currently dreaming of her next adventure.
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