Are You Risking Your Health By Being Frugal?

are you risking your health being too frugal
Note from Paula: Today’s guest post comes from Mike, who got into thousands of debt not because of reckless spending but because of medical bills — “About half my bones from head to toe were crushed,” Mike tells us. Yikes!!

Without further ado — Here’s Mike with Are You Risking Your Health By Being Frugal?


Going on 3+ years as a personal finance blogger, something I’ve noticed is that a few of my fellow bloggers take frugality a bit too far… to the point of jeopardizing their health and safety just to save money! Now in their defense, they rarely intend for that, but if you dissect their decisions you can see it’s an inevitable outcome sometimes.

Here are three examples …

#1. Buying a cheaper (and less safe) vehicle

Obviously there are times in our lives where we literally have no choice but to drive a beater. But if you have an income and a few bucks in the bank, you may want to re-consider that old sub-compact.

Why? Because it doesn’t give you a reasonable level of safety. And don’t even try and tell me you’re an excellent driver, because how will that save you from all the bad drivers on the road?

Want a real-life example? For my first car I decided to a get a ’99 Taurus. I loved it, but the only drawback was that it had no side airbags (they didn’t start using them until the next model year). I could have spent an extra $1-2k more to get a ’00 or later that was equipped with them, but I didn’t.

Fast forward to a sunny spring afternoon during my senior year in high school. Just got done doing my laundry at my grandma’s house. I always did it there because my mom didn’t have the money for a washer/dryer. So it’s around 4pm and I’m driving back to my mom’s just a couple miles away.

I’m just leaving a stop sign (after stopping of course) and out of nowhere my little Taurus is T-boned on the driver’s side by a massive truck, who was supposed to have turned. The result? About half my bones from head to toe were crushed, organs ruptured, and the list goes on. Should have paid more to get the side airbags, right?

#2. Buying cheaper (and less healthy) food

I can’t remember what personal finance blogger it was, but I remember reading a post by a guy who decided to eat nothing but ramen noodles for 30 days to save money. Assuming he consumed enough of them to fulfill his body’s daily caloric needs, on the outside I’m sure he looked just fine. But do you really think his body was getting the optimal supply of nutrients during that period?

Being cheap is one thing, but you shouldn’t just cut out everything that’s good for you because it costs more. If you do that, over time it will take its toll on your body. I’m not claiming you should max out your credit card at Whole Foods or go buy overpriced raw vegan takeout on a daily basis (though admittedly, I’m frequently guilty of that because of my card’s restaurant rewards program). All I’m saying is you should take a balanced approach and accept the fact that the best things for you won’t always be the cheapest.

However if you insist on saving money, then let me suggest trying #2 on Paula’s habits for saving without trying (the part about growing some veggies).

#3. Skimping on healthcare

This one should be obvious, but it’s amazing how many people do it. Given the outrageous costs (and trust me, I know better than anyone) it’s totally understandable why people do this. But at the end of the day, this may end up costing you more.

Time for another example from that fun car accident of mine. Given the injuries, as you can imagine there was a lot of reconstructive work involved. You can also probably guess that the surgeons whom are best skilled at reconstruction cost way more than what most insurance companies are willing to pay.

That leaves two options:

(a) pay the hefty difference out-of-pocket for someone better, or
(b) go with the in-network provider, who may or may not get the job done right.

Unfortunately I went with the latter for a very complex grafting procedure. The result? Even worse than it was to begin with and ended up needing two more operations just to un-do the damage from the first!

Of course I’m not trying to say cost always correlates with quality, but sometimes it actually does. If it’s your health on the line, you don’t want to cut corners.

I hate the idea of encouraging someone to rack up debt, but if you don’t have the cash it might make more sense to use those darn credit card balance transfer checks they mail out to pay for a better doctor (if your condition requires it). Because believe me… having more credit card debt is better than having to endure more operations!


I think we can sum this up in just a few words. Saving money is good, but saving money to sacrifice your health is bad!

This post was written by Mike, the creator of Credit Card Forum, which is a place to discuss cash back, airline miles, balance transfers, and anything else related to credit cards.

Photo courtesy Carlos A. Martinez.


  1. says

    I broke my foot (I think) in Europe and never went to see a doctor because I didn’t want to pay for it. Took about 4-6 months until it felt completely better, but I didn’t spend any money on it! :)

    I even had insurance. I just didn’t want to pay the copay

  2. says

    I still buy quality products and services, but on sale or discount. Fr example, I buy discount movie tickets. Instead of paying $12 to see a movie, my tickets cost me $6.

  3. says

    Great post! And it’s so important, too. I feel too often people, especially young people, will sacrifice really important things to save money to spend on less important things, but all they’re doing is setting themselves up for trouble down the road. How much will eating ramen noodles REALLY save you if you then end up with huge health care bills because you got sick from the total lack of nutrition.

  4. says

    Wow, I love this. Put off your health now and you’ll pay for it tomorrow. Preventative service are also important and can often be accessed affordably.

    @Kevin–I checked with my insurance before I went to Europe. The rep actually told me to get sick/injured there if I was going to do it anywhere. If anything had happened it would have cost the insurance company less money (for what he told me was probably better care….his opinion I don’t have my own…) and there wouldn’t be a copay or deductible payment. I didn’t have a platinum plan. But I do recognize all plans are different and this might have just been one of my better areas of coverage.

  5. says

    You caught my attention when you mentioned a 2 week internet sabbatical Paula. That rocks!!! I didn’t know that you were going to go camping (which also rocks) I initially just figured that you were going to go about your daily business while avoiding the net.

    If you could do that, I would be bloody impressed. I’m starting to think that I should try that!

    Hope you had a GREAT time camping!! I wish I could join you.

  6. says

    As for safety and frugality, how about this?

    I used to ride a bike to work every day (70 miles roundtrip) along a fairly busy highway, just to avoid paying for fuel. I had to leave in the dark, at 5am. In the winter, it was dark, both ways! I was lit up like a Christmas tree, with FIVE flashing red lights on the back of the bike, but still….. It was stupid. All I wanted to do was pay off my student loan. At the time, I owed $12,000, but I had an investment account that exceeded $40,000. Yeah….idiot.

  7. says

    Very interesting post, but I will disagree with You at least on the #1. Getting a bigger or supposedly more safer car will only lower the injuries. By the description of your accident, not even a Hummer would have saved You, and definitely the airbags either. Airbags are to lower the whiplash injuries mostly, but don’t act as a cushion to avoid 100% injuries.
    The I know by experience, I was on an accident in a car which didn’t have airbags, but that would only saved me neck inflammation, not injuries.

    The rest is kind of common sense (The least common unfortunately), I think.

    Still, very nice article!

  8. says

    Your car accident sounded absolutely horrendous. Thank goodness you survived. I can’t imagine how painful it must have been.

    I agree that you cannot and shouldn’t cut corners with your health. Unhealthy food options are, unfortunately, much cheaper, but are just not worth jeopardising your health. I agree that with complicated reconstructive surgery, again, you need to invest in the best doctors you possibly can.

    I hope that you’re much better these days and are no longer suffering from the repercussions of the accident.

  9. says

    “Saving money is good, but saving money to sacrifice your health is bad!”

    110% agree! I am frugal. I go for cheaper stuff without sacrificing quality. I save money, even on food. But I make sure that I still serve healthy food on the family table. I see to it that we have fruits and vegetables on our table. Fruits in season are cheaper.

  10. says

    There is a very important difference here. Being frugal is not the same as being cheap. Having a frugal mindset means you are not wasteful and careful how you spend your money.

    Nowhere is this more true than in the nutrition arena. Good food is not cheap and viceversa. So just like Mike says spending “extra” in food is absolutely worth it and in the long run not expensive at all.

    • says

      @Luis — Great distinction between frugal and cheap. Frugal people find the ‘best value’ — the relationship between price and quality. Cheap people are just cheap.

      Oscar Wilde once said that “a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” The same is true of a cheapskate!

  11. says

    A while back there was an article about a college student who developed scurvy because he literally lived on Ramen Noodles for quite some time. Worse, his doctors couldn’t diagnose it because they had never seen scurvy before – apparently nutrition deficiency diseases don’t get much play in medical training, and often none at all in school health or home economics classes. Do you know what scurvy is? pellegra?, beri-beri?

    So often I see young people driving hand-me-down cars when they need a heavy vehicle (preferably a reinforced tank) with the best safety equipment available. New drivers are going to have accidents; that’s a given. We were actually thinking of giving my grandson my tiny, ten year old Ford Aspire before we came to our senses and bought a big heavy SUV with all the safety features available. Sure enough he almost totaled the SUV twice, but he walked away from the first accident with a superficial two-inch brush burn on one hand, and not even that from the second one. He complained mightily about the brush burn, too. I’m not knocking the Aspire, which has survived a collision with a deer and a roll down a mountain with no injuries to the driver.

    • says

      @Mary — How scary; until a few years ago I only heard of scurvy in history classes, when they’d teach us about sailors/explorers getting scurvy as they chartered the unmapped seas. But a few years ago I met someone who told me that when he tried to bicycle from the East Coast to the West Coast, he was eating only noodles (because they were lightweight and he needed to carry food on his bicycle) and he turned “mildly green,” which he assumes was from scurvy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *