Don’t Skimp on Your Health

I don't care how frugal you are - you shouldn't ever skimp on your health. You can always earn more money, but you can't earn your health back.

Don't Skimp on Health Costs

I’ve endured 18 years of bad vision. I’ve worn glasses or contacts since elementary/middle school.

In prehistoric days, bad eyesight might have been a death sentence. I couldn’t hunt prey, forage for berries or spot predators. In 21st century America, though, blurry vision is a minor inconvenience. It’s also an expense that adds up faster than you might expect.

An annual eye exam and contact lens prescription costs about $300 a year (in today’s dollars). That means fixing my vision has cost $5,400 over the past two decades.

That price tag nearly doubled on Friday, when I shelled out $4,000 for LASIK eye surgery. (It blows my mind that our society is advanced enough to operate on people’s eyeballs. I mean, really?) Assuming I never spend another dime on my eyesight again, blurry vision has cost me a little less than $10,000.

Is that a little or a lot? That’s relative. Millions of people have spent a lot more dealing with near-blindness or advanced eye disease. Millions more have never spent a penny on their vision.

Health-related costs are sheer luck of the draw. Some people shoulder huge health costs; others spend next-to-nothing.

If you haven’t needed to spend much on your health, you’re fortunate. Don’t squander your healthy days with extreme coupon-clipping and penny-pinching. It’s a waste of your blessings. There are better ways to spend your life.

If you’ve spent a lot of money on your health – first, I hope for your strong recovery. Second, rest assured you’ve spent your money in the best possible way.

Nothing Else Matters

Afford Anything is devoted to ruthlessly prioritizing your expenses. Slash the unimportant costs so you can spend wildly on what matters most.

99% of the time, I have no opinion about what expenses should hit the top of your list. If you’re passionate about travel, handbags, fancy cars or baseball cards, go for it. Spend outrageously on what you love.

But there’s one expense that comes first no matter what: your health. It’s ridiculous to compromise your well-being for the sake of saving a few hundred (or even a few thousand) bucks. What else are you going to do with that money? You’re not going to enjoy travel, nice dinners or sleek cars if you’re in chronic pain.

I’m infuriated by penny-pinchers who cut corners when it comes to their well-being. People will skip a doctor’s appointment to avoid the co-pay or avoid filling a prescription to save $100. At the same time, they have cable TV service and eat at restaurants. That’s a perverse ordering of priorities.

The same is true when it comes to safety. There’s no reason to go into debt to drive a shiny new Lexus. But if your car is so old that the seatbelt fibers are fraying, get a new car (or replace the seatbelt). If your car doesn’t have airbags, buy one that does. If your tires are bald, get new tires with traction.

Screw the Veggies!

I’ve heard penny-pinchers recommend eating nothing but pasta in order to save money. Screw the vegetables, we’ll live on rice! That’s short-sighted and pound-foolish. (And it insults the ancestors who painstakingly built our advanced society).

Extreme penny-pinchers also forsake routine checkups and screenings because their bodies will “clue them in” if something’s wrong. Hogwash.

Take care of yourself, or life will catch up with you sooner than you expect. A seven-figure retirement account won’t do you any good if you’ve withered away by the time you’re 55.

“But I can heal myself with good vibes and lots of karma!” No, you can’t.

There’s no expense more worthwhile than preserving life. Get the treatment you need, even if you have to go into debt to do it. Yes, I am giving you permission to go into medical debt if necessary. It sucks, but it’s better than the alternative.

You’ll regret your bald tires when you’ve broken a few ribs. You’ll yearn for that $1,500 deductible when your condition has advanced beyond care.

And for the love of God, if you’re self-employed or if you don’t have health insurance – BUY SOME! – even if you have to wear clothes from Goodwill and skip flying home for Christmas to afford the monthly premiums. Want a defense against medical debt? It’s called insurance. It’s not 100 percent foolproof, but it’s the best chance you’ve got.

Money is unlimited – you can always make more. Health is a scarce and finite resource. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Thanks to Louis Rabin for the photo.


  1. says

    Which is exactly the reason why I don’t understand why people cut the grocery budget first.

    Cut it to get rid of your frozen pizzas, chips, pop and crap you’re inhaling as empty calories, but don’t start cutting fresh vegetables (even frozen), or milk just because you can’t really afford your smartphone or your car.

    I put food first, which is why we spend a lot of money in that category, and less on things like rent because our space doesn’t really bother us — we can live in a studio, we don’t need anything fancy.

    • says

      @Mochi – Sounds like you value and prioritize healthy eating, which is awesome. I’m like you — I put food ahead of living in a fancier home or upgrading to a sweeter smartphone.

      The people who load up on the cheapest calories (regardless of nutritional value) haven’t yet figured out that they should rethink their priorities. What good is money once your body is destoyed?

      • says

        Totally understand there. Although there IS more pasta and rice in my diet when I’m not rolling in dough, it’s usually buried under some veggies. :-) It pains me though to see people I care about scrimping on food and eating junk. There are plenty of healthy foods that aren’t expensive! Bananas! Kale! Sigh. Anyway. It’s a symptom of something else that many people I know don’t seem to think about…. the long term. I like to invest in my health now so that I’m not paying way more in medical bills or nursing homes later.

        • says

          Oh yeah, forgot to mention – I had RPK on my eyes a couple of years ago. So glad I did it. Not only can I wake up and SEEEEEE, but I don’t have to worry about glasses or contacts EVER, at home or traveling… love it.

  2. says

    As someone who was not blessed with good health from birth, I applaud this post! Health is so important!! I am 25 and have shelled out a lot of co-pays to see the specialists that I need. That is one of my many priorities and if that means I have to drive around a 12 year old car, then so be it.

    Also, on a happier note, I recently bought myself LASIK for my 25th birthday! I was sick of contact/glasses. It was expensive, but I found a credit card with 0% interest for a year and I know I will be able to pay it off within that time. I hope you are loving it as much as I do!

    • says

      @Renee — I love the way you worded it: health is one of your “priorities.” Absolutely! Health is critical! I hope that the specialists you’re seeing are helping. And congrats on getting LASIK — it’s pretty incredible to open your eyes in the morning and have the ability to see!

  3. says

    I totally agree. It’s a bummer if you do have to pay for medical expenses (right now I’m dealing with a shoulder injury)..I mean I’d rather use the money for a vacation, but you’re right in that you will never be able to enjoy the future if you are in pain. Good post!

  4. says

    Paula – couldn’t agree more! Also kudos on the LASIK – keep us posted as you recover and adjust.

    As someone who started off life with little need to see a dr other than for the usual suspects(flu, broken toe, checkups) I was used to spending very little on medical costs. Then one day genetics caught up with me and ended up with an oddball autoimmune disease that nearly cost me my life. Now I spend a lot on dr’s bills but don’t begrudge it a bit. I figure it all averages out over time anyway.

    I’m alive and happy and surrounded by people I care about. I grow veggies and raise chickens for entertainment and exercise as well as food (ok, I only eat the eggs from the hens, but if I wasn’t a vegetarian, I’d consider raising birds for meat). Those are my priorities. And I do get a little travel in from time to time.

    I truly do love your blog. It makes me smile everytime I read one of your posts.

    Hugs and pecks from Jen and hens.

  5. says

    I completely agree, and am a firm believer in preventative care like getting your annuals, eating a healthy diet, exercising, etc. With so much information and resources out there, there’s really no excuse for people to not improve the quality of their lives if they want it. Great post!

  6. says

    What do you recommend as a food choice for a college student when money is tough? I prefer to spend $300 a month for two people for nutrient rich food but if I skimped out then I could pay down my interest on my loans while still being in school. As it already is, I live well below my means but it’s hard to decide where the few extra dollars should go. What do you recommend, Paula?

    • says

      I’m a student also, I seem to get by on $300/mo for 2 people, eating an entirely organic, vegan diet. We never eat out, nor have any “treats”, other than the fruit and vegetables we already enjoy.

      If you don’t care about organics, and eat more complex carbohydrates/processed food (that keep you full longer*), then I’m guessing you could get it down to $225, probably at the lowest. Anything lower, and I would be afraid that you’re just not getting a good amount of nutrients.

      *Fruit and veggies don’t fill me up for long periods of time.

    • says

      We eat frozen vegetables and frozen fruit in the winter because it is a better value and allows me to have lots of variety.

      Vegetarian chili is a great cost saving and freezes well and is a favourite around here.

      Learning to cook is your best defence against poor nutrition and over spending.

  7. says

    I had laser correction surgery on my eyes years ago and haven’t been back for a regular eye exam since. For some reason I guess I figured I didn’t need it, but my wife reminded me that I should still get checked out. So at some point this year I’ll have to make it a point to get checked out. Our checkup insurance is decent so there’s no reason not to. I just need to find a place to go. I don’t like where my wife goes, since they’ve screwed up our insurance claims.

  8. says

    Wonderful advice! After losing 86 lbs I am finally trying to make better decisions on my health, scheduling regular checkups, eating right,exercising,etc. I am 29 years old, so I am glad I got a handle on things now! Hopefully, my children will grow up with a great example!

  9. says

    Congrats on getting your vision corrected with laser surgery! I had my vision corrected a little over 3 years ago, and I am SO happy with the outcome. No more waking up in the morning with blurry vision – I love it! No more daily contact changes, and restocking of all the things that you need to have for contact care.

    I still go for my annual vision checks, as recommended by my primary care doctor. Getting your eyes checked is very important to your overall health. An eye doc can find possible issues that might be missed otherwise!

    Even though my vision is doing well, my optometrist found that I should probably be wearing glasses to drive with when its dark outside. I am in my early 40s – and I’ve been told that this might happen. I’m fine with it – would do it all over again knowing this!

    • says

      @Karman — That’s a great tip. I should make sure that I continue going for annual vision checks. After all, there are not many things that could be more important than your eyes!

  10. says

    It is one of the reasons I have PPO insurance vs. HMO. The doctors I see are doctor’s doctors! I see the very best doctors and get the best care. Once you lose your health, nothing else matters.

  11. Andrea @ Take a Smart Step says

    Fantastic post, I have always thought the same thing. If you let your health go it is so hard to get it back. Plus eating healthy and exercising helps you have more energy and focus, which ultimately allows you to work more efficiently. In the end this can increase your income, in fact some studies show exercise can increase your income by 7%! From personal experience I have watched too many family members be forced into retirement because if bad health, thus impacting how much they could spend. Be grateful for your health and extend your health while you can .

  12. says

    Healthy eating and exercise take mindfulness, effort, and an eye towards long-term results. With short attention spans and instant-gratification so prevalent, not surprising that poor health are becoming more widespread. Good post.

  13. says

    Luckily, I live up North in the land of universal health care. The conceot of paying to go for a doctors visit is foreign to me. But, as i sit here with aches and a fever for the fourth time in 12 months, I’m reminded to focus on the basics like hand washing etc.

    • says

      @Zach — Laser vision! It’s pretty awesome. :-) I’ve noticed, though, that I have “phantom contact lenses” … At night, right before bedtime, I have this incredible urge to take my contact lenses out, even though I’m not wearing any. I did the math, multiplying 18 years by 365 days, and realized that I’ve taken my contact lenses out before bedtime for the past 6,570 nights. That’s a very ingrained habit to break!

  14. says

    Nice that you invested on LASIK. Hope there’s little inconvenience for you right now. And I agree with you. As long as you are healthy, you can do and enjoy anything the world has to offer. Thus, it should be prioritized.

  15. says

    That’s good that you got laser eye surgery. I have been close to getting it done but just found myself getting nervous – thinking what if they mess up my eyes even more. I also totally agree that we can always get more money but we can’t always get our health back. And really, what good is money if you don’t have your health.

  16. says

    Funny how you mention waking up and being able to see. Every once and a while I wake up and I see perfectly. It feels so strange. Then I realize I went to sleep with my contacts on and forgot to take them out! Doh!

    Congrats on the Lasik. Totally agree with you on health and priorities. A few years ago I started getting allergy shots. It’s not the most fun thing in the world to get four shots and dish out co-payments each time but man did it improve my quality of life!

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