12 Small Budget Cuts You Can Make to Afford Health Insurance

Health Insurance

October 15, 2019

Health insurance costs might seem like they’ve gotten out of hand, and in many ways, they have. But it is possible to find affordable coverage.

Even comprehensive health plans under the Affordable Care Act don’t always cost a fortune, though these plans do tend to cost a lot since they cover more. Short term health insurance, a popular alternative to Obamacare plans and what private health insurance used to look like a decade ago, can cover the things you need without breaking the bank.

If you don’t think that’s true, then we’re here to help you trim your budget a bit. 

We’re not financial experts, and we don’t want you to live a life of penny-pinching frugality just to afford basic health insurance. But a few small changes over time can help you save money, buy healthcare coverage and discover what really matters in your life. Win-win-win, right?

Some of these tips might not apply to you. If you don’t own a pet, then you won’t save any money by rethinking your boarding and grooming costs. (Unless you have a weird family dynamic, but we won’t go there.) 

But if you skim the list, you might find some useful tips on saving money – money that you can then use to buy health insurance. Or blow it on Star Wars collectibles. Hey, it’s your money. We’d recommend investing in your health, but that’s just us.

Coffee: $55

You’ve probably seen lots of articles telling you to “skip your daily coffee outing,” but you don’t need to give up regular trips to your favorite java hotspot. Instead of dropping your coffeeshop habit altogether, consider trimming it back to twice a week instead of every workday. At about $2-3 per regular coffee, that’s a savings of $55 per month. And if you’re into fancy beverages, you’ll save even more.

Clothes: $75

The average American spends about $150 a month on clothing, which includes the cost of maintenance, like dry cleaning and tailoring. You might need specific clothes for work, such as business attire or scrubs, that don’t come cheap. To save some money but still ensure you’ve got something to wear, invest in superior pieces that last longer, and maybe go shopping every other month instead of every month. And don’t be afraid to get creative with how you wear clothes. A capsule collection of essential, high-quality pieces – like real leather shoes and tailored slacks – can go a long way. 

Personal Hygiene: $30

Beauty care varies by person. For people who wear makeup, personal care costs can skyrocket, but even people who don’t might spend more than they need to on things like shampoo, moisturizer and soap. These things aren’t frivolous, so don’t feel the need to cut corners on your self-care. But consider buying some products in larger quantities for a discount. Even if you want or need specific brands, warehouse stores and Amazon likely have them for a discount in bulk. The average person spends $60 a month on personal care. Smart shopping could cut that number in half. 

Pet Care: $50

Pet owners know how expensive pet maintenance can be. Dog owners spend an average of $140 on care, while cat owners spend about $100 a month. If you can, find a less expensive food for your furry friends (as long as it has the same benefits), and don’t feel the need to splurge on pricey toys. Boarding could be another money saver. Hire a trusted neighbor or friend to house- and pet-sit while you’re away to trim your pet-care budget.

Cable TV: $40

If you’re still using cable, then you might have heard all your non-cable-using friends extol the virtues of cutting the cord. They’re not wrong. Switching from a cable package, which averages $100 a month, to streaming services could save you a bunch. Each streaming service costs around $10-15 a month, so even if you subscribe to four services, you’re saving $40 to $60 over cable. Plus, minimal commercials and all the binging you can handle.

Gifts: $100

If you don’t have a monthly budget for gifts, it’s time to start. And once you make that budget, figure out how to whittle it down. Gifts average about $50 to $100 per occasion, and that can really add up throughout the year, especially if you’ve got lots of friends and family. There’s no need to be Scrooge, but not every occasion demands a high-end gift. Consider making something (if you’re skilled – don’t go this route if you’re not) or offering time or services, like home maintenance or cooking lessons, as a gift instead. You’ll likely find ways to free up about half your gift budget if you get creative.

Childcare: $50

Don’t skimp on a good babysitter just to save a few bucks. That said, you can find reliable sitters without having to forgo your child’s college savings. Check local community groups on Facebook for sitters, or look for advertisements from college students on community bulletin boards. You could even set up a swap situation with your friends, where you each agree to sit for the other for special occasions or date nights. The average sitter in the U.S. makes about $16 an hour, so switching at least one date night a month to a more frugal option could save you about $50.

Groceries: $50

Food costs eat up 6 percent of Americans’ income each year, with an average family of four (two adults, two toddlers) spending $500 a month. For a family of four with older kids, that jumps to $800 a month. You don’t need to sacrifice quality to save money on your grocery bill. Shop at Aldi, a chain well-known for its excellent deals and high-quality branded items, or a similar store in your area. Produce might seem like a pricey buy, but it’s more filling than cheaper, highly processed snacks like crackers and chips, so your kids will eat less overall while getting better nutrition. If fresh produce is expensive in your area, buy frozen over canned. Frozen produce is packed fresh and retains its nutrient content. Simplify your menu, shop sales and know when to ditch brand names for store brands. Cutting your grocery budget by just 10 percent could save you $50 to $80 a month.

Eating Out: $150

And while we’re on the subject of food, don’t let convenience wipe out your food budget. One CDC report found that about a third of Americans eat fast food every single day. Even if you only bought one $8 meal every day of the month, you’re looking at $250 a month for fast food. You might not always be able to avoid eating out, but consider making some changes in how you eat when you’re not at home. Pack some food from home if you know you’ll be out of the house during a mealtime, and stay hydrated throughout the day. Dehydration can masquerade as hunger, which can make you think you need that order of happy-hour cheesesticks at the drive-thru. If you ate out just three times a week instead of seven, you’d save almost $150 a month – and you’d feel better.

Car Washes: $10

Car experts say you need to wash your car every couple weeks. That might be optimistic, but if you’re someone who cares about that kind of thing, then maybe try washing by hand every other time. If you have kids, get them involved. Toddlers actually enjoy manual labor – it’s a brief window of helpfulness, so use it while you can – and teens could use the discipline. An automatic car wash costs around $10 for a basic wash, so switching to your own front yard could save you that much a month. Every little bit helps.

Entertainment: $20

Entertainment is a broad category, but it’s also a flexible one. Case in point: movie theater tickets. These average about $10 per ticket nationwide, so you’re looking at $20 just to get in the door with a date, not to mention the meal before or after, snacks at the show, parking and any other costs that crop up on date night. Instead of seeing every movie that strikes your fancy, consider saving theater viewings for true spectacles. Cutting out one movie-going experience a month will save you at least $20 (but probably a lot more). 

Subscription Services: $20

We mentioned above that switching to a streaming service can help you save on TV. But you can get carried away with subscriptions. There’s one for just about everything these days, from gourmet cooking and specialty coffee to clothing and makeup (and more). Weed through your subscription services to make sure they’re delivering on their promised value. If not, cut ties. Cost savings vary, but you can probably save at least $20 a month by reassessing your subscriptions. 

Total savings for the month: $650

There are tons of small expenses in your life that add up before you realize what’s happening. To name a few: parking costs, convenience store goodies, specialty purchases (like fancy cheese for a cocktail party), alcohol, gym memberships and add-ons, and app downloads. 

The goal here isn’t to cut out all your fun. It’s to show you that you probably have some expenses that could be pared down or eliminated altogether with some careful planning.

If all of these tips apply to you and you made the recommended changes, you’d pocket an extra $650 a month. Is that enough to buy some coverage? Absolutely. 

A short term health insurance plan from UnitedHealthcare costs $237 a month for a woman in her 30s living in Tennessee – and that’s the most expensive option. It includes a $1,000 deductible for the six-month term and 80/20 cost-sharing, which means the insurer pays 80 percent of covered benefits once she hits the deductible. The least expensive option, which has a much higher deductible, costs just $42 a month.

So, yes, an extra $650 a month from your budget (without making any life-altering changes) could cover your health insurance, with plenty to spare.

We know money’s tight and healthcare is expensive. That’s why getting good, affordable health insurance is so important. One unexpected trip to the ER or a complicated hospital stay could wipe out your savings. 

Don’t get stuck with a surprise bill because you think you can’t afford health insurance. It costs less than you think, especially when you make a little room in your budget with some hardly noticeable cuts. Even a basic short term health insurance plan can act as a nice safety net for things like accidents or unexpected lead poisoning from those knockoff Star Wars figurines you bought. Jokes aside? Health insurance isn’t something to laugh about. Make sure you’re covered.