Home » Six Health Hacks that Help us Keep Medical Costs Low

Six Health Hacks that Help us Keep Medical Costs Low


*Disclaimer: I am not a health professional. I am simply sharing my experiences and as such, this article should not be substituted for professional medical advice. 

*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. 

Since the induction of Obamacare and the crazy rise in health care costs over the last few years, we’ve been working extra hard at finding ways to keep medical and health care costs low. Anyone who has had any medical costs the last few years knows that one big (or even semi-big) medical issue can add up to big out-of-pocket costs real quick.

For instance, my neighbor, who is in her early fifties, got shingles this week for the second time in three years. As a self-employed family they are responsible for their own medical insurance, and so they use an Obamacare plan. Aside from the $140 she paid just to walk in the door, the doc recommended a shingles vaccination for her, to the tune of $300 out of pocket. Nearly $500 for one doctor trip, and that didn’t include any of the other costs; simply the visit cost and the vaccination cost. She’ll see more bills before it’s all said and done.

As you can imagine, without careful planning the medical bills for a family of six can add up big time. I went over our spend tracking for the last 3+ years to see what we’ve spent on medical costs. The numbers below do not include the $1200 we get in Rick’s HSA as a part of his work benefits (which we spend in its entirety each year), but only what we spend over and above that. Here’s what our expenses have looked like in recent years. This includes medical and dental costs.

2013: $1401.88

2014: $2416.20

2015: $1540.22

2016: $74.49 (and we’ve still got $400 in our HSA!)

We’ve spent a good chunk of change on medical expenses in years past, but as you can see, we are on track to significantly reduce our medical expenses this year. How did we do it? Here are the health hacks we use to limit our visits to local doctors and hospitals, and to care for our bodies in a way that helps them function at optimum performance.

Health Hack #1: Clean Eating is Key

Eating healthy on a small budget really isn’t as impossible as some make it out to be. For nearly four years now, we’ve fed our family of six on under $500 a month. And each year our diet has become more and more healthy. You can read in depth about how we feed our family on so little here, but I’ll give you a cheat sheet below for clean eating on a budget.

Shop the Sales

Each week we plan our meals around what veggies, fruits and meats are on sale. We spent a good deal of time in 2015 doing a macrobiotic diet, and although we’ve lighted up now, we still eat primarily whole foods including veggies, fruits, meats and a limited amount of dairy.

Recommended Reading:

We’re big-time foodies in this house, and we’ve gone through our fair share of junk food weeks, months and years. And the fact of the matter is that we all feel SO much better and spend LOTS less on health care when we’re eating whole foods. To find a balance between our love for all things food and our love of healthy eating, we’ve adopted the 80/20 rule:

80 percent of our diet is whole foods

20 percent of our diet is junk food

This is the goal, anyway. And since we’ve adopted this goal, colds, the flu and other sicknesses hardly even make an appearance at our home. Thus, medical bills are reduced dramatically.

Health Hack #2: You Are What You Drink

The human body is made up of over seventy percent water. As such, we in the Frugal Farmer family make water our primary source of liquid intake. We’re lucky that we have a well that produces wonderfully pure and delicious water, but even if you have to buy bottled water, the expense is well worth the health benefits. Our primary liquid intake is pure water – not flavored water, “enhanced” water or any other of the “not really water” waters.

Our secondary liquid intake is Organic Valley Whole Milk.  Organic Valley is committed to non-GMO, sustainable, free range farming, which means our milk is the healthiest and cleanest it can be aside from unpasteurized-straight-from-the-cow-out-of-our-back-yard milk. At our local Walmart, a half gallon of Organic Valley costs $3.98, and we go through about a gallon a week.

Since we don’t eat cereal, we don’t need to consume extra milk, and we choose water for most of our drinks with meals, saving milk for dinner meals. And we only drink soda on special occasions such as parties or family gatherings. It may take time for your family to break the soda habit and to make water your primary drink instead of milk, but your pocket book and your health will thank you profusely.

Health Hack #3:Plenty of Exercise

Exercise is key when it comes to keeping health costs low. Here are some of the benefits the Center of Disease Control states that exercise has on a person’s health.

  • Control your weight
  • Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Reduce your risk of some cancers
  • Strengthen your bones and muscles
  • Improve your mental health and mood
  • Improve your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls, if you’re an older adult
  • Increase your chances of living longer

Naturopathic doctors will tell you that not only can exercise reduce your risk for disease, it has been shown to help reverse and cure disease as well. Exercise reduces your stress level, helps you sleep better and improves mental clarity.

Since we’re frugal folk, we don’t own a gym membership. Instead we take advantage of the following forms of free exercise:

Hiking (in local parks and nature reserves)

Walking (around the neighborhood)

Biking (in the neighborhood or at local parks and nature reserves)

Calisthenics (daily, on the living room floor)

Weight-bearing exercises (either using our own body weight such as with push ups or squats, or by using free weights)

Playing (softball, frisbee, tag, tree climbing…the possibilities are endless!)

Swimming (at local beaches)

Instead of sitting around watching TV or playing on our phones or other devices for hours on end, we turn them off and go for a walk. Or a hike. Or a bike ride. Or we practice playing ball with the kids in the yard.

 Not only does substituting play for screen time improve our health dramatically, it helps us to bond as a family. As we walk, bike or hike, we talk and share our dreams and feelings. Or we clear the air about something. It’s a time for release of all things unhealthy in our minds and in our bodies as well, and because exercise is so powerful when it comes to improving health, it helps us to keep medical costs low.

Health Hack #4: Clearing the Mind and Feeding it Well

Many people don’t realize that what you put into your brain is what you will get out of it. If you spend your days and/or evenings watching violent or dramatic television shows or reading violent or intense books, you’ll have a higher stress level and create a less than optimum health environment in your body. Whatever you focus on is what will dominate your thoughts and eventually your life.

As such, we follow these guidelines when deciding what to put into our minds.

What We Watch

When it comes to television and other screen time, we work to keep it uplifting and positive. American Ninja Warrior is our go-to evening television show on Monday nights. PBS’ This Old House is another favorite. And MEtv’s old fashioned sitcoms are a primary source of entertainment as well. If it involves a heavy amount of violence or dramatic content, we generally stay away from it.

What We Read

More than anything, we read the Bible. Kid intended historical books are high up on the list as well. This book about Harriet Tubman is a family favorite:

[(Harriet Tubman : Freedom Bound)] [By (author) Janet Benge ] published on (August, 2002)

It tells the story of Harriet Tubman’s powerful influence on America in a way that is honest but not too intense for little ears. The YWAM series also has books on dozens of other heroes and heroines of history.

The Power Behind Meditation

Prayer and meditation has been instrumental for our family when it comes to “cleaning out” our hearts and minds. We live in a world that seems to be dominated by violence these days. One newscast can leave you certain that the zombie apocalypse will be at your door any moment.

Prayer and meditation helps to clear your mind and to refocus on the things that you can control, and reduces worry about the things you can’t control.

Feeding your mind well and staying away from influences that are harmful or negative can affect almost every area of your life in a positive way, including your health.

Health Hack #5: Helping Others

Although it may not seem like helping others is good for one’s health, we can attest that it is. One of our 2016 goals was to increase our servitude toward others, whether that meant helping someone out with a task or being involved with a ministry or charitable organization. We’ve probably increased our “helping others” hours by tenfold this year, and with that increase came increased gratitude and a better impact on society. And knowing we’re doing more to help the world be a better place has had a positive effect on every area of our lives, including our health.

Health Hack #6: Health Education

Over the years we’ve learned to assess doctor or hospital visits and determine in hindsight whether or not they were really necessary. We’ve also learned to listen well as doctors explain things to us on visits, and to educate ourselves on how the human body works, natural methods of healing and repair and ways to learn to help the body function at optimum performance.

For instance, when our son was younger, he just could not get the hang of saying his “R’s” correctly. We checked into speech therapy and found that the out-of-pocket costs were astronomical. So we found a youtube video that instructed people on how to say their R’s properly. Within three week’s our son’s R problem was corrected and it didn’t cost us a dime.


When it comes to any kind of medical test or treatment, be sure to ask the physician to explain thoroughly the benefit and the necessity, and ask about alternative or natural treatments. And do your own education on physical health during your free time.

Recommended Reading: Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook, Revised Edition

Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook, Revised Edition

As we’ve progressed in our education of utilizing the above health hacks to an optimum benefit, we’ve found our medical costs decreasing. It could be that by following the above tips, you will too.

How have you worked to combat rising medical costs? What are your tips for keeping medical costs low?


  1. Love health hack number 2, many people don’t realize how many calories are consumed in drinks, especially sodas and juices. Juices aren’t necessarily “good for you”, often times filled with sugar (added or natural) and no fiber that is contained in the whole fruit or vegetable. We really consume anything but water, milk and occasionally on the weekend our adult beverages. Thanks for the post!

    • Laurie says:

      So true about juices, GS!! Advertisers tout them as healthy but they have very little nutritional value. We drink them in small amounts as long as they’re 100% juice, or we add them to fruit smoothies for a treat. Thanks for the comment!

  2. We have so much to learn from you guys. I’m ashamed to admit our grocery bill is over $400 these days, and that’s for a couple. No kids. I think beer and wine are the culprit — we’re taking six packs to friends’ houses a few times a week, and beer up and got expensive the past few years.

    We need to do a better job clearing our minds as well. I get the feeling that binge watching MTV’s “The Challenge” is not exactly the sort of mental diet that leads to healthy living.

    • Laurie says:

      Yep, alcohol will kill a tight grocery budget real fast. We don’t drink, so I suppose in some ways it’s not exactly comparing apples to apples, though.

  3. anna says:

    I thought about my PF friends of yesteryear, and glad to see you are still doing well and publishing great tips, Laurie! I agree with these preventative tips. Hope you continue to do well. 🙂

  4. Great tips, Laurie. I know eating right and exercise are really key to good health. And a lot of people overlook keeping their minds healthy but it definitely plays a role in our well-being too. I used to get bronchitis annually after Christmas but haven’t for the past two years. I’m still far from where I need to be health-wise, but even the small steps I’ve taken have made a difference. I also think some of the home remedies I use are also more effective too.

    • Laurie says:

      I used to get really sick after Christmas too!!! It was a given. Hasn’t happened in about 15 years now. Every step toward better health helps!! We are big fans of home remedies. We use them lots to get and stay healthy. Tanya, I think you’re doing terrific. Keep up the good work!

  5. All great health hacks, Laurie! It’s great you’ve been able to reduce your medical expenses this year. Two areas on your list I need to improve on is meditation and what I drink (no soda, but I like my coffee!). Thanks for sharing!

    We are a pretty healthy bunch this year and most of us use most of your tips. I’m finding as my son gets older, he eats more and more junk food. In fact, the other day, he’s looking in the fridge and pantry, saying there was nothing to eat, when there were 30 pounds of veggies sitting right there (some of them prepped and ready to eat!).

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, welcome to the teen years. We are a bit strict in this area: We have whole foods breakfast choices on Mon, Wed and Friday, and they can have junk food breakfasts on Tue, Thur and Sat. Since we homeschool, though, it’s a lot easier for me to monitor their diets. I’m hoping that this will make them crave healthy food more and that when they’re older they’ll lean toward it.

  6. Amy says:

    Great stuff, Laurie! I feel like no matter what complaint I take to the doctor – migraines, most recently – the answer is to get more exercise! Clearly it’s good for the body and mind in truly countless ways.

    I’ve been struggling to make meditation a part of my life for the past couple of years. Like exercise, it clearly has countless mental and physical health benefits, so I keep plugging away at it…

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks so much, Amy! We’ve found too that a clean diet is absolutely key. Even without exercise, if we’re eating whole foods we feel great. Best of luck to you as you work toward better health and well-being!

  7. Liz says:

    I stay being healthy by having a healthy diet and exercise as much as I can. This one really helps me not to get sick, I try to have an 8-hour sleep a day. I think taking multivitamins is another tip I can share.

  8. I really like these tips and focusing on health. There’s a post on a silent killer that’s affecting every one of us in mrtakoescapes.com and I took that lesson to heart. I’m in my early 20’s and I’m doing a lot of the tips you’ve mentioned, exercising regularly, eating clean, etc. I want to prevent health issues later on.

    It’s also amazing that you were able to feed a family of 6 under $500 a month, I spend close to $320 a month just for myself!

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks. 🙂 Yes, we’ve perfected eating on a small budget, that’s for sure. 🙂 I hear you about preventative health. After seeing several extended family members succumb to diabetes, cancer and heart disease, we are working hard to discipline ourselves.

  9. Josh says:

    Besides these physical & mental actions/decisions, another way to save money financially can also be through a Christian health ministry plan. Being self-employed, the private plans & marketplace plans were about $550 per month without any tax incentives.

    We signed up for a health-share plan and pay about $200 each month instead. Companies to consider include: Samaritan, Medi-Share, CHM, and Liberty. All the above are great companies and offer their own unique “twist” where Christians can help other Christians.

    • Laurie says:

      We think about these often, Josh!!! Luckily, we’ve got great insurance through Rick’s work, but if we ever go totally self-employed we’ll look into a health sharing plan for sure. I’ve got a friend who has been using one for over two decades and is very, very happy with the care she receives.

  10. Iforonwy says:

    This is why on this side of the pond I say thank goodness for the NHS! (National Health Service) although so many folk moan about it. It has been in place 70 years this last month. I know that the perception from other countries is that the NHS is completely free to UK citizens. In a way it is but everyone in work pays NI- National Insurance contributions in addition to Income tax in order to fund the service.

    I worked in Health Promotion for about 15 years until 2000 but still dispair that there are so many things that have just not got through to the general public. I think that a big part of the problem is that health messages can change almost daily. We all just need to be aware of what we are doing to our minds and bodies. It’s not rocket science just old fashioned common sense!

    • Laurie says:

      You’re lucky that you guys have great government health care over there. Several people I know who live in Canada (where there is also govt health care) share horror stories about dangerously long waits and poor, poor service.

      • Iforonwy says:

        I agree with you and the Canadian comment below that there can be long waits that cause problems. However, I feel that much is due to perception, as medicine evolves folk expect and in some cases demand treatments that just 5 to 10 years ago would be cutting edge (sorry about the pun!). To date we have been treated excellently and know that like last month when “Mr ‘Im-in-doors” fell from a ladder (again) there would be treatment to be had.

        • Laurie says:

          Sounds like you guys have a great system over there. I know we have a hospital here that is near the Canadian border, and so many people choose to cross the border and come here for health treatment instead of using theirs that this hospital has the best and newest equipment in the state, thanks to cash paying, border crossing Canadians.

  11. As a Canadian, I don’t pay medical bills – but of course, our health care system is supported by our higher taxes, so we pay indirectly. I know there are pros and cons to privatized health care, but I think this is an area where a national program is a very good thing. I am trying to eat more whole foods, and it does make a difference. My stomach is more settled – no gassy bloating. I like what you say about filling your mind with good things. I have chosen not to watch shows that leave me feeling stressed (Homeland and Bloodline in particular). Now, I know that was a good decision : )

    • Laurie says:

      Glad you are happy with your national program – I’ve heard many aren’t!! And I think you benefit greatly from taking control of your health. It makes a big difference and you’re smart for doing so, my friend!

  12. There’s a quote I can’t quite remember now, that says something like: it’s a waste to read if you don’t also write. I think writing is a great form of meditation–a way to really explore our thoughts and reflect on them. Here in the blogosphere, we do plenty of writing, but I think in general, taking time to write should be on everyone’s mental health checklist.

    • Laurie says:

      I agree!! So many times when I’m struggling with a problem that seems out of my control, writing about it really is a huge stress reliever. Great tip!

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