You know the feeling. It usually starts with the sniffles or a cough and turns into a full-blown cold or something worse. While the fall and winter bring about fun and memorable activities or traditions, this time of year also means being in the middle of cold and flu season. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this year's flu vaccine appears to be less effective than normal, so this year might be particularly challenging.
When you feel under the weather, the last thing on your mind is the cost of getting well again. That's understandable, as you just want the pain to subside. However, there are ways to save money when you're sick if you're purposeful about it. No one ever wants to be sick, but this list will help you avoid overspending the next time you come down with an illness.
Avoid Urgent Care and the Emergency Room
When we're sick, most of us just want to feel better fast so that we can get back to life, work and our other responsibilities. For many, a trip to the emergency room or urgent care is in short order. If your health is really at risk, then that might be a good idea, but in the event of a typical cold or flu in an otherwise health adult, you can probably skip those visits and recover at home. An emergency room visit is going to cost at least $400 and urgent care will cost around $120 (before insurance).
There are two main options to consider that can significantly reduce that cost. Many grocery and drug stores now have clinics staffed by registered nurses who can help with basic needs and prescribe medicine when needed. Most clinics cost about half as much as an urgent care visit and are open similar hours. If that's not an option, then check to see if your health insurance provider offers a nurses' line for you to call with questions as to whether or not you should see a doctor.
It's no surprise that medicine can get expensive. If several members of your family get sick all at once, the cost to help everyone feel better can add up quickly. The best way to combat that cost is to buy generic when you can. According to the Federal Trade Commission, generic medicine can be anywhere from 20 to 70 percent cheaper than the name brand alternative. That reduction in cost can add up to a significant savings, and allow you to use the same medication albeit without the specific name brand attached to it.
Buying generic may require some added attention on your part. If your doctor writes you a name brand prescription, ask for a generic alternative. If you're simply going in to the drug store, then ask the pharmacist for help locating a suitable generic alternative. Assuming one is available, you can bank the savings while still getting the same medicine needed to care for your illness.
Shop Around for Your Flu Shot
The cost of flu shots can vary anywhere from $15 to $30 or more. There is no need to pay more when you can get the same thing for less. Depending on where you live, there may be a local health department offering free or low cost flu shot clinics. There are also similar programs for low-income individuals and seniors. Just ask your local health department and they should be able to direct you.
If you do go the retailer route, make sure to do some comparison shopping to find the cheapest rate available. If you have a family, a difference of $15 per shot can add up quickly so it pays to compare.
Practice Healthy Habits
Like the flu shot above, practicing healthy habits during the cold and flu season is a great way to save money as it'll hopefully keep illness at bay. There are a number of healthy habits to follow, especially during the fall and winter months, such as washing your hands regularly, not sharing personal care items with other family members who are ill, not touching your month, nose or eyes without first washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose when sneezing and getting good rest.
While they may be simple steps, it's often the basics that work the best. No one ever plans or wants to be ill. However, if you do come down with an illness this fall or winter, there are ways to mitigate any costs associated with it.
John Schmoll is the founder of Frugal Rules, a finance blog that regularly discusses investing, budgeting and frugal living. He is a father, husband and veteran of the financial services industry who's passionate about helping people find freedom through frugality.
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