Is it possible to be frugal with a chronic illness?

I have not always been practically frugal. I was definitely that kid who earned ten bucks and had spent it within the hour. Lip gloss, hair clips, you name it. I was not so great at saving up for something big. But I got better with practice, as is most things. I saved up for my spending money on a trip to Spain with classmates. Each summer in college I worked a full time job so I could have money during the year to eat out and buy clothes. But it takes practice.

I paint this picture as a way of saying that I’m not so great at being frugal. I have to really try and think about my actions, and try hard to see the big picture.

While I truly enjoy cooking at home and making meals from scratch, sometimes I just don’t plan well (as was the case yesterday when I left the house for an early doctor’s appointment before work, totally forgetting to take ANY food with me. I was away from home until 9pm). This meant that I had to pick up lunch AND dinner out if I had any interest in actually eating for the day. Oops. If I had really thought about it I would have packed double the food the night before so all I should have had to do was grab my lunch bag. But alas, that’s now how it went. And I ended up spending about $18 on food yesterday. Ugh.

All this brings me to my question: can you be frugal with a chronic illness? A chronic illness in and of itself is not frugal. Even with insurance, doctor’s visits, medication (over the counter and prescription), therapists for the inevitable feelings of isolation and depression, special diet, it all adds up, and fast!

This is not to say there aren’t ways to be frugal while living with chronic illness, but I certainly think it’s more difficult and takes additional planning.

Let’s take food, for instance. I have a very finicky diet and can’t eat a lot of things. This means I have to stick to a strict shopping list. And if I don’t have those foods on hand, I am far more likely to order out for something I can eat. Granted, this usually means I am ordering plain noodles, rice or soup. But this still comes with a delivery fee if nothing else. So that adds up. And if i’m out with friends I need to remember to take my own food with me lest I end up buying food out simply because I can’t find something to eat wherever we are.

Many people with chronic illness find themselves home more often than their “healthy” counter parts. We may earn less simply because we can’t put in as many hours at work. So we are at a disadvantage to begin with.

Let’s also take into consideration last minute doctor’s appointments. I may run out the door to get to an appointment and realize my dogs are going to be left unattended now for 12 hours. So I’ll hop on an app and have to pay someone to walk my dogs during the day. (My roommate and I are on opposite schedules so that theoretically the dogs are only crated for about 4 hours a day.) Or I get to work only to realize that what I packed to eat that day simply isn’t going to work for my tummy that day (Crohnies, you know what I’m talking about). So I need to figure something else out. The frugal solution would be to keep rice and other shelf stable items in my desk. But honestly, I just forget sometimes!

Here’s the thing, I’m not perfect. No one is perfect. But I think there are definite barriers for those of us with chronic illnesses that make frugality even more challenging. I have friends with Celiac disease who struggle with their food budget because gluten free can be a challenge in today’s highly processed world. Even if they were to buy solely fresh produce, that adds up quickly!

Most importantly, let’s not judge anyone simply for not being “frugal enough” for some random standard. We are all trying our best to keep ourselves fed and healthy, and doing so as frugally as possible.

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