Chuck E Cheese Birthday Party Review

Chuck E Cheese Birthday Party Review

I’m so excited to share my experience with hosting our first Chuck E Cheese birthday party! I’m a bit of a control freak, so I can’t say I wasn’t worried about how this party would go down, but it was even better than I could have expected.

It’s important to note here that I’m in no way affiliated with Chuck E Cheese nor am I receiving anything in return for this post. It’s simply an experience worth sharing with other mommas in need of party planning help!

How does a Chuck E Cheese birthday party work?

When my daughter announced she wanted to hold her 4th birthday at Chuck E Cheese, my frugal brain immediately went to the cost. So I went on the Chuck E Cheese website and was pleasantly surprised by the affordable options. Even when we go the party-at-home-DIY-route (like we did for our Dr. Seuss birthday party!) there’s still the stress and time planning it all.

I truly love to throw parties, but not necessarily during the cold days of February, which happens to be my daughter’s birthday month. So this time I handed over the party planning reigns and here’s what happened…

Chuck E Cheese Birthday Party Review

chuck e cheese birthday party

What’s the schedule like?

We arrived at Chuck E Cheese about 15 minutes before the party was set to start. Everything was set up in the back already and our host greeted us. She handed over a bag of play passes as well as a birthday bracelet for my sweet birthday girl.

Our host then went over our order (we opted for extra pizzas and drinks for the adults). From there, she went over the schedule, which looked like this:

12pm – party starts, kids play

12:45pm – pizza time! Our host served the children and made sure they all got what they needed.

After pizza, Chuck E himself came out to dance with the kids. We then sang “Happy Birthday” while the host cut and distributed the cake. Since we got the Mega Super Star package, it also included Dippin’ Dots (yum!!)

Chuck E Cheese dippin dots birthday party

From there, it would’ve been gift time, but we nixed that to do gifts at home.

After cake, it was ticket blaster time! My daughter wasn’t too keen on it, so her big brother stepped in.

Do they have to do the ticket blaster?

Our host was kind enough to show my daughter how the ticket blaster worked, but even then, my daughter wasn’t interested. My 5yr old son was all about it, though, so he stepped up to get those tickets. That said, there was also the option to skip the ticket blaster and simply collect 200 tickets (plus her 1000 bonus tickets as a part of the party package).

After the ticket blaster, the kids are then welcome to go back to playing.

Chuck E Cheese Ticket Blaster

Can you bring your own cake to a Chuck E Cheese birthday party?

Absolutely! While Chuck E Cheese offers a number of gorgeous cake options, you can also bring in your own cake and ice cream.

Do you tip for a Chuck E Cheese birthday party?

I’ve actually reached out to Chuck E Cheese to see if they have a policy/common practice on this. While I in no way felt pressured to tip, there’s no doubt our hostess deserved it! Our total party cost was $300, on which we tipped $40. This might seem like a bit much to some (like my husband…hehe) but I’ve worked in food service before and the tip was well earned.

Is the Mega Super Star package worth it?

It really, really is. It was so nice to not have to worry about goody bags or ice cream, plus the unlimited play for the 2 hours really helped parents better enjoy the experience and not worry about watching (or having to re-up!) their child’s play points. I also love that the goody bags allow for every child to leave with something, regardless of how many tickets they earned.

chuck e cheese goody bag

What happens if you have no-shows?

Sure enough, on the day of the party we had a couple children who suddenly couldn’t make it. Luckily Chuck E Cheese offers a 2-child no-show policy so we weren’t charged for the absent children.

The Easiest Birthday Party Ever

Overall, I truly could not have been happier with the whole experience. I did EVERYTHING online on my own schedule and it was the smoothest, most relaxed party I’ve had. Frankly, I’m considering hosting my own next birthday party there – they do have beer, after all! 😉

chuck e cheese birthday party review

Have you had a Chuck E Cheese birthday party experience?

Would love for you to comment below and share your thoughts!

15 Seemingly Weird Ways to Save Time & Money!

15 Seemingly Weird Ways to Save Time & Money!

When it comes to saving time and money, everyone has their own little rituals and tricks that work for them. Whether you clip coupons to save money or pre-pack your gym bag and keep it by the door to save time, you’ve surely got a couple of these rituals yourself. Surely everyone shares some of these habits – they’re pretty commonplace.

What about the more fringe time or money savers, though? I’m not talking about re-using paper towels or renting your dog out as a clown (talk about frugal horror stories!), but what about never buying kids’ clothing from department stores? Ever considered raising worms to recycle your produce and make some top-quality fertilizer? Does it get weirder? Read on to find out some of our best-kept secrets for saving time and money and please note that the links below may be affiliate links, which means I could earn commission should you click through to make a purchase.

Unique and Interesting Ways to Save Your Family Money

Interesting ways to save money

Create an easy meal plan

Creating a meal plan is of course one the best ways to save time and money, but you can take it one step further by stacking the meals together so that one rolls into another. Monday evening roast a whole chicken with potatoes and onions, maybe some carrots and then use the leftovers. How, you might ask? Simple! Prep the leftover meat for enchiladas or fajitas the next day, and then take the leftovers and make bone broth. With a little pasta and some veggies, that’s 3 meals from one chicken.

Meal plan stacking is taking one great meal that has leftovers and making another great meal from them. Did you have shrimp tacos for dinner Tuesday? Make gumbo on Wednesday. Big pot roast with tons of leftovers? Toss it into the crock pot with some adobe seasoning and peppers, and have carnitas the next night. It will save you money and time AND be delicious!

Vinegar Uses

Vinegar has literally dozens of household uses, and at about $2/gallon, it is one of the best investments you can keep under your sink.

vinegar bottle aldi

Of course you can use vinegar in cooking but if you take an empty spray bottle and fill it with 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water and add some citrus peel or tea tree oil, you’ll have a cheap, incredibly effective cleaner and disinfectant. Most of what you’d buy in the store is about 5% acetic acid (white vinegar), which will kill most germs, but if you really want to be sure, you can look for something a bit more powerful. Health food and green living stores will often sell stronger vinegar.

Cleaning fruit with vinegar is also a great way to remove the waxy grossness from apples and a lot of the pesticide residue from both apples and strawberries. Considering both the aforementioned fruits routinely make it on the dirty dozen list for most contaminated foods, giving them a quick wash in a 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar solution can really decrease the pesticides your family ingests. Vinegar will also help your strawberries stay fresh longer!

Invest in a Water Cooler

We bought a water cooler when we had our son because we wanted an easy source of distilled water. Flash forward four years and we’re still using it daily.

We did the math and the water cooler was cheaper over the expected two years of needing bottles than filters for a faucet-mounted system. The trick is after using the jugs (we bought them at Lowes), instead of swapping them out for new filled ones ( at $6.99/apiece!) we disinfect them with vinegar and refill them at about .25c/gallon at a local grocery store.

The cooler we bought also has a tap for hot water, which makes it great when I’m in need of my daily matcha tea fix or just a nice cup of chamomile before bed!

Make Notes on Your Food

This one sounds ridiculous, but consider the number of times you look at something in the fridge and simply can’t remember when you cooked/opened/bought it. We realized we were throwing out stuff that might still be good, so we bought a Sharpie specifically for the kitchen. We glued a magnet to it so it sticks to the fridge and whenever we have leftovers or open a container, we date it. This makes sure we know when things are still good and when we should actually toss them.

Because my husband follows a keto diet, we also tend to have at least three containers of heavy cream in our fridge at any given time. It can be incredibly frustrating to have to open two containers only to realize its the third one that’s already open. It’s a simple thing, but marking the cap with an “O” really helps save time each and every day!

Vermiculture – Yes, We’re Talking Worm Farming!

If you’re unfamiliar with vermiculture, you’re likely not alone. It’s a fancy word for “worm farming” and it’s a really interesting way to reduce your food waste. It’s surprisingly simple to raise worms, and though they’re not cute and cuddly, they DO provide some fantastic benefits for growing your own garden.

Essentially the worms break down organic waste like apple cores, vegetable scraps, etc. into nutrient-rich castings which you can use as a fertilizer. They also produce a sort of waste fluid called “worm tea” that is a wonderful addition to plants, making them healthier and more vibrant.

blonde boy smiling brown hair girl smiling worm farm

We set up our worm farm using a couple totes, but you can also buy relatively inexpensive ones online if you don’t have the desire to DIY. 

If you DO want to DIY, you’ll want to check out this post on how to start your own worm farm.

Vermiculture is great because it helps you reduce your food waste while also making your garden significantly healthier, and if you don’t already garden, it’s a nice extra bit of encouragement.

Toilet Paper Tube Projects

Got some kids stuck in the house all day with nothing to do? Toss some art supplies at them and give them toilet paper tubes!

Ok, maybe that alone won’t help, but toilet paper tubes are very versatile pieces of cardboard. Some ideas include:

Poke two holes in the top (opposite each other) and run a string or piece of yarn through them. Smear peanut butter around the outside of the tube and then roll them in birdseed, and voila! You have a quick, simple bird feeder that will absolutely attract some feathered friends to your yard.

Decorate the outside of one by gluing on a strip of leftover fabric and use it to hold your excess extension cords, or when you store them!

Fold the undersides in at one end and fill them with soil, and use them as seed starters in the late winter to get a jump start on that garden!

Stuff them with dryer lint to use as campfire starters!

Use your imagination for a variety of artistic endeavors – their shape lends itself well to making candle holders, for instance. With some interesting decorations you can have a spooky candle holder for Halloween, a cheery one for Christmas, or a turkey for Thanksgiving. Of course use battery operated candles!

Encourage your children to use their imaginations and you’ll be surprised at what they’ll come up with. My kids love to create monsters with lots of googly eyes, of course!

Garage Sales

As long as we’ve had kids, we have been very intentional about buying presents and clothing ahead of time. Every time we’re at a garage sale, if we see something that will fit them, we typically pick it up if the price is right. I’m honestly not sure if our kids have ever had brand-new shoes, and that’s 100% fine with us.

If you have kids, trust me – you will WANT to sell all the clothes you get, and you’ll feel WAY less bad about selling them for .50c apiece if you bought them for .50c apiece.

garage sale

The “Present Tote”

Another way we make use of garage sales though is by taking a look at what toys and games our kids might eventually like. When they’re really little this is especially easy, but basically just buy up any cool toys or games you see that are super cheap, and store them in a “future presents tote“. For instance, we found about $50 of Play-doh toys and accessories for $5 a garage sale, and it happens that our kids love the stuff. Boom, big Christmas gift, bought and paid-for.

While you shouldn’t just buy anything all the time “because it’s on sale”, if you get a really good bargain on something you know your children will love, it will save you money in the long run. 

Multitasking Hurts

The single biggest time saver (and mind saver) you can invest your energy in is to avoid multitasking. Multitasking simply doesn’t work! There may be a few exceptions to the rule, but we’re essentially single-core processing units; undivided attention to a single task proves much better results than trying to do multiple things at once. Not only will you have better results, you’ll also get it done faster and more accurately, and then you can move onto the next task with undivided attention!

Make Use of In-Store Pick-Up

This one is two-fold — first of all, using in-store pick-up will help you avoid impulse purchases while also better ensuring you don’t forget something on your list because you’re too busy minding the kids to remember you need dish soap. It’s also a huge time saver, but did you know it can also save you money? Whenever you do in-store pick-up, check with Ebates first and you may very well earn a percentage back on your purchases (meaning FREE money!!)

Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

Using Gift Cards through Ebates

Speaking of Ebates, this is a great way to stack up your savings.

If you know ahead of time that you’ll be shopping at a certain retailer, be on the lookout for discounted gift cards through sites like Raise.com. Even if you don’t do a lot of online shopping, be sure to check out Raise.com – if you know you spend money on a regular basis somewhere (like a certain gas station!), why not buy gift cards for yourself and save even more?

For example, I recently purchased a $50 Sears Gift Card for $41.90. Then I made a purchase through Ebates for $53, using mainly that gift card and earning myself a nice $4.24 back. So instead of spending the full $53, I’m actually only looking at a total deficit of $37.66 – a savings of nearly 30% and that’s just on one purchase!

Sign up via my referral link for Ebates and you’ll earn an extra $10 back on your first purchase! Worried about a catch? There is NONE! Check out my Ebates review to learn more.

Use Bubble Wrap on Windows

Seems silly, yeah? Heh or maybe you’re like me and think it just seems fun! When I first heard about this trick, I was skeptical. I’m a fan of using shrinkwrap packs to insulate my home against the winter cold, but when you have bubblewrap for free thanks to holiday packages, I figured I’d give it a shot…and it worked! Click to learn more about how to use bubblewrap on your windows as insulation.

Winterize Your Home: The Bubblewrap Method

Winterize Your Home: The Bubblewrap Method

No Inside-Out Clothing!

This one might seem a little neurotic but I consistently demand that no one throw inside out clothing into the wash. While it might only take two seconds to flip the clothing right-side out, those seconds certainly add up when you have to do it as you’re folding an entire load. Make laundry easier by asking your family to right their clothing before it goes into the wash.

Six Smart Tricks to Tackling Laundry, Make Doing Laundry Easier and Faster, Do Laundry Quicker, Spend less time doing laundry!

Click to read more laundry hacks!

Sell-By Dates

It’s not secret that we love Aldi, and one of the things we love is that they drastically mark down their meat when it’s close to the “sell-by” date. Without getting into food waste politics and such, I will say that food doesn’t magically become inedible when it’s passed it’s “sell-by” date.

When you see great prices on food at your grocer, pick it up and freeze it, or work it into your current meal plan. Obviously use common sense when it comes to food, but don’t consider food automatically spoiled just because it’s 12 hours past the sell-by date.


Invest in Amazon Prime

One of the best ways to save time and money is to shop online. I do believe in shopping local whenever possible (particularly at our Farmer’s Markets) but I’m a work-at-home mom with two very young children – I’m lucky if I remember to brush my hair every day, let alone have the stamina to leave the house. Amazon’s reach is wide, and it makes getting what we need fast and affordable. Prime does that to the next level – offering free 2-day shipping on almost anything you buy from Amazon is a huge deal. The price is $99/year if you elect to enroll annually, or $12.99/month, and while that might seem steep, it does offer a great amount of discounts, including the free 2-day shipping which will pay for itself. You can check it out for yourself with this free 30-day trial!

 

What are some weird ways YOU save time and/or money?

Comment below and let me know!

Why You Need to Buy Future Presents for Your Kids

Why You Need to Buy Future Presents for Your Kids

We have totes for everything – storing holiday decorations, keeping the umpteen feral cats in our neighborhood warm during cold winter nights, planting small varieties of tomatoes, etc.

It’s not quite as bad as my mason jar habit, but it’s getting there…

Then one summer, we found an extremely value-priced Imaginext playset at a garage sale and my love of totes jumped to a whole new level.

We made the $2 plunge and bought the toy for our son, but as “luck” would have it, he was being extremely sh*tty contrary that day, so a new toy wasn’t in the cards for him. While we pondered where we could store this fairly sizeable and yet 99%-cheaper-than-new playset, my thoughts strayed to a large, grey tote we had in our attic.

So with the toy safely stashed in our 150-year-old attic, away from prying hands and nosey toddlers, we decided we’d simply give it to our son for his next birthday, which was in a few months. As per routine, we went out the next weekend to garage sales and found a really cool toy guitar for our daughter. Again, it was I think a dollar, but we don’t like the habit of giving our kids presents for no reason, so up to the attic it went.

Thus, through the magic of simulated time-travel and a knack for spotting good deals on gently used toys, the Future Present Tote was born.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission and be able to afford coffee tomorrow. And Mama needs her coffee…

But What About Buying New Toys?

When I was a kid, I’d always get a combination of hand-me-down toys and new toys for holidays/birthday. (I also got socks and stuff, but I try to block out the more sadistic traits of my family and focus on the good.)

Whether the present was a brand new doll or a tea set from Goodwill, I never knew the difference because it was always new to ME. I mean, it’s possible my toys were judging each other on being shiny and new like some Mean Girls/Toy Story crossover, but who was I to get involved?

As a parent, though, I totally understand why my mother or grandparents might have opted to give me second hand stuff – toys are expensive.

Not only is the cost an issue, but new toys are…well…sorta wasteful, don’t you think? When you buy a used toy or doll, you cut down on package waste, and you might save an item that was otherwise destined for the landfill. You put money directly into the hand of an actual person, rather than a huge corporation. And, if after their presents are opened, your child decides within a few months they no longer like Power Rangers, you are out like $10 instead of $100+.

The New Adventures of Old Toys

If you have older children, I can see why you might hesitate on giving them “used” toys, but you’d be surprised what you can find at garage sales and online resale sites that are actually in really great shape! For example, when I worked at PBS, I went on a huge Bob Ross kick and ended up buying a Bob Ross paint set.

brunette girl wearing a bob ross shirt

I was really cool in my early 20s…

Once I realized that maybe I wasn’t so great at painting happy trees, I decided to sell it — nearly new and at a third of the cost! Something like that would make for a great gift for older kids.

On the other end of things, if your children are young enough, you can also “retire” certain toys to the future presents box when they get new ones. This frees up space, reduces clutter, and allows you to keep them interested in a lesser amount of junk well-loved toys and stuffed animals. Then, after a while you can reintroduce the old toy and watch them regard it with renewed interest.

Fantastic Deals and Where to Find Them

Where to stock up on future presents is probably the most fun part of the whole experience, aside from the money you’ll save. We love spending a Saturday morning perusing garage sales during the summer – it’s a great way to score deals while also enjoying sunshine and exercise as a family! Typically, we find some decent things in the fall, but those first spring garage sales are where it’s at.

People are very eager to clear their house out after winter, and especially since Christmas’ excesses and new toys are somewhat still lingering, you can get some really cool stuff dirt cheap.

save money kids clothing article link

Another opportunity is Facebook’s Marketplace feature. As your kids’ birthdays approach, run a few casual searches on their favorite things and you’d be surprised at what you can find. We picked up a Doc McStuffins playset for my daughter for $1 that would normally go for $30 were it brand new. It’s in pristine condition, not missing anything, and the family was happy to get rid of it as their children had grown out of it.

Granted, it’s a bit bigger than the tote, but the concept still holds true – she got it for Christmas and ADORES it.

Give Totes a Chance

This isn’t the first nor last time I’ll wax poetically about the usefulness of totes, so you might as well get on board. Pick up a tote and pick a hiding spot, because this method of money saving is a keeper.

The only downside is of course that if you don’t hide it well, and I mean really well, it’s like a time capsule treasure chest for sneaky little hands. Aside from that, though, get yourself a future presents tote and start saving money for your future in the present.

Oh and also you could use it to…

Totes My Goats!

brunette girl hugging goats happily

Sorry, I had to…

Do you buy your kids presents way ahead of time and then hide them?

Do they ever find them or do you consider yourself a parenting ninja? Share your secrets in the comments below!

5 Very Simple Budget Cuts You Can Make Today

5 Very Simple Budget Cuts You Can Make Today

Saving money and cutting expenses are never the favorite dinner table topic, but they are vitally important for individuals and families to discuss. And while there are quite a few drastic ways to save money on your monthly bills, there are actually quite a few small but simple ways to save that you can start TODAY. These seemingly easy adjustments probably won’t have that big of an impact on your day-to-day, but could result in some substantial savings.

Here are five very simple budget cuts that you can make today:

Change Your Thermostat

Did you know that adjusting your thermostat by just one degree can result in up to 10% energy savings? Keeping our homes cool in the summer and warm in the winter is expensive, and takes a lot of energy. And, the amount of energy that you save by adjusting the temperature is substantial. Depending on where you live, the results could be even more staggering.

Part of the reason the energy savings are so high is because most electric companies charge in a tiered rating system, which means that higher users get charged substantially more. This is why even cutting back a little bit can have a dramatic effect, because it can move you out of a higher tier and into a lower one.

Start by seeing if you can handle a temperature of 68 degrees in the winter and 74 degrees in the summer. Throw on a sweater in the winter if it feels a little cool, and make use of a few box fans in the summer if it’s still a bit hot.

Continue pushing until you find a temperature that you are comfortable with, even if it isn’t perfect. If you want to take it a step further, try adding insulation to your attic, and making sure that all your doors and windows are sealed tight.

Make Coffee at Home

Grabbing coffee on the go is convenient, but it’s also extremely expensive. Cut this habit out and you’ll see immediate savings. And, it isn’t very hard to do.

Figure out how to make the equivalent of what you buy at home. If you drink regular drip coffee, this should be pretty simple. Get a cheap coffeemaker, and make sure it has a timer. Set it up the night before, so that your coffee is ready when you get up to leave. One of the biggest reasons people pick up coffee on the go is because they ran out of time to make it in the morning.

If you tend to prefer a fancier drink, like a latte, look into purchasing a used espresso machine. This will add time to your daily routine, as making a latte can take 5 minutes. But, you’ll save yourself quite a bit of money. You can also try purchasing a machine that makes the drink for you, like a Nespresso.

If possible, try cutting back on the expensive coffee drinks. Perhaps only grab one on a special occasion, or once a week.

Turn your Hot Water Heater Down

Similar to point #1, keeping your hot water heater warm takes a lot of energy. Your hot water heater has to keep an entire drum of water hot all the time, so that you have hot water when you want it. Depending on what temperature you have it set to, this ongoing process can take a lot of energy.

You would be surprised how hot you actually need the temperature set to. You might have the temperature set much higher than needed. Test different temperature settings to see how low you can go.

Cut Out On Subscription

Chances are, you have at least one monthly subscription you don’t utilize to the fullest of it’s extent. Perhaps this is a daily newspaper delivery, or the more obvious one: your cable TV subscription. Either way, try finding one subscription that you aren’t making use of, and get rid of it.

If you have an expensive gym membership, perhaps try making a portable home made gym out of a spare bedroom and picking up a few used dumbbells and kettlebells. Or make exercising a family event and workout with your kids!

Of course, you can also try cutting your cable bill, and instead go with Hulu, Netflix, or Sling Box.

The list goes on, but for most families, you’ll be able to find at least one subscription to cut out.

Stop Drying with the Dishwasher

Another easy one to put into place right now, stop using the dry setting on your dishwasher. While dishwashers have become a lot more efficient in their water usage, their energy usage for drying has not gotten a lot better. Dishwashers use a tremendous amount of energy when drying dishes, and you don’t really need to use them for this task.

Just wash, and then open the dishwasher up and let the dishes air dry. It doesn’t take any extra work out of you, except to just wait a few hours for the dishes to try.

Saving money is not necessarily a fun topic, but there are simple things you can do right away to start saving. Once you see how easy it can be to save money, you’ll have the motivation to tackle the bigger and more challenging money saving tactics.

Allen Michael Brown hair male smiling

 

 

Allen Michael is the founder and editor of The Stick Vacuums (https://thestickvacuums.com/), a website focused on helping others keep a clean home as efficiently as possible. Allen stumbled onto stick vacuums while trying to help his family keep their home clean with less work, and has since become an expert on saving money and time in your home.

Sorting Out The Basics: Insurance and Health Care Tips

Sorting Out The Basics: Insurance and Health Care Tips

Overwhelmed by health insurance options? For Americans, few things conjure the financial dread of an unexpected hospital or doctor’s visit because let’s be real – even with insurance it can be painfully expensive.

Getting your financial life in order does not mean that you should ignore your health, something that could be far more costly in the long run. That said, with the future of healthcare and insurance so up in the air right now, the fear regarding this facet of American life has probably never been more heightened, but don’t fret!

This list, while only a mere starting point, can help you identify some of your options when it comes to healthcare and ideally keep you from over/underpaying to keep yourself (and your family) protected.

Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare – What’s the difference?

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. If you don’t earn much money, you can qualify for one or more of these programs. They’re designed to assist the most vulnerable members of our society; Medicaid and CHIP for lower income families and families with children respectively, and Medicare for seniors.

Medicaid is a state-run program and the rules that govern the program can vary a bit state-to-state. The criteria for qualification is established by your state legislature, so you can check your state government website to find out more about income criteria. For most, it’s being under ~115% of the poverty level.

Here in Illinois that’s about $1,337 a month, but the Affordable Care Act expanded those mandates – people ages 19-64 who have income less than 138% of the federal poverty level are eligible. Again, that’s about $1,350 as an individual or $1,845 as a couple.

The coverage also differs, with various co-insurances, copays, deductibles, and premiums based on your income level, but it prevents you from going bankrupt from medical expenses. Many people won’t pay much of anything, so it’s a very good option when you’re getting back on your feet, financially.

CHIP is the same as Medicaid in terms of criteria being based on income, but it expands coverage significantly for people with children (Children’s Health Insurance Program).

Medicare is a program open to Americans aged 65 years or older, people with certain disabilities under the age of 65, and everyone who has end-stage renal failure or ALS. Like Medicaid, this program covers certain things more or less, depending on the level of coverage you want. Premiums and deductibles also change.

The enrollment for all of these programs has been simplified (to an extent) with the introduction of www.healthcare.gov, following the introduction of the ACA. You can go to that site and look up your specific state, determining if you qualify for any of the above programs. They’re not completely on-par with many private insurers, but can be better in some cases, depending on your income level.

Free Clinics & Teaching Hospitals

Many cities – particularly larger ones – have teaching hospitals with free clinics. These are a great place to get checked out without spending much or any money. Most don’t even check income levels – you simply sign in and wait to be seen.

The problems that arise from these clinics is that they are often understaffed or inundated with patients. If you yourself have the patience to wait, however, you can be seen essentially for free, but you may not be seen as thoroughly as you need to be. So be mindful that a free clinic may seem great, but it’s not necessarily a great choice unless it’s the only choice.

Thought not exactly medical, some cities also have teaching clinics for dentistry, where you can get very low cost cleanings, fillings, etc done. Again, it’s a waiting game, but it may be better than paying all your savings for a cavity, or worse, not getting the care you need.

Charity Care

Many hospitals – particularly religiously affiliated ones – offer a program called “Charity Care” or something similar. Essentially, you need to prove financial burden or sufficiently low income, and they will pay off some or all of your bills.

Quick story here – When my husband and I first started dating (like maybe four dates in), he sent me a text at 3am saying “You probably won’t want to date me anymore…”

Yeah, anyone else thinking he cheated? Because I did. And I lost it. Like what the hey, we JUST started dating and you’re already cheating??!

Oh. But no…

He had a blood pressure issue and passed out at a friend’s house, concussing himself on the way down. Unfortunately, his insurance had lapsed, because he’d just graduated college two days prior. The ER bill total was around $3,500 – a bill that was pretty insurmountable for a guy working at a sandwich shop with no insurance. He spoke to the financial services department and got the bill reduced substantially, and fortunately was able to pay the rest of it off with no problems.

Negotiation

Along the lines of #3, many hospitals are very willing to work with you on your bills, provided you contact them as soon as possible after the services. Solutions include bill reduction, payment plans (some will take anything over $10/month, no matter the size of the bill), or temporary forbearance of the bill for a period of time. Failing everything else, this is almost always going to work in some way to alleviate the burden of a huge bill all at once, so don’t hesitate out of fear. The longer you put off talking to them, the harder it’ll be to reach a deal that benefits you both.

Healthcare Exchanges

This goes back to #1, because the same website – www.healthcare.gov – that you use to qualify for Medicaid will also bring you to the exchanges if you make over the Medicaid limit. The exchanges are set up to offer a premium discount on the insurance you end up buying.

The amount is, once again, dependent on your income. The issue here, however, is the exchanges appear to have a rather sizeable blind spot; for a single person without children, income amounts between around $18,000/year and $29,000 a year don’t get any assistance. Under that amount, and you probably qualify for Medicaid. Over it, you get the premium assistance. It’s frustrating at times, but it’s another tool to ensure that you’re insured, and the premium assistance is actually pretty significant – typically at least half.

Student Insurance

Because of the ACA, most colleges – particularly state colleges – have started mandating that their students are covered by some level of insurance. Because of this, those same colleges usually offer student insurance at a significantly reduced rate.

For instance, a local University’s plan looks like this:

Blue Cross Blue Shield
$400 deductible
~ $110/month premium
They pay 80% after your deductible is met and they only require copay on prescriptions

This is incredible coverage, even if the price were doubled. The only caveat is you need to be taking at least 1 credit hour of on-campus classes, but one credit + the cost of insurance would still only be about $210/month.

Enrollment is automatic, and even with class fees and tuition, you’re still possibly looking at less total cost than healthcare on the exchanges, depending on your situation. In addition, if you’re already going to college, it’s totally worth it in most cases to be enrolled in the student insurance (unless you’re still under your parent’s plan).

Charities

Along the lines of charity cares specific to a hospital, local charities often help pay difficult medical bills for families in need. Check with local churches, and often food banks or crisis/domestic violence care centers will have contact information. Again, this is more of an “emergency” sort of situation, but it’s worth asking if you need the help.

Health shares

Health shares are newer programs that are typically structured around faith communities. In it, people share the cost of medical procedures across a very large group. This creates a scenario where someone will be covered for anything because everyone pays into the pool, and everyone benefits. These are typically tied to Christian communities, but if you’ve got the option, they may be great for you.

Living frugal means living healthy!

Medicine is about helping people, not bankrupting them. Without going into a broader, more convoluted conversation, let me just say that health insurance shouldn’t be as intimidating as it is. We all deserve the opportunity to make healthy choices and see a doctor when needed. And as I said, I know this list is just a small dip into the world of health insurance, but hopefully it’ll help you get started on making better choices today.

Do you find making health insurance choices overwhelming?

Sound off in the comments below and let me know what you think!