The Dangers of Extreme Frugality


Being frugal is one thing. But taking it to the extreme (turning off your heat and wearing a ski suit around the house), can cost you more in the long run (like the emergency room bill for hypothermia treatment).

Here are a few areas where no one can afford to skimp.

Health Care
Last month, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed that more than half of Americans have cut back on health care because of cost in the past year. However, according to experts, regular check ups can prevent minor medical issues from becoming big, costly ones.

“We recognize that during economic times like this people are having to make choices,” says Dr. Lori Heim, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians. For example, healthy young women may put off their annual Pap smear. Or families with children who are up to date on their antibiotics may put off an annual physical.

But putting off care can mean more expenses later. Heim recalled a patient who was diagnosed with a skin infection but who did not purchase or take the antibiotic prescribed. “By the time she came back, I had to admit her for IV antibiotics," says Heim. "There was a tremendous increase in cost and she could have potentially had significant harm."

Heim says, if asked, doctors will often help patients curb the costs of health care. “If you’re given a medication but the cost you can’t afford, don’t just walk away," she says. "Call your doctor back, and say, 'Is there a cheaper substitute? I can’t afford this.'” Usually they will be able to help you find a generic solution.

On the same note, health insurance is also not something you want to do without. "Medical expenses are the number one cause of bankruptcy," notes our own Jim Cramer in his personal finance book, Stay Mad For Life.

Those with insurance not only protect their assets, but, on average, they live longer. According to a 2002 Institute of Medicine Study, folks without health insurance receive less preventative care, typically leading to later stage diagnoses of serious diseases. Advanced medical conditions are not only more costly, they are extremely dangerous.

“That’s why not having health insurance is actually more costly for the country; diseases go untreated,” says Heim.

Car Insurance
Going without car insurance not only opens drivers to civil litigation after a crash but criminal penalties, as all states require insurance, albeit to varying degrees.

In New York, for example, drivers caught without insurance after a crash can lose their license and registration for more than a year. They are also subject to a traffic court fine up to $1,500 and an additional $750 to get the license back after revocation.

If the state required minimum is absolutely out of the question for your budget, cut costs by ditching the car all together and look into public transportation. The astronomical costs of getting caught without it in a crash aren’t worth the risk, plus, you'll save on car payments. Even for a basic speeding ticket, drivers found without insurance will be subject to fines of at least $100 in most states.

You can find out what insurance your state requires online.

Heating and Cooling Bills
Michigan resident Marvin Schur made national headlines this winter when he froze to death after his electricity was shut off because of more than $1,000 in unpaid bills. The danger of nonfunctioning utilities is just as real in the summer months for those at risk of dehydration or heat stroke.

The government offers low-income, at-risk citizens aid through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. This year, the program has $4.5 billion waiting to help those in need. To be eligible, the total income of a household cannot exceed 150% of the poverty level or 60% of the state median income. 

The program helps not only with energy bills but energy crisis assistance, weatherization and energy-related home repairs.  Call 866-674-6327 for more information or email



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