Debt and the child with special needs

As a parent of a medically fragile child with special needs, I KNOW there are other special needs parents  working to deal with medical debt while trying to keep a child alive.  I’m a big believer in sharing  ideas, and offering up support to each other as we try to dig ourselves out.  It may take forever, but we can do it.

I’d always been a bit of…..okay a big…..emotional spender.  Reed’s been the financial brains in the family.  Once, when I insisted that I wanted to take over the bills, I wrote out all the checks, put them into envelopes and gave them to Reed to mail.  Later Reed confessed that he had opened the envelopes, inspected the checks, made a couple of changes and then mailed them off.

At the time I was furious.  Now I realize that we each bring our own strengths into a marriage.  Finances weren’t mine.


Things have changed. 

It took coming thisclose to losing our home to put me into my highest level of black belt frugality.

The reason why we came so close to losing our home?  Medical bills.  Lots of them.  Huge amounts.  Even with insurance.  We had fundraisers.  We sent in several applications for support.  The scary secret is that a middle class family with insurance qualifies for little to nothing in the way of assistance.

Things that really helped then?   Reed became master of the budget.  What he said went.   Austerity Plan, baby.

  • If Reed said that there was only x amount for groceries that month…..then I knew I needed to get really creative with coupons, sales, and recipes.  I also had a sweet friend, and master couponer, that dropped off bags of groceries to our home on a regular basis.
  • While we’ve always gardened, it was after Parker was born we really bumped things up.  Instead of planting lots of flowers in my herb garden I planted squash and zucchini plants.


 Next, I sold everything I could.

  •  I used to be a HUGE scrapbooker.  I sold everything I had from stamp sets to markers to stamp pads, paper and other things I had once believed I couldn’t live without.
  • I sold our very expensive juicer.
  • I sold an iPod that had been a gift from my parents.
  • I sold clothes, video games, toys, books, Christmas decorations, and ham radio stuff that my Dad cleared out from his stash.
  • I sold any and everything I could that wasn’t pertinent to our ability to keep body and soul together.

When Parker was accepted on the Travis C. Waiver (it took being trached and vented at night) things got easier.  We still spend a significant amount of out of pocket money, but we are not maxing out credit cards anymore.

But the credit card payments….the interest on those payments.  It’s a struggle.

I was recently told that an estimated 50% of all bankruptcies have an element of medical debt as their cause.

I’ve read a lot of stories on how families have paid off huge sums of money (one family paid off over $80,000 dollars?) in  rather short amounts of time.  I have no idea how they did it.  Even if we were to sell everything we have we still couldn’t pay everything off.  So we carry on in our own unique style.


What we are doing now:

  • Deliberately choosing to live on and with less.  I used to brag about how much I saved when buying things on sale.  Most of those things were not things I truly needed.  Regardless of how much I had ‘saved’ I was still in the red for things that were wants rather than needs.
  • Reed drives a car that was handed down to us from a family to which it had also been handed down to.  One tank of gas gets him back and forth to school for a month.  It meets our needs and because it’s so old taxes on it are reallllly low.  It’s too bad it doesn’t have a heater.  heh.
  • Take better care of what we have to make it last longer.
  • If we do experience a time where we have a bit more cash, we apply it to paying off debt instead of renovating our master bathroom shower or buying something “fun.”  Right now paying off debt is what Reed and I consider to be fun.  :)
  • We set a budget for everything.  Groceries.  Electricity.  Seriously. you should see me running around turning out lights, hanging clothes to dry, using the crockpot instead of the oven, etc.
  • Focus on the person rather than the stuff.  Smaller birthdays.  A lighter Christmas.  Focus on a need rather than a want.   Some of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  I wish I would have caught on sooner.  Much sooner.
  • Parker’s needs come first.  The only wiggle room in our month is in our grocery budget.  If something comes up, that’s where I take it out of.   This highlights the importance of developing a deep pantry when times allow.
  • Each ad I sell on Parker’s blog, every opportunity I have to earn by blogging goes directly towards things Parker needs.   I don’t earn a lot from this, but every little bit helps.  (BTW, know anyone in need of some great advertising space?  Parker’s blog traffic is growing every day!)

We may make the last  payment from our deathbeds, but we are determined to pay these medical bills off.


Who else is out there battling medical debt?

What strategies are you using? 

What are your favorite frugal blogs?

  Let’s inspire each other to keep on keepin’ on!






About Tammy and Parker

Special Needs Blogger, and homeschooling Mom, heavily involved in advocacy for all kids with special needs in Utah.


  1. Well, seeing as how this is my last day at work for 6 months, this is timely.

    We don’t have medical bills per se (MI has a special waiver program for children who are inpatient in the hospital for more than a month), but we have outstanding credit card balances which were originally from my medical bills in college (when I didn’t have a job) and from a failed business. We’ve made significant dents in the balances, but haven’t really put a ton of effort into cutting back on other things to get them paid off.

    Starting this month, though, we’re paying for our health insurance out of pocket, because medically fragile kiddo #2 isn’t sick enough for nursing, but isn’t well enough for daycare, so someone has to keep her at home….and the only way to make it work was for me to take unpaid leave.

    What’s making this one-income thing at all feasible right now is a supplemental insurance policy through my husband’s work that pays for every day spent in the hospital. 5 1/2 months in the NICU is enough to pay off the remaining credit cards, and the new car that we recently bought….leaving us with nothing debt wise but the house.

    On the down side, the electric bill is going back up, since the O2 concentrator will be running 24/7 again. Sigh.

    I’m hopeful that during our cold winter here in hibernation, I’ll get things together for a yard sale this spring. Baby stuff galore, clothes, etc etc etc. And I’m hoping to build in time for artwork, because before baby #2, I was selling about $150 a month in art without much effort on my part, which isn’t much, but will pay the electric bill without the concentrator….
    kadiera recently posted..Samhain BlessingsMy Profile

  2. Tammy and Parker says:


    I LOVE me a good yard sale!

    Could you tell me more about your artwork and what venue you use to sell it? I would so love to be able to find a way to bring in extra money while staying at home with Parker, I’m seriously concerned about how food prices are rising……..and my food budget ISN’T.

    Our electric bill is OUTRAGEOUS. Between the oxygen concentrator going 24/7, the trach mask compressor, and the vent….geez. We are going to try to keep the heat down much lower this year, but I have kids with basement bedrooms. And that basement is COLD. My Mom bought one of my kids an electric blanket to help keep him from freezing down there. I’m going to try and save up enough to get another one for my other kid that sleeps down there. Less money for that than our heating bill. (I hope)

    I hope this 6 month time period goes well for you! You are a great Mama!

  3. Stacy says:

    I don’t have a medically fragile kiddo but I work in early intervention. I’ve seen families accumulate staggering amounts of medical debt.
    Don’t know if this works everywhere but here in AZ I know families who have gotten a discount on their electric bill because they were running medical equipment 24/7 (I think it required a phone call and a doctor’s note). At the very least your electric company needs to be informed that you have a medically fragile child at home so that they will not cut power to your home during rolling blackouts or brownouts (again, this may be an AZ thing).
    With credit card debt, if you can do a 0% interest balance transfer (harder to find than they used to be) then you can make some headway without running up interest for a year or until the 0% runs out. Will the hospitals/doctors negotiate the bills with you? Sometimes they will for people paying out of pocket for things.
    Oh, and my favorite frugal blog is

  4. Tammy and Parker says:


    Maybe I need to move to Arizona…..

    I kid you not, when I called our electric company to tell them we had an oxygen dependent child in our home, the lady was….”uh…..yeah? so?”

    Switching over to a zero balance credit card is a good idea. However we were told that doing that too often will muck with your credit score even more. Have you found that to be the case? I’ll check into that more. is great, isn’t it! :)

    • Stacy says:

      I haven’t heard that zero interest credit card transfers affect your credit score. Even if it did it might be worth a slight credit score hit for 6-12 months of no interest to make some good headway on a debt. They do generally charge a fee for the transfer (usually a % of the transfer amount) so you have to figure that in, but with how much you save by not paying interest it is usually worth it. Often the interest rate AFTER the promotion runs out is pretty high so you do have to keep an eye on them.

  5. Thank you for writing this! I really needed this – especially today. I’ve never been good at managing but have always gotten by. Lately it seems incredibly overwhelming. I need to do better.

  6. I am SO with you on this. We joke that we paid for tuition to a prestigious private college almost 3 times for J in JUST the time she spent in the NICU her first 3 months of life. Except it’s not really very funny when it’s true. People really have no idea how staggering these expenses are. When we tell people we were spending $3000 per month just on feeding J (pump, bags, tubing, syringes, specialized formula, & supplements), we can watch their eyes bulge and their mouths drop. That doesn’t even touch specialist appointments, doctor visits, therapy, special devices in our home, medications, hospitalizations, ER visits, and the list goes on.


    I don’t have too much to offer as far as advice, unfortunately. Everything you mentioned is pretty much where we’re at, as well. I did open a credit card that gives me points. I charge most of our purchases and many of our medical bills to the card, with the goal being to pay it off at the end of each month (notice I said GOAL). I can then use the points that we earn as dollar credit at Amazon to purchase many supplies that we need. I usually end up with $30-$60 in credit each month.

    When I get SO frustrated by the very little help that’s available for middle class families with staggering medical bills, my heart immediately goes out to families who aren’t as fortunate as we are. People who have NO insurance. Or HAVE lost their homes. It’s exactly why we need some serious health care reform in this country. No one should have to choose between their home or medical care for their child.

    Please keep me posted about any new tricks or handy tips you come across as far as budgeting frugality! I don’t know what I’d do without the network of moms I’ve found online and the plethora of information I’ve gleaned from them! Thank you for all you do to keep us informed and connected!

    Sending love and all best wishes your way.

    • Tammy and Parker says:


      THIS is why I always shake my head when people say that we should just go back to 1960 and rely on neighbors, churches and hospitals instead of any social safety nets. There’s NO way a church or a group of neighbors, etc., could handle this type of undertaking.

      Yet Carl Wimmer points out that he worked in 1960…… EXCEPT, in 1960 kids like Parker would never have lived. Pulmonary hypertension at his levels would have killed him within the year.

      Carl likes to point out how so many of the hospitals in Utah carry the names of churches…..”because they provided charity care for anyone who needed it.” uh. Not for kids like Parker they didn’t.

      Then to make matters harder, people often believe that there MUST be some kind of program out there (as they gesture into the abyss) to help middle class families such as ours.

      Nope. It would actually have been BETTER for us if Reed had quit his job and we had no income coming in. THEN they would have written off our expenses, or offered us one of those “As long as you pay $25.00 a month for the rest of your life’ deals ‘we’ll be satisfied.”

      I remember getting phone calls in Parker’s hospital room asking if I could come down and give them my credit card information before we left. BEFORE they even ran anything through our insurance. They said they could estimate what we would owe and they would like to charge it to our card now.

      If it hadn’t been for friends dropping groceries by, people making donations and our families helping out, we would have lost our home. Even then, we almost did. Trying to keep our heads above water still is stressful. We’ve got one hell of a medical debt road ahead of us. All because Reed had a job.

      • Maybe Chris should speak with his Church leaders and ask are they willing to take over medical health care for the uninsured. I’m fairly certain they are not..but apparently he hasn’t spoke to them yet. Living in Utah, where the LDS church is the predominant Church. They are willing to help occasionally with an individual bill that is a few thousand or less. That’s it. They are not willing, nor can they take over the health care of the members who are either uninsured or under-insured or who even with reasonable insurance still are drowning in medical bills. That is not why they are here.

        Maybe Chris doesn’t understand how the Church Welfare system and the Fast offering system works. Because for the church to take over the health care needs of all of the members, they would of to take the tithing and redirect it there. That is not why we pay tithing and it would halt the gospel.

        My sister got limited help from her ward, to get some mental health and that included getting her into doctors and thus paying those bills. It was less then 10K. But if they had found something like Cancer, as an example, there was no way the ward could of continued to pay for it. They certainly did not have that in there funds. AND the Church as a whole cannot be paying for long time, monthly bills like that. They new that there were short term bills that would get her back on her feet so it was an acceptable thing to help out with.

        And yes Tammy, Carl, and some in the Tea Party are very ignorant to what it was actually like 40, 50, 60, 100, 200 years ago. Your son would not be alive. 100 years 2 oldest would of died. 50 years ago, my son on oxygen probably would of died of SIDS, if the parainfluenza hadn’t killed him first, or the MSPI that was reaking havoc on his gut.
        Sarah recently posted..Long Time No See….whatz up with NEHI?My Profile

  7. Some of the odd things we do. We actually stopped using regular plates..went to paper. Everything else we use regular..but I stopped using reg plates. That cut down 3 loads of dishes to 1 load of dishes a day. that dropped our water bill by $40 a month. I save about $10 on the Gas we are estimating. Our Electric bill came down $30 a month, but we don’t think it necessarily is all due to just the dishwasher as of yet.

    I use coupon to buy paper plates super cheap…maybe spend $10 a month or so on them. so that is one cut down on what we spend..and the stress 3 loads of dishes a day was causing me. It doesn’t cost me any more money garbage wise, and there is no recycling here.

    I do a lot of NBPN rebates. Utah is a fabulous place to do rebates. My DH lives in Arkansas…which is another NBPN rebate. I giggle that beer manufactures give me money to buy food, since I don’t drink any alcohol. I Spend about $5-$7 a month purchasing rebates. I get back aprx $50-$100 a month in rebates from the Bud/Miller ect. Some months are better then others. This time of year it gets fabulous. They give out rebates to purchase Gift Cards LOL..You just go buy a walmart Gift card for $50. Send in the reciept..viola..they send you back $25. Then you use that $50 GC to get whatever you need at Walmart (or give it as a gift, whatever you need it for. There is no fine print that says it must be a gift to someone else.). Some states liquor laws mean the state requirements will not require beer to be purchased. utah is one of them! We stock up on a lot of our meat this way.
    Sarah recently posted..Long Time No See….whatz up with NEHI?My Profile

    • Tammy and Parker says:

      Um, Sarah…….would you like to describe how you work these rebates…..step by step? How do you find these rebates? How you are able to get back $50-$100.00 a month with them? :)

      • Okay…I’m not sure how to find them in Utah. Possibly the liquor store? Possibly where the Beer is in the grocery stores? I know I find them online. I use the coupon site I’m on, and I’ve used Ebay, but I get much better deals on the site I use.

        Because Utah has strict liquor laws your never required to purchase the liquor with the rebate. As an example. The rebate will be. Purchase $10 in Beef, get back $7 from Miller lite.

        Another one that is common is salty snacks. Which can be chips, crackers, nuts “anything” salty. Purchase $5 of any salty snack get back $3 from bud light.

        I purchase the rebate or trade for them. People in area’s that have better liquor area’s then Utah find them..and sell then or trade for them. They might sell a $7 rebate for .50 cents. I get ones to send off from my husbands house in Arkansas, and I send them for my Parents in Utah.

        I highly suggest you do not try: Redhook, Kona, Widmer, CBAI. they have been very hit or miss about being consistent about getting them I do not do them.

        Heineken sometimes I have to call. We had a rebate last year for a Christmas tree (yes they have rebates for christmas tree’s!!!) and they denied it. One easy 1 minute call, and it was fixed and they sent out the rebate. I think you had to spend $50 and you got $35 back.

        This is how I get nearly all of our meat, is through rebates. Be sure to read them carefully, you’ll want to read the fine print.

        I have one I can send you (I had someone send me a ton of extra!) so I will send you a message on facebook.

        Sarah recently posted..Long Time No See….whatz up with NEHI?My Profile

  8. Suzanne says:

    Tammy I live in northern davis county and find some beer rebates off and on. They are a fabulous deal when you can find them. I find more at smiths than most other stores around here. A few of the associated food stores have them but most stores keep them at their customer service desks. I have found that if I go and ask customer service for the beer rebates they know what they are and let me know if they have them. Sometimes it has been the meat department but not usually. I only get back around $15-$20 per month but hey that is a few free pizza’s or meat each month. Just keep your eyes on the larger beer displays and they are stuck on those or there is a small sign (coupon size) that says to ask customer service.

  9. Pam Phelps says:

    I’m trying to break into coupons and cooking. but it’s hard when I also work a full-time night shift and have 3 kids ages 5 and younger. I’m following you and Parker and trying to soak up anything I can. If I had the money for a sitter I’d just work more shifts. But then that almost taking away from the point of working more. I joke that we have a running “tab” with IHC. How said that I work for them… yet feel I will always be owing them money.

    • Tammy and Parker says:

      Pam, all you can do is what you can do, kwim? Do what you can where you are now, and as that gets easier and becomes more of a habit, add something else in.


  10. Boy, can I relate to this! We even did a Dave Ramsey class with the envelope system to keep our heads above water. My stomach gets sick when I think of my kids handling these expensive medical issues when they’re on their own as adults!

  11. Tammy, For your credit card debt, have you tried negotiating with the credit card company to settle the account at a lower amount for you. When my father-in-law died, he left a large bill that my mother-in-law didn’t know about. It was 18K mostly medical bills, my husband called them and they settled for 6K. It may be worth a call – the card was already passed to debt collectors at the time. Our son had SMA, and we lived in fear of going bankrupt for several years. We were able to find a medical supplier that billed insurance and accepted what insurance paid without billing those balances to us. That was a God send. Hugs to you, Lisa

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