Regardless of your level of limitation, I think we can all agree that chronic illness takes a toll. You may work full-time, part-time, or not at all. You may have medical bills, travel expenses, and high-cost assistive devices. And that’s just the financial burden… There’s the energy budget to consider, too. With such a limited resource, we have to economize what we do, and think about every step we take.
If you’ve lived with chronic illness for long, you’ve doubtless begun to find ways to trim both budgets. Often the things that can save us energy cost more–and vice versa, the things that cost less require more effort! It can be frustrating to find solutions that save on both cost and energy expenditure.
I’m still on my own quest for these amazing solutions, but in the meantime, here are just a few of the things I do to economize my way through my chronic illness.
1. Meal Planning
Yep, this one tops the list of just about every “budget-friendly” guide out there, and with good reason. A little planning upfront really does save you on the back end!
I started meal planning shortly after developing symptoms. It was a way to make sure I had everything on hand to make healthy meals for my family. I found (and find!) grocery shopping exhausting, so it was also a way to minimize trips to the store. I talk more about my meal planning approach in a separate post, but generally speaking, I plan a month’s worth of possible meals (which I can cook whenever I’d like), and do one large grocery shopping trip with my husband for all of the ingredients needed for that month. It’s an exhausting day, but I can save up for it and plan ahead to minimize the impact. Sometimes my husband shops alone, and many times I opt for drive-up or delivery instead so that I don’t have to go to the store at all. Usually mid-month we do need a short trip to re-stock milk, produce, and bread. But otherwise, we try to get everything we’ll need for the month at one time.
I have celiac disease, which means I have to be extremely careful about where and what I eat. To make things easier, I often batch-cook several meals that can be stored in the freezer. If we’re having a crazy week and decide to eat out or order food for pick-up from a restaurant, or if we’re visiting with friends and family, I already have something ready to go.
For our family’s meals, I try to plan recipes that are simple and quick to prepare. If I can double a recipe and freeze one meal for later, even better. I work ahead as much as possible on good days to buy myself some wiggle room for the bad days. This is also a great place for friends and family to help out! I’ve done freezer meal parties with friends and made several meals to store in the freezer for the future, and it’s both fun and helpful to do it together!
2. Dried Goods
Along the lines of meal planning, I’ve found that using dried goods can be a lifesaver. I’m talking about those pantry staples that have a long shelf life, are inexpensive to buy, and can be used to make healthy meals.
It’s easy to buy these items pre-made (such as canned beans), and there’s nothing wrong with that! But when it comes to stretching the budget and having control over ingredients (such as for those of us with food sensitivities like celiac disease), dried goods are very helpful.
I buy pinto beans, black beans, northern beans, lentils, split peas, oats, flour, and rice in bulk. Buying all of these dried and in larger quantities saves a lot of money. Then I cook them up, either pre-soaking and cooking in a pot for several hours, or using my Instant Pot (isn’t it an amazing little gadget!?). I often cook more beans than I need, and then freeze the extra for future use.
3. Oatmeal Packets
My kids are always hungry. They love the idea of instant oatmeal packets for breakfast, but they just don’t have enough in them to keep them full. We’ve started making our own oatmeal packets at home, and so far we love it! It only takes me a few minutes to mix all the ingredients for many oatmeal packs and store them in reusable bags. The kids have gotten creative with flavor combinations they like, and we have fun experimenting. They’re shelf-stable and last forever. And they make a great after school snack, too.
4. Homemade Cleaning Supplies
My foray into homemade cleaning supplies was actually a little accidental. One day I needed to clean and discovered (too late!) that we were out of the commercial cleaner we normally used. So I got experimental with supplies we had on hand. Now I actually like my homemade versions better than the store-bought ones!
For an easy shower cleaner, I mix equal parts white vinegar and Dawn dish soap. I’ve tried other brands, and none of them work as well as Dawn, so this is the one place I’m brand loyal (I’m a firm believer in store brands and generics otherwise). I spray or pour the mixture onto the shower and tub walls and let it sit at least 15 minutes. The smell is a little strong, so I make sure the room is well ventilated. After the cleaner has sat, I go in with a wet sponge and wipe the surfaces, then rinse with water. To be honest, this solution is a bit of a miracle mix. I’ve put it to the test on some pretty grungy surfaces, and it takes very little scrubbing to get it completely clean! In fact, it usually takes little more than rinsing. This solution works great on other surfaces, too, such as sinks and toilets.
Another great cleaner is a spray bottle filled 1/4 of the way with white vinegar, a few drops of essential oil (for scent), and warm water. I use it as a multi-purpose cleaner for countertops, cupboards, dusting furniture, and even cleaning my floors. It cleans without leaving residue, and the essential oils leave the house smelling fresh and clean. Personally, I love using nutmeg and clove for a homey, spicy scent.
If you’d like more budget-saving cleaning ideas, check out my post dedicated to that topic!
5. Reusable Everything
Over time we’ve been gradually switching to reusable everything-under-the-sun: snack bags, sandwich containers, freezer bags, sponges, washcloths, paper towels, napkins, etc. There is an upfront cost, to be sure, but over time we’ve saved so much money by not buying disposable items. Plus, I don’t have to make trips to the store to restock these items.
There are some added bonuses, too. For one, using fabric items allows us to pick fun patterns and colorful options for what would normally be boring and utilitarian things. We have a colorful collection of cloth napkins (many of them secondhand), fun patterned snack bags for school lunches, and pretty patterned flannel kitchen sponges.
It also gives me something to work on during recovery days. I love to sew and knit, so I’ve had fun making our reusable items over time. Buying materials on sale and with coupons has allowed us to save money, and making them myself is cheaper than buying them pre-made. Even if you buy them pre-made, though, over time the savings really do add up over buying disposable items (not to mention the environmental impact).
Reusable items do mean a little more work in terms of washing and cleaning, but I’ve found it doesn’t take huge effort to run a load of towels, snack bags, and cloth napkins. And the trade-off for us has been well worth the small amount of work.
6. Growing Food
I think it’s vital to have some hobbies when you live with chronic illness, and gardening has become one of mine. It can be physically challenging, although there are some great ways to make gardening more accessible. Even if it’s just growing a few things in a pot in a windowsill, food grown at home has some huge advantages.
I typically buy seeds once every 4-5 years. There is an upfront cost for them, but since they last me for so long, we more than make up for the expense. I store them in a container with silica packets so that they stay dry and viable for many seasons. Aside from the cost of seeds and dirt, gardening is virtually free. I often save water from cooking to water our gardens (and I hope to have rain barrels in the future as well).
Each plant tends to provide us with many, many pieces of produce. Since I don’t use pesticides or sprays, the food we get is also healthier (and I’ve often grown organic seeds in organic soil, for inexpensive organic produce). In addition to the health benefits, growing produce also minimizes trips to the grocery store, saving me energy and money.
7. Buying Secondhand
One of the places we save big money is by buying secondhand. As much as possible–whether for clothing, furniture, dishes, books, or other items–we try to find things used.
Of course, there are thrift stores, consignment shops, garage sales, and antique malls brimming with secondhand items. But it can be exhausting to traipse through a variety of places in search of what you need. If shopping exhausts you, consider looking online. Many thrift stores also have online auctions. Sites such as Mercari, Poshmark, and ThredUp offer secondhand items at a discount. Buy Nothing groups, Facebook Marketplace, and other group platforms allow you to reach out to people nearby in search of what you need. Shop carefully to make sure things are well-made and fit the bill of what you need, but buying secondhand has the potential to save a lot of money!
8. Using the Library
I often spend long periods of time resting and recovering. It can be hard to fill the hours (at least, hard to fill them without binge-watching shows on streaming services). One service I love to use is our local library.
Our library system has an online platform that lets me search for books and place holds. Having the books ready for pick-up minimizes energy expenditure for me. It also lets me see everything that’s available without wandering through the rows of books in the library.
The online platform also allows me to download some books electronically, check out audio books, and borrow movies. All of these are free, and come right to my phone. It’s a great, free way to fill my down time!
Saving cost doesn’t have to mean increased work. And minimizing work doesn’t always have to cost more. Get creative, and discover your own ways to keep your budgets in line!