Even when you’re planning it in advance, having a family member or friend spend days or weeks in the hospital is no fun for anyone. It’s draining, both emotionally and often, financially.
When she was three months old, our daughter had a planned heart surgery. She was supposed to be in the hospital for five to seven days. That turned into 40. Talk about stress! Not only the stress of the unknown, but the financial stress of being outside of our normal financial routines and savings.
I’m happy to say that our daughter is now a spunky, beautifully mischievous 6-year-old. But her time in the hospital taught me how to minimize the financial strain of a prolonged hospital stay. Whether your loved one’s hospital stay is planned or unplanned, here are a few ways to ease at least some of the financial stress.
1. Make Your Own Food!
This first one sounds a bit silly, but it’s a big money saver. Do you know how much food costs at the hospital cafeteria and at nearby restaurants around the hospitals? A lot. Trust me on that one.
Making your own food to bring with you for the day or days you’re visiting or even staying at the hospital helps cut down on your costs. However, you’re likely busy juggling your commitments as well as your need to be at the hospital, leaving little time for grocery shopping and food prep. That’s where our next tip comes in.
2. Ask for Help
Ask people to help you make food, and even bring it to the hospital. Ask for help with gas money for getting to and from the hospital. Have children who need a sitter while you’re at the hospital? Ask for help.
While our daughter was in the hospital, my mom would make bag lunches and dinners for us several times each week. Then she and my dad would come and either drop off the food, or stay and eat with us. Some people in our church even made a sign-up list for people to schedule bringing a meal or donating a gas card.
If you have a close-knit support group of family and friends, they are usually more than willing to help when asked -- but often, people aren’t sure what they can do. Just ask. It doesn't mean you’re weak. Then someday, you can repay the favor.
Depending how far away from the hospital you live, travel could be a major factor in visiting your loved one. If that loved one is a child, look into whether there’s a Ronald McDonald House nearby. The nonprofit organization offers a free or low-cost place to eat and sleep, and can be a big money-saving option for families.
If there’s no House, there may be a Ronald McDonald Family Room within the hospital itself. We spent many hours in the Family Room during our daughter’s hospital stay. Services might vary in different locations, but you’ll always find volunteers to assist you. At ours, there was a little living room with a television, a kitchen with a refrigerator to store your own food and drink, two sleeping rooms and a games room for kids. The kitchen even had free snacks and drinks. Quite frequently volunteers would bring family-style meals for those who wanted them, and the Starbucks across the street would sometimes donate their day-old baked goods.
If you’re not sure what services are available, ask at the information desk. You may find your hospital offers a surprising number of options, from specialists to toiletries to games to play while recovering in bed.
It’s not the most fun thing to do, and I know it’s not at the top of your list. However, sometimes errors creep into bills, and you’ll want to make sure you’re not paying more than you should be.
In addition, ask if there are discounts for paying on time, or paying in full instead of in installments. Quite often, hospitals will offer a percentage off for paying before the bill is due and all at once.
If you’re visiting every day or staying for hours, parking fees can really add up. To save on these costs, use a few strategies.
First, ask about discounted parking. For instance, our hospital offered booklets of five parking passes for $5 -- a significant savings from the $7 a day in the parking garage! Check at the information desk; at our hospital, all you needed was the patient’s room number.
Consider the time of day you’re coming and going from the parking area. In our experience, if you waited to leave until 10 p.m., after the parking attendants were gone for the day, you didn’t have to pay!
Finally, if you don’t mind walking, look for free parking a few blocks away from the hospital. Yes, it will take a little longer, but you might find it’s worth it -- and that you enjoy a bit of exercise when you’re spending long hours sitting in a hospital chair.
This is a tough one. If you’re like us, you might have a tendency to want to make up for the pain or discomfort by buying things. Try to avoid that as you’ll most likely spend more than you’d like.
Our daughter was a baby during her long hospital stay, and it was tempting to buy cute stuffed animals and toys to put in her bed. It was difficult, but we talked ourselves out of the purchases, reminding ourselves that what she really needed was for us to spend time with her. That quality time is likely more comforting to your loved one than any store-bought gift.
I hope these tips can help ease some of the tension and stress that comes with a loved one’s illness or injury. And one more piece of advice: Make friends with the doctors and nurses. Buy them a coffee from time to time. Make jokes. Be friendly. They’ll appreciate it more than you know!
Your Turn: Have you dealt with a loved one’s long hospital stay? How did you manage the upheaval to your budget and financial routines?
Nell Turgeon is a stay-at-home mom to four rambunctious kiddos who has spent a lot of time with doctors due to her oldest daughter’s medical issues. Her family enjoys making the most of their time between appointments by finding new ways to be frugal and spend time together in the great outdoors.