WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Back to basics week 9: Frugal fitness and health

Posted March 12, 2010

Week 9 of the Back to Basics series focuses on fitness and health savings. Gyms, basic medical expenses and prescriptions can all be a drain on your budget. Following are some ideas to help you cut those costs.


Joining a state of the art gym may not be in the budget, but don’t let cost be the reason you avoid a workout. Exercise can improve your self-image and attitude, increase your energy, and reduce the risks of many health conditions. Remember to speak with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Put on your walking shoes: One of the easiest ways to exercise is to walk. You can walk in your neighborhood, the park, a school track and just about anywhere. If the weather is cold or rainy, go to your local mall and do laps for 30-45 minutes. Walk with a friend to stay motivated. Listen to music that keeps you moving quickly and you will get a great fast-paced workout. When I go walking or get on the torture machine at the gym (the dreaded elliptical), I listen to songs from the Curves Cardio series. Many of them are remakes from songs I listened to as a teen and twenty-something but remixed with a great fast beat that keeps me motivated. The link is in the box above. Click on Curves Music to see the many upbeat CD’s available.

Exercise with your children: Playing basketball, riding bikes, jumping rope, swimming and running are all excellent ways to get and stay in shape. In addition to helping yourself, when you exercise with your children you demonstrate the importance of keeping fit and help them avoid the obesity that affects so many of today’s children.

Out and about workout: Whenever you leave your house, you can find ways to increase your daily amount of exercise. If you can bike, jog or walk to work you have not only exercised, but you have saved on gas as well. When you have the option to take the stairs vs. the elevator, get stepping. When you drive somewhere, park a little farther away than usual so you will have to walk a few extra paces. The key is to keep moving and not in the direction of the refrigerator!

Create your own aerobics class: You can take an aerobics, yoga or stretching class anytime you want with exercise videos or DVDs. Try out exercise videos/DVDs from your local library, video rental store or a friend’s collection. If possible, review a tape before buying one to ensure you will enjoy the routine.

Shake things up: During the week, enjoy more than one type of exercise. You will keep from getting bored and you will work out different parts of your body. Fitness experts recommend exercising for at least 30 minutes every day. Again, remember to consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

Negotiate gym fee: In this tough economy, many health clubs are seeing a decrease in membership. Negotiate for no enrollment fee and a reduced monthly cost. It can't hurt to ask! Many gyms also offer discounts when you enroll with a friend.

Medical Expenses

When it comes to healthcare it is up to you to be a good advocate for yourself regarding your medical costs. Health insurers are in business to make a profit. The hospitals and doctors are busy treating patients needs while keeping an eye on their own bottom lines. You are the only one whose primary concerns are you and your money. Following are steps you can take to protect yourself from medical billing and insurance errors, as well as reduce your costs for prescription medication.

Understand your insurance coverage: It is vitally important that you understand what is (and is not) covered under your health insurance policy. If a procedure, doctor’s visit, hospitalization or other service requires prior authorization, make sure you get it. Do not assume that everything is covered based on your doctor’s approval. Call your insurance company yourself to verify that authorizations are granted. Identify doctors who are in-network to avoid paying additional out-of-network costs. To determine in-network doctors for your area, visit the insurance company’s Web site or call the customer service number listed on your insurance card. Keep detailed notes about authorizations, treatment, and all contact with the insurance company. If there is a dispute about coverage authorization, you will need to know with whom you spoke, what was said and the dates of your conversations.

Coordinate Benefits: If you and your spouse have health insurance through each other’s employers, make sure that the insurance companies coordinate benefits when there is a claim. The primary insurance company (usually the insurance provided by your own employer) will pay first and then the secondary insurance provider (usually your insurance provided by your spouse’s employer) will pay their share of the remaining balance.

Stay on top of your medical bills: Verify that the charges on your medical bills are accurate. Overcharging is a common occurrence and unless you notify the doctor or hospital, the error will not get corrected. Errors you should look for include billing twice for the same procedure, billing for medicine that was never given, billing for equipment that was not used, billing for a longer period of time than something was actually used and billing for a lab test that was ordered but later cancelled. Use a three-ring binder to organize your medical bills, EOBs (Explanation of Benefits sent by the insurance company), and detailed records of communication with your insurance company and health care providers.

Appeal, appeal, appeal: If you plan to dispute a charge with your insurance company, be prepared! Take detailed notes regarding all contact you have had with the insurance company and the medical provider. Write down dates and times of calls, names of people you have spoken with, and details about the conversation. When an insurance company denies a medical claim, you need to contact them immediately to discuss the denial. Often, a clerical error is detected during the first call and the claim is paid with no further difficulty. If the claim has not been paid after your first phone call, ask the customer service representative what the procedure is for requesting a review of your claim and follow through with all the requirements. If your claim still is not approved, contact your state’s Department of Insurance to seek assistance.

Flex your medical dollars: Many employers offer medical flexible spending accounts (FSA) that allow the employees to contribute pre-tax dollars to be used for non-reimbursed medical expenses. When the employee has an out-of-pocket medical expense, they can use the flexible spending account to pay for those expenses. Contact your Human Resources department for more information. Check out the article by about Flexible Spending Accounts at the link in the box above.

Lower Prescription Costs

As the price of prescription drugs increase, consumers are forced to identify ways to lessen those expenses while still taking care of themselves.

Generic Drugs: Generic prescriptions can cut the cost of brand name drugs by more than half in some cases. Let your doctor know you are trying to keep expenses down. Indicate that you prefer the generic form of a drug if it will be just as effective. Ask your doctor if generics are a good option for you.

Samples: Doctors’ offices receive samples from drug companies to give to their patients. Most doctors are happy to give you a sample or starter pack of these drugs. This lets you and your doctor have an opportunity to see how you react to the drug before you purchase a month’s supply or more. Just ask your doctor for a sample on your next visit.

Mail Order: Some insurance companies allow members to mail order up to three months worth of a prescription for the cost of one month. This will cut your annual costs significantly! Ask your insurance company if they offer this benefit.

Prescription Transfer Incentives: Many pharmacies offer incentives if you transfer prescriptions to them (usually gift certificates from their stores). For example, you may have a coupon that states that you will receive a $10 gift certificate from Target with any new or transferred prescription filled at that pharmacy. In NC, there are many stores that offer prescription transfer coupons from time to time including Rite Aid, CVS, Target, Kmart and Harris Teeter.

Shop at Local Warehouse Clubs and Big Box Stores: Many warehouse club pharmacies and big box stores like Walmart offer prescriptions at a lower price than traditional pharmacies. Call your local warehouse clubs to compare prices.

Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage: Medicare prescription insurance is available for a monthly premium. There are a number of eligibility requirements and plan options. Visit for more information.

Partnership for Prescription Assistance: The Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA) is a national group consisting of pharmaceutical companies, doctors, patient advocates and pharmacists. The PPA offers access to over 475 public and private patient assistance programs designed to provide free and low cost prescriptions to those who have no prescription coverage. Once you provide the required information, you will be sent applications for the plans for which you appear to qualify. Depending on the program you choose, you will be able to pick up your medicines at your doctor’s office or local pharmacy or have them mailed to you. For more information see or call 1-888-477-2669.

Together RX Access TM Card: Sponsored by large, well-known pharmaceutical companies, the Together RX Access TM Card offers discounts on prescriptions from 25% - 40% off the retail cost of name brand and prescription drugs, as well as other prescription products. The card is free and there are strict eligibility requirements. When using the card, you will receive your discount at the pharmacy and there are no refund forms to submit. Discount amounts depend on the individual pharmacies and their pricing structure, as well as the specific drug purchased. Go to or call 1-800-444-4106 to find out more information.

Decrease Dental Expenses

Dental Schools: Many dental schools offer patient care at greatly reduced fees. UNC has a patient care program found at the link in the box above.

Good Oral Hygiene: I once asked my dentist what he thought was the best way to cut dental expenses. His answer was, “Floss!”. Prevention saves money and decreases dental problems. Brush, floss, you know the drill (in order to avoid the drill!).

Negotiate: Many dental offices will negotiate rates when you let them know you have no dental insurance. Don’t be afraid to ask about coupons, referral discounts or other options for lowering your dental costs.

Compare dental insurance and discount dental plans: Compare traditional dental insurance with discount dental plans to see which better meets your needs. For more information on types of dental insurance see the link above.

Please share the ways have you found to cut your medical and fitness expenses. I am off to grab some floss, strap on my sneakers for a walk and go transfer a prescription! As I always say, it’s your money – spend it wisely!


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  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Mar 12, 2010

    Well said, fensk. Motivation is key. After taking too many months off from the gym I am back at it and quite motivated. I wish I had the room for a good treadmill at my house! is also another good place to look for used exercise equipment.

    Thanks for your post!

  • thefensk Mar 12, 2010

    If you are motivated to use exercise equipment, check out yard sales and thrift stores. I use a classic nordic track four times a week that I got for $15 at a thrift store -- it was virtually new. Have a nice recumbent exercycle to use on "off" days I got at another thrift store for $10. But like I said, you have to motivate yourself to use such items.
    Someone else's failure to do that was likely the reason I was able to buy them so cheaply.