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Family Budgeting: Three Freebies You May Not Know About

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom and author
12/04/19  3:15 PM PST

As parents of a child with special needs, we know how difficult budgeting around insurance deductibles can be. Here are three freebies you may not know about.

Every year around the holidays, my husband and I have the same conversation. It’s not about gifts or travel or New Year’s resolutions. The one discussion we have as the year winds down is this: what do we want to do about our insurance plan next year?

If you are the parent of a child with any kind of special need, you know what I mean – the rush to squeeze in all the doctor visits in December to get the most out of that deductible. And then, as December 31st clicks over to January 1st, the painful flip of the switch onto the new plan. No matter how you try to peer ahead into the future, it’s always a gamble to see how much you might save if you choose correctly. But you can never predict when a wheelchair will break down, or your child will have a growth spurt or need emergency medical care. There is no guarantee that the next 365 days will follow your agenda. Because of this, my husband and I have come to rely on some crucial, money-saving tricks that do not require guessing or chance.*

*While these tips are written by a parent of a child with special needs, they may be useful for anyone managing chronic medical needs – as well as their caregivers and loved ones.

#1: Respite Nights

The first freebie we ever discovered was in the rare, elusive realm of the “date night.” Those nights out, either alone or with your significant other, are crucial for your own mental and emotional health. But it takes a lot of trust to leave your kid with someone who is not you or family. It also gets expensive. For us, it was hard to justify the cost, so we skipped the nights out for years, until someone told us of “respite nights” held by the special needs ministry of a local church.

Once a month, this church fills its halls with qualified volunteers and aides, and opens its doors to the children in the local community with special needs and their siblings – free of charge. For three blissful hours, my children are entertained, fed, and loved, while my husband and I eat Indian and Thai and all the other foods our kids won’t eat and enjoy an uninterrupted conversation and return refreshed. It continues to be a wonderful night for all of us. If you haven’t researched respite nights in your area, I would encourage you to do so. Check your local recreation centers or ask your child’s therapists or SPED teacher. They are often free and provide that much-needed break for you.

#2: Free Medical Equipment

The second, and possibly biggest, money-saver I discovered was the free medical equipment provider in our area. They have wheelchairs, walkers, gait-strainers, bathers, supported chairs, and almost anything else you can think of. And yes, it’s free. Once a year or so, I drive downtown to the warehouse of the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation, and spend the morning digging through the donated supplies. So far I have brought home a supported chair for the bath, an assistive tricycle, a stander, and a load of free diapers – all of which had been donated. If your child has almost outgrown a piece of equipment or you think he or she might need something extra that insurance won’t cover, it’s worth Googling free medical supply organizations in your area.

#3: Equipment Trades

The last freebie I happened upon by accident. I was standing in the parking lot of my son’s special needs preschool, complaining to another mother about, you guessed it, our insurance. Our company wouldn’t cover a new gait trainer, even though my son had outgrown his. Her response:

“Ummm, do you want to trade?”

It turned out that her son had the exact one we needed and vice versa. So we swapped. No filing for insurance and hoping for approval and then waiting for delivery. We did it right there in the parking lot and both went home happy. If you don’t have access to a free medical supply company, it’s worth asking your child’s therapist if he or she knows of any other parents looking to get rid of equipment or if you are part of a parent support group, ask them. That’s what they’re there for — to support you however they can.

So if, like me, you’re reviewing your finances this time of year, then consider the freebies that you can seek out in your local community. It might be a lot or it might be a little, but everything helps.

child with special needs

Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom and author.

Discover her new book, Roll with It.

Follow her on Facebook.


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