As the number of diagnosed food allergies in children rises across the country, so too does the cost of food allergies. According to a study published in 2013, a food allergy racks up an average of $4,184 in expenses per child per year. Around 8 percent of all children have at least one food allergy, which means that parents like you are footing a big bill. Just how much does your child’s allergy cost you, and what can you do to save money while still protecting her?
What Food Allergies Cost Us
The study that looked at the cost of food allergies was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics in 2013. To get a look at expenses, the researchers surveyed over 1,600 parents of children with food allergies. They came up with a total of a whopping $25 billion over all, and over $4,000 per child on average. The costs include things that are covered by most insurance plans like trips to the doctor and allergist, hospital stays and emergency room visits, but also costs that parents and families incur.
Parents and families of children with food allergies pay extra for special foods. Many parents turn to specialty stores and natural or health food grocery stores to get the foods they know will be safe for their children. The study found that parents spend an average of $756 extra on specialty foods per year.
Parents also pay the costs of food allergies when they have to miss work or change or quit jobs to care for their food-allergic child, or use special child care. Nine percent of those surveyed said they had limited career choices or gave up working entirely because of a child with a food allergy. This represented the biggest cost to parents, a loss of an average of $2,399 per year. For those families who changed or gave up jobs, though, the actual cost was around $26,000 per year.
How Policies Could Lower Costs
The biggest cost parents pay, according to this research, is in lost career opportunities, lost work days and lost jobs. Parents give up their careers or miss work to make sure their allergic children are safe. If policies were put in place to better ensure safety, particularly in schools, more parents would have the flexibility to go back to work. Safer school policies could include laws giving schools better access to epinephrine injectors or provide funding for training of teachers and classroom aides. More funding for research to develop better treatments or even cures for allergies could also make a difference.
How Parents Can Lower Costs
While policy changes would be ideal, many parents need help now. There are ways that parents of children with food allergies can take steps to save money and mitigate the high costs of keeping their kids safe. For instance, food and grocery shopping are major expenses that parents have direct control over and can change immediately with the right tips.
Most of the strategies that savvy grocery shoppers use to save money can work for food allergy parents as well. These include using coupons, both paper and those that can be found searching online. Buying in bulk is an important strategy too. Clear out a closet in your house and stock up on your safe foods when they go on sale. You can even find bulk deals online from retailers like Amazon and Vitacost that sell specialty foods in high quantities at a discount.
Planning ahead is also a great way to save money on food. Plan your week’s meals in advance and you can avoid buying ingredients you won’t end up using and may go to waste. If you are going to go out to eat at all, plan that too. Eating out is pricey, and of course, complicated with a food-allergic child. Try to restrict eating out to once per week to save money.
Another great strategy for cutting costs is to reduce expenses in areas of your family’s life that are not related to food allergies. Reconsider that cable bill or get a new, cheaper phone plan. Use the library more and buy fewer movies, games, apps and eBooks. You can get them all at your local library. Minimize spending on new clothes and shop thrift stores more often.
Having a child with food allergies is scary and stressful. It’s expensive too, and while that may seem secondary to safety, it’s still important. By being aware of how much your child’s allergy costs you, you can look at your expenses with a critical eye and make reasonable choices that will save your family money while still protecting your child.