Healthy Money

Ways to Save on Mental Health

Taking care of your mental health while staying within a budget isn’t impossible, it just takes a little financial planning. Here are some tips.
by Zina Kumok October 8, 2020

When it comes to caring for your general well-being, mental health tends to take a backseat. While most wouldn’t bat an eye at getting a yearly physical or bi-yearly blood work, the idea of talking to a therapist or seeking medication from a psychiatrist is often met with reluctance.

It’s no surprise, what with medical costs soaring and health insurance becoming increasingly difficult to afford. Most of us just aren’t willing to spend money on anything we might consider nonessential.

But here’s the thing: You don’t have to choose between your mental and physical health. With a little legwork, you can find effective mental health treatment that you can afford. Here are a few ways to get started.

Look to Your Insurance

First things first: look closely at your health insurance plan. Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act a decade ago, many more health insurance plans consider some form of mental health coverage, including therapy, as standard. In most cases, finding a therapist that works with your insurance provider is rather simple. To start, log on to your insurance profile and search for counselors.

You can also search directly for a therapist that accepts your insurance through a search tool like this directory from Choosing Therapy.

Pay with Your HSA

Funds from a health savings account (HSA) can be used for mental health care, offsetting the cost of therapy appointments, prescriptions, and more by 20 percent or more. So whether you’re paying for a student therapist (more on those options later) or monthly medication, consider paying with your HSA.

Your HSA covers nearly every imaginable behavioral therapy you might require, including but not limited to: 

    • Online and in-person therapy
    • Medication
    • Behavioral counseling
    • Psychotherapy visits
    • Psychiatric appointments
    • Couples and family counseling
    • Group therapy
    • Psychiatrist visits
    • Co-pays and deductibles for any of the items listed above

You can find a more complete list of HSA-qualified mental health expenses here.

 As long as you have an HSA-eligible high deductible health plan (HDHP), every dollar you contribute to your account is tax-deductible up to the maximum annual contribution limit, which are as follows:

2020 HSA Contribution Limits 2021 HSA Contribution Limits
  • $3,550 a year for individuals
  • $7,100 for families
  • $3,600 a year for individuals
  • $7,200 for families

If you’re on a budget but think you might use a portion of your HSA dollars for mental health, consider creating a self-payment plan: Add up how much you plan to spend on mental health expenses for the year and divide it by 12 months. Create a recurring contribution that covers at least that amount every month, which will really simplify your cash flow. Think of it this way: using your HSA for therapy saves you money on taxes for expenses you’d likely pay anyhow!

And don’t worry if you have money left over at the end of the year because the funds in an HSA roll over indefinitely.

Find Low-Cost Clinics

Those currently without health insurance or whose insurance does not cover counseling (likely because they do not have an HDHP) should look into low-cost clinics. First, call your primary care doctor and ask about any free or low-cost services in your area. Local community centers may also have free or reduced-cost therapy.

If you’re currently without a primary care doctor, you can search for a nearby clinic through the Health Resources and Services Administration or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. For instance, Open Path Collective is an organization that connects patients to affordable therapists who charge between $30 to $60 a session. They charge a one-time $59 membership fee that gives you lifetime access to their therapists.

Find a Student Therapist

Even if you have an HDHP and are eligible for therapy, copays can be expensive. Graduate psychology students practice therapy by conducting sessions with the general public and are monitored by their professors. These sessions are much less expensive than seeing a professional therapist and usually range between $15 to $25 for an hour.

Contact local graduate psychology schools in your area and see if their department accepts outside patients. Some don’t accept anyone outside of their school, but it’s always a good idea to inquire.

Additionally, these schools may not bill insurance directly, so it’s likely you’ll have to pay in cash. Be sure to submit receipts to your insurance company, and if you want to pay using your HSA, you can always reimburse yourself in the Starship app later.

Use a Therapist with a Sliding Scale

If you find a therapist who seems like a good fit, ask if they offer a sliding rate scale. Some offer discounts for people who can’t afford their traditional rates. Be aware that they may ask to see a pay stub or previous tax return to verify your income.

 Psychology Today has a therapist finder tool that lets you filter by those who offer a sliding scale. If you’ve already found a therapist you like that isn’t listed as offering sliding scale rates, remember that it doesn’t hurt to ask if they’d consider this payment method. Some may offer a limited amount of sliding scale appointments, but you can ask to be put on the waitlist if they’re filled up!

Utilize Workplace Resources

Some companies provide free or discounted mental health services to employees, and many have increased these options since the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have an HR department, simply inquire about what type of resources are available and how to access them. 

You may be limited to a certain amount of free sessions, but this is still a great way to get your foot in the door towards better mental health.

Find Less Expensive Medication

If you’ve been prescribed medication for your mental health, make sure to shop around before landing on a certain brand. In some cases, it may be cheaper to use a service like GoodRx, which provides coupons for prescriptions instead of going through your insurance. 

Check GoodRx.com to find the best local sources for your medication, then contact your insurance company to see how much you would pay through them.

The cost of Wellbutrin, for example, ranges from $7.50 at Walmart to $11.45 at Walgreens. That’s a small difference to pay if going to Walmart is more convenient. However, the anti-anxiety medication Lexapro costs $7.21 at Meijer and $42.14 at Walgreens. That’s a difference that’d add up to more than $400 a year!

You’ve already taken the first step in bettering your mental health by reading this, so well done! Hopefully one of the above options will work for your needs and financial situation. Good luck!

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