July 26, 2014

Expensive Investments – the Frugal Reality of Braces


As much as I love the thrill of free things, some things in life are not free.

In fact, some things in life are not even frugal.

More importantly, some things in life are just down right expensive.

So where is the line to be drawn? For what things do we plan, save, and ultimately just bite the bullet and fork over a huge wad of cash because there are no cheap ways around it?

And when I say no cheap ways around it, I mean “no cheap ways.” I’ve exhausted the search.  (I’ve researched it…trust me on this.)

And when I say cash, I mean pay cash.

(I will be addressing this issue in my next post.)

For three years, the dentist has told us it’s time we consider getting braces on our boys. For three years, I have procrastinated because that amount of money would be more than we even spent on our cars.  And it gave me a tummy ache thinking of it.

I knew it had to be done. I knew it was a necessary and important investment in the lives of our children. I knew that it was more than just making cosmetic considerations – the boys  had actual structural adjustments that needed to be addressed (which also made it more expensive).

While my husband was still employed, we bit the bullet knowing we had a small allotment from our dental insurance that we wanted to make sure we used. We put all three sons in braces on the same day ( I know…what were we thinking), and mourned the monthly cash payment that would be paid out (since it equaled our grocery budget for the whole month).

Little did we know that two months later would begin a year of unemployment. I won’t  lie and tell you that it didn’t make me extremely nervous, and yes, even stressed. Half way through I pondered, “Can I rip these little suckers off myself and save that money?” :) Yet I knew that our dear friend and orthodontist, who I highly recommend, would have worked with us had it come to that. Choose wisely when making this decision – it makes a huge difference!

Well, a year and a half later (and thousands and thousands of dollars poorer), our eldest little boy…

HAS become a MAN! Yikes, when did that happen?

(Waaa…I don’t know if I’m more emotional about the financial investment or the fact that he’s not my little boy anymore. :) hee hee )

Our other two sons still have a ways to go, but we have paid cash for all three boys and lived to tell about it.

This is one of the few times that I will tell you my frugal reality wasn’t too frugal, but the expensive investment was worth every penny (or at least I will believe that in another year or two…hee hee :)).

Has anyone found any ways to save on braces besides just shopping around?

When I wore braces many moons ago, my father bartered his financial planning services for the cost of my orthodontics.

Have you bartered for any services? It’s a wonderful option these days.


  1. We haven’t had to deal with braces yet but one of our biggest expenses is our children’s education. It’s actually the driving force behind my frugality. To me their education and the investment in their future is priceless to me. We all have to weigh up the important things about our children such as health, education and their emotional support. It’s having the choice that is important.
    Regarding bartering, I’ve bartered chiropractor services, plumbing, jewelry and much more. I’m sure there is some dentist out there that is open to bartering. I started an online bartering email list using Yahoo. groups in my last community. It needs a lot of babying to get it off the ground until people really understand how it works. It’s fabulous though.

  2. I am curious to see if there are any tips for saving money on braces!!
    I need them for myself at some point (but, sadly, our cash has other priorities at the moment!) and I think our boys will need them in the future.

    As for bartering I LOVE it! I have exchanged my photography skills (giving a disk of photographs) for outdoor toys for my kids (sandbox and slide – their Christmas gift last year), $150 worth of homemade bath products (which I used as gifts for the women in my life) and babysitting with the teen/college gifts at church.

  3. My best advice, having been a braces wearer myself, is to follow the instructions given to the ‘T’. If they tell you “wear your bands, or don’t eat this or that” then do it. I had structural adjustments made and I was out of my braces in a year (just in time to get my driver’s license photo!). Less time in braces equals less money out of pocket! Also, wear your retainer so you don’t waste the $$$$$ you just spent getting it that way.

  4. There is a dental school here in our city and they have a program where dental residents can do orthodontia work under their supervisors. It’s dramatically cheaper than braces through a regular orthodontist.

    Jens Reply:

    @Keri, I did check into this and I do think this can be a wonderful option for those who have a school near by. Ours is 1 1/2 hours one way, and the cost, time factor wasn’t enough but so glad you through that out there.

    The Nester Reply:

    such a great post~we are getting ready to do the same thing, cash only.

    now you have me wondering if that dental school is near me!

  5. I’m like you. Three boys, three sets of braces. No way around it.

    This is an investment, to be sure. An expensive one, but so very much worth it. I did find an orthodontist who offers a sibling discount, so that helped a bit. And he charged no consultation fee at the beginning and no large down payment. Just manageable monthly payments. Thank God.

    One tip I will offer: choose an orthodontist based on lots of factors, not just on recommendations from friends. And if at all possible, take into account the location of the orthodontist’s office. You’ll be making a lot of trips there, so it’s a real money- and time-saver if you find one whose office is close to your home.

  6. I searched for the cheapest monthly plan and went for it! We were not happy that our son saw a different ortho each visit and sometimes the instructions or strategy differed – but the result was great! Those braces sure kept him younger looking! I feel your pain looking at my firstborn become much more adult looking.
    I also have to say that during our braces payment, my hubby became unemployed.
    My parents picked up the tab as a gift to us (and the kids). They also told me to plan on them paying for the braces of the next two to follow. Unexpected, total blessing! They are not in a position to help with much themselves and they see us paying out cash and budgeting wisely. Keep everything in Prayer – at all times.

  7. Knowing that you live in NC, have you checked out the Dental School at UNC-Chapel Hill? They are dramatically less expensive than private practices.

    Jens Reply:

    @Amber, yes, I did…it was so tempting but since it would have been a 3 hour round trip visit, the time, cost factor didn’t balance out. For those that live a bit closer….so worth it!

  8. We trade our general contracting services for dental care for our family. I know that one of my kids needs braces and implants from congenitally missing adult teeth. I can see signs that our 2 girls may need them, too. I’m not sure yet what we are going to do when we get there… I may check out dental schools. I hadn’t thought of that.

  9. Wow – what a great story of God’s faithfulness! Your son’s smile is room brightening! Braces are expensive – we had some major structural issues with our daughter also – her teeth never connected properly to chew. In fact, our dentist told us when she had her first x-rays at 5 to start saving up – and we are glad we did! We also paid cash, and it went much much longer than anticipated, but it was so very worth the effort – her smile is sweet and she can chew! All good! We didn’t shop for an orthodontist based on price, but on the treatment plan – but in the end, he was reasonable now that I compare to what others are forking out! I know that friends who had children with very unique orthodontic needs were accepted into a university program, but only because they would teach the dentist’s in training a lot about unusual treatment options. It’s worth looking into.

  10. I never had braces, and neither did my husband- we’re crossing our fingers our kids won’t need them!

    I LOVE bartering- I teach piano, and will be trading fresh eggs for lessons as soon as the chickens start laying again, and I’ll be trading HOUSE CLEANING for lessons this summer. Swoon.

  11. I can feel your pain. My daughters both had braces around the same time. One got them a year earlier. I waited and waited. Our dentist couldn’t believe I would even question her that they needed them. I just wanted to be sure as it was as you know too well- expensive. We paid on a monthly basis. Now they are in their early 20′s and when ever I see them smile I thank god that I made do without extra luxuries for them to have gorgeous smiles – just like your son. Even though it was expensive, the results last a lifetime.
    My husband has been out of work for the last year also. His word for it is- he is in transistion. I call it living in limbo. It is starting to get streesful, not knowing where he could end up, will we have to move, etc. Hopefully the economy will get better soon.
    My best- Diane

    Jens Reply:

    @Diane @ InMyOwnStyle, Diane, we are walking this transition journey together. We had some short term exciting news this week which I will share, but it’s still living in limbo. :)

  12. I had braces when I was 32, and afterward, our two girls had them. (Our two sons did not need them.) There doesn’t seem to be a cheap way around this, and I know that the cost keeps rising. Dental insurance covers such a small amount of this today. But about your bartering question, my artist brother traded one of his gorgeous oil paintings for braces for his son and will do the same for the second son.

  13. When it came time for my daughter’s braces we checked around and got lots of word of mouth referrals first. We ended up going with an orthodontist who was touted as one of the cheaper ones (relative term when it comes to braces), but still very skilled. Had we paid the full amount upfront we would have saved a few hundred dollars, but we opted not to do that and went with monthly payments instead. That turned out to be a wise decision for us.

    Another commenter mentioned saving money if the braces come off early. You better really check the policy of your orthodontist about that. My daughter’s braces came off 7 months early, but the price is the same no matter what. Also, they expected payment in full when they came off even though we had budgeted to be paying for another 7 months. Thankfully, because we had faithfully paid on time and even ahead of time sometimes, they let us continue monthly payments after the braces were off. Otherwise, we would have had to pay a huge chunk of money when they came off. Read your contract carefully!

    Jens Reply:

    @Bonita, So true, Bonita. My son got his off a few months early and I sure would LOVE to get a little bit back, but I don’t think so. Yes, the monthly payment saved us as well.
    Wise advise…read the contract…ripping my son’s braces off early, would not have helped. :) LOL

  14. I shopped around and I mean shopped. I finally found one that both my daughter and I liked. Our insurance only paid 1500.00 of the bill the rest was ours to pay. I have been paying a montly payment since June but my husband paints houses on the side ( not his day job) and I have to say the braces will be paid off in 8 month early because of his paint jobs. My other daughter will have braces in a few years and I’m saving up. If I would have had the cash up front I could have gotten a discount.

    Jens Reply:

    @Ally’s Corner, Shopping around is SO important. My brother was quoted three times as much as what he finally paid. He found an orthodontist who thought my niece had more cosmetic issues than structural and ended up doing an intensive retainer….shopping around saved them $3000 (from two other quotes) and they were VERY pleased with the end result.

  15. Hi Jen,
    We got a heads up from our dentist about our daughter needing braces. Our plan was to max out our pre-tax spending account. Depending on your tax bracket, this saves the tax on the amount of money you put away. Since price may be a factor, this can be done for two or more years. These programs are called use it or lose it! In other words if you put money away you need to use it other wise you don’t get it back.

    God was really looking out for us. My husband was laid off – well, regardless of how much you have actually put into the pre-tax program, you get to use the amount you have chosen. We were blessed to be able to use the entire chosen amount without paying into it since he was laid off! As timing would have it the dollar amount that was not covered could be deducted from our taxes. Our overall savings was approximately 60% of the cost. Blessing.

    Jens Reply:

    @Siobhan, thanks for sharing this. I noticed someone else down below mentioned something similar. I LOVE when everyone can share their experience. Hopefully, someone will be able to implement some of these things.

  16. I am so thankful that my parents sacrificed so that my brother and I could have braces. I have no tips on how to make them more affordable, but I do know that your sons will thank you one day for making braces available to them. My husand’s parents did not provide braces for him and he is considering getting them at age 45. You did the right thing!

  17. I don’t know if there is really a frugal way to do it. You want someone skilled. This is something that I will have to look at over the next few years. Of my family, 3 of the 6 kids needed braces. Both my husband’s brothers needed them – badly. So I figure at least half our kids – that would be 3 – will need braces also. My main hope is that we will have dental insurance that covers it by then!

  18. When my 3 kids needed braces I ended up working for them at the office. It was great. What I ended up making paid for the braces. It lasted about 2 or 3 years.
    Lately I have heard other moms tell me the same thing that they are looking for a part time job just to cover the braces expense.

  19. Yes, orthodontics are expensive! I am a dental hygienist and I will tell you there is not many ways to save on orthodontics besides bartering and looking into a dental school. My parents could not afford braces for me as a teen. I ended up getting them while I was in dental hygiene school. It is much easier to have orthodontic work done in the teen years! It takes a lot longer for adults!

    I do agree that shopping around can be beneficial, but I will caution everyone. There is a reason that your dentist has referred you to a particular person. Sometimes the lowest price, is not worth it. Make sure you get recommendations and talk to your general dentist about the orthodontists in your area. You do want someone that will provide the best results for your child. This is especially important when their are structural and bite issues.

    And wear those retainers! I still wear mine at night and my braces have been off for 9 years!

  20. I haven’t had to deal with braces. Hopefully I won’t. I have always said though that if any of my kids need braces, I’d get two jobs if that’s what it took to get it done. I am really praying that my two younger kids don’t need them. My oldest doesn’t.

  21. Patty Marr says:

    I feel your pain. . . We found a great orthodontist (and really nice staff). They have been very generous with us, giving us a 25% family discount for our 4th and 5th patients. (6 to go, and we joke about the buy 10 get 1 free plan). They also do some fun giveaways for the kids, and one son has won $400 in prizes. If you find a good practice that you like, they will work with you.

  22. Kristie scott says:

    We barter all the time, Chiropractic services for eye exams, window treatments for a pair of glasses, lawn services=exam and glasses, IT services and exams for his whole family, they list could go on and on!!

  23. When we first started our masonry business back in 2002, we bartered w/ an ortho friend of ours. Not sure how that mades sense for us (since our boys were very small). Now Jaxon is 11 and will need them soon, it’s been so long that I kind of feel dumb going back to him and saying ‘Hey remember our barter?’. Not only that, it was only like $775 which won’t get me much, but still I’d like to use it. My husband won’t let me mention it. UGH!!

  24. We only have one that needs braces. We’ll probably do that soon. Glad you made it through. Yes, it is not only OK, but it is the right thing to do for your children!

  25. Since we do not have insurance, our state said we needed to apply for the children’s insurance that the state will provide them. When we did, our regular dentist noticed how horrible crooked my daughters teeth were and how misaligned they were. He told me that if you go to an orthodontist they will send in a request to the state insurance for braces if the problems are bad enough and the medical insurance will cover it,

    My daughter was able to get a full set of braces with no money out of pocket. That was a blessing!

  26. Totally worth the money! Some things cannot be bought on sale. Health/dental is one of them! I had corrective eye surgery a few years ago and spent a few thousand dollars. (I too, paid cash– or rather, paid off the credit card bill right away. Saved for a few years for that.) Yikes! But from the horror stories peoeple tell about eye surgeries that have gone bad, I just couldn’t risk my EYES just to get a sale price. This is why we are frugal or thrifty– so we can spent money on things that really matter.

  27. We live in a town with a University that has a dental school. They offer orthodontic care at a reduced rate. My son is just starting the process, but many of my friend’s children have already benefited from this program.

  28. Last week, we got referred to an orthodontist for my son. I haven’t yet made the initial appointment, but I’m kinda scared to see what the cost might be. We do have insurance, but they don’t cover much. We’ve had so many large expenses hit us all at once in the past month. And we’re still trying to revive our bank account from our move last summer.

    I do like what MonicaW said – that we are frugal so we can spend money on what really matters – like healthcare. Some things you just don’t skimp on.

  29. Frugal and cheap are not the same thing. In fact, I think “cheap” masquerading as “frugal” is where the phrase “false economy” originates. I have adult friends with bite problems that could have been treated by orthodontia when they were young, and which are causing them no end of problems now.

    As for barter, we have a custom walnut harvesting business, and we have a small grower we work with who owns a small local clothing store. We trade hulling services for jeans, which is no mean sum, as my husband wears a 38″ inseam, and can only get long enough jeans from Levis and Wrangler. At about $40/pair (and he’s rough on them), that’s sort of ouchy on the budget. Our friend tots up the cost of the jeans at his cost which equals a lot of jeans for my husband and brother (his problem is wishful thinking on his waist size, and our friend makes sure he doesn’t have a lovely farmer muffin top).

  30. We saved on braces by paying the entire bill upfront. I believe it was 6 or 10%, I don’t remember as it was 2 years ago. We only had one that needed braces or the sibling discount would have been a big factor too. We also looked for an orthodontist that charged a flat fee. So no matter how long the braces are on, we paid the same amount. We would only pay more if we broke a retainer or something like that.
    No matter how much you research braces are expensive! :)

  31. To save money on my daughter’s braces, I did these three things:

    1) Paid in full up-front – saved 5%.
    2) Paid using my cash-back Discover, another $50 or so
    3) Used a medical reimbursement account, so the money was not taxed

    This actually worked out very well. I had everything set up with my medical reimbursement to just direct deposit the money in my checking account. I faxed them the statement the day she got her braces on, and we had the money back within 3-4 days, in plenty of time to pay the credit card off. I should say this worked for us because we don’t carry a balance on our credit card, I was very careful about the rules of medical reimbursement, etc., and I had everything ready to go to get the reimbursement. We did this at the beginning of the fiscal year for my husband’s medical reimbursement policy at work, so while my husban’ds smaller paycheck for the year is like a payment, we still got the benefit of paying up-front, and we didn’t drag the pain out longer than a year. Good thing – the next one starts in July! :)

  32. What a great smile your son has!
    You have given him a lifetime of confidence, which is priceless!

  33. We were not able to barter or really save any money, but we did use my husband’s flexible spending account to pay for our daughter’s braces. We asked if we could pay half the first January her braces were on and then pay the other half the next January. Our ortho practice was happy with that plan. So my husband just put more into his fsa 2 years and it didn’t seem to hurt quite as much as if it were coming out of our “regular” money. Thankfully out of 6 children only one has needed braces so far, but I’m happy we were able to do that for her. It was money well spent.

  34. Jen, what plugin did you use to integrate gravatars?

    I am looking at spending money on braces for ME. When I was a teen (and we had insurance that would cover it), I was told I didn’t need them; they were just cosmetic. But they’ve only gotten worse and now my teeth don’t even meet! At this point, I’m too old for the insurance to cover it. (Our insurance will cover orthodontics for 25 and under.) So I am soaking up all of the information here!

    Jens Reply:

    @Rachel R., hey Rachel… I wrote a post about it if this is what you mean. :)
    Let me know if that helps.

  35. I totally can understand this! I have twins that will need them very soon. The dentist has mentioned it twice. One has actual “structural” work and NEEDS them, while the other is more cosmetic but still would benefit more than just cosmetically.
    I’m glad the baby will be years off, lol a much needed break for when she needs them! My husband and I both had them, so I’m sure it’s the inevitiable!!! :)
    Oh and beautiful boys and beautiful smiles!!!! Well worth it!!

  36. I just had to share out latest ‘barter’ and it doesn’t involve braces, but I thought you all would get a laugh…….We bartered manure for our bathroom! Manure is liquid gold in the midwest and our neighbor is a farmer/plumber. It was the best barter we have ever made!

    Love your website. Love the frugality with style! and Thanks for all the time you put into it.

  37. On a related note, I found out today that our local hospitals offer a 10-20% discount on your bill if you pay it in full AND request a discount. A kind lady in accounting told us this (although it would have been useful to know a few baby deliveries ago). Although we try to always pay in cash, we didn’t know that we could save more by simply asking, since some discounts aren’t automatic. So my advice concerning medical bills would always be to ask if there is a discount available!

  38. Our 10 year old daughter got her braces on 2 weeks ago. Our insurance covers almost nothing, we will end up paying over $3300 over the 28 month period. Ouch. Combine that with hubby’s job not paying $220/month of our health insurance any more and we are definitely in an even more frugal mode than we were before! We have nothing to barter, but that’s a good idea.

  39. My oldest is six and has had braces (palette expander) for a year. Our ortho office has a maxium lifetime cost for braces, so what we are paying now is deducted from what we will pay when he turns a teenage with full blown braces.

    FYI – we had Guardian Dental insurance and it was amazing with regard to the braces, we actually got a refund from the ortho because Guardian paid more of the bill than expected.

  40. Jen, I agree with an earlier commentor about the lifetime of confidence you’ve given your children! I needed braces as a kid but there was NO WAY my parents could have afforded them. My first job as a college student went to paying for braces for myself. (I was from a tiny town with not many opportunities for employment as a teen.) Needless to say, the teen years were painful at best, and I don’t have a single picture of me with a toothy smile!
    Yes, orthodontia is expensive, and yes, my worth is found in Christ, but wow, it is so worth it to be able to smile and laugh without worrying about whether my teeth are showing. Now they’re as perfect as they will ever be, and we’ve started saving for braces for our boys who are 6, 4, and 2 because I “know” they’ll need them!
    Have your boys wear the retainers! Almost 15 years later, and I still wear mine at night. My smile is worth it!

  41. We are preparing to put the first of our many children in braces. Since we have 10 children we are considering asking for a multiple children discount. It can’t hurt to ask, right?

  42. I actually made the investment in my own teeth last year…I don’t believe it’s been almost a whole year and I should be getting them off by the end of this one…yay! BUT, that aside, I decided to do it because my current employer has a great dental plan…I still have monthly payments, but a lot of it was covered by insurance.

    My son is 11 now, and he did have a spacer for awhile, but the ortho hasn’t indicated a need for braces yet, they seem pretty straight to me :D Let’s hope he and his sister get their dad’s straight teeth….

  43. I loved this piece! My husband did not get laid off last year, but he lost 1/4 off his already small (by the world’s standard) salary. We were a family of five living on 1800 a month….God provided in miraculous ways and your post reminded me of God’s faithfulness in times of struggling and how couponing really helped us through it. (I guess this comment should of been posted on your lay off post, i just noticed that:) Anyways thanks for sharing I found myself saying amen the whole way through. God is so faithful to His elect!

  44. We were fortunate that only our older daughter needed braces, and it was a definite need (can you say “buck teeth”?). Fortunately, we were both working at the time and a portion of it was covered through our insurance. The younger daughter has almost perfect teeth (just one or two slightly askew…not enough to mess with), so no braces for her. She did have a bad case of TMJ though, and this seems like a miracle to me, but almost all of it was covered! (and it was expensive; about half of what braces cost). Good thing, because we’re on one income now with one daughter in college.

  45. It is definitely possible to barter dental services. Last year we didn’t have insurance, and I had to get a crown put on a tooth that cracked. My doctor knew I didn’t have insurance, so he offered a payment plan. I countered with a discount for paying cash upfront, and he ended up knocking a hundred bucks off the procedure!

  46. Gina DeBruler says:

    Just found this post and wanted to share with your readers (for future reference) what we are doing to save money on our daughter’s braces. We are taking her to the local dentist/orthodontist college. It is HALF of the price that we were quoted by 2 other orthodontist, both which graduated from that university. My daughter will be taken care of by a student but is overseen by a very seasoned and wonderful orthodontist/professor. Still very expensive but much less expensive than it could have been. Oh, and they are even filng with our insurance. After that we will be set up on very affordable monthly payments.

    Jen Reply:

    That is great to hear. I mentioned that and had someone comment on that as well, but had it confirmed that some still do that. Wonderful option.

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