We're all told we're supposed to maintain a budget that covers our various living expenses. And while having that budget in place is a good start, it's pretty clear that a large number of Americans are underestimating their healthcare costs, and by a pretty sizable margin. Specifically, only 46% of adults budget more than $50 a month for medical costs, according to new data from Amino. But the most recent data available from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services tells us that the average American spends $9,596 annually on healthcare, which translates into a need for roughly $800 a month. It's no wonder, then, that 37% of adults claim they couldn't cover a medical bill greater than $100 without going into debt.

If you're not budgeting properly for healthcare, you're doing yourself a huge disservice and it's time to stop the madness.

Woman checking in at doctor's office

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

You need to be prepared

The problem with budgeting for healthcare is that aside from your health insurance premium, it can be difficult to estimate how much you'll wind up spending month after month, particularly if you're a generally healthy person. But if you don't carve out some wiggle room in your budget for medical bills, they can quickly come back to bite you.

Amino estimates that the cost to treat a broken arm without surgery is $1,100. If you encounter that sort of expense and are subject to a deductible of that size or greater, you'll be on the hook for that entire bill. Ouch.

Of course, chances are you won't break a bone in your body every single month of the year, or even have a need to go to the doctor every month. But you should still build some flexibility into your budget so that when such a bill does arise, you won't need to resort to debt. Furthermore, it pays to take a look at your deductible (which will vary from one insurance plan to another) and aim to have at least that much available in savings. Remember, your insurance coverage won't kick in until you've met your deductible in full, so if your savings can't cover whatever that sum is, work on setting enough money aside to get there.

That said, don't confuse your deductible with your annual out-of-pocket maximum, which is the most you'll have to pay in a given year before your insurance plans covers all of your medical costs, including copays and the like. Your out-of-pocket maximum will generally be substantially larger than your deductible, and while saving that much will certainly serve as a solid safety net, it may end up being overkill.

Budgeting for healthcare

So how exactly do you budget for healthcare on a monthly basis? Once you've socked away enough cash to cover your deductible, you'll need to figure out how much you're spending on a monthly premium. Now if you get insurance through your employer, that sum probably gets deducted from your paychecks automatically, which means you don't have to worry about it. But if you're responsible for writing out a check each month, be sure to factor that cost into your monthly expenses.

From there, take a look at your healthcare spending from previous years to see how often you tend to need a doctor. Is it once every other month? Four times a year? Take that number, multiply it by the copayment you're subject to, and divide it by 12. In other words, if you typically see the doctor six times a year, and at a cost of $50 per visit, you'll need to set aside $25 per month. Remember, that's on top of the amount you should be saving for your deductible.

Another thing you'll need to account for are prescription costs. If you take a certain drug regularly, figuring out its cost should be fairly simple. But you'll also want to leave yourself some wiggle room for new prescriptions that could pop up.

Saving money on healthcare costs

Though budgeting properly for medical care will help you avoid debt and better manage your cash flow in the face of healthcare expenses, there are things you can do to lower your costs across this rather pricey spending category. For one thing, get ahead of medical issues before they escalate and become more expensive to treat. This means going to the doctor after three days of incessant coughing before that bronchial infection lands you in the hospital with pneumonia.

Additionally, see about bulk ordering certain prescriptions through your provider rather than renewing them month after month. You'll often snag a discount for 90-day supplies. Along these lines, don't be shy about requesting samples from your doctor. Medical offices receive samples all the time, and you never know how much a free month of drugs could save you.

Finally, try signing up for a flexible spending account, which lets you use pre-tax dollars on eligible healthcare expenses. You might also look into a health savings account if you qualify.

There's no question about it: Healthcare costs are a burden for Americans of all ages. But don't make the mistake of thinking you'll get away with spending less than $50 a month for all of your medical needs. You're better off setting extra money aside and thanking your lucky stars if you do manage to survive the year without any major injuries or illnesses to speak of.

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