When I go to a church to share the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar I frequently hear heartbreaking stories of the financial struggles various attendees are facing. It's especially touching when a family has been overwhelmed by medical bills they had no control over.

For many of us the single most important money saving medical tip is to lead a healthy lifestyle. I know all about this. I was only 39 year olds in 1992 when I went into St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville. About six days later I went home sporting five heart bypasses.

I'll never forget a comment my surgeon made before he released me. He told me that only 5% of his patients paid any real attention to his instructions about healthy living. Consequently, their surgeries usually didn't help for very long.

I'll admit it -- I was one scared puppy! There I was with four super kids and a world-class wife that I didn't want to leave. It was time for a lifestyle change. I had never smoked or been a drinker -- but I was doing a bunch of dumb things to my body. I had never been one to exercise-actually I hated the word gym! (The only exercise I got was rolling over in bed at night.) And I was an award-winning, recreational eater -- I ate anything that didn't get off my plate first. And lastly, as the head of an advertising agency, I led a high-stress lifestyle.

Things on Planet Earth were about to change for Steve Diggs! Since those early days, God has been very kind to me. He has blessed me in more ways than I can recount here. Today, after twelve years, my health is doing well and I have cholesterol levels other people would kill for. Thanks you , Lord!

But I believe God expects me to do my part too. I can tell you that I decided to become part of my doctor's 5 1/2% -- I would transform my lifestyle asap! I changed my diet. I stopped eating hamburgers and fried chicken. As a matter of fact, I don't think I've had a steak or an order of French fries in twelve years! (Maybe a bite here and there-but not a full meal.) I workout on the Stairmaster three days a week with a five mile regiment that I do in about 32 minutes. And, with His help, I have learned to reduce the stress and walk more peacefully with God.

Today life is good. Yes, I have plenty of prescription and medical expenses-but far less than I might if it wasn't for the decision to live a healthier lifestyle.

Simple Things Anyone Can Do...

Roughly 14% of America's Gross Domestic Product goes to pay medical expenses. Every year insurance costs go up-and coverage seems to go down. As I write this, one of the national health insurers has recently announced it will be raising rates by 20-30% next year. It behooves any family to look for ways to cut the cost of medical care. Following are some ideas you may find helpful:

• When your doctor prescribes a new medication, ask if he can give you a free sample. This will give you time to see if the medication is effective while you compare costs at various drug stores and mail order outlets.

• Usually outpatient services are less expensive than inpatient services. Talk with your doctor. If an outpatient service will be equally good, consider opting for it.

• If you are taking a prescription long-term, consider ordering from a mail-order pharmacy-it can be cheaper.

• Consider buying generic prescription drugs. Usually, brand name drugs are more expensive than their generic equivalents. Ask your doctor if a generic drug is appropriate in your situation.