Sunday, August 30, 2009

We work hard for the money, do-do do-dooo...

I've slacked off on posting lately not for a lack of things to say, but because I don't have enough time to say it. This August has consisted of work, work, and more work. I think we're somewhat overcommitted right now, job-wise, and yet I don't think we can afford to cut back in any area; one of Trent's highest-paying contracts ended for good a couple of months ago, and now we're playing catch-up. 

We've put our son in daycare 20 hours a week (which he absolutely loves, by the way - that in itself makes it worthwhile) so we have time to tackle our work and do it well. Ideally, we'll be able to make more money even with the daycare expenses than we would if one or both of us let some of our other contracts run out. We'll try this until December and then re-evaluate.

I truly enjoy my job but I do wish it paid more. I've stopped calculating my hourly wage. It's too depressing. Every now and then, I scrounge around for some possible alternatives on the job boards, but I don't see anything that appeals to me or for which I am qualified.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

One week spending diet

We're on a mandatory one-week spending diet until we get paid again next Tuesday. Thanks to a slew of recent bills (health insurance, cable, phone, etc.), student loan payments, and my dental work (which I did pay off as planned), we have little cash left in the checking account. That makes me uncomfortable. Usually, I like to see it pretty well padded because Bank of America is very sneaky about how and when they post transactions. Sometimes I feel like they WANT to catch us off guard and see us go into the red.

We won't be going out to eat, nor will we do any full grocery runs. We'll wait on paying the water and electric bills (they won't be late, but normally we send in our payments right away). If worst comes to worst and we don't think we're going to make it on what's in the account right now, I'll transfer more over from savings - but I really do not want to do that. 

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Membership Perks

Today I discovered that Capital One charged me a $59 "Membership Fee." Wow. So glad to be part of the Capital One club.

My balance on the card *was* zero. Really, this was too kind of them.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Part I of II: If you don't have health insurance

To say that I have an intense interest in the current healthcare debate would be an understatement. My stake in this issue developed from my own not-so-good experiences with the U.S. healthcare system. When I discovered I was pregnant with my son, I didn't have health insurance. It was the first time in 27 years that I let my coverage lapse. My company didn't offer insurance to its employees, private insurers wouldn't touch me with a 10-foot pole after I checked the "pregnant" box on the application (because if you're applying for private insurance and are pregnant, pregnancy is essentially considered a pre-existing condition by many insurers), and we made too much money (read: lower middle class income) to qualify for state aid. We paid for my prenatal visits out of pocket ($5000). We also paid for an emergency c-section and a three-day hospital stay (more than $20,000). The bills poured in for months.

I now have a much better understanding of why medical expenses often go hand in hand with bankruptcy. I also understand how stressful and, frankly, horrifying it feels to not have coverage when you need it (keep in mind that in 2007, more than 15% of all Americans lacked health insurance coverage, according to the U.S. Census Bureau).

Therefore, given the timeliness of the issue and my passion for it, I'm writing a two-part post on what to if you have no insurance (Part I), and how to obtain and make the most of private health insurance (Part II). I won't address employer-sponsored health insurance, but some of these tips may apply to that situation, too. I also won't address prescriptions because that could be a post in and of itself. Please keep in mind that this is not professional advice, nor is it comprehensive. All I can offer are homegrown suggestions that have sprouted from my own experiences. Feel free to comment and provide your own perspectives and advice.

So - What do you do if you have no health insurance? 

People without health insurance generally fall into two categories: people who don't have it because they don't want it/don't think they need it, and people who don't have it because they can't get it (36% of people who applied for private insurance were denied because of pre-existing conditions, according to a recent national survey). These tips apply to both situations:

1. Have an emergency fund in place, just in case. If you're not yet saving for a rainy day and you don't have health insurance, start hoarding now - even if you can't set aside all that much at one time. It's amazing how fast your savings will accrue if you contribute consistently to that fund. If you have a health emergency, you'll be able to pay at least part of the bill right away. In turn, that may make your care provider more amenable to a reasonable payment plan.

2. Find a family doctor who isn't a member of the Insurance Company Puppet Club, and see this person every year for a preventative physical and a women's/men's exam. I think some people would disagree with this piece of advice - because physicals can cost a couple hundred dollars, and you can get them on the cheap at clinics (see below) - but think of it this way: it's beneficial to have a doctor who knows your health history and, over time, grows to care about you as an individual, not just as a paying client. That doctor could serve as an advocate for you if your health takes a turn for the worse.

Is it possible to find a doctor who isn't squeamish about caring for someone without insurance? I think so, but you may have to do some hunting. Ask friends for recommendations. Look at doctor reviews on the Internet. Call around and see which office seems most accommodating. There are a lot of doctors out there, and you'll find someone who's happy to work with you. When you do visit this doctor...

3. ...remember that the price of health care is not set in stone. Actually, it is set in stone for a lot of people with health insurance: the prices are often determined in agreements between the insurance companies and the care providers. But if you don't have health insurance, you can haggle - for a lower price, for a no-interest payment plan, or both. When I had my son, the hospital took a significant chunk off the bill because we paid most of it up front (with the help of a loan from my parents). I also negotiated the cost of my prenatal care. Recently, my dentist's office allowed me to set up a no-interest payment plan that I can manage - meaning I don't have to rack up any additional credit card debt in order to get my teeth fixed.

It can't hurt to ask about your options. Don't forget that health care is a business, and if you don't like the service you're receiving, you can go elsewhere. It might take time and energy, but making some calls to different providers and telling them what you want and can afford could save you some big bucks in the long run. No-one should make you feel they're just doing you a favor by deigning to see you.

4. For run-of-the-mill illnesses and health care needs, consider using a discount clinic with affordable "menu pricing." These clinics are cropping up all over the country: in grocery stores, in malls, and even in airports. We visited the Little Clinic at our local Kroger store when our son came down with a persistent cough. A visit to his pediatrician would have cost more than one hundred dollars, and the doctor couldn't see him the same day. A visit to the nurse practitioner at the Little Clinic cost $60, and we didn't even have to wait. Clinics like these also offer physicals and immunizations (including flu shots) at a decent price. 

5. Take preventative measures. We can't choose our genes and we can't always control our environment, but we can control what we eat, what we weigh, and how much exercise we get. Studies have shown that maintaining an ideal weight/body mass index, eating a proper diet, and exercising all lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other major illnesses. 

6. Research advocacy groups and health care programs in your state and county. If you get really sick and can't afford your bills, where will you turn? Based on my own experience, I'd say that depends on the state in which you live. For example, here in Tennessee, the CoverTN program helps individuals who can't get health insurance elsewhere. There's assistance available, but you might need to do some investigating to suss out all your options (consider starting with your state and local government websites). This is where having a good doctor who cares about you can come in handy - he or she can likely recommend programs for which you may be eligible. 

7. Don't put your finances before your health. Your health is more important than money! If you experience chest pain or if your child is running a 104 fever that won't come down, don't put off going to the emergency room because you're worried about the cost. You are worth more than your bank account. You are not a pair of shoes or a new coffee table; you are not expendable or optional. You and your family deserve to get the medical attention you need. Worry about the money later.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I'm so excited! I just found out I've been invited to take part in a paid "leadership opportunity" at work. This means our income will increase - not by much, but every little bit helps. Moreover, it means I'm doing a good job, and that makes me happy. I generally like what I do and I take pride in it. Being recognized for my hard work feels very gratifying.

Bonus to an already thumbs-up day: Trent surprised me by ordering Confessions of a Shopaholic through Netflix. :-)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Goodbye, emergency fund

Not really goodbye, per se, but I transferred a large portion of our emergency fund over to our checking account yesterday when I realized there was no other way to pay off the dental work in short order. I want to have that all taken care of and paid off by the end of this week. I cringed as I made the transaction, but reminded myself that this is why emergency funds exist. At least we have one, even if it's looking a lot skinnier now.

Random medical/dental bills aside, there are a few regular payments that always take a significant chunk out of our account. The biggest ones:

-Mortgage ($1550 a month)
-Student loan payments ($730 a month between the two of us - I LONG to get rid of these)
-Health insurance ($400 a month between the three of us)
-Cell phone bill ($110 a month for both of us... This seems really high, but I do love my iPhone and being able to access the Internet anywhere I go.)

Other expenses include car insurance, gas and electricity, water, home owner's association dues, cable/Internet (we cut back here a few months ago and it's been well worth it), and our Netflix membership. None of these seem unreasonable.

Clearly, there's no getting around the mortgage or the student loans, and I'm not willing to ditch the health insurance. We do continue to look for ways to cut back in other areas so that when emergencies arise, we don't have to scrounge around for cash to pay for them.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

First the bad news

July and the beginning of August saw us saving less money than we did earlier in the year. Several factors contributed to the slowdown:

1. I started my tooth repair marathon. Yesterday I had a $1000 crown put in; next Friday, I'll have four cavities filled to the tune of several hundred dollars.

2. About two weeks ago, I began to experience short-lived but regular episodes of sharp chest pain. After several visits to the doctor, two EKGs, a comprehensive blood workup, and a test in which I was forced to down a strange mixture of antacid and local anesthetic (yuck - not a drink I recommend ordering up at the local bar), I was diagnosed with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and put on Nexium. The Nexium costs $162 a month even with my insurance co-pay (I'm working on finding a less expensive alternative).

Anyway, the medical bills definitely caused some hemorrhaging from our bank account.

3. We've been a little less frugal lately. I wouldn't say we're being wasteful - no shopping sprees or anything - but we've been going out to eat more than we were a few months ago. We need to get back to planning out our meals at the beginning of each week.

4. One of our major contracts came to an end. We've found replacement work, but it requires more effort and better time management.

The good news is this:

1. I'm developing a healthier diet to help quell the acid reflux. I'm working on cutting out most alcohol and fatty food. I've already lost some weight as a result. By the end of the year, I hope to achieve my ideal body mass index.

2. I now know that acid reflux catalyzed the formation of my recent cavities. By changing my diet and maintaining good oral health, I hope to avoid expensive dental visits in the future.

3. We haven't taken anything out of the emergency fund (yet).

4. At least we *have* work. I don't always love my job, but at this point, who cares? 

5. Although our savings account is stagnant, we've continued to put money into our 401Ks via automatic deposit. Automatic deposit is the best thing ever. Without it, I doubt we would have saved as much as we have.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

New blog

I've been on a hiatus from this blog because, well, I don't really know what to say. Financially, the exciting, making-big-progress part of our plan is over, and we're in the boring make money-save a little money-make money-save a little money phase. As for sailing, aside from our intermittent involvement with the local yacht club, we're in a holding pattern there, too. Sometimes I wish we lived close to the coast and had our own house so that we could buy a cheap little boat, park it in our driveway, and sail it on the weekends.

However, I have started a new blog about the day-to-day aspects of being a working mom. It's called WAHMyhood. I love writing and want to be able to blog on a daily basis; I'll have plenty of fodder for frequent entries about motherhood, working, and juggling multiple responsibilities. 

I'll still be writing here, too. We're still very much invested in our sailing dream and want to have a record of our progress. The posts will be more sporadic, that's all.