Month: September 2017

How to Save Money on Healthcare

How to Save Money on Healthcare

It’s not easy to save money on healthcare in the United States. The status of healthcare is up in the air and the functionality of the healthcare system is abysmal. It makes no sense and keeps costing more money. For a really good overview of all the problems and possible solutions, I highly recommend Elisabeth Rosenthal’s book, An American Sickness. It uses many, many real life examples and ends with a plan of action on how to solve the problem with many tips on things you can do. Some of the ideas listed in this post are from there, others are ones I’ve encountered in my own research.

Save Money on Healthcare

Here are some actionable things you can do to try to help keep your health bills down:

Talk To Your Doctor

When you are given a prescription, ask about it. What does it do? Why do I need it? Is there a generic available? If a test is ordered for you, ask why. Ask what would change based on the outcome of the test. Many, many tests will return an abnormal reading that would not have been noticed without the test. Most of these abnormalities would never cause problems, but once discovered, are most likely to be treated. Now you’re stuck paying the test fees and the unnecessary treatment fees as well.

Add an “In-Network” Stipulation

This is one of my favorite tips from Rosenthal. A new trend is happening in the United States where a hospital will be in your insurance network but then you’ll get outrageous out-of-network bills from the doctors that treat you in that same hospital. When you’re in the hospital, they will have you sign a form that says you’re accepting financial responsibility for the treatment you receive in the hospital. On this form add a statement like: “I only accept financial responsibility for charges from providers that are in my insurance network.” As Rosenthal argues, this may not make the charges go away, but it gives you some clout when they do come and you argue them.

Negotiate

Always ask doctors if they offer up-front or cash discounts. A friend of mine had no maternity insurance a few years ago when she was going to have a baby. She called the two hospitals in town and asked how much it would be to deliver a baby. She negotiated a rate and paid up front for further discounts. I’ve been offered discounts for paying in full before the procedure. I’ve also been offered a PFD special on one medical bill. You never know if there’s a discount unless you ask!

Take Your Medications as Prescribed

I’ve done a great deal of research on how expensive it is to not take your prescription medications. You may think you’re saving money by not paying for the pills, but you may end up paying a lot more for increased medical costs in the long-run, especially with chronic diseases. Also, maybe you think you can save money by only taking half of the prescribed dose. Half the dose doesn’t always mean half the effectiveness. In some medications, taking only half the does gives you NONE of the effectiveness. If you’re given a course of antibiotics, take the WHOLE course. Sure, you’ll probably feel great on day 3, but you have to take it ALL. Why? Because if you don’t, you are only helping the problem of antibiotic resistance get worse! Again, you should always check with your doctor if there is a generic that would work as well for your situation.

Know Your Benefits

Insurance companies do not make it easy to figure out what you should be paying when. Because of this, many people miss out on benefits they have they don’t know about. For example, in our insurance, we get a certain amount toward eye exams every year, but our eye insurance is a separate affiliate rather than the main insurer. My eye doctor bills my eye insurance, but my daughter’s eye doctor only bills my health insurance. When I get that bill back that says they won’t cover it, I have to call my eye insurance myself and send them the Explanation of Benefits to get my money back. It’s annoying, but it’s one example where knowing my benefits saves me money! Also, know when your plan year changes and when your deductible starts over. If you’re looking to get a mole removed and you’ve already hit your deductible for the year, go do it now instead of waiting until next plan year when you have to start paying that deductible again.

Use an HSA or HRSA

Health Savings Accounts or Healthcare Reimbursement Accounts are fundamentally different and if you have one, you don’t have access to the other. If your employer offers either one, it gives you the ability to put money in an account to pay for healthcare PRE-TAX. This can save you quite a bit of money even if you’re just using it to pay that year’s healthcare bills. Even at a 15% tax bracket, putting $1000 in one of those accounts that you’ll spend that year on healthcare anyway can save you $150 in taxes.

Make Healthy Choices

I conclude with this paragraph with a giant dose of caveat. Making healthy choices WILL NOT prevent you from all illnesses, but there are definitely many you can avoid by not smoking, eating healthy, and walking. Be active. Be smart. We’ll all get sick anyway, but we can improve our chances of recovery when we do if we’re already making smart choices for our body.

Until this country figures out how to actually care about the patient, you’ll need to look out for yourself and your wallet!

Healthcare Costs: The Wild Card

Healthcare Costs: The Wild Card

I know you’ve probably read a million posts on this topic lately since the future of healthcare in the United States is so uncertain, but healthcare is a big topic in the preparation for retirement, so let’s look at our situation:

Retirement Healthcare Cost Estimates

A recent Fidelity analysis estimates that healthcare will cost $275,000 per couple. This estimate only includes ages 65-88 at the latest. That averages out to $11,957 a year! Say you retire at 40 and live until 100 and spend the same amount of money annually, you’re looking at a whopping estimate of $717,420! Do I think this is reality? No idea. The answer is that we have LITERALLY NO IDEA what healthcare will look like in the United States until we die. That makes planning for it in calculations really, really hard.

Healthcare Matters

It’s my theory that by 35 or 40 everyone has some weird health thing they have to deal with. Health is up there with money in the “Don’t Talk About in Public” list of topics in our society. We need to talk about it. In our house, I’m the sick one. In February, doctors finally figured out that I have Supercolon (pretty cool diagnosis, amiright?). Basically, this means that I have one of the longest, twistiest colons of all time. Food gets caught in the folds and ferments and that leads to bloating. Painful, “are you pregnant?,” can’t stand up or walk type of bloating. I am lucky that I don’t have to put on work clothes and sit at a desk every day pretending I’m fine when I’m not. In fact, on one work trip, I couldn’t even make it 3 days sitting at a desk. I had to duck out early and go work from my hotel bed. Many, many people don’t have that option. They are stuck at work with any number of terrible symptoms and have to pretend they are fine.

When we talk about health insurance, sure we’re talking about the people that “did this to themselves,” but more importantly (and WAY more abundantly), we’re talking about your friends and relatives and co-workers that are struggling with IBS, fibromyalgia, cancer, supercolon, etc. When we talk about healthcare, we’re also talking about the family that just lost their daughter to juvenile cancer and now are faced with hundreds of thousands of dollars of healthcare bills. Instead of having time to grieve, they have to buck up and figure out how to bail themselves out financially from their daughter’s death.

Estimating Our Family’s Healthcare Costs

If Mr. T leaves his job (or gets laid-off), we would be out of his sweet, sweet employer-based healthcare plan and be left to fend for ourselves out in the uncertain healthcare world. Alaska is one of the 5 states that only has one insurer on the health insurance exchange. We also have 3 kids to cover. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s insurance marketplace calculator, in the current Obamacare environment, we’re looking at $36,584 for a silver plan without subsidies. If the subsidies also remain, that plan would cost us $3,000-$11,000 per year for our family depending on income ($11,000 with current income, $3,000 if we cut our income in half). Also, keep in mind these are just insurance costs. Actual out-of-pocket healthcare costs will be added on top of this!

Now, if Obamacare goes away, we could be on the hook for that full $36,584. Even worse, we could have to start worrying about whether or not we could get insurance at all depending on what pre-existing conditions we have by then (supercolon? check. Others? undetermined).

Healthcare in Later Years

Now, adding to all that uncertainty is the uncertainty of healthcare as old people. Sure, the kids will be on their own for healthcare by that point, but Mr. T and I will be aging and that raises costs significantly. The future is so uncertain!

Honestly, healthcare is one of the main reasons Mr. T is sticking with his job. Leaving with 3 kids and having to navigate the uncertain healthcare waters with dependent children scares us. If this was no longer a fear, I think we would be working toward him leaving his job a whole lot sooner!

Coming Wednesday: Ways to Save Money on Healthcare now.

What are your healthcare calculations for the future?

How Entrepreneurship is Like Dipnetting

How Entrepreneurship is Like Dipnetting

On Monday, I shared our dipnetting experience this year. Collectively, we caught 21. My contribution: 1. That’s right. I caught 1 salmon and spent nearly the same amount of time in the water as Mr. T. Since I had a lot of time to think about stuff as I was carrying my net and not catching fish, I realized our entrepreneurship journey is actually a lot like dipnetting (you all missed my analogies this summer. Admit it!). Here’s how:

Nets Out of Water Don’t Catch Fish

I really wanted to catch fish. And I did take breaks when I got tired. But I also knew that if I stayed out of the water, I literally had no chance of catching a single fish. If you never try your project, you’ll never succeed. If you don’t apply for the job, you’ll never get it. You actually have to put your net in the water and see what happens. Is there a chance you’ll catch nothing? Yes. Is there a chance your net will break and you’ll be out some money? If you paid for your net, yes. Is it also possible you’ll be the one person in the water that catches 20 fish? Yes! And you won’t know until you try.

Try 3 More Times When You Want to Quit

I recently read Think and Grow Rich. I didn’t love it, personally, because it read like a giant infomercial, but the entire point of the book is that the people who succeed are the people who try just a bit longer. When other people quit, they try just a few more times before giving up and then find crazy success. Will this always be the case? No. But when I was fishing and not catching anything, I got tired. It’s tiring not succeeding (and watching other people succeed). When I wanted to quit, I told myself: “I’ll do 3 more passes and then I’m done.” On the second pass, I caught my 1 fish!

Success Compounds

Sure, I only caught 1 fish, but you know what? After I caught that 1 fish, everyone on the beach cheered. Literally. (This is why I love dipnetting. Everyone knew I hadn’t caught yet.) And even though I only had 1 more pass in the 3 passes I promised myself, I lasted another hour after I caught a fish! The reward of success helps make the hard work worth it. It’s hard to slog through the cold water with a heavy net when you don’t see results.

Keep Reasonable Expectations

Mr. T and I dabble in entrepreneurial efforts, but we honestly don’t seek to create a million dollar company. That sounds like way more stress than our lives currently have and that’s not the point. When it came to fishing, we knew the fish counts were low. If we still expected to catch a ton of fish, we would have been really disappointed with our 21. As it was, we did really, really well and we were super happy with our 21. It’s good to set big goals, but it’s also good to celebrate the wins along the way and make sure your expectations are reasonable. Online, we mostly only hear about people that are huge, wealthy successes in entrepreneurship. My guess is that for every 1 of them, there are 100 others that are doing pretty well and changing their lives through entrepreneurship. They’re paying their mortgages with profits and plugging along.

Why Entrepreneurship?

Honestly, dipnetting is a great example of why we want a life of entrepreneurship. We want to be able to cover our bills, work together, work while the kids are in school, and be able to take off to dipnet or travel whenever we want without too much work getting in the way. Again, we aren’t looking to be the next internet stars of entrepreneurship. We just want to make our lives simpler while the kids are at home, pay off our mortgage, and pay for travel.

Are any of you paying your bills with your own business? If not, do you seek to do so?

Dipnetting 2017: The Year With Less Fish

Dipnetting 2017: The Year With Less Fish

Our annual dipnetting trip this year was out of the ordinary. First off, the fish weren’t there. Usually the fish come in droves around July 15-17. We went down on July 17-18 and the fish still weren’t there. Here’s a graph comparing this year’s sockeye salmon run numbers throughout July and August (the red line) and last year’s numbers (the black line). See that big spike in the black line where it dips in the red? Yeah. That’s  when we went fishing. It got so weird that they even talked about shutting down dipnetting for awhile to let more salmon get up the river, and the counts finally rose a week later only when they shut down the commercial fishery for a few days.

Fish Counts

Despite the lack of fish in the river, we actually did quite well. We caught 21 salmon and they were pretty big this year. (I only caught 1 and Mr. T caught 20… but his net is significantly longer, so he was the only one in our group that actually managed to catch any fish.)

As we camped on the beach, the rain came in full swing and Lui woke up around 3AM crying: “It’s raining on me.” Then we realized our tent was soaking wet and absolutely raining all over from the ceiling (what the heck… seriously!?). So when we got home, our house was covered in all of our stuff drying out (camping chairs, pads, sleeping bags, pillows, tents, etc.). But we lived to tell the tale and had a pretty great time anyway!

Dipnetting: The Numbers

The Costs:

  • $10 – Dropoff fee. You have to pay to unload your car right by the beach. It’s still cheaper than the $55 fee to overnight park. We unload, park a mile away for free and then ride an old bike back.
  • $25 – Camping fee for 1 night.
  • $58 – 2 fishing licenses for Mr. T and I.
  • $41.98 – FoodSaver bags for freezing the fillets.
  • $19.74 – Ice to keep the fish cool.
  • $59.40 – The charge to professionally smoke 10.8 lbs of salmon (nearly 8 lbs left over from last year’s catch from the freezer).
  • $40 – Gas for the trip there and back.

TOTAL: $254.12

Our 21 salmon totaled 1,058 oz or 66 lbs 2 oz. – That means our total price per pound this year was $3.84/lb. We’ve certainly done better (compare dipnetting 2015 and dipnetting 2016), but again, we did pretty good for the circumstances and we’re definitely happy with our haul.

Our smallest fillet was 12 oz and our largest was a whopping 42 oz!

Despite the circumstances, dipnetting is still my absolutely favorite. It’s such a great communal experience. One guy caught a gigantic King salmon in his net (like the size of Lui) and the whole beach erupted in cheering when he pulled it out. When I hadn’t caught anything for like an hour and finally caught my one fish, many strangers cheered as well because they noticed I hadn’t caught. It’s so great.

Every year when I’m dipnetting, I think: “I’m never leaving Alaska. This is the greatest place ever” and I get to remember that feeling weekly when we eat a salmon fillet for dinner.

How does $3.84/lb compare to what you pay for salmon?

Living More in the Present: A Success Story

Living More in the Present: A Success Story

As I stepped away from the blog this summer, my focus was on enjoying the moment more. Sometimes being so involved in this community of awesome optimizers and hustlers becomes a whirlwind of motion. It’s good and it triggers important change, but sometimes it’s hard to really focus on the progress we’ve already made and enjoy what we have now.

Living More in the Present this Summer

This summer, I stepped back from pumping out posts on optimizing your finances or seeking entrepreneurship. I only calculated my expenses at the end of each month for the monthly plan updates and only checked my accounts a few other times each month. I stopped actively following all my favorite blogs (though would often binge because I can’t stay away for too long!). In short, I stepped back from the current hustle and started living more in the present. The break was tremendous and I learned a great deal. Here are a few things I learned:

  1. We’re on the Moving Sidewalk – I’m (Rockstar Finance) famous for saying the path to Financial Independence is like a sprint followed by a rest on a moving sidewalk. When I originally penned that post, I assumed I was still a few years away from enjoying that moving sidewalk. In reality, we’ve done our version of sprinting for the past 2 years since starting this blog. We’ve hustled, cut costs, set up savings, and attacked our mortgage. We got tired. In reality, because we’ve done all that, we’re already enjoying that moving sidewalk when we take a break from actively caring. Our mortgage keeps going down and our investments keep going up. It’s brilliant!
  2. We’re Incredibly Lucky – Our situation is already fantastic. We really have a great set-up. I get to be home with the kids all day every day. I don’t have to force myself to sit up at a desk job when my chronic health issues kick in (a full post on this coming later). Mr. T has incredible flexibility and lots of vacation time. We are incredibly privileged.
  3. We’ve Already Learned So Much – We still love the idea of being self-employed and having total autonomy over our own schedules and we haven’t made much significant headway there, but we have learned a whole lot already. We’ve learned all sorts of random skills along the way and learned what we enjoy and what we don’t enjoy. I feel like this whole thing has been like going to college in entrepreneurship and we’re getting closer and closer to graduation.
  4. I Need to Spend More Money Now – We’re not that close to financial independence, but we’re on that moving sidewalk. My kids, however, get older every single day. I have so much I still want to do with them. Now is the time. If you’re on the email list, you already know we’re venturing to Europe with the kids next summer. We’re going to take them on a 3-week trip through the UK, Norway, and Iceland. I’m SO EXCITED. We spent this summer letting the kids pick castles in Wales they want to explore, museums they want to check out in Oslo, and reading histories and guidebooks together. Most people have to wait until financial independence to do this kind of thing, but we can do it now. Mr. T has the flexibility and vacation time. I’m a freelancer so can choose to take a month off whenever I choose. These are the kinds of experiences I plan to focus on in the next 9 years before Penny graduates.
  5. Maybe We Have Happiness All Wrong – We always think our lives would be so much better elsewhere or doing something else. We get frustrated and immediately declare something drastic: “We’re retiring early.” Now, if you’re as far away from that possibility as we are, long-term planning for it isn’t a bad idea (at this rate, we’ll retire long before 65 just plugging along as we currently are), but focusing all efforts towards it misses the point. Maybe changing just one thing in your life can make all the difference. What would being 20% happier do for you?
  6. I’m Not Going Away – For now, I have enough passion and stuff to say that I am resuming my previous Monday/Wednesday posting (with an occasional Friday image by Mr. T or guest post). I love this space. I love all of you. I truly, truly do. I have a plan for another website based on my survey, but I decided I don’t want to do that one alone, so it may not get up and running for awhile. So, I’ll start sharing some info from that awesome survey here as well.
  7. I’m Always Prepared to Mix Things Up – When I get in a funk, I reserve the right to mix up everything. A step away this summer was exactly what I needed. Sometimes we need to get out of the water to see how truly beautiful the lake is.

Have you learned lessons in living more in the present lately? I’d love to hear yours!

August 2017 Plan Update

August 2017 Plan Update

Hello, dear readers! Welcome back to our regularly scheduled blogging program!

This summer has been glorious. And August was no exception. We started the month in Disneyland with the family and then headed to the Seattle area for a week where we spent 3 entire days swimming, kayaking, and paddle-boarding in lakes. It was amazing. The month ended with all 3 kids in school.

This was a particularly expensive month for us with some plane tickets being purchased, but I’m super excited about all things ahead!


The Numbers:

Want to know how easy it is for us to write these every month? I literally just log into my Personal Capital and revel in all the numbers being in one place. Do you like checking numbers? Do you like graphics? Do you like playing with calculators like retirement calculators and how much your fees are costing you? Then, you should obviously use my affiliate link to Sign up here to help yours truly speed toward financial independence! (Also feel free to read my more in-depth review of Personal Capital.)

Our mortgage is below $40,000 ($39,920 to be exact)! Woo hoo! Only 3 more of those milestones and then IT’S DEAD! With the expensive flights we purchased this month, we probably won’t be contributing much extra next month to save up a bit again, but I’m still super happy about the direction this is headed! We’ve been able to pay this down just over $50,000 in just over 2 years. I feel pretty great about that.

Investments are now at $166,190. Markets took a few dives, but ended up slightly higher. It’s not looking like we’ll crack $200,000 this year but it’s great to see these climb consistently while we live our lives.

For our savings percentage, we track the percentage of our pre-tax (or gross) income and the extra payments put toward the mortgage are included in the amount saved. Savings percentage for August – 51%. This is why I don’t think this is a great metric. We didn’t actually save any more… but we earned less, so our percentage looks good.

2017 Financial Goal Update:

  • Earn $25,000 – ($19,853/$25,000) –  This is mainly my main job as they have delayed paychecks. I was gone for a lot of the month, so these are last month’s paychecks. No freelancing this month. Next month’s income will be lower.
  • Mortgage Balance below $30,000 – (Currently at $39,920 – less than $10k to go! WOO HOO!)
  • Max out Mr. T’s 401k – This is set up already and if nothing changes, he should automatically max it out this year for the first time! Yay for automatic payments!
  • Put $5500 into My Roth IRA – $0 progress so far.
  • $2500 in other investments – $0 progress so far.
  • $200,000 Investment Balance by the end of the year – Seems like it would take a market miracle to get us another $34k by the end of the year. Again, I wasn’t ever really tied to this one because it’s entirely market based.

Notable Expenses This Month: The Story Our Money Tells:

These are expenses that tell an interesting story. A peek into our lives through our pocketbook:

  • $2,479.48 – This covers all 5 of us from the UK to Anchorage via Norway and Iceland next summer.
  • $285 – Another 20 Cambodian lessons.
  • $254.40 – The eye doctor for Florin. She’s graduated from glasses and is loving her glasses-free life.
  • $451.39 – Food at DisneyLand.
  • $65.55 – Shuttle from Disney to the airport.
  • $103.86 – School supplies and clothes and shoes for the kids.
  • $85 – Lui’s preschool tuition for the ENTIRE YEAR. It was amazing we got him into this special preschool program. Our wallets thank us.

EXTRA INCOME (anything that doesn’t come from our jobs/my freelance work):

  • $1.05 – Bookscouter Affiliate Link
  • $100 – Reader sign-ups through my Personal Capital links. Thank you!
  • $39.07 – Selling shirts online. Most of this was a delayed check from Mr. T selling a shirt on Woot for a week.
  • $8.32 – Affiliate payments from myFinance (those links at the bottom of the posts).

Financial Phrases:

These are things said by actual people that were either talking to me or near me enough that I could hear them:

  • “Preschool is costing our kid $270/month?! I don’t remember agreeing to this!”
  • “She said the kayaks at her house kept multiplying. She told her husband she was okay with him buying a kayak, but then every week another one appeared.”
  • “She said: ‘Just use my guy. He only costs $50/hour.’ That’s less than I make. My time is literally worth less than that. I’m free!”

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