Archive for January, 2013

Health Insurance Update: Why We Chose a High Deductible Plan with an HSA

Two weeks ago I wrote about my need to leave COBRA. It has been nearly 18 months since I lost my job and I need to find a new health insurance plan before my COBRA coverage expires. I found a plausible solution that I think will work and I’m hopeful that my wonderful readers will provide comments if it sounds like a bad idea.

So here it goes…

We will switch from a POS plan to a high deductible insurance plan. The maximum deductible per individual is $1,300 and the maximum per family is $2,600. The plan sets out-of-pocket limits at $2,600 and $5,200 respectively.

Preventive services are covered 100% with no coinsurance or co-payments, so my son’s well-child care visits will be covered as well as physicals for my husband and I. The plan also covers routine gynecological visits and cancer screenings like Pap tests.

Everything else requires us to meet our deductible before insurance will kick in. This includes services like visiting the doctor when we’re ill, diagnostic testing, hospitalization and urgent care.   We won’t pay coinsurance if we stay in network, but we will owe co-pays for visiting doctors or emergency rooms after our deductible has been met. I believe the co-pays are comparable to what we currently pay.

So here are the numbers that helped us choose the HSA plan.

Current Monthly Premium: $1525
New Monthly Premium: $765
Monthly Savings: $760
Yearly Premium: $18,300
New Yearly Premium: $9180
Yearly Savings: $9120

That’s right by switching plans we will save $760 per month in premiums and $9120 over the course of a year!

According to the IRS we can contribute a maximum of $6,450 to our HSA. Since we’re already paying a ridiculous amount towards health insurance we won’t miss the money and will do our best to set aside each and every penny of the maximum this year.

If you divide $6,450 by 12 months it works out to $537.50 per month. Believe it or not when you add the monthly premium to the HSA contribution you still end up with a $224.50 monthly difference between our current plan and the new high deductible plan with HSA.

In the best scenario we won’t have too many unexpected medical expenses this year, we’ll pay the lower premiums and we’ll bank the rest of the money in our HSA. In the worst case scenario we pay a total of $7800 after meeting our family deductible and out-of-pocket limits. If we continued with our current plan, (which isn’t an option anyway), we would pay $9,120 more in premiums this year. So it appears that even in the worst case scenario we still make out better with the new plan.

I will, of course, point out that the plans are not entirely equal. Our current plan covers some medical items that the new high deductible plan won’t cover and vice versa, but without being able to predict the future we have to move forward with a plan that simply might not be as robust as our current one.

We do have the option of moving forward with a POS or PPO plan that is similar to the one we currently have, but we would continue to face $1500 monthly premiums and after running the numbers I’m not sure that makes much sense. With the new plan if we don’t use the money it can remain in our HSA. With the POS or PPO plan we fork over $1500 each month even if we never go to the doctor.

So what do you think? Is there anything about this plan that doesn’t make sense? Am I failing to think about anything important? If you have any thoughts on the issue please leave a comment below.

January 31, 2013 at 10:43 PM 6 comments

Book Review: Here I Go Again

Here I Go Again

Here I Go Again is the latest selection from BlogHer’s book club. The book is told from the point of view of Lissy Ryder an uber popular cheerleader who dated the quarterback and picked on every kid she encountered in high school.

As an adult Lissy is no different than she was throughout her teens. She focuses solely on herself. Rather than going to work she spends time at the gym. She talks with her best friend but doesn’t listen to a single word her friend says to her. Eventually her self-involved attitude catches up and she loses her job and her husband and finds herself living in her childhood bedroom.

As the book progresses Lissy has a chance to correct her past and the novel takes you through a series of loops where Lissy returns to right the wrongs she caused so many years ago.

My own high school years weren’t particularly traumatic. I was never picked on and I never felt ostracized. I was smart, thin, tall and moderately attractive. I was the kind of girl who knew who the popular girls were but didn’t want to hang out with them. Even as a teenager I didn’t like the fake feelings they exuded or the backstabbing that I witnessed from afar.

I focused more on being kind to the kids around me. I drove my neighbor to school every day despite the fact that he received a perfect score on the math portion of his SATs. I tended to sit next to the kids in class who didn’t seem to have a lot of friends. At lunch I ate with a bunch of different kids, trying my best not to fall into one group classification or another.

So when I started reading this book all I could think was ‘ugh, not another book about a super popular high school girl who grows up to realize what a bitch she’s been.’ It’s hard to like a character like that, but as the chapters progress the author does find a way to entice readers to turn page after page.

By the last few chapters I couldn’t wait to see if Lissy was going to fix the past in a way that helped her live a more balanced life. This book made me think twice about some of the interactions I’ve had in my own life. (Not necessarily the ones from high school.) I wasn’t mean to others like Lissy, but it did make me wonder how chance encounters might have altered the future of those around me.

I think this book would make a great beach read.

Note: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

January 31, 2013 at 8:00 AM Leave a comment

A Moral Dilemma: What Would You Do?

 simple box

Let’s say you order something from an online store. A few days later a package arrives in the mail containing the three items you ordered. In this case two shirts and sweater. Total retail value is approximately $100.

Two days later a second package arrives on your doorstep from the same company. You open the box and find the exact same three items have been delivered to your door. You check the invoice and notice that it contains the exact same order number as the package that arrived two days prior.

You check your credit card charges and find that you were only billed once. For some reason it seems the company accidentally sent you the second package. You did not pay for the duplicate set of items you received.

Do you contact the company and let them know that they’ve made a mistake or do you keep the items and never say a word? Does the value of the package make a difference in your decision? If the products were worth $10 would you act differently than if the items were worth $100?

This very scenario happened to me a few weeks ago. I’ll let people weigh in with comments and then I’ll leave a comment explaining what I did.

January 29, 2013 at 10:15 PM 9 comments

What Do You Do With Unwanted Gift Cards?

I have a stack of gift cards in my home. I bought a few of them at discounted prices and received a bunch of others as gifts over the years. If you name a place I probably own a gift card for it.

You know how it is, you return an unwanted gift to a store you rarely frequent and they hand over a shiny merchandise card. You don’t have time to shop for anything right then and there so you vow to return to the store at a later point in time. You think even if you can’t find something for yourself you’ll surely find gifts for other friends or family members. The only trouble is you never return to the store and that gift card sits in your wallet, safe, desk drawer or some other random location for months or possibly years.

I used to have a couple of gift cards that fit neatly inside my wallet. Then one day I realized I needed an entirely separate wallet just to house all my cards.

I checked the balances, wrote down the amount remaining and placed them in the safe where some of them have sat untouched for years.

I’m torn on what to do with them now. If I sell them I’ll probably receive somewhere between 60 and 90% of their value. If I sell them at an auction site I may receive even less when I subtract out eBay and PayPal fees.

Part of me thinks I may actually use these cards even though I haven’t touched many of them for years. I don’t have an immediate need for the money, but I also hate the idea of letting those cards sit idle for so long. I suppose by selling them I would earn interest on the money, though rates are so low these days that wouldn’t amount to very much.

Part of me thinks I should go on a spending splurge armed with hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards, but the practical part of me knows I really don’t need anything right now. I also hate the idea of buying things I don’t really want or need, because I absolutely despite unwanted clutter.

So what do you think? Do you have unwanted gift cards sitting around in your purse, wallet or desk drawer? If so do you have any immediate plans for them? Do you think I should try to sell the cards I have or hold on to them in the hopes that they’ll be used some day? If you were in my shoes, what would you do?

January 27, 2013 at 10:18 PM 4 comments

Tallies from 2012: How Much Money Did My Blog Earn?

Every year I intend to tally up the amount of money I earn from online endeavors including, but not limited to, blogging. Usually I lose track of just how much I earned and lost and this year is no exception. I’m sure I’m missing a few figures here and there but overall I think it’s within a few hundred dollars of the actual number.

Amazon Sales $28.68
Selling Used Books $101.07
Goods Received $140.00
Giveaways $149.00
Surveys $474.00
eBay Sales $641.73
Writing Contests $750.00
Advertising $1,957.25
TOTAL: $4,241.75

 

As you can see I made the most money through advertising. This included tweets, links on Facebook, sponsored posts and simple sidebar advertisements. Averaged out over a twelve month period I earned roughly $160 each month, though in reality most of my advertising revenue was generated in a three month period. $160 is a pretty pitiful amount of money, (certainly not enough to quit one’s day job), but I should note that I do not write this blog as a means to make money. In fact, I turn down quite a few requests for sponsored posts each month, because I don’t like the advertisement or I’m unwilling to clutter my blog for the small amount of money advertisers are willing to pay me.

In looking over the numbers I was most surprised by the amount of money I earned from completing online surveys. I typically fill these out early in the morning or late at night after my son’s in bed. They only take a few minutes and typically pay just a few dollars each. I’m also a member of a couple of online communities whose pay rates vary based on level of participation.

Amazon sales is also an interesting category. This money was earned in the last two weeks of December off of links included in one particular post. I ended up adding links on a whim. I wrote the post years ago, but decided it wouldn’t hurt to cash in on it’s popularity.

I’m most proud of the $750 worth of cash and prizes I won through two online writing contests. Neither contest included a huge number of entries, but it still feels good to win a prize based on skill and ability. Of course, I don’t mind the $150 worth of prizes I won by entering simple online contests either. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a little easy money.

January 26, 2013 at 5:01 PM 14 comments

Another Example Where I Should Have Chosen Time Over Money

Yesterday after returning a few unwanted Christmas gifts to the store I bundled the baby in the back seat and drove to the gas station for a quick fill. Once we’re dressed and loaded into the car I tend to get the most bang for my buck by completing as many errands as possible.

It was really cold outside, (I think the weather man said it felt like 9 degrees), and there was a sharp wind that cut right through my coat. I hopped out of the car, entered my Giant rewards number at the pump, clicked a bunch more buttons, entered my zip code, pulled the nozzle out, selected a grade and planned to jump into the car to warm back up.  As soon as I pressed the handle to pump gas the pump beeped and told me my transaction was cancelled. Argh!

I locked the baby in the car and walked up to the external cashier window. (My car was only two or three feet away from the pump.) He asked me to try my transaction again. Double argh! I entered my Giant card number, etc, etc, etc. I stepped all the way through the process again and just as I pressed the nozzle to dispense gas the transaction was cancelled again. Triple argh!

I walked back up to the cashier. This time he told me they were having problems with that particular pump and asked that I back up and try a different one. I put the car in reverse, moved to the new pump, ran through all the steps again and wouldn’t you know it my transaction was cancelled for the third time.

I was frustrated, annoyed and to be honest quite furious. I decided to drive to another Shell station because my Giant rewards were set to expire in another day or two. Five minutes later I arrived at the next closest station entered my Giant number, followed all of the same steps and pumped gas without a single problem.

I saved 90 cents a gallon or roughly $13.00, but I spent nearly 30 minutes doing so. I wasted time driving to a gas station where the pumps didn’t work. I wasted time attempting to pump gas three times. I wasted time asking the cashier to help me and I wasted even more time driving to another gas station when the first one didn’t work. I think this is one of those examples where I should have chosen time over money. $13.00 is a decent chunk of change, but the whole sequence of events was terribly aggravating.

What do you think? Would you have tried to pump gas three times in the freezing cold and then driven to another gas station to save $13.00?

January 24, 2013 at 12:28 PM 7 comments

A Little Bit of This a Little Bit of That

This is one of those random hodge-podge posts. You know the kind where you start writing about one thing and quickly find yourself thinking about another, so rather than breaking them up you toss them all into the same post and call it a day.

It seems 2013 has continued right where 2012 left off. In the year of let’s see if every appliance in our house can unexpectedly break. We started off last week with a broken garbage disposal. An $89 fix, which took the plumber all of two minutes to fix and a broken laptop display on my MacBook Pro. We also need an entirely new air conditioning unit and exchanger at our beach house in North Carolina. That will add a hefty $9000 to this year’s maintenance bills.

After dealing with power outages over the last few years my husband decided to throw in the towel and order a generator. I was already to move to a new house with underground power lines, but alas that doesn’t appear to be in the cards for me. In order to install a generator we required a new meter from Washington Gas, a new pipe that can support the pressure required by the generator and, of course, a new generator. We had three quarters of the work completed last week. My son managed to sleep through the sound of men drilling holes into cement, but somehow wakes when he hears the floorboards outside of his bedroom creak. I’ll never understand how that’s possible.

This weekend my husband and I spent a good two or three hours in the kitchen cooking up new recipes. I’m always hesitant to try new meals because you never know if you’ll like the flavors once everything melds together. I always tweak the recipes ever so slightly based on ingredients we have on hand, for example I skipped the mint in the wrap recipe because I didn’t have any. I’m happy to say that everything we prepared turned out pretty tasty.

Here are links to the three recipes we tried:

—-

Lastly my husband and I are hiring a babysitter for the very first time. Up until now a family member has always been available to watch my son. I have absolutely no idea how much to pay a 14 year old. If it makes any difference my son will be asleep the entire time.

January 21, 2013 at 6:45 PM Leave a comment

Uber Confused: Should I Select A High-Deductible Insurance Plan?

I have been paying full price for COBRA ever since I was laid off from my job November before last. While I paid very little as an employee I am currently paying over $1400 a month for myself, husband and 14 month old son. It’s time for us to find ourselves a new insurance plan, but I am uber confused by all of the options available.

I chose to stay on our current plan for as long as possible, but I am crazy about medical care. I have had a number of medical problems and know that above all else that I am willing to pay for quality care. In fact, I will cut back on just about everything else in my life to make certain we can afford good insurance. Over the years my insurance has paid for all sorts of services and procedures that would have been denied by other carriers.

As an employee I paid very little each month in premiums. Now that my husband and I will need to move over to a new plan, (he is self employed), we will pay the bill in it’s entirety.

I am considering moving over to a high-deductible insurance plan with an HSA. I read all of the paperwork associated with this plan and compared it to the standard PPO, but I’m still not certain which option to select.

I’m hoping someone out there can provide some input on my choices. While I will continue to read about the options I need to make a decision in the next month or two.

Here’s what I know. My husband is rarely sick and has not gone to the doctors for anything other than a physical for as long as I can remember. That doesn’t mean something couldn’t pop up for him. My medical problems came on sudden and strong, but in a typical year health insurance is a lot of money down the drain for him. My son just turned 15 months old. He doesn’t have any known health issues either. For the most part my medical problems are a thing of the past. I haven’t seen a doctor or surgeon in quite some time for my symptoms. I do see massage therapists from time to time, but those services were never covered by insurance anyway.

My husband and I are still debating having a second child. Some days I’m excited about the idea and other days I think I could be perfectly content with just one child. It is conceivable that I would pregnant again by the end of the year or shortly thereafter.

Does anyone have any thoughts on high-deductible plans versus standard PPOs? If so, does anyone know if there is a preferable route I should take if I become pregnant?

An update: To view my decision click here.

January 18, 2013 at 10:37 PM 7 comments

The High Price of Collectibles and Limited Time Offerings

A few days ago I found myself shopping for interactive story buddies, (otherwise known as talking stuffed animals), at Hallmark. My son absolutely loves books and I thought he might enjoy snuggling with a cuddly toy that sings, barks and makes other fun noises when you read out loud.

Before heading out to the store I searched online for the cheapest prices. I found Jingle, (the holiday inspired Hallmark dog), on sale for $8.73, but by the time I reached the checkout page it was completely sold out. Those silly stuffed animals retail for $34.95 so $8.73 would’ve been an incredible price!

Jingle

I figured there had to be some for sale on eBay. I checked out the auctions but found most were selling for roughly $35. Some were slightly more and some slightly less, but by the time you added in shipping most were in the $30 to $40 ballpark.

I had no intention of buying my fourteen month old son a $35 stuffed animal. In fact if I hadn’t seen the cheap price at Hallmark I probably wouldn’t have had the bright idea to buy this toy in the first place.

I decided to call the Hallmark store closest to my home to inquire about prices. It turns out that our local store was selling them at 50% off. $17.95 was still more than I really wanted to spend, but I couldn’t seem to get the idea out of my head so I buckled my son into the backseat of the car and drove off in search of it. (Important lesson: Try a brick-and-mortar store before shelling out money on eBay. eBay prices aren’t always the cheapest.)

All of the Christmas items were marked down 75%. Recordable storybooks were on sale for $4.95 and the second and third books in the “Jingle” series were $2.49 each. I bought a couple of recordable storybooks, (my son received one from my parents for Easter and absolutely loves it), and the two Jingle books along with the Jingle stuffed animal.

When I got back into the car I logged onto eBay and searched for the two books I just purchased. I was astounded to find them selling for $13 to $17 a piece. The retail price of each book was only $9.95 and I’d just paid $2.49 each for them.

That’s when I discovered the value of limited time offerings. This year Hallmark designed the 2012 Jingle toy and compatible books. They won’t sell the same toy again next year. They may sell a newer version next year, but odds are it won’t be compatible with the older model. If you don’t buy the books now you may not have the opportunity to do so in the future.

This once a year offering causes people to log on to eBay in high numbers. Let’s say your wife bought you two of the three 2012 superhero ornaments. If you feel your collection won’t be complete until you find Captain America then you’ll log on to eBay and spend three to four times the original retail price in order to complete your collection.  Lucky for you someone in the secondary market probably has what you want. Unfortunately the item you want may come with a very hefty price tag.

Apparently many people already know this. Google for items to sell on eBay and you’ll come across all sorts of information about making money from selling Hallmark ornaments. This also explains why I once saw a woman buy twenty identical Barbie ornaments from a Hallmark store the day after Christmas. Perhaps they were some sort of a special holiday collection. Apparently star trek, star wars and barbie ornaments all sell for big bucks.

This is just one of the many reasons I’m not a collector. I don’t want to pay three to four times the retail price for an ornament that sits on my Christmas tree for a few days a year. Of course, if my son falls in love with this little Jingle toy and something awful happens, (it breaks, gets lost, etc.), I’m sure I’ll head back to eBay and shell out big bucks for another one.

January 15, 2013 at 8:00 PM Leave a comment

Frugal to a Fault

Most of the time I’m happy with my frugality. I don’t mind clipping coupons, waiting for sales or even going without. I like watching the figures in my bank account rise while simultaneously watching my mortgages shrink. I’m the kind of girl who brings a $10 coupon to brunch with my girlfriends and then asks, (without batting an eyelash), if they’d mind choosing the half-priced matinee over the late-night show.

I’ve been counting pennies for as long as I can possibly remember and while I relish the fruits of my labor I recognize I can also be frugal to a fault. There was the time I wasted thirty minutes searching for coke reward codes that I clipped but temporarily misplaced. Do you know how many codes it takes to earn a decent reward? Let me just say that twenty minutes could’ve been better spent.

There was the time I nearly kicked myself for losing $5 worth of coupons somewhere between the entrance of the grocery store and the checkout line. I actually spent thirty minutes after I left the store mentally retracing my steps.

Or how about the time I tortured my husband by searching for coupons for every item he unexpectedly threw into our shopping cart. Our fun little romp to buy ingredients for a new recipe turned into a torturous forty minute trip.

A few weeks ago I realized that the crappy, too-short-for-a-six-foot-girl stroller I registered for was preventing me from taking walks with my son. The weather has been relatively warm but I’ve walked through the neighborhood only a handful of times this winter.  To be honest it feels like pure torture to push that awful stroller around. I feel my shoulders hunching to reach the low handle and within twenty minutes or so my back begins to ache. I still have a fair amount of pain from prior medical problems, so I’m not keen on making this part of my body hurt anymore than necessary. As a result we haven’t been walking much.

I knew the stroller was downright awful, but I hated the idea of shelling out money to buy a new one. Simply put, strollers that fit my size and stature aren’t cheap.

One particularly warm day I took my son outside to run around the backyard. When he was finished we took a walk down the street, holding hands, picking up leaves and investigating every acorn he found along the way. It was a beautiful afternoon and I wanted to stay outside but I knew he was getting too sleepy to walk much further.

I wanted to take him for a walk, but really didn’t want to push that stroller. As we headed back inside on that sunny day I realized the simple truth: my frugality was interfering with my enjoyment.

Over the past few years I’ve gotten rid of a lot of my compulsions. I don’t clip coupons too often anymore and I don’t wake up early every Sunday morning to stock up on freebies at the drugstore.

While I’ve gotten better about things I still have to remind myself every once in awhile to sit back and relax. While saving money is important it is not the end goal. In fact, in my mind there is no longer a finish line to this race.

I want my life to feel like a healthy 5K challenge where I can run, jog or walk my way up and down streets while people clap and cheer no matter how fast or slow I travel. I want my life to feel balanced. I want to save when and where I can, but also recognize that I will not deprive myself just to save a buck.

Stroller

With this new philosophy in mind I bought not one, but two new strollers. One very tall jogging stroller for long walks around the neighborhood and one easy to fold stroller that fits neatly into my very small trunk.

January 14, 2013 at 8:25 PM 10 comments

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